La Victrola is a 13-ton steel gramophone sculpture and performance stage paying homage to the roots of recorded musical performance. It’s staffed entirely by volunteer labour, and for the last two years has appeared at a major U.S. arts festival* in the Nevada desert during late summer. After a week, the entire structure is dismantled and shipped back to American Steel Studios in Oakland, California where it was built.
In its capacity as a venue, La Victrola hosts evening concerts featuring live bluegrass, country, jazz, opera, burlesque artists and more. To support these productions, La Victrola requires professional stage lighting and a significant pro audio sound reinforcement system that complements these acoustic ensembles. However, La Victrola’s sound system design must also compete against many other massive fixed and mobile PA systems, which propagate thumping electronic music continuously throughout the art festival. Adding to this challenge is an intense desert heat (106 degrees by mid-afternoon) and the pervasive and aggressively corrosive alkali dust which can block out the sun during 70 mile per hour dust-storms. It’s easy to imagine why any production technician would be shaking in his/her boots preparing for this event. We turned to the Adam Hall Group with its event technology portfolio and quickly found solutions under its lighting brand, Cameo, and under its pro audio brand, LD Systems.
“We packed up the Cameo lighting and LD Systems pro audio gear and drove it out to the Nevada desert, having only done preliminary testing, and without any backup. We were scheduled to deliver three distinctly curated shows in one of the most unforgiving environments on earth. The most amazing part was not a single thing went wrong with the sound and lighting equipment. Therefore, the producers and performers were free to follow their creative instincts and deliver phenomenal concerts. They were magical nights,” said Nick Fynn, one of the founders of the La Victrola project.
“When initially conceptualizing the production design for La Victrola I knew we wanted to accomplish two main goals – vibrantly illuminate the structure and stage so that it would be unmistakable from a distance, and create a detailed listening experience for a large audience while retaining a sense of intimacy,” said La Victrola’s Production Designer Scott Theakston.
“After using a more conventional PA system in 2016, I realized that the desired acoustical effect would only be possible with a spaced array speaker system, which delivered a wide dispersion pattern. Thanks to the gracious support from the Adam Hall Group, we were able to deploy six LD Systems MAUI 28 column speakers with the delayed monitors located at 25-foot / 7.6-metre intervals in a 50-degree line from the main monitor pair on the corners of the stage. Once the latencies of the spaced monitors were eliminated, the system had an incredible, enveloping coherence that allowed an audience member to move from the stage to the mix position (75 feet / 23 metres away) without amplitude drop offs or frequency smearing. Considering we were in the perfect free-field environment to evaluate this type of array and speaker design, I can say that I was ecstatic to hear how balanced the MAUI 28s sounded, even before I had a chance to optimize and tune the system. During our concerts, where we had a great variety of performers and instruments on stage, the system consistently delivered intelligibility – with punch and presence to an audience of 500+ without resorting to excessive volumes. I even witnessed groups of individuals comfortably holding conversations while standing immediately adjacent to the speakers at concert level – unthinkable with a standard PA design! And while the focus of La Victrola is on acoustic performers, we did feature a DJ who played swing-house tracks to close a concert and (with a small amount of adjustment to the sub levels) the system handled that content fantastically, keeping lots of bodies dancing. Additionally, due to the MAUI 28s slender profile, their placement next to our art nouveau lamp posts and the wide, encompassing sound field, quite a few people came up and asked ‘Is the sound coming out of the horn?’ – they were baffled and just couldn’t figure it out!”
“I loved performing through the LD Systems Stinger PA System,” said guitarist and producer Tom Lattanand. “For this show I had worked with some flame effects guys I know to add a flamethrower to the neck of my Taylor. I was covering Django Reinhardt while controlling the fire effects through a modified volume pedal. The sound on stage was amazing so I was free to just cut loose and have a good time.”
“I was very impressed with the performance of the LD Systems Stinger 12A G3 speakers we used as floor wedges for the stage,” said Scott Theakston. “I have very high standards for active stage monitors and these Stingers were fantastic not only for their fidelity and power, but their durability. I really appreciated the option of their built-in ‘Monitor’ mode filtering and how easy they were to ring out to deliver clear, pain-free vocal reinforcement. These units were put to the test, even enduring a massive dust storm while sitting on the ground with no failures or hassles, and I watched that same dust storm cripple a high-end digital console. What a brilliantly designed utility speaker!”
“The Cameo LED lights, which the Adam Hall Group provided were just fantastic,” said La Victrola Creative Director Tim Bremner. “The piece is 35 feet high, and just like our sound design, our lighting design had to compete against some other massive displays, many of which were mobile. The Cameo lights were incredibly powerful, but not intrusive. From a distance La Victrola was one of the most recognizable pieces at the festival, but participants could still walk right up to the piece and interact with it without being blinded.”
“We needed lighting fixtures that could withstand installation for over a week in an environment that excels at breaking everything (including people),” continued Scott Theakston. “Beyond the punishment from the heat and dust, we had to be concerned about participants kicking or otherwise damaging these units as they were bolted to the top platform. From the moment I first unboxed one of the Cameo Flat Pro 12 IP65 units I knew we were going to be just fine – they are built like tanks! Once the fixtures were fired up on La Victrola they brought the piece to life with vibrant colours, and I was especially grateful for the amber LEDs that helped us perfectly match the golden / tungsten hues of our side panel lighting. They even made incredible work lights for our crew as we started striking the piece, which was an awesome bonus feature.”
*The intellectual property rights of the festival do not allow us to name it directly, and we are also trying to honour the festival’s well-known stand against commercialization and commodification by not using its name.