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Sofi Tukker ‘Treehouse’ Tour

by Steve Jennings (Photos & Text) • in
  • July 2018
  • Production Profile
• Created: July 18, 2018

Sofi Tukker is a music duo consisting of Sophie Hawley-Weld (vocals, guitar and percussion) and Tucker Halpern (vocals, bass and percussion) who are on tour playing both headline dates as well as festivals spanning the U.S., Japan, Germany, the U.K., Spain and Romania — just some of the many tour dates in support of their newest album release Treehouse. We spoke with the band’s audio engineers — Mirko Vogel mixing at FOH and playback tech Mike Nelson — when the band headlined before a sold-out crowd in Northern California.

Tucker Halpern. Sofi Tukker tour photo by Steve Jennings

For FOH engineer Mirko Vogel, his approach to mixing Sofi Tukker live began forming during pre-production when he rebuilt, mixed and mastered all the stems and studio sessions from the various recordings over the last years. He wanted to build a cohesive and consistent set that brought together all the work that Sofi Tukker had done into one place. “Having the ability to rework all the audio and samples for the show from scratch meant we could have a much simpler approach to mixing the live show. All the balance, bottom-end consistency, impact, FX and dynamics to the show we fine tuned during rehearsals, leaving only room- and venue-specific adjustments to be made each day and freeing up the FOH production from excessive processing and plug-in use.”

Sophie Hawley-Weld. Sofi Tukker tour photo by Steve Jennings.

‡‡         Creating Options at FOH

Vogel says he has a really great array of splits from the computers to work with that allows him to mix the show dynamically, with minimal FOH processing. ”I use a little dynamic processing in certain rooms, but mostly I just mix on the faders to bring out the part for each song that need to shine, create space for vocals and vocal effects where needed,” he says. “The less crutches and more freedom I have as a mix engineer, the better it is for both me and the band, and more money I can save the bands I work for by being more flexible and less reliant on certain equipment. With a band like Sofi Tukker, who does so many fly date shows, it was really important to have a consistent and dynamic show that doesn’t rely on a certain console or plug-ins. The only plug-in I use, really, is one delay and one reverb on Sophie’s vocals, and a Master Bus Comp. On the Avid, I use Impact, but honestly, anything remotely resembling a decent master bus would do the trick for me. It only ever ticks down 1 or 2 dB of gain when I push the mix in the builds and drops.”

FOH engineer Mirko Vogel. Photo by Steve Jennings

‡‡         Getting Into the Mix

While the U.S. Treehouse tour was done on an Avid Profile, Vogel also bounced between DiGiCo and Midas boards as well as Yamaha CL’s and Soundcraft in Europe. ”We run FOH and monitors from my one console to keep things neat and consistent. Being able to run this show in any environment was really important to me from the beginning, eliminating technical issues and just getting back to the basics of a good mix — volume, EQ and a little compression here and there. This approach makes for a consistent IEM environment and also a cost-effective, transportable show.”

Vogel mixes the band riding the subs and master volume here and there to give the shows’ L-R mix more impact. “I have a few VCA’s setup to be able to make space for vocals when needed. Unlike a full band, I concentrate more on the master bus, builds and drops and L-R glue rather than carving a certain sound for, say, the drums. As most of that work was already done during pre-production, mixing is already super-impactful and doesn’t need to be messed with.”

Playback tech Mike Nelson at the playback station. Photo by Steve Jennings

With little acoustic information from the stage, there’s a bit less of a need to adjust the drum “sound” for a certain room or situation, says Vogel. “As long as the subs hit in the right spot, the mids punch and the tops shine, I can just work on balancing everything properly. With full bands, I find I spend a lot more time getting phase relationships right, creating space and separation between the instruments on stage and using more dynamic control. That’s not really the case with Sofi Tukker.”

The band and Vogel do discuss things — pre- and post-show — to fine-tune what worked and what didn’t. “It’s a very collaborative approach with Sophie and Tucker as well as our tour manager Heather (Ryan) and Mike (Nelson). We all have a different perspective of what we hear and experience during the show, and I take their input and respect what they have to say.”

Central to the show’s theme is the “MIDI Tree,” with hollowed-out books fitted with piezo pickups that can trigger sounds or sequences. Photo by Steve Jennings

The band uses high-end Shure wireless for everything on stage, notes Vogel. “I have great DI’s and switchers, and decent converters for the computer systems, a great show that really doesn’t need anything crazy. Down the track, I would love to travel with a little rack for Sophie’s vocals. Just a nice little vocal chain, maybe a Master Bus Comp, but I’m happy to travel with just a USB stick and a good set of ears.”

On this tour’s U.S. leg, Vogel just used in-house speaker processing, so when it was available, he used a house Lake or similar system to tune the room. ”I always use the band’s music to tune the room, so that it’s the reference point for the whole show. One of the advantages of having so much electronic music information in the show is that the whole system can run from that single reference point. I know that once it’s sounding on-point, the show will sound exactly the way we intended. I can hear the limitations in the room and the system from the get-go and can adjust not only the overall system processing, but also the main mix sub levels for certain instruments to counteract the shortfalls in some rooms. It’s like a multi-threaded mastering mix approach to each show.”

