An Unforgettable Experience with Mark Knopfler

  • Europe
Live Productions
L-ISAL-Acoustics K2L-Acoustics KARA

Amplifying Mark Knopfler’s Tour with a Behind The Scenes Look at the Immersive Audio Solution

Immersive Audio: The Future of High End Live Sound

When the former Dire Straits front man put together an ensemble of ten talented musicians who play a plethora of instruments for his major tour, Mark Knopfler considered it was crucial that this talent’s musicality was able to be presented with the utmost precision on every evening of the extensive tour. Enter the concept of immersive sound.

Apart from the main man’s musical virtuosity on a range of guitars, the other band members collectively played some 40 plus instruments, including fiddles, mandolins, flutes, penny whistles, a pedal steel, a Hammond organ, a sax, a trumpet, a double bass, drums and every kind of percussion imaginable. Together, they contributed to ‘an Evening with Mark Knopfler and Band’ at over 40 European dates, plus 28 dates in North America.

The seed of an immersive idea was planted during an earlier tour when long standing FOH engineer Dave ‘DD’ Dixon was asked by Mark Knopfler if a guitar could be panned to come out of just one side of the PA system. At the time the answer was no, as half the audience just wouldn’t hear it, but it was this conversation that eventually lead to the adoption of immersive audio.

L-ISA Immersive Hyperreal Sound

L-ISA is L-Acoustics’ solution to immersive sound, the technology that allows audio to be presented to every listener in the same 3D image. The conventional challenge with sound reinforcement is that there is only a very narrow field between the stage and the mixing console where the listener is hearing the same image as the FOH engineer, even with a stereo image.

L-ISA addresses this problem by using multiple line arrays across the front of the stage. From
a graphical interface on a computer screen, the engineer places each instrument within the sound field typically to reflect where on stage the source is coming from. The L-ISA processor then produces the different outputs for each of the line arrays.

A demo of L-ISA at L-Acoustics HQ in Marcoussis made Dave Dixon realise it was the solution to Knopfler’s request for a more open mix on stage. Working with L- Acoustics field application consultant, Ulf Oeckel, a configuration featuring L-ISA was designed for the Mark Knopfler Tour.

The Success of Solotech’s PA Solution

Solotech supplied the complete PA system, along with an extensive control package for both the European and American legs of the tour. Our Live Productions division were appointed as a result of the ongoing relationship between the Knopfler production team and Holger Schader. Dave Dixon was “blown away” by our facilities when he prepped the tour at the company’s Redditch headquarters, having previously only dealt with us on festival sites.

“They have been excellent and the service has been superb. We’ve had three of their guys out with us on the tour who are fantastic.”

Dave Dixon

L’Acoustics K2 and L-ISA Provide Power and Intelligence

A total of seven PA hangs formed the primary L-ISA configuration on the tour with a further two hangs added to provide outfill beyond the footprint of the L-ISA system. Three hangs of 16 L-Acoustics K2 are flanked by two further hangs per side of L-Acoustics KARA. Outfill was covered by another two hangs of K2 with infill provided by six L-Acoustics ARCS Wide across the stage lip. Flown behind the centre hang is a single hang of nine KS28 subs in cardioid configuration, the only sub bass in the entire system. Solotech worked closely with audio system technicians, Ulf Oeckel and Max Menelec from the beginning to develop the system.

With 95% of the PA flown in the air Solotech opted to fly the amp racks off the main truss. On Ulf Oeckel’s recommendation, wireless motor controllers were built into the amp racks with the result that only fibre optic data cables and power were run up to the roof.

The Azimuth Mount – An Award Winning Innovation

The build process was very much a learning experience with a system of this kind created for the first time. We opted to build its own special amp racks for the tour that would hold everything needed and designed to be flown, they were load tested up to 10 tonnes. In addition we developed an Azimuth mount for each PA hang, to enable precise alignment of each array in relation to the others. The Azimuth mount subsequently received a PLASA Innovation Award.

Daily Deployment

Crew chief and PA tech for the tour was Freelancer Pete Hughes. Flying over 150 boxes each day is a complex process:

“We have a crew of just three but that’s sufficient due to the incredible design of the system. The truss was pre-wired during prep for the tour and the fact that the amps are flown makes life much simpler. We tend to split the truss in two so that we have two hangs of three that can be worked on separately.”

Pete Hughes

L-ISA: A New Approach to Sound Reinforcement

“With Mark Knopfler, people come to listen to the music, over and above any other aspects of the show. There’s Mark and ten outstanding musicians on stage and the system really enhances the listening experience. Wherever you are seated, you’re hearing the mix just as the FOH engineer intended with front to back dB levels remaining completely even.”

“L-ISA is perfect for applications where the music is key. Orchestras are the obvious example but it extends itself to all genres of music.”

Ulf Oeckel who was instrumental in the initial system design had been in line to be System Tech for the tour but had to withdraw for family reasons. Instead Max Menelec was brought in for the role.

“The system remains much as Ulf intended – I’ve made some changes but that’s just down to personal preference. “L-ISA is a new way approach to sound reinforcement where you can deliver the same sound everywhere. It offers increased musicality and is open to the engineer’s creativity.

Max Menelec

“I see it as the future and its application can be for anything from classical music to electronic dance music.

Calibration is critical and we spend about 90 minutes tuning the system before each show. It’s essential that each array is aligned exactly as per the system design. It has to be at the right height, the right angles have to be set between each box and each array has to be at the correct angle relative to each other.”

The ability to place instruments around the sound field eases some of the pressures on the FOH engineer.

“In a conventional system you end up using EQ as a tool to bring separation between instruments. With L-ISA that separation is already in place when you position each instrument so there is far less EQing required.”

L-ISA – So How Does It Create An Immersive Experience?

Pete Hughes explained how the L-ISA processors produce the immersive sound.

“For this tour the processors are producing a total of nine different mixes. There’s seven for each of the L-ISA hangs then a further two for the outhangs and the infill. So for example Mark Knopfler stands centre stage and his vocal and guitar are straight down the middle and are only routed through the centre hang.

Pete Hughes

Bob Scattergood, one of Solotech’s marketing team was able to catch one of the tour dates:

“I had previously heard a demo of L-ISA, so I was keen to hear it in a live environment – and I wasn’t disappointed. Seated 15 rows from the stage, slightly off centre, the sound image directly corresponded to what I was seeing. There was a mandolin in front of me and a saxophone to the right – and that’s exactly what I heard. Towards the end of the gig I went for a wander around the arena and the effect remained consistent wherever I stood with consistent dB levels front to back.”

Bob Scattergood

Sometimes innovations appear to be technology for technology’s sake. What you have here is the future of live audio for many years to come.

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