So the question: is this still a platform that adds value, or should I abandon the blog?’
So the question: is this still a platform that adds value, or should I abandon the blog?’
We frequently need to convert MP4 videos into DXV (in an MOV file format) to play on Resolume. One of the easiest ways to do this is to use MPEG_Streamclip from Squared 5.
Version 1.2 is not compatible for direct Youtube processing, but at the time of this writing (Nov 2017), they have released 1.2.1b6 beta. Haven’t tried that yet. Just been working with MP4 conversions on Windows.
Broadway Show Review – Dear Evan Hansen
A few weeks ago we held had our annual trip to see several Broadway shows. This is a review of the lighting, sound, and tech for “Dear Evan Hansen” at the Music Box theatre. I’m not going to review the overall show – there are many reviews of the story and show. This is a review of tech aspects, with just a few comments about the show.
Loved the music and story was interesting. Outstanding acting, especially the “ticks” that Evan Hansen was exhibiting. But this review is about the tech so lets move on….
The story is closely connected with social media, so the entire pre-show consisted of bleeps, beeps, and other cell phone notification sounds. Very creative, but it did get tiresome after about 10min. If you arrive early to the show, the 25 or so minutes of notification sounds was almost annoying.
The pit was on stage, setup on a deck above the main stage floor. Pit volume was appropriate for the show.
Based on where our seats were (orchestra right, a few rows from the stage) and a lack of front fill speakers, the vocals were too quiet compared to the pit. I don’t blame pit volume – it seemed right. But we were only getting live vocals (no sound reinforcement) from the actors, so some dialog was challenging to hear. Not sure why there were no front fill speakers. It’s my only real criticism of the sound. There were two late mic cues, which I find refreshing to know that there are humans behind the console.
Outstanding lighting by Japhy Weideman. Maybe better than Next to Normal which is my high water benchmark. There was excellent, smoothly crafted layering, and cue flow was perfect. Most cues were were well motivated, appropriately subtle when needed, and big/bold when it added to the music or story telling. I keep coming back to how Next to Normal handled the very smooth cue flow, again except when big/bold strokes were needed. There were two follow spots on box torms which created good layering and helped avoid issues with the scrims that often had video projections on them.
Color choices were excellent. The right balance of warmth with accents from the side, and typically cool backlight. But it wasn’t always the same, shifting tone as mood and drama required. And there were the big and bold cues with dramatic color shifts, all well motivated and driven by the story. Smooth and unobtrusive, yet still dramatic when needed
There was one interesting issue between lights and one actress’ makeup. This actress was an understudy playing Heidi. The makeup looked cold and pasty, not the warm natural facial tones of all the other actors. The actress was clearly talented, so I’m not sure why the difference was so noticeable, other than since she was an understudy, the makeup choice was just an accident. And I typically don’t notice makeup.
A nice small touch was use of LEDs in laptops to simulate the screen shine on the actor’s faces. They provided an ideal, easily seen cold light. Slightly overstated from normal, but this would be easily seen from all seats in the house. A smart decision, not too unlike how most of us use a dark blue for night on stage, so we can still see the actors bodies. This was well done, and totally supported the use of computers as part of the social media character.
The show depends heavily on scrims and screens to convey social media, which served as it’s own character. Four projectors mounted on the balcony rail were providing imagry of texts and similar on several tall scrims. The scrims were at and upstage of the curtain line, a little wide of center. The crafting of back light and front light was exceptional, providing a perfect interplay between projections, screens, and lighting.
Broadway Show Review – Natasha, Pierre, & The Great Comet of 1812
A few weeks ago we held had our annual trip to see several Broadway shows. This is a review of the lighting, sound, and tech for “Great Comet of 1812” at the Imperial theatre. I’m not going to review the overall show -there are many reviews of the story and show. This is a review of tech aspects, with just a few comments about the show.
For starters, let me get this out quickly before diving into the tech: I didn’t like the music nor story. And the show was vastly too long. As my wife put it, it was a long soap opera. But I want to focus on the tech!
