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Exclusive: Behind the scenes at legendary film composer Hans Zimmer’s world tour

Britannia Row is currently supplying audio for the Hans Zimmer Live 2017 World Tour. We went behind the scenes at the SSE Wembley Arena show to check out the sound set-up…

Over the past 30 years, Hans Zimmer has become one of the world’s most successful and innovative film composers. The first choice composer for the likes of Sir Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan and Ron Howard, Zimmer’s films, including The Lion King, Gladiator and The Dark Knight Rises, have grossed in the region of some $24 billion.

In the last three years, as well as composing, his attention has turned to touring his scores live. In 2016, Zimmer embarked on his first sold out European tour, with audio requirements supplied by Britannia Row. The Hans Zimmer Live 2017 arena tour began in Los Angeles back in April, prior to Australia, New Zealand and Europe, ending in August back in the US.

The courage and ambition of Zimmer’s music is matched in all departments of the live production. Britannia Row has supplied all of his shows since the one off show at London’s Eventim Apollo in 2014. Colin Pink mixed at FOH for the 2016 run and is back at the helm for 2017. He, along with Nathaniel Kunkel, an LA based 5.1 mix engineer specialist, designed the show control set up and specified the sound system.

The courage and ambition of Zimmer’s music is matched in all departments of the live production

“The show itself is a cross between theatre and a multi-band performance,” Colin Pink told PSNE. “There are so many different styles of music and so it is a bit like having ten different bands in an evening. In my opinion Brit Row are the best at dealing with those complex numbers and requirements.”

The first half of the show is characterised by a broad range of classic Zimmer music, including music from Driving Miss Daisy, The Lion King, Pirates of the Caribbean, Gladiator and The Thin Red Line. The second half is what Zimmer calls his superhero music, including a 22 minute suite from the Dark Knight Rises, then Interstellar and Inception.
On stage the musician line-up consists of 22 band members, including two guitars, bass, double bass, woodwind, drums, five keyboard players, two percussionists, two violins, cello and Zimmer on keyboards, guitars and banjo, plus 16 in the choir and an 18-piece orchestra, comprised of strings and brass. Guests are also a regular feature on the tour, with Trevor Horn guesting at Wembley for Video Killed the Radio Star, a hit single Zimmer played keyboards on in 1980.

Deploying Digico desks

Digico SD7s are deployed both at FOH and monitors, running at 48kHz with a Digico SD11 used to premix the orchestra and choir. The SD11, positioned at Monitor World, sends stems to the SD7 at FOH. Three Digico SD stage racks are deployed on a fibre loop network with in excess of 260 inputs at both end of the snake. Mix engineer Gavin Tempany is mixing monitors (27 stereo mixes plus 10 mono mixes to IEMs). Microphones on the run include top of the range Sennheiser, Shure and DPA.

In the first half of the show Pink spends a lot of time mixing the band’s sound, varying from jazz to traditional song and bringing it into a live experience with something as simple as a touch of reverb. The second half of the show uses a lot of sonic special effects. Most are played live with Pink using the two quad joysticks on the SD7s to pan around the arena. He uses layers and snapshots on the SD7 to create his mix, with his channel set-up set around instrument types – so a layer and a half of keyboards, a layer of guitars, drums, etc (10 layers in all). He uses internal FX on the desk and multi-band group compression for drums, orchestra and choir.

There is no compression on the PA, however, in effect he is mastering the live instruments and the electronic instruments separately on a TC Electronic M6000 to blend the two together. Main loudspeaker outputs consist of the left/right main hang send, rear left, rear right, subs and fills.

Commenting on the nature of his mix, Pink adds: “It is a great challenge, and I would not have it any other way. It is incredibly rewarding. If I did this a thousand times I would never get bored, simply because there are so many sonic textures involved. The way that Hans writes his music is so textured that it allows me to drive the music. With an essentially silent stage apart from drums, choir and orchestra, it really gives me total control. It’s a fantastic show to mix.”

The tour has utilised a number of different PA systems, supplied and in-house, including JBL Vertech, d&B audiotechnik J Series and L-Acoustics K1 and K2, creating an interesting challenge for Pink and his system tech, Sergiy Zhytnikov, who also worked on the 2016 tour. For the Australian and European leg of the tour, Britannia Row – following the recent acquisition by Clair Global – supplied a Clair Cohesion Series Audio System.

It is a great challenge, and I would not have it any other way. It is incredibly rewarding. If I did this a thousand times I would never get bored, simply because there are so many sonic textures involved

Colin Pink

At Wembley, the main left/right hang consisted of Cohesion CO-12s, plus self-powered CP-218 sub bass cabinets, with side hang comprising further C0-12s. For surround sound flown to the back of the arena it was CO-12s, essentially working as a separate PA. Ground subs consisted of CP-218s with front fills comprised of CO- 8. The system was powered, with the exception of the subs, by Lab.gruppen PLM 2000s with Lake Processing for control.

‘Impressive’ subs

“Cohesion is a really great sounding system with an incredibly clean and open sound,” Pink comments. “Sergiy has spent a lot of time refining it to make new presets. I have to say, Clair Brothers have been fantastic in making it work in the way I want it for Hans’ music – the CP-218 subs are very impressive. They have got a lot of headroom and can go very loud. One of the interesting things about this show is how low the bass goes and that in itself at times takes the lead melody. There is a lot going on below 30Hz on this show and it needs to be perfectly well defined. I am getting that from Cohesion. Clair have been fantastic in working with us to make a new preset and refinements to make it work for this show. From both a business and audio point of view, in terms of the acquisition by Clair Global of Brit Row, I do think that CO-12, K1 and K2 compliment each other very well.”

Other key Brit Row staff on the tour are Jimmy Nicholson, crew chief, Simon Sayer, additional FOH and tech, Guillaume Burguez, head of stage, Josh Thomas, RF manager, and Maria Head, orchestra and choir engineering manager.

Pink concludes with further praise for Brit Row. “Why I love working with Brit Row is that they are never afraid to do things differently and take on challenges. Which is why they are known for their multi-band awards shows and hugely ambitious productions. Their back up and service is second to none. They are really good at doing big projects well. And in my opinion Brit Row are the best at dealing with those complex numbers and requirements.”

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