DiGiCo SD7T Ghosts Into Finnish National Opera

When the Finnish National Opera (FNO) was given the rare opportunity to stage a completely original production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, it took the opportunity to stage a show that wowed audiences with its sheer scale. However, the audio system installed at the Helsinki Opera House could not match sound designers Sakke Kiiskis and Stanley Lönnquists vision. The answer? Install a DiGiCo SD7T mixing console, which would ensure all FNO productions rose to a new level of excellence.

Sound designers Petri Peltovako (left) and Lari Angervo

Sound designers Petri Peltovako (left) and Lari Angervo

This is the first time that Phantom of the Opera has been staged in Finland, the first performance taking place in September 2015 and the last this month. The scale of the production has meant it features the largest ensemble of soloists, chorus members and dancers ever seen on stage in the country. Indeed, Etelä-Suomen Sanomat – the largest circulation newspaper in the Lahti area – was moved to declare “It is safe to say that no better production of Phantom than this can ever be staged in Finland.”

The production features a 40 piece orchestra and 44 singers with microphones (some of the choir is not miked), but the chosen console also had to be extremely flexible to handle a wide range of other productions – from classical opera pieces and musicals, to modern dance with 7.1 backing tracks.

“We have a long relationship with DiGiCo and believe their T consoles are the best and most flexible for musical theatre,” says Santtu Sipilä who designed and installed the updated audio system, including the mixing console with the Opera’s sound crew.

“We previously installed SD7Ts in Helsinki’s Swedish Theater and City Theater, as well as specifying them for the production of Kristina från Duvemåla in the Göteborg Opera and the Cirkus arena in Stockholm, Sweden. We have also used an SD10T in the Tampere Theater, southern Finland.”

Santtu worked with Reima Saarinen on the design for Finnish National Opera, specifying a DiGiCo SD7T with EX007 extender wing and six SD-Racks on twin optical loops, plus a Waves SoundGrid system.

“The main challenge was to fulfil all the needs of a modern opera house,” says Santtu. “The venue works in two shifts and there are usually two productions per day in the main hall. For example a classic opera piece will be performed in the morning, then a musical with fully miked orchestra in the evening.

“To accommodate this kind of workload – which also requires backing tracks, effects and virtual soundchecking – we use every channel on the SD7T. Both optical loops, Waves and the EX007 are in everyday use. One of the many advantages of the SD7T is that on the larger musicals we can have two operators on the console – one for the orchestra and one doing the vocals.”

Wavemark did the initial SD7T training for the Opera House, as the company was able to do it in Finnish, but DiGiCo product specialist Dave Bigg has also been booked to run a masterclass.

“The opera staff have been very happy with the choice of the SD7T and the possibilities that it offers,” says Santtu. “We have always enjoyed great support from DiGiCo. We have sometimes had unusual questions about large digital systems, but have always had quick answers from them.”

“The overall flexibility of the SD7T has been a great asset to us,” confirms Petteri Laukkanen, Deputy Head of Stage at the Finnish National Opera and Ballet. “The ability to recall complete console and routing setups has provided us with great logistical advantages, as we change things between shows on a very tight schedule. Features like SD7’s theatre software, virtual sound-check capabilities and in-system audio routing to our TV production system, allow us to carry out complex productions with pristine audio quality, in a simple and effective manner.”

New York’s Sound Generation invests in DiGiGrid
In amongst the hustle and bustle of Manhattan’s West Village sits Sound Generation, a state-of-the-art recording and mixing studio that plays host to engineers and producers from around the world. Its latest investment is in DiGiGrid technology, which maximizes the studio’s networking flexibility.

Sound Generation splits its time between music and postproduction sessions, so having its workflow switch quickly and smoothly is crucial. DiGiGrid is a perfect solution for the studio, which comprises control room, vocal booth and a larger live room.

A DiGiGrid IOC sits in the control room, managing a diverse range of duties, depending on the needs of each session, including I/O for talk and listen back mics, headphone outputs, and SLS and Cue feeds to the live rooms. It is also used as a multi-channel input interface for the Blu-ray player and its AES I/O is used to hook up all the studio’s vintage time-based effects, that max out at 48k sample rates.

“What initially drew me to DiGiGrid was the overall flexibility and the quality of the software and Core Audio/ASIO drivers,” says Andrew Mittelman, Sound Generation’s owner and engineer. “With my new studio update, I wanted to be able to offer the exact same I/O setup to all my clients, who are increasingly interested in using other DAWs besides Pro Tools.

“Since every digital I/O on the IOC has sample rate conversion, we can keep all our master Pro Tools sessions at 96k, but still utilize all the cool vintage effects boxes. And since all the hardware effect insert send/returns are patched into the SoundGrid network, any engineer can inject those effects into a headphone mix without taxing the DAW.”

In the machine room, Sound Generation has a DiGiGrid DLI, two DiGiGrid MGOs and a Waves SoundGrid Server One, the DLI providing 64 DigiLink paths to/from the studio’s HDX3 Pro Tools system, allowing each user to utilize these paths in two different ways: for Waves SoundGrid DSP voices; or for SoundGrid networkable I/O patch points. 32 DL paths are dedicated to Waves SG DSP voices, providing low-latency Waves DSP directly from Pro Tools. The other 32 DL paths are used as networkable I/O for other computers or I/O devices on the SoundGrid network.

“Up to 64 Waves SoundGrid DSP Voices are available, so it is easy to toggle the other 32 DL paths in the SoundGrid Studio app to being used for DSP,” continues Andrew. “The remaining DigiLink ports on the Pro Tools rig are connected directly to two DAD AX-32 Routers, so any type of I/O can be patched in or out of Pro Tools.”

Sound Generation utilizes Mytek AD/DA converters, which are also connected to the DAD routers. This means that the MGO and Mytek converters, used in combination with the DAD routers, give any client access to all the I/O, regardless of the DAW they want to use. Sound Generation also uses one DAD router as the master monitor controller, so any I/O connected to it can be a monitor source/destination.

“There are many occasions when my clients come in with their own laptops with multitrack sessions already created. Before I installed DiGiGrid, I spent a lot of time consolidating, bouncing and then importing audio files into Pro Tools. Now I can just hand my clients an Ethernet cable and get up to 128 outputs from their computer feeding directly into my Pro Tools rig,” says Andrew. “Since the SoundGrid network supports an audio MIDI setup to sync two computers’ DAW transports, I can choose to monitor the tracks live until my client is ready to commit, and then I can do a one-time record pass into Pro Tools right on the grid.

“The DiGiGrid interfaces also allow me to easily turn the vocal booth into another control room, so my clients can have a mix session going on in the main control room, and a separate tracking session taking place in the live room. In addition to the IOC, DLI and two MGOs that I keep connected to the main control room, I also have an IOS that isn’t installed in any specific room. I can give the IOS to another engineer/producer to use as a completely separate I/O plus DSP rig when the control room is busy with a mixing session.

“And I can even take it out on live recording/mixing dates and use it in conjunction with the Waves LV1 software mixer and tracks live. The whole set up provides me with an unparalleled level of flexibility.”    

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