The Sound Design was outstanding. Some of the best I have ever heard. It was exceptionally difficult to do, given that the positioning of lead vocals were not only panned left and right, but upstage and downstage too. Since the audience is not just in front of the stage, but in, on, and around the stage, the speakers were hanging everywhere too. Wow, that made the job even more difficult. Many, many opportunities for feedback, but the audio was pristine. Wonderful!
One of the ways the audio design team managed this difficult sound was by controlling the pit volumes to a very low level. And when I say “pit”, that’s really a misnomer – the musicians were running, dancing, and walking throughout the house and the set. Yet the instrument volumes were always below the singers and actors. No straining to hear dialog or vocals. And of course with the aforementioned challenges with speakers and actors everywhere, low pit volumes were a must.
Speaking of musicians and singers everywhere, the wireless audio demands seemed extreme. The lead actors and musicians had one wireless for in-ear monitor, one for vocal mic, and the musicians had a third wireless for their instrument (violin, guitar, accordion, clarinet, etc.). With such a large cast and pit, that’s one heck of a lot of wireless channels. Certainly rivaling any huge show in Vegas, and I’ve never seen this much on Broadway. Another technical challenge well handled.
There were occasional missed cues – refreshing because I know personally how easy it is to miss a cue. This it the top of the professional game, so knowing the sound tech(s) are human sometimes makes me smile.
Fantastic set – the audience is woven throughout the set. Not just on side stage, but throughout the set. There were even two working bars on the set (only operating during preshow and intermission, but still…).
The lighting design was driven by the set complexity. Overall, it was NOT fantastic lighting. I would say “Excellent lighting and functional lighting, but not exceptional or fantastic”. They won a Tony(R) Award for outstanding lighting design, yet I felt it was not on par with “Dear Evan Hansen” or my high water benchmark of “Next to Normal”.
Sure, the lighting was functional, but it had to be with everyone all over the set. But little in the way of carefully chosen colors or blends and tender fades. Cold light and/or warm light, pounding on and off. Oh yes, some reds from above on stage front too. But not much else from the huge pallet that’s available to drive mood – except for the final “comet” bulb at the closing; that was nice. And what’s with the 6 or 8 “in your face” back lights that were on a low angle from the back of the stage? Nothing subtle about those. And of course they had LED sneakers and a rock concert number of 3000W strobes for the crazy party scene. And bare bulbs and Sputnik type chandeliers that were motorized up and down. Pretty sometimes, artful sometimes, but that’s not award winning lighting art in my book. I was underwhelmed.
And my final beef with the lighting: During one song, they were pulsing house lights up and down to the music – really? I expect that in a middle school musical that is starved for lighting gear, but on Broadway – really? And then there was the house light row-chase. Yep!!! Kudos to two of my high school lighting students Jeremy and Adam who used that on many shows here in Rochester about 10 years back. In fact, it’s still programmed into the Olympia HS lighting console. I hope you both get an award someday soon.
Often in theatre, shoe bags are used to deploy body pack style wireless microphones, as well as small props. One issue I’ve had is labeling the shoe bag pockets with the actor/character name. Since I use cloth shoe bags, gaff and other tape doesn’t stick well. So the challenge is how to label in a way that doesn’t snag the microphone wire. I’m offering two solutions:
Pin-on name tags (like used for reunions or business gatherings):
If you have a home based workshop, stop going to the kitchen to steal plastic wrap or foil to cover your paintbrush between coats. Often overlooked, having rolls of plastic wrap, foil, and wax paper in the shop avoids tracking sawdust into the main part of the house. Why wax paper? To put under stuff you are gluing. Note how we’ve clearly labeled each, as the boxes all tend to look the same, and the actual product is typically labeled in fine print.
Oh yea, we’ve stopped using newspapers on the benches to avoid paint spatter. Corrugated cardboard lays flatter and can be used many times.
