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Views from the top: The noise expert (Roly Oliver)

He recently joined UK-based audio management specialist Vanguardia

Experienced sound engineer and latterly sales consultant Roly Oliver recently joined UK-based audio management specialist Vanguardia as a consultant, bringing real-world FOH chutzpah to the party

Who are you?

Roly Oliver.

What do you do?

I am head of live business for Vanguardia. We are acoustic consultants for live events in the UK, among many other things. In particular, we help with licensing for events, including negotiating the terms of the licence and then helping events to stay within the terms of the licence while still giving the best results inside the venue. Whether it be a charity event at Kensington Palace, a stadium concert or a multi stage festival, this is what I do.

Where do you do it?

We cover everything from Wembley Stadium, Hyde Park and Readjng Festival to fan parks at Kings Cross and outdoor theatre performances in Bishop Auckland.

Why do you do it?

I’ve worked in sound for 30 years (for Britannia Row, then Eighth Day Sound in the UK). Doing this gives me the opportunity to help sound engineers and promoters deal with the noise issues that they face from the point of view of someone who knows of what it’s like to mix a show within prescribed limits. I feel as though I’m giving something back to the industry I love, in both a literal and a metaphorical way.

What’s your biggest success to date?

“Having only started in May I will report back after the summer.”

What’s the biggest challenge coming up?

This would definitely have to be the Lovebox Festival. It’s a multi-stage dance event for thousands of people in a lovely park in a very built up area. This year we will be using ten MeTrao units to monitor on and offsite levels – I’ll tell you a bit more about these units in a minute. We work closely with the festival and audio providers to discuss the best approach prior to the festival, including the site layout and the system design. We then work hard to give the best levels at each stage over the whole weekend.

What is the ‘issue’ that never seems to go away?

Weather. It can hugely affect the levels achieved at the agreed off-site monitoring locations. The really big variables are caused by cloud cover and high winds – they can lose us a significant amount of SPL that the stages can run at.

How can Vanguardia improve off-site noise even more?

Starting at Reading Festival last year we have been running MeTrao. This is a standalone unit that inputs audio to a database. By matching the audio at source to off-site locations, it allows us to pinpoint the problems much more accurately – right down to third octaves. It’s allowing us to get the best possible results, and also allows us more freedom with the stages that aren’t causing a problem. Altogether, these techniques are improving the experience of the events for the audiences.

What we do is noise modeling based on generic systems. It’s standard practice to punch your numbers into prediction software and come up with your sound propagation. We would then take a look and make recommendations. Even without prediction software, I can go to FOH and suggest alternatives based on my experience, sometimes of specific venues and their foibles.

When people are shown a heat map of the distribution of sound – whether that’s using the d&b audiotechnik software, or Martin Audio, or L-Acoustics – I can actually show them how to make meaningful changes to the patterns rather than it being just a random monitor. A classic case in point was my first gig for Vanguardia: we did the Portsmouth Summer Show, and it just so happened that the lobe from the subs was pointing at one resident’s house. Cardioid subs offer lots of control, but there is some ‘ballast’. We went back to FOH, added a few milliseconds to the centre subs and it pushed 5dB off the LF at that position.

How can you further enhance the links between measurement and mixing?

The display on the MeTrao unit gives the engineer the information he needs to be in control. Instead of it being relayed to him, he can clearly and easily see the frequencies and levels he needs to change. It does all the work for you and appears completely un-technical. You set it up; it does all the thinking, and just gives you the solutions. Instead of you having to trawl through data, MeTrao looks at the frequency response from the local, off-site microphone, looks at the algorithm and tells you which frequency is the problem – and which stage is the problem. It gives you so much more control over what you’re trying to achieve.

What is the technology that makes Vanguardia tick?

Now and moving forward it will be MeTrao. The units are called AB units, which stands for acquisition box. You can use them to throughput all manner of data from meteorological statistics and air quality to load sensors for motors and vibration sensors. Beyond live sound, this is a technology that covers all the many areas that Vanguardia as a company is involved in.

If you were 18 what advice would you need?

Find something you love and make a career out of it. Thirty years since my first paid gig and I’m still loving being involved in the music industry.

This is #12 of 14 ‘views from the top’ appearing in PSNLive 2016, PSNEurope’s 11th annual analysis of the European live sound industry.