Looking as though it’s been ripped straight out of the pages of a science fiction novel, Muse’s Drones world tour is showing the upper limits of what a rock show can be. TPi’s Stew Hume headed to the O2 Arena in London to talk tracking systems, 360° sound and flying machines with the crew behind the record-breaking show that has the whole industry talking…
It is comforting to know that, despite a continuing rhetoric of doom and gloom about the future of how we consume music in 2016, some bands still have the confidence to produce concept albums. For their latest release, Muse have taken the idea of a concept further than most, having the continuing narrative from the album cross over into their live show. Starting out in Mexico in November 2015 the Drones tour has been taken around the world, pleasing their global fanbase who have come to expect something special. With a production that included interactive video elements, a bespoke stage in the round, a dazzling light show and 12 drones that circled the band’s performance, it’s clear that team Muse have created a spectacle to remember.
As TPi stood in the middle tier of the O2 Arena for the band’s third night in the venue it was hard to believe this whole show was conceived during a quiet conversation between frontman Matt Bellamy and the band’s Tour Director, (and TPi Award winner) Glen Rowe.
IT’S A ROCK SHOW JIM…BUT NOT AS WE KNOW IT.
Sitting backstage with Rowe, he recalled the conversation that eventually inspired the gigantic show: “This album cycle has been completely different from any other record we have done. Matt already knew the name of the album before he sat down to write a single note. I remember we were at Formula One in Abu Dhabi back in 2013, sitting on these wicker chairs, looking out at the view. Suddenly Matt said, ‘I really want to do a conceptual album based around one word.’ During that discussion the word ‘drones’ came up in conversation. The word has so many potential meanings, from the noise, the bee, the faceless drones that people talk about today; it just sparked Matt’s imagination then he and the other two band members – bassists Chris Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard – produced this whirlwind of brilliant ideas that kept coming our way.” Rowe went on to explain that during his time with the band -16 years – there has always been a recurring belief that people behind the scenes come up with the ideas for Muse’s live shows. These beliefs are false: “The three of them come up with everything. They are incredibly smart guys, so creative in everything they do.”
During this initial discussion, Rowe recounted how Bellamy was already drawing sketches on napkins and coming up with the ideas of playing in the round as well as dreaming up flying objects which circle the band as they play. With the help of long-serving Show Designer and Lighting Designer, [and dual 2016 TPi award winner] Oli Metcalfe, the band’s vision began to take shape. “For other projects we have put together for Muse, the concept for the show had to fit in with the material on the record,” stated Rowe. “However this was so clean because the concept of the show was already in place.”
Undeniably, the current tour is pushing Muse beyond the realms of a standard rock show. “I would certainly call this show a performance rather than a rock gig,” agreed Rowe. “It’s strange because we are used to kids coming over the barriers but for this whole run we have only had a few. I spoke to the band about it in the early stages of development explained that playing to a mainly seated audience would mean that you wouldn’t get the crush at the front.” Despite the changing environment, the band has made the transition effortlessly. “Even during the first couple of shows it didn’t seem difficult for them to perform in the round and their performances have only got stronger. Now with even more microphones on the stage, both Matt [lead vocals and guitar] and Chris [backup vocals and bass] can roam around and perform from several positions.”
Rowe admitted that putting on such a cutting edge live show had been a challenging experience for the crew but the reaction from the crowd they have been receiving every night certainly made up for the trying times: “Every night during the show I walk around the various venues and I see people just sitting there, open-mouthed. Even those in the highest seats get a great view of the show due to the scale of this production.” THE
KNIGHTS OF CYDONIA
Heading up the production team was Chris Kansy. “This is actually my second project with Muse,” he began. “On the 2nd Law tour I got contacted by the then PM, Steve Iredale, who needed to walk away from the tour to focus on the new stadium run, so I filled in for the majority of the US dates.” Fast forward a few years later and Q Prime Management got in touch with Kansy to work with the band again. “When I got the call for the Drones tour I have to admit I was very interested as I would be helping to build this massive show from scratch. For the last run I was very much a ‘fill-in guy’ and wanted to honour the work of my predecessor by not shaking things up too much, even though it was now my ship to sail.” Although Kansy was very much in the driving seat this time round, he opted to bring back many of the same suppliers and crew from his previous run with the band. As he explained: “The team we had on 2nd Law was the reason it was so successful and I wanted them back for this project; thankfully most of them returned. There are members of this crew – such as Marc Carolan [FOH], Oli Metcalfe, Paul English [Stage Manager] and Adam Taylor [Monitors] – who are going on for their 15th year with the band and have done several hundred shows with them. I wanted to keep the family intact to keep the tour’s core strong and cohesive. It really has worked.”