Roland just announced their new entrant into the wind controller (wind synthesizer) market. This has on-board sounds, usb port, audio output port, and sax fingerings. No point in re-typing what Roland has on their website:
Here is a short promo video:
A nice technical summary, including a glimpse into the menu system:
A few weeks ago we held had our annual trip to see several Broadway shows. This is a review of the lighting and sound for “Matilda” at the Shubert theatre. I’m not going to review the overall show -there are many reviews of the story and show. This is a review of tech aspects.
Sound: The sound, especially at the start of the show with the youth actors, was challenging. Intelligibility was seriously lacking. The actors were using thick British accents, so intelligibility at the top of the show is important, if for nothing more than getting my brain set for the duration of the show. The sound was mushy (muddy) and seemed to need more mid-range frequencies. Additionally, the vocals were not on top of the orchestra. Sometimes in these cases the orchestra is too loud. But for “Matilda”, this wasn’t the case. The actors were just not loud enough at the top of the show. I did find that the principal adult actors were well balanced and had excellent intelligibility. I’ve heard from others who saw the show in previous years that had similar criticism.
Lights: Overall, the lighting was excellent, designed by Hugh Vanstone. Very colorful, which suited the show quite well. Plenty of light on stage, especially the high key library scenes. Darker scenes like the classroom were totally appropriate, and with sufficient front spotlight to pick up the actors faces. I’ve seen several other shows that seem to love under lighting principle actors only to loose all facial expressions. Billy Elliot comes to mind where I’ve been pretty vocal about insufficient lighting in several spots where actors are delivering lines with almost no light, including lack of side light and back light – just plain too dark. One thought about the opening scene with the birthday cake – the candles were LED which is great. But instead of a single LED in a molded flame, the show was using birthday cake candles where each flame had what looked like 5-6 individual tiny LEDs. This created an nice effect more similar to a sparkler than a typical birthday candle. It’s a design decision, and fit nicely with the somewhat cartoon nature of the show.
Tech: At the top of the show, they halted the show twice just after the curtain opened. I feel for the cast and crew. Some idiots in the house actually booed on the second halt. No manners. On the second try, it was obvious the scrim was stopping about 2m (6 feet) as it lifted off the floor. On the third try, they had already struck the scrim and just moved into the show. Great recovery. There were several illusions in the show, and there’s even a cast credit for Illusion (Paul Kieve). Kieve and Vanstone both worked on “Ghost”. The most impressive illusion in “Matilda” is a chalkboard that writes with no visible means. While there were two large digital projectors mounted on the balcony rail, video is the obvious effect. But the chalkboard moves downstage while it is magically writing, and there was absolutely NO visible tracking mismatch. So it’s either incredibly accurate tracking, or something else. If something else, perhaps the chalk writing was rear projected and physically traveling with the screen. A much simpler solution (thanks Kevin!), but I really don’t know!
A few weeks ago we were asked to repair a Lycian HP Midget follow spot (model 1209). The spot stopped igniting (starting the arc) more than a year ago, although one person did say it worked once after being sidelined.
After we unloaded the spot and brought it into the shop, it worked perfectly. But we heard loose parts inside. After investigating, we found 3 brass paper fasteners used to hold gels in the boomerang loose inside the main electronics compartment. One was stuck under the main circuit board (probably the one shorting out the starting circuit prior to transport), one got stuck under a transformer body, and one as loose in the bottom compartment sliding as you tip the spot up and down. There was a dead bee too. Oh yea, we found a 4th brass paper fastener in the back of the Vibe we used to pick up the follow spot.
While we can’t say definitively that the metal paper fasteners were the true root cause, but since there was one stuck under the circuit board, that’s the only logical conclusion. We have now run the spotlight for 3-4 hours, with about 20 start cycles and no issues.
Looking at the spot construction, there is a blower fan right under the gel boomerang to keep the gels cool. It’s not a large opening (see photo below), but with 3 of the paper fasteners in the lower electronic housing, the blower opening is probably the only way they got there (that we could see). There’s no screen of any type over the blower opening.
