The following article from alive.gr editor Vasilis Ladonikolas is in response to our request for a technical report on the cinema concerts held at the Greek Odeon Kosmopolis. The invitation to this event originally came from Rackey’s tech crew and was of particular interest for a variety of reasons. The long-awaited comeback of Katy Garbi to the live concert scene in Greece was obviously the main purpose for writing the article. But the concept itself was extremely interesting: ten different cinema concerts were held on five consecutive Fridays and Saturdays in one of the cinemas of the Odeon Kosmopolis 3D-Multiplex Cinema located in Maroussi, a suburb of Athens. The second and most important reason for this article, for a website such as alive.gr and its target group, was down to the technical challenges arising from the choice of venue – concerts in a movie theatre. These challenges were so complex, and as a result the entire project was very unconventional and certainly not a ‘normal’ concert event, as we know it. And that is what it is all about…
“Cinema concerts”: Challenges & solutions …
Upon my arrival at the Odeon, I saw that the description of the event given by the concert crew was absolutely true. During the meeting we had before entering the hall (while we were waiting for the end of the film and for the cinema audience to leave the hall), I was briefed by Chief Sound Engineer Vasilis Michalopoulos and Rackey’s technicians about all the difficulties, such as those relating to time constraints for the line check/sound check and the general preparations because the hall was still being used as a cinema.
This is how it looked: for one thing, we had to deal with a typical multiplex cinema auditorium, which was even in 3D (this fact is significant, as I’ll explain below). The reverberation in the auditorium was almost at the level of an anechoic room, a problem that is exactly the opposite of what you typically find in concert halls, because in ‘normal’ halls, the objective is mostly to prevent unwanted resonances and reflections…
The second problem was the positioning of the sound system, as the sound was definitely not supposed to sound like it was coming from somewhere in the background. The stage had to be kept as small as possible, and of course the lighting system including cross-beams was also only allowed to occupy minimal space. The use of outrigger supports was out of the question due to lack of space and the risk of accidents for the audience at the hall exit (the exit was right next to it).
3D-screen acting as a ‘muffler’
The third problem was the biggest challenge, because the hall was one of the 3D cinemas of the Odeon Kosmopolis in Maroussi, and whoever thinks that the only difference with a conventional cinema lies in the nature of the projector is wrong. The screen of a 3D cinema differs enormously from a conventional screen, and that applies not only to the gain factor, the luminance, but above all to its structure (important for the sound!), which at first glance only looks as if it is sound-permeable. In reality, however, the opposite is the case because the small ‘openings’ distributed over the entire area are a first-class optical illusion, as Vasilis (Michalopoulos) and Theodore (Zioutos) from Rackey’s told us, who initially fell for the “trick”. Actually, both realised during construction and before the rehearsals, that the screen allowed almost no noise to pass through (in particular no high mids), because it was reinforced with conventional fibres and equipped with special coatings to meet the requirements of a 3D projection.
For this reason, we needed a larger, more effective sound system, had to completely reconfigure the equalizer (which on first impression is already almost “heretical”) and we had to radically revise the entire project in audio terms. The solution was a combination of various speakers plus line arrays. Actually, the installed sound system in the cinema comes completely from LD Systems – the famous German Pro Audio manufacturer which is working with Rackey’s as a trading partner and official LD Systems dealer in Athens (including exclusive distribution of the LD Premium series).
PreSonus StudioLive, Aviom and iPad forever…
Another challenge was the positioning of the sound console, because there was no space available for a real FOH. So, Vasilis decided to install his PreSonus StudioLive 24.4 in the first row of seats, directly in front of the acoustic drums from Spiros Panagiotopoulos – objectively the worst place you could find (as he admitted himself), but it was the best option in this situation. Of course, Vasilis was not seated there at the sound console, but he controlled it via iPad, so that he could adjust the mix in real time, at any time and from any position. As said above, the audio console was combined with an iMac and an iPad; a PreSonus StudioLive 24.4, and the musicians took advantage of a fully equipped AVIOM monitor system with a 16/i-M, an AVIOM A-16D Pro A net distributor and six AVIOM A-16II personal mixers, one for each musician.
