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Success Stories

Digital Systems Make The Dancer's Life A Little Easier
— Fully Digital Front of House System Raises the Bar for Broadway Show —

BUENA PARK, CA — Scott Lehrer's newest musical project to hit the stage is The Dancer's Life – a celebration of the career of a singer, dancer, actress, and one of America's most beloved stage performers, Chita Rivera. As the show's sound designer, Lehrer has assembled not only a front of house sound system that stretches the use of digital audio and audio control for a Broadway production, but one that also advances overall sound quality, flexibility and setup.

Chita Rivera
Dancer, actress and Broadway legend Chita Rivera
Lehrer's system consists of a Yamaha PM5D digital mixing console with an AVIOM expansion card for band monitoring, a Yamaha DME64N digital mixing engine as the matrix/drive cascaded from the PM5D, and a Yamaha DM1000 digital mixer with a pair of AD8HR mic preamps for drum and percussion submixes. Although he has assembled a similar (though not identical) system for the touring company of Chicago, The Dancer's Life is the first time he's brought this core setup to Broadway.

Pre-production began in February and March of 2005, when Lehrer began working with the show's musical director, music contractor, lighting designers and set designers. The show's minimalist design places the 12 musicians in the band right on stage, on a platform with eight different levels.

"The staging presented its own issues for communications that we had to work out," says Lehrer, "mainly regarding video and audio monitoring for all the musicians and the conductor. We're using the AVIOM personal mixing system for monitors because it interfaces beautifully with the PM5D and really simplifies things."

The front of house console should ideally sit in some of the best seats in the house, rear-center of the orchestra seating. "A typical analog desk can take up as many as 16 seats," says Lehrer. "At $100 a seat, that's a lot of box office to give up every week. Producers love to see the smaller-frame PM5D (approximately five feet in length) because in a Broadway theater, every seat counts."

The show went to the Old Globe Theater in San Diego for a trial run of a few months, giving Lehrer a chance to rethink the sound system, and giving house engineer Chris Sloan a chance to learn the show before moving on to Broadway.

"Normally," says Lehrer, "the drive rack on a show like this would be quite large, including stereo, two-in two-out delay/EQ's for all the speaker systems alone, and I'd be using eight units, which is an entire 16-space rack of gear. All that now goes away with the PM5D's internal processing and the DME64N. With an analog console, I'd also be using an analog matrix, and that would require moving a knob for every adjustment. Now, by using the delay matrix in the DME64N, I can actually set matrix levels for band and vocal levels and delay times with my wireless laptop from anywhere in the house. In the past, I'd be running up and down the aisles, and using a walkie-talkie to check levels. With the Yamaha system, it's not just about checking levels – I'm actually able to get the band to sound like it's playing on stage, set delays properly, and give the vocals their own set of delay matrixing. That's really a different way of working."

According to Lehrer, the advantages of keeping the signal in the digital domain are both obvious, and not-so obvious. "High quality A-to-D and D-to-A conversion is expensive and introduces artifacts," he says, "and every conversion introduces latency. By staying in the digital domain as much as possible, everything is kept 'inside the box.' You're eliminating issues of cable reliability, polarity, phase problems, and human error, which can happen when you work 16 to 18 hour days."

With one cascade cable between the console and DME64N, Lehrer has come to regard the PM5D/DME64N combination as a single system, effectively part of the same box.

"With the DME, sound designers can start looking at controlling their front of house in a new way," he says. "It's a much more comprehensive, all-in-one solution." Even with other digital consoles, he notes, an external drive rack is still required. "We have a rack that contains the two DME64's, a switch-over box, a computer for programming, and a computer that runs the software for the DM1000 and PM5D. That's our drive rack."

For more information, write Yamaha Corporation of America, Commercial Audio Systems Division, P.O. Box 6600, Buena Park, CA 90622; telephone (714) 522-9011; or e-mail infostation@yamaha.com.

The Future of Music and Sound
© 2006 Yamaha Corporation of America. All rights reserved.