The Way Belgium Funktions
(Belgium) Somewhat of a midnight service station stop on the way to Germany or Amsterdam for many tours. You don’t have to scratch much past the surface to find a very deep and diverse culture, which has bred some creative bands and wonderful thinkers in Belgium says Sound Engineer Dave Swallow.
If, as a nation of ambition, you want to place your mark on musical history, maybe inventing a world renown instrument might be a good idea. Luckily for us, Belgium has such an inventor. Adolphe Sax! Yes that’s right, the gentleman that invented the saxophone named it after himself. Bands like dEUS, Soulwax and Milow who have taken to the world stage are all Belgian, with David Guetta boasting a Belgian mother, and Brian Molko a Brussels born boy who started Placebo. Just slightly outside the music scene, Audrey Hepburn, with her quintessentially English accent was born and raised in Belgium. This is how deeply ingrained Belgian culture is on world entertainment.
In all my years of touring, I’ve always been warmly greeted no matter what artist I’m with, with the very best in hospitality and well maintained equipment, nice friendly staff and a sense of belonging.
The grey skies above the capital, Brussels, reflect the hard stone buildings, but when the sun shines through the stone begins to shine and twinkle giving away a far more subtle under current to the city. Floating on the warm breeze though the gothic, art nouveau streets is the rustle of late summer leaves, sweet waffles and music. The cafe culture that has lured so many artisans has turned this city into something of a melting pot.
Living on the sharp edge of the fence between the comic and the serious, Brussels is home to some of the most world famous cartoons in history, whose characters are painted onto various walls around the city. As a counter to the artistic nature, Brussels is the CPU of NATO and European governance whose parliamentarians, lobbyists and world leaders converge regularly. When living so close to this disparate fence, the culture surrounding it tends to be one of extremes.
Does a capital city really reflect the attitude of the population at large? Only the same as London reflects the views and values of those in Halifax. A capital city is supposed to be at the forefront of the country’s potential both past and present; and this is what Brussels does so well.
The sun warmed, tight cobbled streets play host to many bars, restaurants and clubs most of which feature music in a prominent way. My first experience of their live venues was Le Botanique, a music venue and cultural complex. The Ancienne Belgique, or AB as it’s more widely known, is possibly the premier touring venue of the capital. Both it’s facilities and production values reflect the Belgian attention to detail.
Heavily immersed in Belgian productions is Funktion-One supplier, Soundsystem.be. As a culture that takes it’s art very seriously, the quality of sound reinforcement is also taken extremely seriously, and Soundsystem.be are extremely serious about sound reinforcement. They have looked after the sound for a lot of different stages at lots of different festivals like the flamboyant Tomorrowland and Lost Theory Festival over the summer. Company founders Lieven Pillaert and Tia Broodcoorens are now embarking on a new venture for the Funktion-One system in Belgium; The Bozar Electronic Arts Festival.
On September 20th, the Centre for Fine Arts, aka Bozar, accommodated the 3 day Festival. The beautiful Art Deco building right in the very heart of Brussels was taken over in a celebration of electronic art. From visual art installations, film and photography with new forms teetering on the knife edge of artistic expression and technological innovation. Deep inside the building you are surrounded by elegant white curves, polished brass wear and a sense of antiquity, possibly the most perfect place to join classical and electronic music in a celebration of electronic art. This is the first time that a Funktion-One system would be used in this way in Belgium. Tia is very proud of the fact that they are in control of the show. Audiophiles have understood that the sonic sculpture Funktion-One creates, lends itself heavily towards the clean, elegant, straight lines of electronic music, faithfully recreating the source material. But now, this fusion of classical and electronic music needs the faithful, gentle touch of such a fastidious system.
The main concert hall, Henri Le Boeuf, was the room where this fusion happened.
Hanging either side of the sweeping white curves of the stage is the trademark purple and silver geodesic Resolution 5 system. The contrast of the old and the new perfectly sum up the event. The Funktion One system comprises a total of 12 x Resolution 5 and 6 x Resolution 4D downfills powered by MC2 E series amplifiers. The Resolution 4D boxes providing coverage for the audience at the front of the stage are pretty clever in the way they attach to the bottom of the main Res 5 hangs. They provide much better phase coherence than traditional infills would. The need for additional infills are rendered unnecessary a lot of the time depending on the width of the stage. Coherence is maximised with all the sound coming from the same place, or as near as possible, which looks after the transient coherence as well. Eight F121 bass enclosures complete the system that fill the 2100 capacity, 1920’s auditorium.
A short walk from the Bozar is an unassuming glass fronted building with the blue neon words ‘Toots Theatre’ written above the door. Toots Thieleman is a local born jazz legend who has made a name for himself all across the globe as a guitarist, accordionist, and whistler. He’s played with people like Quincy Jones, Ella Fitzgerald and recorded film scores for films like The Midnight Cowboy and The Getaway. He is probably most famous for his solo on the TV theme Sesame Street and the Whistling on the Old Spice advert.
Celebrating his 90 years on planet earth, the Toots Expo is split over 3 floors which lets you explore ‘Blue Note and the life of Toots’. The exposition opened at the end of August and will run through to the beginning of January with the possibility of being extended if successful.
Again, Soundsystem.be jumped into help the expositions sonic architecture. On the ground floor is the start of the exhibition and concert hall. Providing the sound for this area are two Funktion-One Resolution 2, full range loudspeaker enclosures. Possibly one of the only truly full range horn loaded boxes on the market. A 15” driver provides a frequency response from 28Hz all the way to 250Hz. An 8 inch driver provides warmth to the mid range up to 6.5kHz which removes the cross over point from the all important vocal range, a classic Tony Andrews trait. A one inch driver takes care of all the sparkle in the high end. Two F118 bass enclosures give a nice extension to the double bass. The single 18’s are a great box for providing a well crafted bass sound into the lower frequency range and are easily controllable.
Ascending to the first floor, you enter the second part of the exhibition. Following a timeline though the unique and astonishing life of Toot’s resonate a pair of Yamaha HS50’s through the historical journey. I actually use these as personal monitoring for shows. Although not so accurate in the lower frequency range, vocal clarity is very good, and does this kind of job well.
Reaching the third and final floor is a fifty person cinema. Your ears are nurtured by a pair of F101’s and MB112A’s. I think the MB112’s are a bit of a secret weapon in the battle for bass verses real estate. Although you wouldn’t want to put them on large shows, for installations where you require good bass but don’t have much room for your bass bins, these are great. When comparing the quality and sonic continuity of the Funktion-One range it is surprising to find that, even though each system has its own specialised application and characteristics, the continuity of the sound is extremely good and these little F101’s don’t disappoint. They pack a good hefty punch for such a small box and are a good reference monitor for the Res 5’s.
Soundsystem.be are really pushing the boundaries for the Belgian audio sector, and are a company who hold their clients needs at the very core of every job. They have great foresight when it comes to designing sound for their shows, and that wonderfully Belgian attention to detail.
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