The Drones tour also saw the welcome return of many more familiar faces. Kansy expanded: “The vendors we have used have an established relationship with Muse. That being said, as a production we don’t just blindly hire all these companies and pay whatever they ask. It’s a balance. Just like every tour, we have to be very aware of costs and other companies are asked to provide quotes. But we are also keen to keep our relationships with companies such as Neg Earth Lights, Skan PA, PRG XL Video, Brilliant Stages and TAIT.
“All of these companies know how I operate and how Oli Metcalfe works. It’s always great to have someone on the other end of the phone who really has your back.” Kansy explained that he has had positive relationships with Skan PA and Neg Earth Lights. “Both our lighting and audio supplier are run day-to-day by the owners of the companies. When you work with them you are dealing directly with the owner and operator I personally see a big difference. You’re not just talking to a freelancer of a company but guys who are 100% invested in their work. It’s not just a job for them. It’s their livelihood.”
SETTING THE STAGE
There were many goals and ideas that were thrown around during the initial brainstorming stage of what would become the Drones tour, but one thing that Bellamy was keen to address was how the band could play to as many people as possible. “I suggested the idea of a boxing ring as during those events there are always far more people in the venues,” stated Rowe. From here, Bellamy came up with the idea of performing on a centre, circular stage that would open up the maximum amount of floor space. It is worth noting that the day after TPi saw Muse play, 21,000 people attended the show, which broke the record of the largest audience attendance for a musical performance at the O2. This was yet another feather in the cap for the tour which has set new records in arenas all over Europe.
Once the ideas for the tour were ready to make the leap from napkins to concrete designs, Metcalfe entered the frame. One of the first things that he brought to the table was the need for a raised stage, which the crew affectionately referred to as the ‘Space Station’. The impressive aerial structure housed the majority of the lighting fixtures, projection and videos screens, not to mention the Drones -referred to by the crew as HFOs (helium filled objects) – along with several crewmembers who call the area home for several hours every night.
All the suspended staging was creating by Brilliant Stages. Director of Brilliant, Ben Brooks, talked about some of the technical challenges he faced: “Oli came to us at the end of 2014 with the tour concept. Touring in the round is always tricky and brings its own challenges; the one that jumped out first is the issue of weight. As we started getting into the design we knew we had to put everything in the roof. It became apparent that the design was going to have to be incredibly modular with the structure holding all the tech equipment. It needed to be fitted together and flown as one piece. What we eventually created was a world upstairs made up of 12 pods; four audio pods, one automation pod, two Neg Earth Lights pods, one for video and a welfare pod.” Brooks added that Brilliant also had to include 21 axis of motion control for the roll drops that were used at several points in the show to project video content. These were hung on the underside of the Space Station.
For the ground stage, Muse brought in another TPi Award winner, staging specialists, TAIT to create the 165ft structure designed by Metcalfe. Senior Project Manager at TAIT, Matt Hales, commented on the company’s initial involvement in the Drones tour: “We have worked with Chris Kansy on many other projects but when we were approached with the tour and we saw the unique show design that Oli had conceptualised, we jumped at the chance. We were confident that we would be able to rationalise his vision into an exceptional, operational, efficient system, while maintaining the integrated level of detail for the design.”
The focal point of the set was the rotating circular stage measuring in at 38ft in diameter. The revolving stage also had integrated video strips (Martin by Harman VC 30’s) on the surface of the stage, as well as a drop down platform for Muse’s keyboard player, Morgan Nicholls. The system was built using a central hub that had concentric frames radiating outwards from the centre. As each row of frames gets added into the system the production could add a row of decking. This allows for an extremely fast installation and build process. Hales commented: “Mechanically, the challenge that was presented to us was the variable speed requirement. The stage can revolve as fast as two revolutions per minute or as slow as one revolution per hour. At that latter point, it is hardly noticeable that it is even moving.”
The staging also had two B-stage wings from the central circle which the crew referred to as the north and south stage. Each B-stage has an integrated prop lift that brings various elements up to stage height from the underworld storage area as well as revealing the band at the start of the show. This underworld was also the home for the band’s backline techs during the show. Hales continued: “Oli had a very clear and developed vision of what he wanted the stage set to be. This always adds a nice challenge because we make every effort to satisfy all those expectations without any concessions. In that respect, we have a great relationship with Oli and we were able to have consistent dialogue that allowed us to produce something that everyone could be really proud of.”
