Picture this – it's mid-afternoon, the sun is shining; I'm relaxing in the lobby of the prestigious Hotel de Paris, sipping on a chocolate-coated cappuccino, admiring the décor and soaking in the chilled- out atmosphere... That's not quite true – I'm milking their free WiFi, praying the stunning waitress won't charm me into another 11 Euro coffee before I set off for soundcheck. I'm actually staying in the Novotel... in Nice.
Nevertheless, with a spring in my step, I make the short walk across the square to the festival venue – and it's no ordinary venue. The Opéra de Monte- Carlo is more like a palace; its 150-year-old walls house a plentitude of very regal looking rooms and corridors, as well as the 900-capcity Salle Garnier. As I walk in, I notice Alain Courieux walking out for a smoke. This man is a true gent, and a magician at FOH. Last time I saw him, he was juggling about 20 keyboards for Jean-Michel Jarre at Wembley Arena on his DiGiCo SD7, and this time round, he's mixing on an SD10, which I can't seem to locate...
Where's the desk?
“That's because front-of-house isn't actually at front-of-house here, you see,” he explains, with a smile. “We're in the dressing room – we call it the studio, actually, as we have a pair of Genelec 1031s to monitor the audio - and we're located two floors below the arena; it sounds crazy, I know, but it works beautifully for this gig.” The reasoning for this setup is three- fold: to respect the building's character and aesthetic; to save battling the venue's acoustics; and to keep all of the seats available. “As a punter, you don't need to be punished by the acoustics of the room; and what we get out of the speakers here is the exact sound that's coming from the stage mics,” Courieux explains. “Then we send that via MADI to the [DiGiCo] SD9 in the main room, where Olivier Moreau [of Arpège, the audio provider for the event] controls a stereo feed, the subs level, and the announcer mic.”
The FOH console is packed out at 96 inputs running at 48kHz; audio is being distributed via three DiGiCo racks on site: two SD Racks and a DiGiRack, the latter is for the SD9, the former are shared between FOH and monitors.
“The monitor board is in charge of the level of the preamp - the master - and we adjust the level of the SD10 in the dressing room with the digital trim,” Courieux continues. “The SD10 is very versatile, like all DiGiCo boards, and plenty powerful for a show like this. Also, we've connected DiGiGrid, which is great; we only got the unit two days ago, but it's easy to use and it's running like clockwork.”
Using DiGiGrid, Courieux will record 92 tracks of audio tonight for Marcus Miller (bass player extraordinaire-cum-Grammy Award-winning producer): a two-hour set with a 52-piece orchestra and full band; everything's going down dry so Miller can work on the material himself, post-show. Courieux has copied the outputs from the two SD Racks to the MADI output of the main SD10, fed audio to the DiGiGrid, then sent the signal via RG45 cable to his MacBook Pro, which is running Logic 9.
“I'm using the internal effects from the SD10, which are all excellent – all I carry these days is a Lexicon 960,” he says, booting up a second MacBook Pro. I ask him what he's doing. “I am taking care of the orchestra on this Mac. Using both laptops, I have control of the DiGiGrid and the remote DiGiCo control; this one is giving me extra channels.”
Woman On A Mission
Backstage, Rebekah Foster, Miller's tour manager, production manager, co-monitor engineer, and pretty much anything else she sets her mind to, seems to have multi-tasking down to a fine art.
“Walk with me,” she insists, so I scuttle along after her like a stage hand, concluding that she is not to be messed with. “This is jazz – we're a family here, and we look out for each other, and we all pull together for each other,” Foster reveals. “Having DiGiCo consoles makes life a whole lot easier, especially with an orchestra. I love the snapshots, the control groups, the I/O racks; and DiGiGrid allows us to record the shows very easily.”
I spot Courieux as I make my way to FOH, and ask him what kind of relationship he has with Miller in terms of artist/engineer. He turns to me, stubs out his cigarette, and offers a wry smile:
“Marcus knows exactly what he wants; he sends us his three bass feeds – DI, mic, and amp - and we take it from there. We don't discuss sound so much; to be honest, we much prefer to talk about wine...”'