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Muse ‘Simulation Theory’ World Tour 2019

by Steve Jennings (Photos & Text) • in
  • June 2019
  • Production Profile
• Created: June 18, 2019

MUSE (Audio) © Steve Jennings

Muse is out on its Simulation Theory world tour, with a d&b audiotechnik GSL P.A. rig supplied by U.K. sound vendor Skan P.A. Along with the tour’s mammoth Sci-Fi production theme, this immensely popular British prog rock/alt rock/space rock/electronica trio consisting of Matthew Bellamy (vocals, guitar and keys), Chris Wolstenholme (bass) and Dominic Howard (drums) bring a powerful unity with fans, with both their music and stage presence, to a long string of packed arenas worldwide.

We spoke with members of the audio team — longtime FOH engineer Marc Carolan (17 years) and an even longer-serving crew member, monitor engineer Adam Taylor (18 years); along with FOH tech Eddie O’Brien; system tech Joachim Dewulf; monitor tech Liam Tucker; guitar tech Chris Whitemyer; bass tech Jon Ashworth and drum tech Jeremy Berman.

System Tech Joachim Dewulf, FOH Tech Eddie O’Brien and FOH Engineer Marc Carolan. Photo by Steve Jennings

‡‡         At FOH

Prior to the Simulation Theory tour, Marc Carolan had mixed Muse on a Midas XL4 with a PRO 2C sidecar. However, due to the increased theatrical nature of the new production, the channel count far exceeded what they could squeeze into the existing system, and it was time for a change. “Knowing this change was inevitably coming, I took my time exploring and testing the possible candidates. This was a very interesting process,” notes Carolan. “One thing that is clear, among the top consoles, each has achieved excellent sound quality. However, after extensive A/B’ing, testing and soul searching, as it were, we settled on the Avid S6L platform. It has incredible automation, control systems and work surface coupled with its excellent sound — to my ear, it bears no relation to the older Venue system — made it the preferred choice.”

Carolan says the control section of the Avid software allows you to link almost any logical behavior. This was a real game changer for him, and allowed him to develop whole new workflows and approaches. This has meant a more focused, musical approach to the automation side of things, and a greater ease to react to things on the fly.

“The biggest change sound-wise with the P.A. was the introduction of the d&b audiotechnik GSL system. It’s absolutely phenomenal — d&b, to my ear, have blown past anything else in terms of accuracy and musicality,” Carolan adds. “That said, some ‘legacy’ outboard has remained. These include dbx 160’s for kick and snare, Tube-Tech LCA-2B’s for bass and guitars, Empirical Labs Distressors on vocals. New additions include the Rupert Neve Design Portico 5059 summing amplifier, which adds an analog glue, and my new favorite EQ — the EQ4M from Maag Audio. Some outboard FX have remained: the venerable Bricasti M7 is hard to replace, as is the classic Eventide H3000.”

Commenting on the inputs and outputs that he is running, Carolan notes it all depends on how you look at it. “We use 110 lines, but obviously this includes all manner of ambient mics, talk mics, etc. We also have multiple — eight — mic positions on our main vocals, and a further six on BV’s. In terms of outputs to the system, it’s quite straightforward, Left Right and Sub!”

Carolan uses a mix of onboard Avid AAX plug-ins. The AE6000 and EC300 from McDSP have allowed him to replace some outboard, as they sound great. He also uses a lot of Avid’s own Pro Series plug-ins. “On my master bus, I’ve stuck with my trusted combination of the GML8200 EQ and the Tube-Tech SMC 2B. I don’t really compress my master bus — the Tube-Tech just adds the odd little ‘tickle’ of multiband compression for color. On my stereo guitar bus, I’ve added an Empirical Labs Fatso. On my overheads bus, I’ve added the Kush Audio mod of the Fatso.”

Carolan says he’s always used a more “dynamic” approach to achieve perceived loudness. “I’ll have my hand on the master fader for most of the gig. This means when you can achieve really “big” moments whilst hitting around 100 to 101 dBA at FOH. We make sure to calibrate our Live Capture Pro everyday, and monitor relevant SPL data throughout the show. It also means the audience experience less fatigue and can enjoy it right up to the end. Going back to a “one end” show was much easier, (the last tour being an in-the-round setup)… especially with the addition of the GSL! For this tour, we were lucky enough to retain most of the Skan team who worked with us on the Drones tour, indeed some of the team are on their third or fourth Muse campaigns. From a communication and workflow point of view, this obviously makes things much easier, and means we can develop new ideas and approaches much easier.”