One aspect of the design that Hales was keen to highlight was the health and safety considerations that had to be taken into account while creating the stage. “Safety is always paramount for TAIT. The B-stages were quite tall so having the edge clearly marked was a must. Also there are a lot of technicians and performers under the stage, which is continuously moving throughout the show. TAIT Navigator, the company’s proprietary automation software, controled all of the moving stage assets. In order to ensure proper operation and safety, we provide extensive training with the operators so they know where they can and can’t be, how to quickly disable the system and where to locate the e-stops.” The automation for the show was controlled by several of the crew’s set carpenters. Aaron Alfaro took charge of the navigator system that controlled the rotating centre stage. “I had limited knowledge of automation,” admitted Alfaro. “But I went over to TAIT in October for the initial build and got to grips with the system. TAIT were really supportive both in helping me find my feet with the system and with general maintenance questions that we may have.”
Heading up the load-in and -out on a daily basis is Stage Manager Paul English. Celebrating his 15th year with the band it is fair to say that English has first-hand experience with the ever-increasing size of Muse’s show. He admitted however, that this particular production took some time to perfect. “It took us a long time to finesse this beast of a stage. Just to unload this show takes several hours from the 25 trucks we have on this UK tour. But now we have load-in and -out down to a fine art.”
Since the American leg of the tour, the production decided to add an extra five trucks which were supplied by TransAm Trucking. “Both myself and Q Prime Management have used TransAm for decades,” stated Kansy. “There is a strong bond there and I can always rely on them.” Natasha Flatt, Logistics Coordinator for TransAM Trucking commented: “We started working together with Chris Kansy and Q Prime in the early stages of the planning the tour, advising on journey times and mileages. We now have 25 megacube trucks on the tour, expertly led by Dave Cole, which started in Paris back in February of this year, travelling across Europe and finishing in Moscow at the end of June. Four megacubes will then continue on to the festival run across Europe again until the end of August. As always, its a pleasure to work with Chris Kansy and great to be working with Paul English again!”
Freighting was supplied by Rock-It Cargo. Kansy continued: “I have used Rock-It Cargo my entire career. When I started working for Muse on the 2nd Law tour, they had already been using Rock-It for their freight so I was happy to have them in place. This whole production was designed to fit into sea containers. So if it needed to airfreight, it wouldn’t be able to go commercial. It would need to charter on 747’s.”
English went on and described his daily routine: “We start our day at 3am with our riggers marking out the venue and after an hour they start tipping some of the trucks and begin rigging. After an hour, myself and my assistant David Hall come in and the rest of the trucks are unloaded.” From that stage, English begins his staggered call for the various departments. “It works out quite nicely and there is always a little time to take a breath before the next department comes in,” he stated.
“I always want to give our riggers enough time to get sorted before other departments come in and start moving their equipment out on the floor.” English went on to describe the importance of inter departmental communication: “Every day I meet with the heads of departments to talk about how the load-in that day has gone as well as the load-out last night. These meetings are so crucial and I always make a note of everything discussed and make sure the correct information is filtered down to the right people.”
Head Rigger David ‘Dash’ Rowe heads up a team of two and 28 local riggers brought in every day. “With a show like this there always has to be a tonne of prep work before I even step into the arena,” began Dash. “There is always pre-CAD drawing, as with every show, but for this particular tour one aspect that we need to pay more attention to is the threshold limit of some of these venues. We never cross the limit but there have been some venues where it has been awfully close.” Overall the platform measured in at just over 57 tonnes. The motors used for this tour were supplied by both the lighting and audio suppliers with Skan PA supplying Columbus McKinnon Lodestar motors and Neg Earth Lights opting for Litec’s EXE rise motors.
The crew was also made up of seven carpenters. Jem Nicholson, Head Carpenter talked TPi through the build stage of the day. With a 360° show like this one the main problems you have is that we take up the whole floor and the stage in the air is just as big as the one on the floor. In venues with small floor space we often struggle and we have an incredibly specific order in which we load in and build, as with the load out. One of the main things is that we don’t start building the stage on the floor until the Space Station is up in the air.”