Everything from LD Systems, controlled via Xilica…
Since we’re already talking about the solutions… The problem with the ‘special’ screen, behind which all the speakers were set up (of course completely invisible as if they were not there at all), we managed to solve in the following way: The 6 LD Premium LDV15 speakers were placed outside (one on the subwoofer and the other two hanging from the ceiling on both sides), while the line-array system with LDVA8 speakers were arranged in two rows of 4-speakers each at a height of 3.5 m or 3 m from the left or right edge of the screen. 4 LDV215SUB (2 x 15″, 1200 watts each) were used as subwoofers. The entire system was controlled by 6 LD Premium power amplifiers plus a XILICA XP8080 controller.
The lighting technology
Two cross bars without outrigger posts were installed for the lighting. Because of the lack of supports, the bars were screwed into the ground and secured with straps to two other points on the walls, so that the safety of the spectators was always guaranteed since the cinema was still being used for film screenings. The lighting system consisted of ten GLP Impression 90, eight Robe 575 AT, two DTS Fresnel 1000 W, four Selecon PC 500 W, a DTS Moon 1200 HMI Tracker as well as a SGM PILOT 3000 light console plus Lite-Puter 626 Dimmer. The show offered abundant visual impressions, with very little recourse to playback – , if it was indeed necessary, it was only for the voice of the Italian singer Ornella Vanoni in the duet with Katy Garbi in the famous song ‘Buona Vita’, for example. By the way, Garbi’s new album will include Italian songs, exclusively.
Sound and light… (Or: from theory to practice)
It was the last of a total of ten performances by Katy Garbi at the Odeon Kosmopolis, and on this evening, everything was more complicated than usual because the show was being recorded as a movie. While we were waiting for the feature film of the evening to end, Vasilis Michalopoulos and Rackey’s AVL team explained the project with all its peculiarities.
After the movie ended and the audience had left the room (which, as a whole, included 325 viewers), the actual job and the race against time began for us all – technicians, musicians, lighting and sound people – because we only had 20 minutes until the doors were reopened for the concert-goers. In this short time, our crew had not only to do the line check and sound check, but had to test the entire lighting and other visual systems.
The stage was divided into three areas: the central elevated area belonged solely to Katy Garbi , the sides to the six orchestral musicians. At the sound check, it was unmistakable that the hall sounded “too dry”, but after a while, we became accustomed to it. The line check showed that sound and EQ settings of individual musical instruments were quite good. Meanwhile, Vasilis Michalopoulos checked the sound from various locations in the auditorium, always with the iPad in hand, to be able to make immediate corrections, if necessary. When the show started, Katy Garbi arrived through the audience entrance onto the stage, with a Shure wireless microphone in hand. Crossing the auditorium, she was already singing, and the six famous and experienced session musicians accompanying her, were truly convincing. There were interesting arrangements that could almost be described as ambient or electronic compositions, and that gave the old and new Garbi songs a ‘modern’, fresh touch.
The ‘Basil’ – mix was balanced, detailed and concise. Garbi’s voice stood out superbly from the solid rhythm base, the guitar was exactly where it was needed, and the soloists (in particular the brass from Tsakas) were brought to the fore, when required. The sound mix always followed the dynamics of the music and fully met the needs of the demanding modified orchestration – a real surprise. To counter the absorbent properties of the hall (and the corresponding pre-delay), the sound technician worked on instruments and vocals, and the overall sound level was not ‘held back as is usual for cinema’, as you might have expected, but came quite close to that of a normal live performance. The voice of Katy Garbi was always warm and relaxed, even though she stood out so concisely from the mix. And once again, I would like to stress that the band was excellent and disciplined. You could hear how many hours they had rehearsed for a perfect performance.
All this in a smoke-free cinema atmosphere, without a lot of alcohol and, above all, for a moderate price (15 Euro).