MUSE © Steve Jennings

‡‡         Details, Details…

Working alongside with Carolan is FOH tech Eddie O’Brien who notes they are touring a system from Newbury, U.K.-based Skan. O’Brien’s duties start early in the day for the load in, unloading trucks getting infrastructure in place, Mains, motors deploying equipment around the venue to where it’s needed, and also closely working with the system tech and having a look at what the particular venue may have in store for them on that day.

“Our rolling stage occupies the main floor area for most of the morning during the build, so it’s not until a little time later that I can set up FOH and get in position,” says O’Brien. “This has been an interesting one for us, as it’s our first outing using d&b’s SL Series products. It’s accurate and gives Marc a very precise musical platform to mix on. After setting FOH, I work with Joachim on the time alignment and listen to the system. After this, it’s over to Marc where he ultimately decides whether it’s fit for the show. Marc uses live capture as a quick reference during the show for SPL and maybe spot potential feedback issues. He likes to have everyone on board to have a listen so it’s important to give him an idea what it sounds like outside the mix area. After the first two songs, I usually walk the room to hear if it needs addressing or if we can make it better in any way. I am also there to deal with any technical issues that may arise during the show.”

There are a few inherent challenges on this tour. Regarding Matt’s vocals when he’s out on the ramp past the P.A. system, O’Brien says the easiest thing would be to EQ it, but then that doesn’t always sound natural, so again he works with Joachim on this, instead using speaker focus, placement and system timing to regain some additional headroom here. “The EQing we leave to Marc, as it becomes more of an artistic decision. Marc is well accustomed to dealing with Matt being beyond the P.A., so it’s never really a huge issue, I think most of it comes down to managing expectations. Sometime, on some of the larger festivals or headline shows we do, or when we don’t have the luxury of our own P.A. and how its deployed, turning speakers off — i.e., front fills or low underhang boxes — can help with this. We can get away with a little less here, as Muse runs a very quiet stage without wedges or loud backline beaming into the front rows. Being real about the volumes that can be in the front row is very important as people need to enjoy the show without it being too loud.”

MUSE © Steve Jennings

‡‡         All Systems Go

Systems Tech Joachim Dewulf notes that Skan P.A. — the U.K.-based supplier of all of the tour’s P.A. and controls — have been the supplier for Muse for many years now. “The last Drones tour was actually the first time I was out with Muse,” says Dewulf. “My main contact there is Matt Vickers, the in-house system designer at Skan, and the first person I contact regarding any P.A. questions. Now for a technology question (network/software), my Skan contact is Tom Tunney.”

Dewulf explains they have d&b audiotechnik’s latest SL-series out with them, which includes (per side) 18 GSL line arrays on each main hang, 16 GSLs for side hangs, 12 KSL’s for the 220 hang, 17 SL-Sub in a sub-array configuration, eight Y10P for front fills at the main stage and two Y10P for front fills at the B-stage. The rig is connected using a fiber network for control and signal distribution with drive provided by racks containing 30 d&b D80 amplifiers per side. Adequate horsepower is not an issue.

“I usually come in on rigging call with monitor tech Liam Tucker to start measuring the venue, making the P.A. design and adapting the R1 control file to my needs, a process usually consumes up to two hours. At that time, the rest of the audio team is in, and if all goes well, they can start flying P.A,” explains Dewulf.

“While Matt Besford-Foster and Boden Birkett are flying the speakers, Eddie (O’Brien) is doing power, and I get amp racks connected (mains, speaker looms, control). Before the P.A. goes up to trim, I do a full system check and array verification to make sure all is good and we don’t have to bring the P.A. back down,” Dewulf continues. “I finalize the trim with Matt and Boden before Matt starts getting the subs in. Once subs and fills are in, I check everything with pink noise before lunch. Then it’s on to where I start time-aligning using Smaart v8. It will be both Eddie and me at that point. I put on a song, and Eddie and I walk around the venue until both of us are happy to hand over to Marc.”

But it doesn’t end there. “During the day, I keep monitoring temperature and humidity, and adapt to that whenever needed, keeping Marc up to date. Once the support band is on, I have a quick walk around for a rough idea of changes with the audience, a head-start when we have a fully packed venue. When Muse starts, I stay at FOH for the first song to make sure Marc is happy before I start walking around the venue. Depending on the size of the venue, it can take up to 45 minutes of walking. After the two-hour show, its time for load-out.”