The final piece of the puzzle for the build was the barrier system that was rented out by Mojo Barriers. Account Manager for Mojo, Stanley Jilesen, discussed what they supplied for the tour. “We rented out specifically designed barriers for this tour, with around 300 pieces in total. With the unconventional shape of the stage we had to create bespoke barrier doors and snake gates due to the high number of cables come from the stage.” Kansy commented: “Muse’s Drones tour isn’t a straightforward one-size fits all show. With this bespoke stage layout we have multiple entrances and multiple cables routing in and out. The set up depends on a number of factors including the venue, where the band enters and how we need to feed equipment in and out of it. We rely on carrying a range of spare equipment Mojo Barriers has supplied to enable us to adopt the configuration that we need for the show, and having the right parts to do this is important.” He added: “My relationship with Mojo Barriers has been a long one and I have huge trust in the team and their kit. They understand our requirements and have gone out of their way to ensure we have all the special corners and gates needed to stage this impressive show.”
For the visual elements of the show TPi scaled to the middle tier of the O2 to meet Metcalfe at his control centre, alongside the team from Path65 who control the HFOs. All of the control elements for the lighting came courtesy of Metcalfe’s own company, Oli Metcalfe Design Ltd. “Everything from the lighting desk to the fibre optic cables and the Luminex DMX8 Mk2 ArtNet nodes are all mine,” began Metcalfe. “It’s a great position to be in because I’ve got exactly what I wanted and am now at a stage where I have a complex infrastructure and can put on more ambitious shows on in the future.” Anyone who is familiar with Metcalfe will be aware of his regular use of High End Systems’ Hog 4. He explained: “I’ve used Hog console desks for ages. As a console I can get the art out without thinking about it. I have said for a long time that you can really tell the hard work that has gone into the console. I applaud what other consoles are capable of doing but I find them to scientific. For Drones we have another Hog 4 as a backup but it stays in a flight case – I had a band ‘beer-spillage’ incident a long time ago when two desks were taken out by one pint! Since then the back-up stays in the case!”
Supplying all the fixtures along with fittings, truss and rigging (with the exceptions of Skan PA who provided its own motors for the PA) was Neg Earth Lights. “Neg basically do all the top steel for the show,” explained Metcalfe. “I think it makes it much easier for Jake Piper who does all our health and safety. It was much easier for him to build a risk assessment based on one company providing all the equipment. It’s hectic enough on a load in and having to get everything in the air so quickly. If all the gear is coming from one set of bins from one company and it’s all unified it certainly makes it easier for riggers. It’s certainly a trend you see a lot more of these days with rigging, motors and fixtures all coming from one lighting company.”
To Metcalfe’s specification, Neg Earth Lights supplied 48 Clay Paky Mythos (eight on the floor and the rest of them in the air in the central Krouner.) “The Mythos have been incredibly reliable,” stated Metcalfe. “One of their main purposes if for me to show off the grandeur of the stage by running them down the room.” Many Martin by Harman products were also deployed on the rig. “There are 56 Martin Aura XBs present on the North, South, East and West positions as well as on the Krouner. They work really nicely as a punch light and I also tend to run some beamage effects with them as well. Even though they are LED fixtures they look very organic. They are incredibly versatile and there are loads of them in rental stock.” Metcalfe went on to explain that the Aura also matched the Martin by Harman Viper AirFX. “The Vipers have only one job on this rig and that is to work as our followspot.” The LD also deployed several attack fixtures which included 28 Clay Paky Stormy CCs and 12 Martin by Harman Atomic LED 3000’s. “The Martin 3000’s are pretty brutal. Although they only go one colour they are what I would call a ‘proper’ strobe. I use them a lot for crowd blinding effects,” he said. SUPERMASSIVE BLACK(TRAX) HOLE After several years working with Muse, Metcalfe has certainly had the opportunity to push the boundaries of live production and the Drones tour has been no exception, considering the deployment of the largest-ever CAST BlackTrax system ever deployed within an arena. With 38 BlackTrax cameras (14 positioned in the arena roof and 24 mounted in the flown stage) the real time motion tracking system could track the complete stage as well as the whole audience area and was used for a combination band key lighting with the follow spots, video elements and guiding the path of the HFOs.
“During the design process I looked at several other similar systems,” explained Metcalfe. “But what separated BlackTrax from other options was how it integrates with all our other systems. All the data that BlackTrax puts out is so accurate. It has allowed us to go into arenas of such high altitudes in a way that makes the whole venue trackable. This was an important element as we fly all the HFOs around the stage and above the audience.” Metcalfe was so impressed with BlackTrax that he personally invested in the system. “It was quite a daunting task with the size of arenas we were going into but Gil Densham and the rest of the folks from CAST were very supportive with everything that was going on in the project. I think the system has been so solid for this tour because of the networking with all the Luminex DMX8 Mk2 ArtNet Nodes. The investment I made into this bespoke optical rig means I have been able to open up all the streams on integration. I knew if I was going to get what I wanted I would have to invest in the system myself.” Metcalfe added: “I really believe that BlackTrax will go down in history as a disruptive stage tool that breaks all boundaries in terms of creativity!”
