With multiple performers and an elaborate stage set, the Live Art: Tree of Life festival provided a worthy test of the Soundcraft Vi4 digital consoles used for FOH and monitor mixing, and the ViSi Remote iPad control app.

Live Art: Tree of LifeSoundworks of Virginia handled the live sound for the event, which took place at Virginia’s 3,200-seat Landmark Theater and was  produced by the School of the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community (SPARC). The event featured Grammy-award winner and SPARC alumnus Jason Mraz, along with kd lang, Christina Perri and other artists performing with more than 200 children of all abilities.

One unusual and daunting logistical hurdle was the placement of the monitor console – behind some of the scenery, which blocked monitor engineer Bryan Hargrave’s view of the pit band and the bands and performers at one side of the stage. The fact that the house band was positioned in the orchestra pit, in front of the main PA system, did not make his or FOH engineer Grant Howard’s job any easier. A group of children in the box seats at stage left were also in front of the PA and had to be miked for the show.

Howard described the event as ‘like performance art, musical theatre and bands playing all rolled into one’, mixing seasoned veterans with children with little or no experience in front of an audience.

Between aiming the PA speakers, and the Vi4’s functionality and ViSi Remote control, the show went without a hitch: ‘The ability of the Vi4 to be controlled by an iPad was a lifesaver,’ Hargrave says. ‘In any other situation, not being able to see the performers during the show would have been a severe disadvantage.’

Soundworks used 62 inputs in the FOH console and configured the output with left/right/subs on an aux configuration for the main outputs plus two more feeds going to the under balcony and a feed dedicated to the hard of hearing. In addition to the complex live mixing duties, it was necessary to generate 62 channels of audio for a multitrack recording to be used for a planned PBS documentary film. ‘It was about as simple a hookup as I’ve ever seen for such a complex routing scheme,’ Howard noted. ‘We just plugged in the Madi interface, turned on the consoles, assigned things accordingly, and that was it.’

Tree of LifeDuring rehearsals, Hargrave was able to abandon the monitor console and listen to the mix from anywhere in the theatre, and make adjustments. ‘We had 16 powered monitors across the stage and I could walk right up to a performer, the piano player or a group of singers, hear exactly what they were hearing and use the iPad to make adjustments to the monitor mix right on the spot. Without the iPad app, I would have had to walk to and from the console a hundred times.’ After dialling in their monitor and FOH mixes, Hargrave and Howard saved their mixes using the console’s Snapshot feature.

Hargrave and Howard had two days of rehearsals to dial in the sound for the more than 200 people who were onstage at various times, and found the Vi4’s ability to recall scenes indispensible: ‘By the time the show went on, all I had to do was scroll from one Snapshot to the next and the mixes were right there,’ Hargrave says.

‘This was the most out of the ordinary show we’ve done on the Soundcraft Vi4, but we found it to be perfectly adaptable to the situation,’ Howard pointed out. ‘In my experience it’s also the easiest console to teach visiting engineers how to operate.’

For Soundworks, none of this would matter much if the Vi4 didn’t sound good. ‘We’ve demoed a lot of boards and Soundcraft is one of the best-sounding digital consoles,’ said Howard. ‘And aside from being extremely useful, the colour-coded FaderGlow controls look great in the dark! We got a lot of compliments about how cool the board looks from people in the audience walking by it.’

‘Doing the Live Art: Tree of Life event is a humbling experience,’ says Soundworks president Steve Payne. ‘It’s just absolutely astounding to watch these kids perform with artists of the highest calibre. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Many of these kids have special needs and face challenges on a daily basis. Watching them perform on this stage is like watching a flower blossom. The process is hugely rewarding for all of us – the kids, the performing artists, the crew and the audience alike.’

More: www.soundcraft.com
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