The projections and huge screen as the backdrop for the stage contributed the image material for the desired “cinema feeling”, which of course perfectly suited the Odeon. The light from designer and lighting engineer George Botsaris (from Rackey’s) was kept very minimalistic and, at the same time, very efficient – with constant scenes, in specific colours. It was never too much, only covered the white screen in the background in pleasant colours, was inspiring and gave many a track its very own character. (An example is the minimalist use of strobe in the song ‘Applause’.)
The repertoire included songs by Phoebus and Nikos Antipas, and also songs from Greek cinema from 1960s films, of course personally selected by the singer. To be honest, I had attended the event for very specific reasons, above all for the technical aspects, but the show convinced me because of its aesthetics, and I had a really nice evening. My thanks go to, amongst others, George Botsaris, Manos Kotsampasis, and Theodore Zioutos of Rackey’s AVL for the invitation and their hospitality and to Chief Sound Engineer Vasilis Michalopoulos for the information about the event. Katy Garbi will soon repeat this successful project.
Below are two short interviews with Vasilis Michalopoulos and George Botsaris, who will specifically go into the technical details of the events…
aLive: Vasilis, what was your impression when you heard the band at the first rehearsal in such an ”anechoic” space like the Odeon cinema?
V.M.: I just thought that the band was fortunately very good and the whole thing was perhaps easier than it might seem at first.
aLive: The three main problems – the ‘anechoic’ room, the PA system behind the pretty massive screen and at the same time directly behind, and much too close to the band microphones – how did they complicate your work and what solutions did you find?
V.M.: We had to adjust the configuration of the sound system to the special space requirements. On the one hand, an extensive effect operation was required, on the other, we needed a really big system to penetrate the screen. The headroom of the PA system (100 db at 40% power) enabled us to position the band in front of the PA.
aLive: What was necessary to achieve a balanced sound? Only the equalisation of room acoustics, or you did you use special mix techniques?
V.M.: We reached the correct calibration and a balanced sound radiation pattern by normally mixing the point sources right and left on the outside (LDV15 and LDV215) and individually adapting the mix for the inner array (LDVA8 cluster, also right and left) to the front fills (LDV8).
aLive: The equalizer settings were certainly the most extreme you have ever had to use in a PA-system, weren’t they?
V.M.: Yes, of course. At first glance, the settings were very unnatural, but they were adapted to the screen and not to the speaker or the space.
aLive: In such a room and under these conditions (FoH-position, cinema seating etc.), I quickly realised that the wireless remote control via iPad was a huge help. Are you completely satisfied with the Presonus RC software or do you have any unfulfilled desires?
V.M.: The wireless remote control was very helpful. And the iPad offers everything you need, regardless of the FOH position. You can sit where you want! The console worked perfectly, and I could easily control everything using the RC software.
aLive: What do you think? Are digital consoles, tablets and software applications with their almost daily upgrades today and in the future a ‘must’ in a live situation or are they just useful tools for special applications such as ‘the Garbi Live’ in this room? In other words: if this concert had taken place in a normal concert hall with a normal PA (and perhaps with a higher budget) – would you have then decided on the same technical equipment?
V.M.: The technology is being developed and we adapt. Personally, I find new gadgets very interesting and useful. Modern technology has changed the way we work, definitely changed, and that’s fine with me. If I had mixed in a normal room, I would have had a top system with an analogue or digital 100 mm fader console, because the feeling when mixing is more direct. For this event, I would have liked a XL3 in the centre of the room, right in front of the seats (like now), but this is no longer done.
aLive: Have the new technical possibilities changed the principles of sound technology?
V.M.: Dear colleague, today sound engineers work on a completely different level. Something like that, I would never have imagined in my early days as a sound man, when I was working with equipment that would today be described as ‘vintage’. But actually, nothing has changed. The ‘buttons’ that we use may be different perhaps, but the basic principle is the same.
aLive: Did the auditorium absorb resonances and harmonics overly, or was it just my impression? And did you use more reverb than usual to achieve the same results?
V.M.: Yes, the room really sucked up sound like a sponge. Both effects devices, the PreSonus-system and the four Pro Tools effects plug-ins were used for all instruments and the actual mixing.
aLive: What were the criteria for choosing the combination of LD Systems plus PreSonus? Was it only the budget that was crucial, or did other aspects play a role? And now that you are done with the last show, how do you rate this combination in particular against the background of such adverse conditions as with this project?