Tucker Halpern’s keypad position features two Akai MPD units. Photo by Steve Jennings

Having playback tech Mike Nelson on stage, who is both a very competent technician and also a talented producer and engineer, makes communication before and during the show really easy and fluid, explains Vogel. “We talk a lot prior and post show, and we have a little chat app open during the show so that we can rely messages back and forth from stage to FOH. It’s been a really effective way to make monitor changes during the show and problem-solve things if we need to.”

The audio team doesn’t own a wireless system or mics, but rent a Shure PSM1000 system for IEM and UR4D+ receivers for two SM58’s, guitar pack and bass pack. They use all in-house racks and stacks as well as system processing and control.

“Working with Sofi Tukker is an absolute pleasure, and fun to mix! Taking advantage of what this connected world has to offer and be able to jump between productions and consoles with minimal adjustments has been extremely liberating. It’s something I look forward to working on further, reducing our carbon footprint while still delivering a really consistent show everywhere.”

Sophie Hawley-Weld at one of the DW floor toms with d-drum pickups that trigger various sounds during the show.

‡‡         Make Mine MIDI!

Playback tech Mike Nelson notes that they’re using a lot of MIDI for the Treehouse tour. The playback station uses drum racks they custom built for the Ableton Live session that allows Nelson to control what sounds are sent to the MIDI triggers on stage. “Different sounds are used for specific songs, and even particular times in the song, so a tidy Live session is a must! I run all of the MIDI information from the playback rig via a MIDI-to-Cat-5 box. This allows us to use only one line of Cat-5 from side stage. Having less stage cable runs helps speed up load in/out; allowing us more time to dial in the show to the specific acoustics of the room. The band uses custom IEMs by Jerry Harvey Audio, and we backline the radio packs.”

Like the books in the MIDI “tree,” the toms have programmed sounds from the Treehouse album. Photo by Steve Jennings

Nelson uses two MacBook Pros, one as a redundant backup linked with an iConnect USB merger. The computers only have an up-to-date set, and use un-warped audio files and MIDI information, so CPU within Ableton stays below 7 percent. “During the show, I’m monitoring the session to make sure all of the MIDI triggers are firing off correctly and that the band are happy with their mixes. New songs are sometimes added to the set, or edits are made for TV appearances, so the stems need to be on the correct channels, the gain structure set to unity and triggers MIDI mapped.”

The Playback Station. Photo by Steve Jennings

‡‡         The “Roots” of a Great Show

The band has a “tree” MIDI setup on stage that includes hardcover books that have been hollowed out and attached to an aluminum frame by reusable zip ties, explains Nelson. “Piezo contact mics are attached inside the books, and a 1/4 jack loom connects them to an Alesis sample rack. The MIDI out of the Alesis then connects to a 4-input MIDI merger, which is in turn connected to a MIDI-to-Cat-5 converter. The Cat-5 is then the only stage line that runs to my playback rack side stage.

Various sounds are programmed for the triggers for each song using Ableton MIDI drum racks. The Akai MPD controllers used by Tucker Halpern on stage select different songs to playback and can trigger effects via a send/return system in the Ableton session, allowing various builds/drops and parts in the song can be controlled on the fly. These controllers have a MIDI out, which also connects to the MIDI merger behind the tree.”

Venues and local vendors provide most of the audio gear used on this tour. Photo by Steve Jennings.

Two tom drums are fitted with silent mesh heads with d-drum MIDI triggers that run XLR female to ¼-inch jacks into the Alesis sample rack. Like the books, the toms have programmed sounds from the Treehouse
album.

“Sofi Tukker are a great team to work with, and we all share our knowledge and expertise to create the best show possible. The shows this year have been really fun and exciting for both the fans and crew, and there are some exciting new developments in the works for this production that will be introduced later this year!”

FOH engineer Mirko Vogel uses an Avid Venue Profile. Photo by Steve Jennings

Sofi Tukker Treehouse Tour 2018

AUDIO GEAR

FOH Engineer: Mirko Vogel

Playback Tech: Mike Nelson

Tour/Production Manager: Heather Marie Ryan

P.A. GEAR

Racks and stacks supplied by venue or local vendor

FOH GEAR

Console: Avid Profile

Processing: All onboard processing; no third-party-ins

Monitor Mix: From FOH

Subs: Fed via aux feed

PLAYBACK GEAR

Computers: (2) MacBook Pros running Ableton Live

Interface Gear: (2) MOTU 16A interfaces; (2) Radial SW8 Auto-Switchers; iConnect MIDI 2+; (2) MIDI-Cat-5 converters

GUITAR GEAR

Rack: Furman M8dx power conditioner; Kemper Profiler (setting changes controlled via MIDI); Tech 21 VT Deluxe Bass DI

MIDI

Tree: C stand for the base and trunk; custom aluminum collapsible circle; custom hardback books; piezo contact microphones

MIDI Gear: (2) Alesis Sample Racks; MIDI Solutions MIDI Merger; MIDI-to-Cat-5 converter box; (2) Akai MPD226 MIDI controllers; iConnect USB merger

Inside the MIDI Tree. Photo by Steve Jennings

 

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