Gearhouse, Sound Harmonics and others join forces on the largest locally supplied PA in South Africa to date…

The Sacred Assembly, held by Shalom Ministries founder Angus Buchan in November last year officially broke the record for the largest PA to be used in South Africa supplied by a local company, surpassing its own 2009 Mighty Men Conference and only second to U2’s Clair Brothers’ system, which had travelled with them. The event, which took place at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on 19 November 2016, was organized specifically to bring together Christians from all denominations, to pray for South Africa, with regard to the drought, corruption and racial tolerance, among others. The venue was chosen specifically for its size and location, in order to be able to accommodate all the different communities expected to participate.

The event not only featured an eight piece band comprised of some of South Africa’s top musicians and ten vocalists including well-known Joe Niemand, Loyiso Bala and Janine Price, but also featured a special guest performer, UK Trumpeter Dan Newell.

The principal technical supplier for the event was the Gearhouse Group, with support from Afrika Audio and Sound Harmonics, while Sound Harmonics’ own Richard Smith took on the roles of Technical Director, Audio System Designer and HOD.

“My brief as technical director, was to come up with a design that would provide as much sound clarity and coverage as possible for the expected maximum capacity of around 106 000 people and the only way to do that was to put the stage in the centre and play ‘in the round’,” Smith says.

According to Smith, the only other event that had previously been allowed to do this at the stadium was the U2 360 tour and there were very specific conditions set then.

“The pitch is the stadium’s bread and butter and so South African Stadium Management is not inclined to allow this, as I have experienced from doing other large scale shows in venues they manage. So to me it was amazing that they allowed it,” he says. “My original PA design was a system of eight hangs, essentially giving each side of the stadium a stereo system, but that allowed only one option of roof, which was Gearhouse’s StageCo Structure, and the stadium would not allow this to be erected in the centre of the pitch.”

The team at Gearhouse then suggested the ‘Spider Dome’ as solution, which had been used at another, similar stadium venue at the time, with minimal impact on the pitch. Though the stadium accepted this, it offered an extra challenge for Smith, as this specific structure could only support about half the weight of the system he originally proposed.

According to Gearhouse Project Manager for the event, Jaco Saaiman, between the rigging team and the audio team, careful planning had to go into achieving 360 degree audio coverage inside the stadium - especially with the delay audio points out of the roof.

“The process of getting the points in, delay (roof) audio up and working, and safety protocols observed took three days,” he says. “It’s a massive roof and a massive area to cover but we managed to get it done on time and within the allocated schedule.”

“My first instinct was to use a system comprising of six arrays, but the screens required a lot of space, so I had to think differently,” Smith says. “I then came up with a new design, based on four main hangs covering the majority of the field and the first four levels of the stands. Luckily Gearhouse had just purchased a new K2 system, which integrates with the K1 and this allowed me to get the coverage required.”

This design, however, left the centre of the stage another challenge for Smith, as the main arrays were fire out at 45% from each of the stage’s corners.

“I used an ARCS II array flown above each screen as a fill in the nearfield and a stacked array of V-DOSC in the far field up to level 3,” he says. “The top level of seating is known as level 5 and is almost impossible to cover from the field. In the past, Gearhouse has flown a system of delay arrays when doing international concerts in the length. This has normally consisted of 12 to 14 arrays of KUDO and KARA, but because of the layout, it was increased to 16 hangs, totalling 96 enclosures just to cover the upper level.”

Another important factor and possible challenge, according to Saaiman, was taking the weather into account.

“Our setup days were during a heat wave period so it really took its toll on the crew, but with lots of hydration we got through it. We particularly had to pay attention to wind conditions, since with the Spider Dome there is not much help with regards to wind protection and the gear is exposed,” he says. “We also had to take into consideration the weight of all the tech and the capacity the Dome could handle. This is where the K2 system (audio) and the MC7 LED screens played a role in minimizing the weight but still achieving the required look and feel.”

Legendary British Mix Engineer, Jim Warren, (Radiohead, Peter Gabriel, etc.) was brought in to mix FOH and was happy to use the Avid profile console, but asked for an L-Acoustics Nearfield system for reference at both the rehearsal and the stadium.

“I suggested the new L-Acoustics X8 on top of SB18 subs and he was very happy with them,” says Smith.

Due to time constraints, the large band and minimal time for a full soundcheck in the stadium, Smith decided to hold a full rehearsal off site, while the main PA was being setup at the stadium.

“On the Thursday we recreated the stage layout at Christian Family Church and setup FOH, the monitor console and full stage setup, as per the show, and held a full musical rehearsal,” he says. “We broke it down at 16:00 Thursday and went straight to the stadium to setup to be ready for Friday morning sound check.”

According to Smith, they recorded multitrack onto an iMac using Logic, managed by Tiaan Newman, and used that to do ‘virtual sound checks’ in the stadium on Thursday night and early Friday morning, so Warren could familiarise himself with the venue.

The rest of the production and technical team for the event included organiser Joe Niemand, Gearhouse account manager Llewelyn Reinecke, structure designer Otto Wijnberger (In2Structures), staging by Attie Van Staden (SS Staging), audio system technician Jonathan Green (Gearhouse), monitor engineer Revil Baselga, multitrack recording by Marius Brouwer (Pop Planet Studios), audio assistant to Jim, Brendan Keizer (Afrika Audio), musical director JB Arthur, production manager Kirstin Barwise, show director Belinda Chapman, DVD director and Video HOD Peter Heaney (9mm Films) and live camera director Eugene Naidoo.

Saaiman concluded: “It was a great event to work on, especially together with Sound Harmonics. Richard, together with Llewellyn from our side, went through a lot of time and detail to get the design and audio for the event 100%. Because it was a church sermon and spoken word, together with music, it was critical to make sure that every person in the stadium could hear the messages with clarity, and I do believe this was achieved.”

Story reprinted courtesy Elaine Strauss, ProSystems News Photo Joseph Mandy 

Feb 24, 2017

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