V.M.: Not only did the budget play a role, but also an important factor was the excellent cooperation with the technicians at Rackey’s AVL, who despite their humble appearance are very qualified people and were open enough at the same time, to tackle such a risk with me, even if it was not exactly a conventional installation. I had already heard LD speakers in Frankfurt, and I liked them. I’ve also used them already on tour several times, and they were reliable and have a very good sound. It was the first time I worked with PreSonus, and I’ll do it again.
aLive: What problems did you have with Garbi’s microphone, because the vocal cluster was located just a few inches behind her, directly above her head, right? The main problem was that the cluster went directly ‘through the mike’. When she sang towards the screen, it was particularly difficult.
aLive: Are you satisfied with the result? And what would you do differently, if you had to participate in such an event again?
V.M.: Under these very special circumstances in this cinema and in view of the time available for set up (20 minutes!) … Yes, I am quite happy and don’t think I would change anything.
aLive: How did Katy Garbi feel during her performances in this extraordinary auditorium, which differs significantly from her usual venues?
V.M.: She told me that she loved it and that she would probably do it again.
aLive: Thank you very much for this information. V.M.: Thank you for your interest in our project, and also a big thank you to Rackey’s AVL for their first class support.
George Botsaris from Rackey’s AVL told us the following:
aLive: There is no question that you had to put together a special installation for this event. What were the biggest challenges you had to face in terms of sound and lighting?
G.B.: The challenges at this concert series were of a very complex nature, and everything was somehow connected. The fact that the normal theatre business continued in the hall in parallel and that we had less than an hour for the preparations, had great influence on the design of the sound and lighting system and the solutions for which we ultimately opted.
These were the key technical challenges:
the biggest problem revolved around the sound, because the PA was behind the screen and thus also behind the musicians and the singer. Due to the restricted space behind the screen, it was difficult to find a position that made sense. Also the higher frequencies were really problematic due to the very low sound permeability of the screen. Vasilis (Michalopoulos) had to constantly watch the delicate balance between gain and headroom to avoid feedback. Then, the choice of an acoustic drum kit in place of the originally-proposed electronic one and the completely unusual FOH position almost directly in front of the drums, so that the console could only be operated by remote.
The next big challenge was the lighting. The parallel projections for most songs heavily restricted the options for the lighting design. Another problem related to the lighting system was the rigging. Rigging points with correct ‘angles’ practically did not exist. The screen had almost no room to the left and right and none above. Due to the acoustic insulation of the room, there was also no way to suspend anything with the weight of a lighting system without extensive structural changes to walls and ceiling. The requirement to completely dismantle our installations meant that we had to integrate everything into the existing structures and equipment of the hall, which further complicated things.Among the minor problems: the cabling from the screen to the console and to the projection room, where the power supply was located and the difficult access to the hall, so that practically the entire equipment had to be transported by hand via stairs …
aLive: Was this installation one of the most difficult, that the Rackey’s team has ever had to deal with, or has there been ‘worse’?
G.B.: It all depends on what you mean by difficult. Our team has certainly already worked under completely different conditions. In the last year, we were entrusted with an event to celebrate the founding of the new Opera House of the Niarchos Foundation, located on the grounds of the old Faliro Racecourse. The area for the event was 45 m wide and 7 m high, and the speakers of the main cluster were 60 m apart, without having the opportunity to insert any front fills. The auditorium measured 100 x 80 m with approximately 3,000 seats. At another event, we built a catwalk over the pool of the Balux summer Club, using cross beams and Nivtec stage elements exclusively. Because the construction was established on the bottom of the pool, it was a very demanding job, in which we also had to swim a lot. The audio-visual event of the battles of Kalpaki was also an interesting experience, with many, many kilometres of Socapex cable and tons of mud.
aLive: Then this probably was one of the few events where your hard work remained completely invisible. The sound system was not visible at all, and the minimalist lighting in this space probably required a lot more attention than usual…
G.B.: Certainly. At first glance, nobody saw how much work was involved. The program was structured in such a way that the light, at the beginning, was used only sparingly anyway. In the second half of the first part, viewers then had an impression of what the event was all about, and could get a picture of what we had done in the run-up. Vasilis and Theodore, who were responsible for the sound, were always on alert… And in the minimalist light show (as dictated by circumstances beyond our control), we had plenty to do, in order to achieve the desired result. I had to redesign the scenes and program several times, and was often on the verge of despair, trying to create something with so little material, without affecting the projections and the effect of the songs.
aLive: How did you stabilise and secure the two crossbeams without any outriggers?