For every show the BlackTrax System worked hand in hand with WYSIWYG. Metcalfe elaborated: “Running BlackTrax with WYSIWYG is critical. On show day mornings we conduct a laser scan of each venue and create workflows for video, lighting and actors using WYSIWYG lighting design and pre-visualisation. This gives us accurate data for placement of BlackTrax tracking cameras showing how the system would work before we even got there.” The tracking system included three artist trackables along with 14 drone trackables for the HFOs.
For the followspots to work effectively Metcalfe needed to find a way to beacon all three of the musicians. “With the band’s stylist I designed the band’s jackets to ensure each member has two beacons on their shoulders. Sam Augustus, who is our main BlackTrax tech on the ground, deals with Karen Nicholson from wardrobe to ensure that all the beacons are on and we can pick them up from our system. We also have a second set of beacons on each member on the band’s t-shirts for when they take their jackets off mid set. The band have not mentioned the beacons and they don’t seem to be impeding their performance at all. I think I have been able to deliver the best keylight I ever had.”
Each of the HFOs were piloted by Dutch company Path65 who deployed its proprietary motion control system, which remotely controlled the drones through a predesigned flight path. BlackTrax is also used to send the drones’ positional data in real-time to Path65’s controller system and warns it in case a wind gust moves the drones away from the flight path or if there is a potential risk of collision. The system was also used to pilot the large space ship drone, nicknamed the ‘Reaper’, that flew out above the crowd during the song, The Globalist. VIDEO Throughout the night, video elements were deployed that helped move the narrative of the show along, all of which was supplied by PRG XL Video. Metcalfe special requested Creative Technology’s Glux 10mm LED screen. “I chose the Glux because of its extreme lightweight profile,” explained Metcalfe. “For a 10mm screen it has an extremely elegant frame that is made out of carbon fibre – It’s been bulletproof.” The screen was set up in a curve formation elevated about the centre stage. Due to the irregular shape PRG XL Video had to engineer bespoke brackets. Control for the Glux 10mm was routed through a High End Systems, Catalyst v5 server that was again supplied by Metcalfe. The v5 also controlled the 180 Martin by Harman VDO Sceptron 10mm in the raised staging along with the Martin by Harman VC 30’s that were built into the stage. Metcalfe discussed the reason for choosing Martin products: “I specified it all to be Martin because it all unifies itself under the p3 processing blanket and that makes mapping and controlling the pixels really easy.”
Along with the Creative Technology Glux screens to produce video content Metcalfe deployed 12 Barco HDF-W30 FLEX projectors and the Barco MMS-100 (moving mirror system). “The Flex 30’s project onto voiles that come down several times throughout the set,” explained Metcalfe. “The voiles not only deliver content that is visible from both sides of the stage but also are compatible with our tracking system. I had to choose a material that didn’t defuse or polarise the lights as you look through it. The material we have has been brilliant and creates a sharp image on both sides of the voil. It was important to be able to see the band members from the other side of the voile as the band performed on the catwalk of the stage.” It took three months for the LD to find a material he was 100% happy with which involved several meetings with J&C Joel. Driving all the projectors was the Barco XPR 602 servers.
Video Director for the tour was Thomas Kirk from Banoffee Sky. “I first started touring with Muse on their second album Origin Of Symmetry,” began Kirk. “I’d known the band for some years and was invited to document their tour for what turned out to be a film we made called Hullabaloo. At the same time the band were just beginning to have video production involving cameras and visuals. It was all very lo-tech back in the day as is natural when a band firsts starts out but it was a lot of fun and an incredible learning curve. I’ve been their video director ever since.” Kirk went on to explain the brief that was given for this current tour: “For the show the goal was to create an edgy, rock ‘n’ roll video show that was up close and personal despite the vast expanse of this stage.” The sheer scope of the stage created quite a few problems for the camera team who had to cover several angles while delivering up to three camera cuts on IMAG of all band members.
