U2 360 Tour Profile

Dec 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Kevin Becka
Photos: Steve Jennings

SEEKING INTIMACY ON A GRAND SCALE

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In monitor world, from left: Niall Slevin, Alistair McMillan and Dave Skaff

In monitor world, from left: Niall Slevin, Alistair McMillan and Dave Skaff

The system was a game-changer for O'Herlihy, who has been with U2 for more than 25 years. “The approach to the mix in the context of the way the sound is distributed has been enlightening, to be perfectly honest,” he says. “The size of the system has created an experience that is incredibly responsive. We now have something that's almost touch-sensitive. When you make a move, there's a large physical element of immediately hearing what you do.”

Because of the staging's scope and design, the textbooks had to be thrown out and a system designed that would cover everyone. O'Herlihy says, “From the mix perspective, you have to get your head around the whole concept of having an inside column and an outside column, and how you distribute your gain structures accordingly.”

The players' audio experience onstage was an essential element in the system design. “Any time you do things in 360 degrees, the apex of that circle is right where the drummer is,” O'Herlihy continues. “It would normally be a difficult place to perform while being hammered with all that bass.” This is where the use of the 72 Clair S4 cardioid subs around the outer ring comes in. “The cardioid movement works extraordinarily well in nullifying bass, so it's a clean, clean stage that is a good performance area,” the FOH engineer adds.

O'Herlihy has seen an exponential evolution in tour sound technology. He had his digital education on the DiGiCo D5, which was innovative at the time. On the Vertigo tour, he had the benefit of the D5 being around for a few years before he took it out. He did not have that luxury with the SD7, but trusted that it was the only console that could get the job done. The SD7 was the only solution that let him put each and every individual channel where he wanted it without using external equipment that would have meant another link in the chain that could possibly fail. Still, the SD7 was a leap of faith and trust in DiGiCo. “We've had our glitches along the way with software updates, but like everything else, we're in virgin territory here and we felt that that the SD7 is what made this whole thing work.”

Underneath It All

Monitor mixers Dave Skaff, Alistair McMillan and Niall Slevin make their home under the massive stage, which is also where offstage keyboardist Terry Lawless plays. Because all three mixers don't have a view of the stage, they watch what's going on via TV monitors at each station. And as the band is moving around so much, each station gets a four-camera split specially switched for their benefit, resulting in the band being visible at all times.

Skaff mixes for bassist Adam Clayton, drummer Larry Mullins and Lawless on a Digidesign D-Show Profile. The tour's redundancy mantra carries on below stage with Skaff mixing on one Profile with another right next to it ready to go. “With just a couple of switches hit at the same time, I'm fully up on the second rig,” says Skaff, who worked for Digidesign on the VENUE console project from the beginning. In his mixes, he uses a variety of plug-ins from Waves, McDSP and the Phoenix plug-in from Crane Song, and also records every show to Pro Tools HD.

Using digital consoles has made it easier to provide specific mixes for each bandmember. The Edge has six guitar amps onstage and two under, while Clayton has five bass guitar feeds, and they rely on the team to provide the specific balances they need for each song. Skaff points out the advantage: “Without digital, it would be a madness of markers and 3×5 index cards. At soundcheck, Bono will do half a song, shout out another song, do 12 bars of that song and shout out another. It would be impossible to get all that to come back without the digital consoles.”

Mixers Slevin and McMillan provide audio for The Edge and Bono on two DiGiCo SD7s, each running dual engines fed via MADI. Each desk runs both mixes, the thought being that if one console quits, the engineer can jump to the second engine on the working console and continue to work until the downed desk can be revived. The stage racks and local racks used for processing are also duplicated and can be quickly switched if needed. McMillan is recording the show to Steinberg Cubase on two independent Apple G5s, which top out at 90 tracks, 20 of which are ambience. “I feed [Bono] quite a bit of ambience,” says McMillan. “He enjoys hearing the audience reaction.”

To help with latency, McMillan keeps Bono's vocal on an analog path by getting a split from the stage, which he sends through a Rupert Neve-designed Amek preamp and then into a channel on a Midas Verona analog console. The rest of the band and effects are sent to a second channel on the Verona, which all go directly to Bono. For the singer's reverb, he's using the Bricasti M7, McMillan's favorite new toy. “It's more like glue than a reverb,” McMillan says. For Bono's delays, he uses a TC Electronic 2290 and a variety of verbs from Lexicon and Yamaha across the rest of the band.






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