G.B.: The two truss structures right and left of the stage came as T-bars, combined with two cross bars each with a width of 2.5 m and a height of 6.5 m. Each was mounted on a base plate of 60 x 60 cm, which in turn – as expressly authorised by the theatre management – was bolted to the stage floor. To ensure maximum stability, we opted for Litec heavy duty trusses. Careful calculation of the loads and two straps per side were required, so that the construction without the outrigger supports was also protected from oscillation. Then we dressed the crossbeams with black fabric, so that the construction was almost invisible to the actual theatre visitors.
aLive: How much preparation time did you have for the individual shows, given that normal cinema activity continued in the auditorium?
G.B.: That depended on the films which were shown before. We had at least 20 minutes and up to a maximum of 1 hour 20 minutes. Originally, it was planned to rebuild the stage and backline for every show. That would have been very risky, because we would have had to set up the entire cabling for the stage loudspeakers, the in-ear-monitoring and the DMX-splitter each time. Vasilis (for whom the permanent assembly and disassembly probably would have caused the biggest problem) suggested to the Manager of the cinema, that stage and backline should be built and covered with black fabric during the screenings so as not to disrupt. So everything was ready within 20 minutes, for the individual concerts.
aLive: Was the minimalist lighting design the decision of the producers, the lighting technician or the request of Katy Garbi?
G.B.: From the outset, the production was planned with very low use of light. Gobos and moving heads for graphic elements should not even have been used. The specifications mentioned only the colour choice for special scenes. Moreover, the video projections that accompanied most songs restricted our lighting possibilities because reflections from the stage to the big screen had to be avoided. The floating floor of the hall from row 2 onwards did not allow us to use more bars at the rear. Therefore, we could illuminate the stage only from certain angles. Also, the two moving heads in the rear corners had to be placed and stabilised each time anew, because they were constructed on stands in the auditorium. Our options were very limited. Until shortly before the premiere, we worried about the lighting, but then we saw that the viewers liked the show, and the reviews were very positive the following day.
aLive: How did the LD Systems loudspeakers perform in this almost sound dead environment, being positioned in a kind of LCR configuration behind the band and moreover, behind an almost impervious screen?
G.B.: We had used equipment from LD Systems at various events in a variety of conditions before, and they had convinced us since the very first time we heard their sound. If one considers value for money, then they sound even better. Our rental system was made according to our specifications, so that we had plenty of amplifier power available – and thus a great sound without distortion. For the spectators, it was unusual to hear the sound, but not to see the sound sources. At the beginning, some people even thought it was all playback. As a technician, I really enjoyed the whole thing, and this impression has been reinforced by the numerous positive comments from the audience. For example, the bass was perfectly adequate, although we used only 4 subwoofers with two 15″ speakers (half of the cinema system). Bottom line, you can tell that LD Premium speakers and amps are really good, honest systems – especially if you keep in mind the purchase price.
aLive: How well known is the LD brand in Greece, and how do you see its future development?
G.B.: This year, LD Systems celebrates its 10th anniversary on the worldwide pro audio market, and given the completeness of the product range and the value for money, there might still be abundant potential for development. Price reductions for comparable products from well known manufacturers reduce our market share, but we receive excellent feedback from our customers not only in relation to the products themselves, but also in terms of the after sales services provided by the manufacturer and us.
aLive: Thank you very much for the interview and good luck for Rackey’s AVL in this highly competitive market.
Detailed information about LD Systems is available here:
Source: alive.gr, Greece, January 2013