“There was an element of head scratching when I first saw Oli’s design!” Kirk explained: “This has been the biggest challenge as a live director and certainly kept myself and the camera team on our toes. In order to make sure we had all angles covered we manufactured a bespoke track for our cameras on both sides of the pit, which runs curved around the stage and along the thrusts which means my track and dolly cameras were able to beautifully follow main stage action. At each end of the stage we have a pole cams which cover those areas and thankfully the band love literally playing into and muck around with. Centrally on stage our robo cams and mini cams deliver exciting and close up action and between it all we didn’t find ourselves missing any action.”
PRG XL Video supplied full HD PPU, featuring a 24 input Ross Carbonite Black vision mixing desk with multimedia chassis. This system makes light work of mixing and layering our 12 live cameras and four full HD real time video FX feeds to multiple output destinations. Real time full HD video effects supplied by Matt Vassallo’s propriety server system delivering low latency real time video effects and looks to compliment the show. The camera system comprised of four Sony HXC100, four Bradley Engineering Camball 2’s, two Bradley Engineering HD15’s. Also present were two HD polecams supplied by Rob Wicks at Polecat Cameras. The system also features five channels of Blackmagic SSD recorders allowing for rapid utilisation and editing of show files and content. FOH control is delivered through a bespoke PRG XL Video fibre system, which allowed for flexible deployment of the rig in the most advantageous position in challenging scenarios.
The visual content for the show was left in the capable hands of Moment Factory. This was the first time the company had worked with Muse but according to Jesse Lee Stout, Creative Director at Moment Factory, the collaboration has been a great success. “We were brought in at a pretty early stage of development for this tour. We were originally contacted because of our software, X-Agora, is licenced through Barco. I know Oli was already using the Barco projectors so we were brought in and moved on from there.” Stout went into the project relatively blind and explained that his first batch of ideas was based on his own research into the band’s history. “I brought a bunch of ideas to our initial meeting when I met Matt. During this meeting he discussed how the video content could feed into the overarching narrative of the show. One of the ideas we discussed was the inclusion of a recurring androgynous figure, which Matt labelled ‘The Dictator’, that would make several appearances throughout the show. The character in question takes the form of a female and every human face you see in the show is her.”
As well as simply streaming content Stout and Metcalfe also created video projection elements that interacted with the band on stage. “With the song The Handler we had this idea of a figure having puppet strings attached to the band,” explained Stout. “The concept was actually quite ground-breaking for us in that it mixes pre-rendered content and interactive live content seamlessly. For that particular song we pre-rendered the hands and strings attached to her fingers but the strings follow the guys in real time. We made use of the BlackTrax software and the beacons on the band’s shoulders to control where the strings fell.”
Giving his final thoughts on the tour, Stout commented: “Muse is always known for going pretty big and it’s true that fans have an expectation. In my opinion, that was definitely met. Muse has really pushed the boundaries of touring technology over the last few years and I’m very grateful for that. They have opened the doors of experimentation for other acts.”
The final notable visual element of the band’s show was the confetti blasts that were seen at the tail end of the gig. They featured MagicFX stadium shots for the streamers and MagicFX CO2 driven confetti blowers, both of which were supplied by Quantum Special Effects Group. Kansy commented: “The confetti blast is during a track called Mercy. Quantum provide a dry hire on this tour with our carpenters setting up and firing the system. If we were doing more technical effects such as lasers or pyrotechnics we would have brought one of the Quantum team out but it was not necessary with these blasts.”
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
As with every tour an effective communication system is a must. For the tour Metcalfe suggested bringing in an independent talk-back system rather than relying on the traditional set up of running all talkback communication through monitors, leaving that airspace free for the band, techs and audio crew. Channel 16 supplied the state of the art Green Go wired and wireless digital comms for the tour which ran over a fiber backbone via luminex PoE switches. Metcalfe recently invested in the system. “I bought it last year with festival season in mind as having a digital system that is clean and expandable with no interference from over frequencies is invaluable in those type of events.” Stage Manager Paul English also commented on the use of the comms system during the show. “I am the show caller for the whole set giving instructions for the lifts on the North and South of the stage, the deployment of the roll drops as well as when the Krouner moves in and out. In the past we had some issues using the same frequencies as the band. For this tour the Green Go has been incredibly useful giving a system with no interference.” Channel 16 also supplied several Axis Q61 PTZ light finder cameras which were used by techs and Adam Taylor, Monitor Engineer, to see what the band is doing. English expanded: “Being underneath the stage always creates a logistical problem. The small CCTV package means we can get basic visuals when we are moving lifts or when the centre stage is revolving.
