For the past 12 months, almost every industry has been searching for solutions to make working from home as effective as possible. This very magazine, for example, has been put together since March with the team working from various locations across the North of England. Magazine publishing is one thing, but the idea of a lighting designer, audio engineer or video director working from home for a live performance is another thing entirely.
Indeed, the world of live events seemed like one particular vocation that would not be able to adapt to a WFH arrangement – that was until a project at the end of last year, when German artist Purple Schulz took to the One2One Studio stage in Bottrop, Germany.
For this particular performance, it was not just the audience that was tuning in remotely. With the lighting team controlling the entire rig from two German cities, the video and camera set-up operated from Vienna and Mainz, and the audio feed mastered from Cologne and New York, the production pushed the envelope when it came to networking and a dramatic reduction in the number of onsite crew. Peter Brandt of Remote Recording Network was key to this hair-brained scheme. A familiar name to TPi readers having been involved in Wacken World Wide – a virtual reinvention of famed metal festival, Wacken Open Air – Brandt used many of the same principles from the online festival on this production.
During Wacken World Wide, Brandt oversaw the audio transmission, which was mastered live in New York before being streamed to the thousands of metal heads across the globe. For this show, under the same premise, Brandt thought that the lighting and video departments could also follow suit and be controlled by operators in various locations across the globe. “The idea of the fully remote production with Purple Schulz actually pre-dates Wacken,” he began. “The band approached me early in 2020 to look at the possibility of doing a show with remote crew and the idea just snowballed.”
The advantages a remote production offers during these COVID-19 times are obvious, with limited numbers on site meaning greater physical distancing measures can be implemented. However, Brandt asserted that this technology is more far reaching than the pandemic and will prove vital in years to come. “The live music industry has been changing for some time and the days of having large recording trucks following a show or festival are ending. “Productions are looking for more compact solutions that are greener, more efficient and that save money,” he remarked.
Brandt and the team at the Remote Recording Network have spent a long time developing this technology, although developments have been kept under the radar as they ironed out the creases in the technology.
Following the Purple Schulz showcase, the newfound developments were revealed to the world. “It has absolutely exploded,” Brandt commented, discussing the feedback he has received. “I didn’t expect this level of response, with a number of people citing it as something that could be game-changing and ground-breaking.”
I.T. GOES ROCK ’N’ ROLL
At the risk of stating the obvious, strong networking was the backbone of the project. At the centre of the production was Riedel ROC, the communications and signal control centre through which all remote production connections converged. The ROC team managed, programmed and monitored all intercom signals, data streams, audio feeds and CCTV.
One on the leading players in the Riedel camp was Senior Project Manager, Carsten Vosskuehler. “I have known Peter for well over a decade, having worked in the broadcast industry prior to working with Riedel,” he commented. “I knew that he’d had the remote production idea for some time, but when our paths crossed at Rock Am Ring in 2018, we had the chance to talk about it in much more detail and I started thinking about what Riedel could do for the idea.”
Although Riedel is perhaps better known to TPi readers for its communications offerings for live touring, Vosskuehler outlined the company’s expansion into data networking. “Moving forward, most productions that we are working with at Riedel will have some element of remote production,” he stated.
Keen to emphasise the pioneering talent of the technicians working behind the scenes to make these type of show a possibility, he commented: “Our lead Engineer and Developer, Karsten ‘Kasi’ Heyn, who worked on this project, is brilliant. It is fantastic to see these people who have such a huge amount of technical knowledge working within the rock ’n’ roll space,” he added. “Kasi is also a musician, which proved vital as he knew what the artist would be going through on the other end of the signal chain.”
With the idea of operating a show remotely, one of the first potential issues that comes to mind is latency and how any potential lag could affect the various departments tuning in to work on the show.
“Latency, of course, was a big aspect just prior to this project,” stated Vosskuehler, who went on to explain that months of research and experimentation went into providing the best possible solution for the remote project and that the Purple Schulz performance really was the “proof of concept”.
Brandt was also keen to give his two cents on the topic of latency. “Not only were all the operators just working from their homes using their own internet connections, but the studio end was also using copper rather than hire-in fibre optic, which would have raised the price of production significantly,” he pointed out. “The result is that we proved that you do not need to hire a prohibitively expensive fibre optic solution to recreate this kind of performance setup.”
CUE FROM DIFFERENT COUNTRIES
Lighting Designer, Roland Greil of The Black Project, a newly formed holistic design studio in Los Angeles, was brought in to provide his design expertise to the show as well as oversee and direct the visual side of the performance from his house in Munich, Germany. “I am the new kid on the block with this one,” he joked. “When I got involved, Peter and the team were already deep into the planning of the Purple Schulz project.” Production Manager, Holger Schader of Solotech approached Greil to pitch the idea of the show. “I thought the whole concept was fantastic and I’m always keen to be involved in projects that push the boundaries of production,” Greil recalled.
Michael Kuehbandner came in as Associate Designer and to aid in the previsualisation work. He recruited Marc Brunkhardt as Programmer and Lighting Director for the show. During the performance, the entire show was triggered live with no timecode.
Having programmed the show remotely, Brunkhardt operated an MA Lighting grandMA3 console from his home in Frankfurt, Germany, while Greil directed and called the looks and later on the show from Munich, Germany – with both creatives watching the show from a monitor setup.
If controlling a show from across the country wasn’t enough of a challenge, the project was the first time that Greil and Brunkhardt had used grandMA3 software. “We made the decision to use the grandMA3 software for the first time as it promised to be the better platform for the remote setup,” he explained. “The system with a console in Frankfurt connected to a session with the onsite system in Bottrop, performed flawlessly after we worked out all the Internet gremlins together with a great team from Riedel.”
Greil described the concept for the lighting design. “My vision was to create a cosy, intimate design and atmosphere for the show, which created the perfect background and setting for the band to perform in,” he said. “Michael and I put together a versatile but simple rig with an old school tungsten touch.”
The lighting rig comprised Martin by Harman MAC Viper AirFXs, Viper Profiles and Quantum Washes as well as Portman P3s and P1 Minis. Haze came courtesy of MDG ATMe and Martin by Harman AF2s. “Working together remotely was another challenge,” admitted Greil. “It was strange to sit in Munich behind some screens, while Marc sat a few hundred kilometres away behind the console and the only communication was via intercom.”
However, the fact that the pair had worked together on a number of projects over the years certainly helped the communication. “We learned how to deal with the scenario and came out with a bag full of new experiences,” he said. “We’re proud that we have done something that has never been done before in that way, as far as we know.”
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE FUTURE?
After such a ground-breaking performance, with clear benefits as we enter the second month of 2021 with COVID-19 restrictions still very much a way of life, TPi asked the Remote Show Productions team what they thought this project represented for the future of the events industry.
“I think this show will really spark people’s imagination,” stated Greil. “It has educated people on what is possible with today’s technology and what can still be achieved during a lockdown. Even when things return to normal, I don’t think the events industry will ever be the same. The lessons learned from this time will be transferred into a new normal and there are certainly elements from this project that will be transferred into a live performance.”
Although Greil doesn’t necessarily believe future large-scale tours will be operated completely remotely, there are certainly technical innovations that could improve workflows, not to mention reduce the carbon footprint of a show. “Without concerts and shows, we as an industry can no longer function,” asserted Brandt. “Obviously, we are still limited in what we can do, but hopefully with this project we might have triggered something where producers, promoters and artists might rethink the entire process of what it takes to put on a show. Only time will tell.”
This article originally appeared in issue #258 of TPi, which you can read here.
Photos: Thomas Holz Showphotography and Riedel Communications