Cirque du Soleil's 'Iris'

Mar 1, 2012 9:00 AM, By Mel Lambert



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photo of Dennis Sands

Scoring engineer Dennis Sands

Eight months before the Iris premiere in mid-2011, Elfman received details of the show’s final running order with its 12 discrete sections. “Unlike previous Cirque shows, there is no pit band for Iris,” he notes. “Instead the plan was to pre-record the orchestral score, apart from the live performances of eight soloists that would play their parts live each night, as the music director triggered each [pre-recorded] cue to accurately follow each performance, to accommodate timing differences night-to-night and the looping that is necessary as performers re-stage a particular sequence. In other words, the score needed to be divided up into a large number of sections to follow the performance, which would be slightly different each night. It became a mind-bogglingly complicated process!”

The scoring project began in Elfman’s personal recording studio and composing room and then moved to the Fox Scoring Stage in West L.A., where he was joined by his first-call scoring engineer, Dennis Sands. “We had three days of stage time to record 70-plus minutes of the music needed for Iris,” the composer recalls. “We broke down the scoring dates into nine sessions—three per day—to record the various orchestral performances for the 80-piece orchestra.

“Because we were planning to remix the elements at the Kodak Theatre, and determine the various output assignments for the left, center and right [Meyer Sound speaker arrays] and the multiple surround channels, we broke down the recording into separate sessions,” he continues. “We recorded large strings with 45-plus players; medium strings with 25 players; smaller strings with a dozen or so players; separate sessions for orchestral woodwinds and another for a big band with saxophones; plus brass in orchestral and big-band passes, percussion and choir. I had already recorded a number of guitar, organ, accordion, synthesizer and live percussion tracks at my home studio, where I have a large collection of tympani, percussion and a range of drums—my signature sound, if you will. We also tracked a number of ethereal pads, plus the sounds of pots and pans.”

In addition to Sands, the production crew included orchestrator Steve Bartek (Elfman’s musical partner dating back to his Oingo Boingo days) and conductor Pete Anthony; Tom Steel served as technical stage hand at Fox Scoring, while Adam Olmsted was Pro Tools operator. “I use Adam on all my projects to record and manage the session files,” Sands states.

“We used a different close-miking setup for the big-band section,” Elfman continues, “to give us a Nelson Riddle type of sound with less room ambience. With all the stops and starts needed for the various segments, it was a very demanding session for the orchestral players. The different cues also meant further divisions, and because of the need to loop some of the sections during live performances of Iris, the dynamics within each cue needed to be carefully controlled.”

“I used Millennia HV3D preamplifiers for the orchestral tracks, [which were] miked with a Decca Tree array of three Neumann M50 microphones,” Sands explains, “with Brauner VM1 tube mics as left- and right-wide pickups. Other spot microphones included DPA 4011s on violins, Neumann U87s on celli, Flea 47s on bass and Neumann M49s as bass-section overalls. For close trumpet miking, I used a Royer SF-1A ribbon, an AEA R44 ribbon on other brass, and an AEA R88 stereo ribbon as overall pickup; I also used AEA ribbon preamplifiers on the brass mics.

“Most of the orchestral mics were connected directly to the Pro Tools rig through Genex GXA8 A-to-D converters, which are my first-call units. To achieve a closer, less reverberant sound for the sax sessions, we used the large isolation booth at Fox Scoring with an overall stereo mic array made up of Lautner Audio Torch mics, as well as individual close mics: AKG C-12A, Sony C500 and Neumann U47, plus brass and horns in the big room with close mics to provide a tighter sound with enhanced separation.” The Fox Scoring Stage is based around a Neve 88R multichannel analog console.

“We then took the 24-bit/96kHz Pro Tools HD sessions to my Point One Studios in Santa Barbara,” Sands continues, “where Danny and I premixed the tracks for 12 days to create the material needed for the mix sessions at the Kodak Theatre. I also had a separate Pro Tools rig that contained the tracks we had prerecorded at Danny’s home studio. Our aim was to provide stereo elements for each cue, plus key solo instruments that could be panned into the various surround locations. We ended up with around 100 Pro Tools HD tracks recorded to a third rig that contained elements destined for the 26 discrete P.A. channels available at the Kodak.” Sands’ facility features a 96-input Euphonix CS3000 console.

“Because of time crunches,” Sands adds, “some of the premixing was handled by [fellow scoring mixer] Alan Meyerson, working in his own studio at Remote Control in Santa Monica.”

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