As well as having to create a visual experience that can be appreciated by all the people in the dome, a 360° show also creates an interesting challenge for the audio department. Once again, in collaboration with Skan PA, FOH Engineer, Marc Carolan was at the helm of the band’s sound. Being with the band since their second album the engineer has certainly earned his stripes but how did he deal with the band’s first in the round show? “A few years we toured with U2 as a support on their 360° tour. We ended up doing something like 50 shows which gave me some experience of mixing in the round. I always knew that eventually we would get the call saying that we would do an in the round gig so we have been planning it for several years. Once we got word from Oli that we were going ahead Matt Vickers, Skan’s System Designer, took over. I have used Skan ever since I have mixed Muse and I have a great working relationship with Matt. It definitely has been a challenge on this tour but I really trust the expertise of Matt and the guys from Skan.”
The PA in question was an amalgamation of d&b audiotechnik J and V-Series. The J-Series where set up on the north and sound stages with the V-Series used on the West and East directions. “The reasoning behind this was due to the geometry of most of the venues we are playing in,” stated Carolan. “The sides often have a shallower inclined but are very high so you have to have a system that covers from the barriers to the highest seat. The V-Series lends itself to working with that geometry. We have been using the new d&b audiotechnik Array Processing, which has allowed us to tonally match both the J and V-Series which has been very good.” Another advantage for having a mixture of the V Series was the reduced weight of the system compared to the J. In total there were 72 J-Series (18 per hang), 72 V-Series (again, 18 per hang), 32 J-SUBs, eight J-INFRA, four V-Subs and eight Y10Ps. All speakers where driven by 84 d&b audiotechnik D80 amplifiers.
For FOH control, Carolan opted for a Midas XL4 with a Midas PRO2C sidecar. “It’s kind of a mix of technologies. The analogue XL4 still sounds great but we are using the PRO2C to deal with a lot of the automation side of things as well as for additional inputs. For this show we have so many scene changes and recalls and although it seems like quite a ‘Frankenstein set-up’, what I have ended up with has given me as much control as a digital console while maintain that analogue sound. It took a lot of head scratching to get here but it is now fantastically simple to mix. I can now just engage with the show and stay in the flow of the set.” Carolan wanted to give special praise to Midas’ work with the PRO2C. “Midas did such a good job with the gain structure on the PRO2 and even the fader positions really does feel like and extension of the XL4.”
He went on to talk about the mix he created for Muse. “In terms of recreating the mixes from the records we kind of have a balance. There are some cues and effects that we are particularly interesting in recreating but there is always an element of trying to keep everything live and powerful. I work on both approaches in parallel.” MONITORS Below decks on the south of the stage is the home of Monitor Engineer Adam Taylor. TPi asked how he dealt with being in the depths of the stage for the performance. “I really can’t see much from my area apart from through the CCTV cameras and the small gap in the stage. Some bands like to have the monitor engineer right there beside them but it’s not like that for these guys. I have been working with them long enough that they have faith in me. I get asked for very little during the set, save for a request to have a little more or less of Matt’s vocals.”
This is the 12th year working with Skan PA for Taylor. For control, the company supplied him with a Midas PRO9 with 80 inputs into the desk and 24 out. The stage itself is speakerless with all the band and techs on IEM utilising the Sennheiser 2000 Series. Taylor commented: “During the early stages of the tour we thought there may be some issues with RF due to the size of the stage. It’s between 30 to 40 metres from one end to the other and all our radio equipment is at one end of the stage and there are a lot of things it has to pass through. We employed the Senheiser RF amps of IEM distribution and in many ways they have worked too well. We have had to drop to the low level of transmission as the higher levels were causing a lot of intermodulation. We are also employing a Hameg HM5014-2 for real time scanning to see the whole picture throughout the show.” Taylor throughout the tour has taken care of all the RF with the assistance of Liam Tucker, Skan PA Crew Chief.
One of the briefs for the audio team at the start of the tour was that both Bellamy and Wolstenholme had to have the ability to move anywhere on stage. Taylor explained: “Both Matt and Chris have two mics on the centre stage as well as one each on both of wings of the set. Matt also has an extra microphone on his piano which is lifted from the depths of the north stage when required. For Matt’s vocal we use Sennheiser transmitters with the Neumann KMS 105 capsule. Matt moved to a radio microphone several tours ago to give him greater movement on the stage but we wanted to keep the Neumann KMS 105 capsule. For Chris’ backing vocals we had a bit of a change halfway through the tour and moved him onto the Shure Beta 57As. Chris’ vocals are slightly quieter so we had a fair bit of gain on his mic which created spill from the drums. Since we changed to the dynamic mic he has been very happy so we stuck with it.”
