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Rock opera, rethought, with (Hell’s) bells on…

Gareth Owen will do anything for sound, but he won't do that

Jim Steinman’s Bat Out of Hell has revved up the musical theatre landscape with a rock offering that smashes boundaries. Unleashed in Manchester, before it hits London this month (June), Bat Out of Hell is an operatic, cinematic, live rock theatre experience, with a subtle touch of TiMax SoundHub spatial audio. Gareth Owen has created a sound design, supplied by London’s Orbital Sound and fully commissioned by Andy Green and the Gareth Owen Sound Team, that cleverly twists the raw energy of Jim Steinman’s meaty masterpieces around the dark and epic tale of a pulsating subculture.

With strong long-term links – anecdotally “mainly cocktail-related” – Gareth Owen was the sound designer of choice to create the aural extravaganza to match the visual feast of the production.

For Owen, Bat Out of Hell represents his first foray with TiMax SoundHub. He explains, “I wanted the ability to take instruments and voices and throw them around the room at the drop of a hat. After looking at various options on the market I couldn’t find anything that did what I wanted to do so elegantly in a cross platform comparable package.”

The highly scalable and adaptable TiMax platform offers a very cost-effective entry level, such as the 16×16 TiMax SoundHub-S16 specified by Owen for Bat Out of Hell, as well as the much higher channel counts required for full integration as main audio show controller for vocal positioning and dynamic spatial effects, rapidly becoming the norm for a variety of recent West End, provincial and Broadway shows.

Playback and 3D surround pan triggers are sent to TiMax from QLab via the Avid S6L mixing console. The distributed sound system comprised “small boxes and a large number of subs” from d&b V- and J-series. Owen adds: “Microphone-wise I use all the usual suspects – Shure, AKG and Audix, but I’m becoming a huge fan of DPA – it seems there’s nothing you can’t throw a 4099 on these days!”

Orbital Sound purchased the TiMax SoundHub-S16 specifically for this production. Orbital managing director, Chris Headlam, states: “TiMax is ideal for handling the complex and integral soundscapes on Bat Out of Hell. The production is a huge operatic piece with a big sound and communications system translated from initial specification by Orbital technical director, Bill Addison. The final system is highly complex due to the full-on nature of the automated redundancy. There were countless challenges and details to perfect, but it’s a process we’re well versed in.”

Owen deployed TiMax on some truly ‘rock god’-style sound effects – but only a few well-placed ones. “We use the TiMax primarily as a glorified auto-panner, using it to spin exploding guitars around the room and to mix in surround.” He goes on: “In this respect I used TiMax as the icing on the cake, rather than as a fundamental building block in this case – an augmenting special effect if you will.”

Summing up his first hands-on TiMax experience, Owens concludes: “TiMax did exactly what I hoped for and did it very well. Robin Whittaker and Dave Haydon from Out Board could not have been more supportive. TiMax worked flawlessly in its roles and I now feel that I have the confidence to integrate TiMax more deeply in the future: something I’m very much looking forward to!”

All images: ©Specular