Monitor Tech Liam Tucker and Monitor Engineer Adam Taylor. Photo by Steve Jennings

‡‡         Monitors: It’s Complicated

For monitor engineer Adam Taylor, being set up under the stage can be a disconnect with the band when you can’t see them directly other than monitors, which on big production stages like this can be commonplace. It has been this format for some years now, and the relationship Taylor has with the band generally means he knows what they need and it is not very often, if at all that he is asked for anything. “If there is a problem, I usually notice and correct before it becomes an issue, or it’s passed on through the bands techs.”

Taylor had been using a Midas PRO9 console since the band’s Resistance tour. This time around, he’s upgraded to an Avid S6L, same as Carolan at FOH. “We have outgrown the framework of the Midas. There was an option to upgrade to a PRO X, but as we looked more closely into the Avid S6L, it became the better option. The Avid console is working really well for me. I don’t run a massive amount of outputs; however the input count and flexibility of outputs is invaluable. I have always been a fan of mixing on VCA’s, which is great on the Avid as you can put them anywhere on the surface. I am now submixing the drums, so the ability to mix up channels, aux returns, FX sends and returns on different layers is great. Avid have made this desk so flexible it was a bit of a problem to start with. While setting up the desk, you discover so many different ways to work it, it was hard to settle on the best option. The event function has proved to be invaluable, allowing me to perform so many functions simply via time code or MIDI.”

Taylor’s plug-ins used on the Avid are: Sonnox EQ and Dynamics, McDSP Channel G and EQ, and most of the S6L’s standard-issue Live bundle. In terms of outboard hardware, he has retained his GML 8200 EQ for IEM outputs, four Little Labs Phase alignment units and an Aphex Dominator II over the four main IEM mixes. Band vocal mics are Sennheiser wireless units with a mixture of Neumann 105 and Sennheiser dynamic capsules.

“For IEM’s, we are using the Westone UM3 Pro generic in-ears with yellow foam tips for all the band. We tried every make and model of custom in-ears, however the Westone just work for us, they are lightweight, easily replaceable and offer a very high degree of isolation which is consistent; i.e., the acoustic seal just does not break when singing, drumming, etc.”

In addition to being the monitor tech alongside Taylor, Liam Tucker is also the audio crew chief for the tour. This is his third album cycle undertaking this role, which began in 2012. “The first time I worked with the band was for the rehearsals for the closing ceremony of the London Olympics. I was tech for Adam Taylor directly before Muse, with another band full-time through Skan PA.”

MUSE © Steve Jennings

‡‡         Busy Days, Busier Nights

At each venue, Dewulf and Taylor start for a 7 a.m. rigging mark out. An early start allows Dewulf to get his room measurements done and d&b Array Calc software finals completed ASAP. Meanwhile, Taylor scopes out things such as power and stage left/right amp cart positions, coordinating with the lighting and automation crew.

“There is quite a lot of tech worlds in the wings, and it can be like an ‘interesting’ game of Tetris sometimes,” Taylor explains. “Once Willy (the head rigger) has marked out the floor with the points, I look at cable bridge points with him, in terms of sightlines and trying to stay clear of lighting gumpf. At 8 a.m., rigging starts. Monitors live in a rolling bunker. I will put the desk, RF and patch carts in place as soon as the set guys have built the bunker. We carry a rolling stage, once in-place, Matt (Besford-Foster) will put the subs in place, which live awkwardly under the stage. Bo (Boden Birkett) will move onto his show role of comms tech. I start by getting power to the bunker from our SL Amp carts, then move onto running sat cables, etc. Adam mics up the drum kit daily, this is a routine we have had since 2012, I just lay the cables in position for him.”

Taylor adds that “Joachim and Eddie have an official P.A. noise window, as we have dancers doing rehearsals and try to avoid that time where possible, then line check. The band don’t often sound check, so the backline crew play a song as ‘crew band’ for Marc and Adam. While sound checking, it’s then onto paperwork for me as we near the end of the North American run and approach Euro stadiums and we select crew for Europe, organize sea container packs, truck splits and more. The audio load-out is within 60 to 90 minutes, with my day finished around 1 am by the time I’m on the bus and having a glass of wine — red, obviously.”