While on the topic of microphones, Taylor discussed some of the effects, which are used occasionally on Bellamy’s voice. “There are two vocal effects that we used. The first is done through the Avalon 727 compressor vocal preamp.” The second [and slightly more unconventional] was the San Amp PSA1.1. “This is usually a guitar distortion but at certain times in the set we use it on the vocals; for instance in the song Psycho. With its high gain there is a risk of the mix become quite messy so we attempt to keep it quite low within the mix. It’s midi controlled so it only it brought in when necessary and then it’s programmed to switch off to avoid any spill.”
With multiple microphones on stage Taylor discussed some of the challenges when keeping the vocal mix constant: “It is always a problem because you’re going to pick up noise from the PA along with delay and timing issues. We have found ways of getting around it however. I ride a lot of the rhythm parts of songs. The way that I have my desk set up I always have control of the vocal levels on the surface at all time and I’m dipping it out when I can.”
The sheer number of microphones on stage also created an interesting dilemma for Taylor and Carolan. “We quickly realised that with the number of microphone positions that both myself and Adam would spend the whole show chasing them around,” commented Carolan. “The solution was to build a bespoke microphone switching system which is operated by Matthew Besford Foster, Skan PA Tech throughout the show. He is positioned just below the turntable where he can see the whole stage and he watches the band, which frees both myself and Taylor to just mix the show. It has also given the band a great deal of freedom on stage.” Carolan also noted how the mic switching created an added issue as every mic that Matt went to has to have all his various distortion effects. “It took a bit of thinking to make that seamless but credit has to be given to the Midas XL88 which really came to the rescue.”
Despite Muse playing several nights in one venue during the European leg of the tour, Kansy said they still had Phoenix busses on site to transport the 67-strong crew. “Phoenix has worked with Muse for many years now and it’s great to keep that tradition going by being part of the Drones tour,” commented Andy Gray from Phoenix Bussing. “For each leg of the tour we have provided five crew buses in either 14 or 16 berth configurations and also a bus for the band when required as well. Working with Chris on this for the crews transportation needs is great, he is very easy to deal with and there are no dramas with him so it’s always a pleasure. We look forward to keeping the tradition going for many years to come.”
Keeping the crew and band fed throughout the tour was Rockpool Tour Catering. Kansy explained: “Rockpool is Peter Bailey’s business – he is the band’s personal chef.” Unbelievably this was actually Rockpool’s first ever tour. Bailey explained: “We are fortunate to have the crew catering team lead by Stuart Jackson. All have had vast experience within the tour-catering world and I left it in Stuart’s capable hands to put the team together. Stephen Knudson, Mark Goodall, John Goodall, Tanya Collyer and Amy Moore have all worked tirelessly to produce a level of food and hospitality, which we are all proud of. That coupled with Charlotte Dillamore-Bailey who keeps the machine rolling with her eye for detail and financial acumen.”
Bailey went on to express thanks for the support Rockpool have received from the band, management and Production Manager Chris Kansy. “Q Prime management appreciate our desire to exceed expectations and work ethic. They have been instrumental us now catering for another of their big bands, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who we will be working with on their world tour. The Drones tour certainly has been a great start to the new venture.”
During the promotion of the latest album Bellamy was quoted in various interviews that the Drones album marked the band going back to their roots producing a more traditional rock album juxtaposed the previous release, 2nd Law, where they experimented a lot more with electronic elements. It’s rather amusing that this stripped back record has gone hand in hand with one of the most hi-tech tours of this year.
After touring heavily for over half a year now, the Drones tour has left a trail of stunned fans who have seen their beloved trio taking another step into the realms of rock-royalty as the British band show how stadium rock should be done in 2016. With a band topping the bill at Glastonbury for the third time in their career, it will be interesting to see how many of the Drones elements will make an appearance at their performance…
Photos: Hans-Peter van Velthoven
http://muse.mu/ www.skanpa.co.uk www.negearth.com www.prg.com https://momentfactory.com www.olimetcalfe.com www.brilliantstages.com www.taittowers.com www.channel-16.co.uk www.banoffeesky.com www.catomusic.co.uk www.rockpooltourcatering.com www.rock-itcargo.com www.phoenix-bussing.co.uk www.transamtruck.com www.q-sfx.co.uk www.motion-business.net www.jcjoel