The Analogues

Performing the final six studio albums from The Beatles catalogue using the same instruments, amplifiers and arrangements – complete with live strings and horns – Dutch band The Analogues have tracked down and restored period instruments from all over the world. To date, the band have conquered Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour, and will tour The White Album from January 2018.

FOH engineer Remko Luijten has been working with The Analogues for two years, with monitor engineer Ger Arts recently joining the tour. The extreme demands of the project have drawn both to SSL Live L500 consoles, supplied by the Dutch rental company, Peak Audio.

Marking the 50th anniversary of the release of Sgt Pepper at the 17,000-seat Amsterdam Ziggo Dome, a recent highlight comprised complete performances of both Sgt Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour, plus a third section of additional material with special guests. The show saw a stream of vintage instruments – including a rare Lowrey Heritage Deluxe Organ, as used on the introduction to ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’  – moving on and off stage. To accommodate the guests, a second monitor console was deployed – another SSL L500 – operated by Sydney van Gastel.

While the instruments, amplifiers and several of the vocal microphones are authentic originals, allowances had to be made for the demands of the project and the practicalities of bringing such complex arrangements to the stage. ‘The Beatles never had to play these songs live and so had far fewer problems with crosstalk or feedback to deal with,’ Luijten explains. ‘For example, we didn’t want any screens on stage, so the drum kit is not isolated and the strings are right behind it.’

The team settled on a piezoelectric contact element and microphone combination, using the piezo for the bulk of the sound with the microphone signal blended in. ‘Even only two meters behind a drum kit, it works,’ Luijten reports.

The Analogues’ attention to detail, extensive instrument collection and additional ensemble members, mean that the input count for any show is high. ‘Normal’ shows use four 32-input SSL SuperAnalogue Stageracks, while the Ziggodome special added another rack to accommodate guests and additional ensemble. ‘Normally we have around 100 to 110 inputs,’ says Luijten. ‘There are a lot of vocal positions for each musician, a lot of instruments that are only used for one song, and of course we have an orchestra and the percussionist.’

To manage the undertaking with a vintage console, would be unthinkable: ‘If you really wanted to stay true to the original you’d obviously need an analogue desk, but you’d need a desk at least five meters wide for the inputs we’d need to accommodate,’ Luijten says. ‘Besides that, every song is so different from the previous one that you have to do some automation on effects and on EQ. There’s no way it could be done on an analogue console – though, sound-wise, this desk comes as close as you can get.’

Luijten has all the instruments available on the first two fader tiles. He uses the L500’s third tile as the target for the its Super-Query function, which spills the source and destination paths of any selected Channel, Stem Group, Aux, Master or VCA across the console in a way that can be defined by the user for each path type. Part of his mix strategy is to make a Stem group for each person on stage.

The Analogues‘They all play so many instruments that the easiest way is to name the person,’ he explains. ‘And then whatever they’re playing in that song is on that fader.’

Luijten uses very little outboard – just an analogue tube EQ and compressor in one of the master inserts. He uses a Waves server for a few specific effects, but everything else relies on the SSL standard path processing and internal FX rack.

‘For every vocal I have a four-band dynamic EQ. Those old mics are really sensitive to the proximity effect, so the SSL dynamic EQ kicks in when needed and does a great job. One of the main effects I use is the SSL Tape Delay of course. I have it set up on a macro key so I can bring it up on screen with one button press and easily edit it.’

According to Luijten, a prime factor in deciding to use SSL Live on tour was ‘feel’: ‘I ask, what feeling to do get when you’re behind the console? Does it do what you expect? Can you find stuff easily? The learning curve on this console is not steep.’

He explains that the original console choice for the show was made by auditioning several manufacturers’ consoles – spending a day with each one.

‘The first move was to sit behind the consoles and try to set up a show and start mixing without a manual. What immediately caught my attention was the EQ. We put up a multitrack from our show via Madi and started mixing straight away. As soon as you turn a control on an EQ you realise this is what I want to hear. That was quite special. The main thing about this console is obviously the sound. They were all good, but this one really stood out – and that’s the most important thing for us.’

For Ger Arts at monitors, a regular show requires 24 separate stereo in-ear mixes. The five main band members have independent mixes created from the original discrete inputs, while the ensemble members’ mixes are derived from Stem groups, plus each player’s own channel. His approach – specifically to IEM – has far more to it than simply trying to recreate The Beatles’ classics on headphones.

‘When you put in-ear monitors in, everybody is on the same spot on stage. It’s flat – one dimensional... You have to give every musician a space on stage. You use panning, EQ and balance, and every musician gets their own spot. IEM mixing is all about giving them three dimensions. If I gave all the artists exactly the same copy of the album it wouldn’t sound right to the audience.

‘Most of the time that takes a lot of EQ and panning. With the SSL, most of the EQs are flat. I’m just doing a bit of panning. Everything has space as soon as I bring the mix up – you can bring new channels in and they sit where you want them to be. To hear that from the first song of the first sound check was amazing.’

Luijten notes that the audience are much more aware of the technology and of sound reinforcement. ‘The way this band approaches the music makes people emotional. They come up to the desk and tell me what a great experience they’ve had. They realise it’s all being amplified – more than with other shows where they would just “consume” it.’

Possibly the biggest compliment at the Ziggodome event came fro Geoff Emmerick, who engineered a number of Beatles studio albums, when came to the FOH position and thanked Luijten for a great show. ‘I think I did pretty good,’ Luijten says.

SSL Live is distributed in The Netherlands by Audio Electronics Mattijsen (AEM).

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