Guitar Tech Chris Whitemyer. Photo by Steve Jennings

‡‡         The Guitar Sound

Guitar Tech Chris Whitemyer has been working with Matt Bellamy since 2015. His (under-stage) main setup is eight guitar Shure wireless receivers to a very custom Skrydstrup selector. Then to a RJM effect gizmo (loop switcher) back to the Skrydstrup that splits the signal to two Kempers and a Diezel VH4 head. ”The RJM loops in effects like the Korg SDD delay, Whammy, Strymon bluesky reverb, ZVex Fuzz Factory, (secret stuff) and a Fractal Axe/Fx XL that’s used just for effects.” Guitars on this tour consist of Bellamy’s Manson guitars with various custom bits (effects and lasers) added for specific songs. “The coolest thing this tour has,” says Whitemyer, “is the custom synth guitar. It has the Fishman TriplePlay synth pickup installed, but it’s plugged into a ELK computer and audio interface that’s been custom built into the guitar, so that the synth sounds (Arturia Analog Lab) are direct to wireless, not being processed at a laptop workstation at my end.”

Bass Tech Jon Ashworth. Photo by Steve Jennings

‡‡         Bass ‘n’ Drums

Jon Ashworth was given the bass tech job at the end of 2014, at which point he had to learn the entire Muse back catalog to get familiar with all the songs in preparation for the pedal changes and live versions of various tracks. “Chris Wolstenholme’s bass sound is based around the Markbass SD 1200 head and a Markbass 15” cabinet,” Ashworth reveals. “All distortion sounds are layered on top of that — either through Kempers or through individual foot pedals running through RJM switching systems. The brain of the operation is a Skrydstrup custom routing system, which has manually switchable inputs for four channels of wireless, six MIDI channels, and manually switchable output channels for all the different outputs.”

All of Wolstenholme’s basses are manufactured in the U.K. by Status, with one ‘77 Fender Jazz Bass being the exception. “We have a selection of Chris’ signature model for different tunings, and a few custom creations for a couple of different tracks,” Ashworth notes, adding “We have the Madness bass, which is a double-neck bass using a regular Status headless bass with an iPad-based setup working as an X/Y and note controller for the distinctive ‘Madness’ synth sound. We recently added a bass with an in-built MIDI keyboard. This is used for the songs ‘Propaganda’ and ‘Something Human.’ These two units use the Panda Audio midiBeam for wireless MIDI transmission back to main stage.”

Drum Tech Jeremy Berman. Photo by Steve Jennings

Drum tech Jeremy Berman notes that Dominic Howard’s current drum set is a custom kit by Q Drum Co., of which he is the founder. “We went for birch shells to mimic an ‘80s Yamaha recording custom vibe with a more modern twist. So far, it has been incredible to work with. Then we added some strips of acrylic and LED lighting to go with the band’s stage set design, which is pretty cool.”

MUSE © Steve Jennings

‡‡         More Shows Added

After 17 North American dates (starting at the Toyota Center in Houston, February 22), Muse’s 2019 Simulation Theory world tour wound up its stateside run on April 10 at Boston’s TD Garden arena. The tour continues in Europe this summer, with the itinerary starting with a May 26 show at Prague’s Letnany Airport and a long run through more than a dozen countries and venues as large as Moscow’s massive 81,000-capacity Luzhniki Stadium (June 15). After a July 26 show at Madrid’s 68,000-capacity Wanda Metropolitano, the band takes a break before wrapping the European leg with four more shows in September. Then it’s on to Asia and Latin America for more big shows this fall.

Muse

Simulation Theory World Tour

MUSE © Steve Jennings

AUDIO CREW

Sound Company: Skan PA Hire (Berkshire, U.K.)

FOH Engineer: Marc Carolan

Monitor Engineer: Adam Taylor

FOH Tech: Eddie O’Brien

System Tech: Joachim Dewulf

Monitor Tech: Liam Tucker

Guitar Tech: Chris Whitemyer

Bass Tech: Jon Ashworth

Drum Tech: Jeremy Berman

MUSE (Audio) © Steve Jennings

P.A. GEAR

Main Hang: (36) d&b audiotechnik GSL line arrays (18 side)

Side Hang: (32) d&b GSL (16/side)

220 Hang: (12) d&b KSL line arrays

Subs: (17) SLs in a sub-array configuration

Front Fills: (8) Y10P for front fills (main stage), (2) Y10P as B-stage fills

Amp Racks: (30) d&b D80 per side

Marc Carolan at FOH. Photo by Steve Jennings

FOH GEAR

FOH Console: Avid S6L

 

MON GEAR

Monitor Console: Avid S6L

MUSE © Steve Jennings

More info at www.muse.mu and www.skanpa.co.uk

 

More Muse 2019 tour photos by Steve Jennings:

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