Glastonbury 2011: Pro audio review

Despite the muddy fields and an underwhelming headline set by the tax-evading blokes in U2, Glastonbury, as always, was a showcase of the world’s most prominent artists, and to a further degree, the world’s leading sound reinforcement and mixing equipment. And the festival did not fail to produce the euphoric sense of togetherness that other festivals try so hard to duplicate.

Because the Worthy Farm bonanza has been plagued with mellow-harshing noise regulations, the engineers and system techs have been working hard over the past years to control the spill from the stages while providing the best sound for the punters out front. This was harder in some areas than it was in others, as you will read in the following report.

Pyramid Stage
For the fourth year running RG Jones Sound Engineering provided the audio production for Glastonbury’s Pyramid stage. The London-based firm supplied a Synco by Martin Audio PA, a custom designed Synco sub-bass array and Synco stage monitor systems. Additional crew and gear came from fellow Synco Network members Ampco Flashlight of Holland.

Martin Audio’s W8L Longbow handled the Pyramid all weekend, with a total of 64 cabinets flown in 16-deep dual inner and outer main PA hangs per side, and a further 64 W8LCs flown in four delay positions, all timed using SMAART. XTA DP448 digital controllers provided loudspeaker control, with Klark Teknik DN360 for ‘grab’ EQ.

The system was proposed by Jason Baird, Martin Audio R&D director, and tuned in conjunction with RG Jones system tech, Mark Edwards. The array has been refined over the past three years, in conjunction with noise monitoring specialists RPS Planning & Development, to keep the Worthy neighbours at bay.

“It was about ensuring that the arrays were deployed correctly and optimally angled downward, to minimise spillage beyond the site perimeter,” said Baird. “During the weekend it was just about keeping the system EQ’d and timed to ensure that it performed optimally with the changing weather conditions.

“In order to maintain coverage within the off-site sound limits, the top four W8L Longbow and W8LC boxes in each hang could be controlled individually. Thus we were able to turn them down independently of the rest of the array, which was crucial,” he said. Further spillage was contained by delaying the subs incrementally from the centre outwards so the overall wavefront could be tuned to fit the shape of the Pyramid Stage field.

For the first year Synco network partners Ampco Pro Rent provided the subwoofers — so that instead of the conventional WS218X (2 x 18in) subs supplied by Capital Sound Hire previously, the low-end registration was entrusted to 36 x WS318X enclosures (loaded with 3 x 18in drivers), built to Ampco’s specification.

The sub bass was arranged in a combined cardioid and broadside sub array — electronically curved, and with one in three subs rear facing. “We had the top and bottom front facing and the middle enclosure facing backwards,” explains Baird. “With a third of the subs facing backwards in a cardioid configuration this effectively reduced the broadside array’s output on the stage itself.”

Project manager Steve Carr of RG Jones handled FOH and Hugo Scholten, with Mark Edwards as system engineer, supported by PA rigger Remco Verhoek. At FOH, a pair of 48-channel Midas XL4 consoles handled the core mix duties along with a Digidesign Profile. All consoles were matrixed via two Midas XL88 mixers.

The Pyramid was headed by Mark Isbister with Alistair Viles, Matt Sussex and Tim Wann, and monitor engineers Steve Watson and Ben Milton. A pair of Yamaha PM5D consoles were used throughout the weekend, along with its Yamaha LS9 board. Isbister commented: “The equipment was very similar to last year’s; we know we’ve got a formula that works including ARCs sidefills and Synco wedges.”

Michael Eavis’ premonition that U2 would bring their own stage set up was a bit of an exaggeration; however, the band did bring a completely self-contained stage system. Isbister explains: “Jake Berry, U2’s production manager, decided to house their monitor consoles – one for each member of the band – in a 40’ truck parked in the backstage dock, so we didn’t have to dedicate any extra stage space to their setup and it worked really well. The band’s headline set was mixed by DiGiCo’s SD7 digital console. An SD7 was also used for Coldplay’s headlining set, in addition to an SD8 that was used for Jessie J’s Pyramid performance.

The Other Stage
This year Skan PA provided a combination of J-Sub and J-Infra bass array configurations for the Other Stage. “The two used properly together provides extra weight to the low end from the Infra’s extra 5Hz of reach,” said Skan’s system tech Matt Vickers who designed the install for Glastonbury. “But it has to be implemented correctly with particular attention to cabinet spacing. We’ve had the main flown system design perfect for two years now so containment there was assured, but this was the first time for the new sub arc. It proved to be the most even coverage we’ve ever achieved with almost subliminal extra warmth in the low end. That’s a big thing for us; if you have perfectly contained sound within your field at Glastonbury then you can apply appropriate levels to the variety of bands that perform there.”