While the removal of the brass paper fasteners is seemingly simple, removal of the lower electronics enclosure was not easy. It took two of us to do it, and the lamp wires needed to remain connected. Perhaps we missed something, but it did seem harder than it should be.
Part 2: It’s an ill wind that blows no good
Part 1 offered simplified theory of why most stock synthesizer patches don’t work well with a wind controller, and summarized a few guidelines for making a patch wind-friendly. Part 2 discusses the specifics of creating a wind-friendly patch on the Roland JV-1010, but could be applied to many other Roland synths, and probably other makes and models as well.
In the architecture of Roland’s JD/JV/XV series, a patch consists of four tones, each of which can be assigned a different waveform and tweaked independently. Each tone is further divided into sections for waveform, pitch, amplifier, MIDI key follow, filter, and LFO. You can apply CC02 to parameters in some of these sections, and set the degree to which CC02 affects each parameter. This is done in a control matrix, which has been a part of Roland’s design for several generations of synths. It seems each generation allows more tonal and effect parameters to be linked to more continuous controllers, which provides for increasingly complex patch behavior. In addition, there are patch-wide settings, such as patch volume, portamento, bend range, and tuning, which apply globally to all tones in the patch.
Basic steps – creating a WC-friendly patch
The following steps describe how to create a basic wind-friendly patch on the Roland JV-1010. The patch will be created from scratch, which is actually easier than modifying an existing patch. You can start with a known quantity, and avoid having to second-guess and undo settings.
Patch editing on the JV-1010 requires installing and setting up the editor software (SoundDiver, originally supplied with the module) on a Windows PC. This is necessary because the JV-1010’s 2-digit display and front panel offer very little programming capability. If you have a module with full display and control panel, you might be able to go directly to the programming steps.
A MIDI interface and its driver are also needed to get the computer and module communicating. A MIDI interface that has dual channels — two MIDI INs and two MIDI OUTs – will allow the WC and computer inputs to both drive one output to the module. You can then audition sounds as you tweak. My preference is the Roland UM-2G (http://www.roland.com/products/um-2g/). An alternative is a single-channel MIDI interface, with a MIDI merge box for the WC.
If all this prep sounds overwhelming, you might decide to stop now. If you’re ready, here’s how to continue:
But wait…there’s more
Developing a WC-friendly patch is usually an iterative process. You can expect to repeat the process as you play the patch and think of ways to improve it. You may also want to enhance the patch as a result of learning more about your synthesizer and the instrument you are trying to emulate. Here are a few additional programming tricks you can explore:
If you are trying to emulate an acoustic instrument, you can study the instrument to determine how it responds when played, and how CC02 and pitch bend can help you realize the desired result. For example, brass and reed players might want to apply lip vibrato in place of relying on the patch’s LFO setting. The WX7’s reed isn’t quite as supple as a cane reed for applying vibrato, but it can be used for that purpose by setting the tone’s LFOs to have no effect, and then setting patch bend range to respond as desired to your lip action. A good book for studying instruments is “A Synthesist’s Guide to Acoustic Instruments” (http://www.amazon.com/A-Synthesists-Guide-Acoustic-Instruments/dp/0825610893). It’s relatively inexpensive, and while intended for programming keyboard patches, it is worth having for its analysis of the physics of different instrument families.
If you want to create more “synthy” sounds, the process is both easier and more difficult. Some synthesizers contain generic waveform building blocks (saw, square, triangle, etc.) that you can use like acoustic instrument waveforms, and the same programming steps still apply. However, you might not have a target sound to work toward, so you are more on our own to determine when you are finished.
In the end, synthesizer programming and playing are all about creativity, expression, and meeting requirements. It is also a subjective process. When you get the patch to respond and sound to your liking, you can treat it as one more arrow in your synthetic quiver, just as a guitarist reaches for one guitar or another depending on the song. You start out learning to “play the patch,” but eventually, the patch becomes secondary to your interpretation of the music.