Cirque du Soleil's 'Iris'

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



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photo of Point One Studios

Dennis Sands' Point One Studios, which is based around a Euphonix CS 3000 console

The live solos for Iris were assigned to a string quartet of violin, viola, cello and bass (the last player doubling on electric bass), plus woodwinds (clarinet and saxophone), brass and two percussionists. The musical director and assistant musical director handled keyboard, sampled-sound and synthesizer parts.

“Then we moved to the Kodak Theatre for a month of final mix sessions with Vikram [Kirby, from Thinkwell Design & Production], who helped me set up the various automated mixes and channel assignments,” Elfman says. “The first shock there came when I realized that, because we weren’t running timecode, we could not use Pro Tools automation, with which I am very familiar. Instead, the show is made up from a series of prerecorded cues replayed from a large Ableton Live system,” which also provided stop/start timing cues to the various lighting systems and video playback servers. “So, instead of having a continuous timeline, with events synchronized at timecode points, we had to mix in [snapshot-based] sections with level and panning changes being triggered as scene transitions that occur at those prescribed cues. To say that it was a complicated mix would be major understatement.”

Front-of-house mixing of Iris is handled by a Meyer Sound D-Mitri system offering a total of 264 inputs, 76 main outputs and 68 aux channels. A series of networked D-Mitri LCS CueConsole2 control surfaces are divided between a large console (at the rear of the house beneath the first balcony) to handle overall level control and automated routing, and a small 32-fader panel used for final level adjustments during each live performance. A separate D-Mitri system with CueConsole2 is located backstage as a dedicated monitor mix for the live musicians and onstage performers. The D-Mitri DSP engine handles all EQ, mixing and routing implemented by CueConsole2 control surfaces.

While all of the technical systems were designed by Cirque du Soleil, then engineered and integrated by Montreal/Las Vegas-based Solotech, Thinkwell Design & Production conceived, designed and engineered the audio and communication systems. (Iris sound designer Francois Bergeron is also a partner in Burbank, Calif.-based Thinkwell.) The wireless system, designed by James Stoffo, includes 18 channels of Lectrosonics Venue Receivers with VRT modules and 18 transmitters from the SMQV Series.

“There was an audience present for three of our four weeks of mixing,” Elfman says, “including a week with an invited audience and two weeks of previews. Vikram helped me map the sounds across the main LCR arrays and the near left/right and far left/right loudspeakers, as well as the surround and delay channels. I want to achieve a sense of both ethereal sound within the auditorium, as well as a more ‘present’ sound for certain cues.

“For some set pieces, I elected to spread the music more widely, whereas for others—where the action is more intimate and centered within the stage areas—I added more brass, woodwinds and strings as necessary to achieve the result I was after. After a week of initial mixes, I was joined by [Iris head of audio, Sylvain] ‘Sly’ Brisebois, who helped make the transition to the smaller bank of faders as we refined the sound balances.”

According to Brisebois, who currently mixes the show each night from the 32-fader CueConsole2 controller located in the center of the right-hand audience section, “The modular system let us assemble a compact system in the audience where I can hear exactly what they are hearing. Iris is a very dynamic mix that changes from night to night. I have access to the full live mix stored within the D-Mitri system, and can recall pre-programmed VCA subgroups to fine-tune the overall balance during the show and match audience reactions to the onstage performance.”

“The interaction with a live audience is exhilarating,” Elfman concludes, “with that opening-night feeling every day. I come from a live theater background; that palpable fear that the show may—or may not—run tonight. I will admit that during the first week at the Kodak, I wasn’t sure if we could pull it off—I was feeling doomed. But we did pull it off, and I enjoyed the experience despite the hiccups. The process was very unlike anything I’ve done in my 26 years of film scoring, and almost two decades performing with OingoBoingo. In reality, Iris is a culmination of my early days with Le Grand Magic Circus when I was 18 and living in Paris; I have come full circle.”

Mel Lambert is principal of Media&Marketing, an L.A.-based consulting service for the professional audio industry. He can be reached at

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