The system comprised L/R J8/J12 loudspeakers with the same combination for the side hangs. On stage side fills were cardioid arrayed B2-SUBs with flown Q-Series loudspeakers and d&b M2s as stage monitors.

Two Midas Heritage 3000 consoles were available for FOH mixing. Friendly Fires FOH engineer Richard Barling and monitor man Simon Lutkin both mixed the band’s Other Stage set on Soundcraft Vi6s. “We carried all our mics and a full line system supplied by SSE. Using our own line system meant our changeover went very smoothly. Skan PA did a really good job,” explains Barling.

West Holts
APR Audio has been providing gear for the West Holts stage since 2005. This year’s stage hosted an excellent performance by R&B newcomer Janelle Monae, and headlining sets from ‘Fuck You’ singer Cee Lo Green and genre legends Kool and the Gang. The PA for the stage consisted of EV’s XLine line array system and was comprised of 12 deep hangs with 36 Xsubs. “We also used 15xws as side fills and the sound on stage and out front was gorgeous,” says APR’s MD Andy Reed.

Engineers had the choice of an analog Midas H3000 or Allen and Heath’s iLive-144 console. According to Reed, the iLive went down a treat with the engineers all weekend: “We used the desk with a laptop and iPad complement and the engineers thought it was fantastic.”

John Peel Stage
Established as an area to debut the best new indie bands, the John Peel stage featured performances from LA indie darlings Warpaint, Joy Division enthusiasts The Horrors and the London’s phenomenal Yuck. APR also equipped the stage with PA from EV; in the form of XLC line array over 24 Xsubs with Xray sidefills. Artists were able to monitor their guitar feedback and reverb drenched melodies through D.A.S. Audio’s 15-inch Road Series monitors. An iLive-176 was used on stage for monitor mixes, while an iLive-144 and a Yamaha PM5D were used at FOH.

Dance Tents
Manchester-based rental firm, Audile handled both the East and West Dance Tents this year. The firm supplied its new D&B Audiotechnik J-Series system for the East tent. It used six J-Infras from d&b, integrated with its own J-Subs for the first time. “We’ve been very keen to try the J-Infras, and this was the ideal opportunity to try them out,” said Audile’s MD Rob Ashworth. “The additional low-end extension and headroom the Infras added to the system gave us the perfect sound for East Dance’s mix of live acts and DJs.”

Audile employed its trusty Funktion-One system for the West Dance stage. It used clusters of Res 5s and F221 bass bins with Res 1s used for infill. Amplification was supplied by MC2 and processing by XTA. An analog Soundcraft MH3 we used for FOH mixes while a Yamaha M7CL was used to mix monitors.

Glade Stage
Audio Funktion fitted the festival’s famous Glade Stage with two stacks of Funktion-One F221s under Res 5s, with additional Res 4s used in the rear. “The rear flown Res 4s were added to keep things more concentrated and intense within the area because there is so much going on around it. There were times when they asked us to turn down but it wasn’t more of a problem than it is at any other festival, and none of the punters seemed to notice.”

If you survived the BBC’s Fearne Cotton banging on about all the ‘awesome things’ that Glastonbury has to offer, you will know that there is more to it than just the main stages. As such, Resurgent Audio mounted F-1’s single 21-inch F121 subs with Res 2s on a float that went around the site as part of the festival’s Art Car Parade. Powered by a generator on a flat bed truck, the float was parked in the Unfair Ground and driven along the site during the day, with DJs like as A Guy Called Gerald spinning from the vehicle.

Spirit of ‘71

Funktion One personally fielded a prototype system on the festival’s new Spirit of ‘71 stage. The system featured unreleased speakers in combination with a mixture of existing boxes. “We were running a L/R system with the prototype system with Twin F221 subs,” explains F-1’s John Newsham. “We set up a hexagon arrangement with another four stacks running our ambisonic surround sound and some various manipulation stuff that we have been experimenting with for years in our sound field endeavours. Amplification was provided by a range of MC2 amplifiers and our OEM XTA self-powered bins. We used a Midas XL4, so we were as analog as we could be.”

In the heart of the festival’s after hours areas lies the Mad Max inspired, flame erupting DJ booth known as the Arcadia stage. Under strict guidelines from the festival to keep the sound contained in the field, Audio Funktion was forced to use less bass bins than normal this year. In previous years the area was arranged with the speakers facing in, which sounds better and more even, but this limited its size. This year the size of the area was extended and everything had to be outfacing, which meant that the overall sound level had to be reduced to comply with regulations.

Arcadia’s sound system was devised of two rings of ground stacked loudspeakers clusters. The inner ring on or inside the metal structure had clusters of F-1’s F218s, Res 4 and F88s to get the dispersion and keep the power levels down. The second ring was comprised of six towers placed 20 meters out that were formed of Res 5s and Res 4s with F218s and F221s.