When the Monty Python team took over the Royal Albert Hall for their 40th anniversary bash it was always going to be an epic of Biblical proportions. And it was. “Not The Messiah, He’s a Very Naughty Boy” is the latest work from the team who brought us “Spamalot!” and is a comedy oratorio based on the award winning movie, “The Life of Brian”. Bring on Eric Idle, four professional soloists, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, some bagpipes and some sheep – and it was certainly as the poster claimed “Like Handel, only funnier”.
The sound design for both the live show and the cinema and DVD releases fell to Sound By Design Principal Engineer, Phil Wright.
Both the live show and the recording were undertaken in partnership with BBC Radio 3, with whom Sound By Design have a close working relationship throughout the year working together on the BBC Proms and other R3 and R2 orchestral projects. The entire stage infrastructure was provided by Sound By Design, with some 112 stage inputs including Shure UHF-R radio microphone systems for the singers and condenser microphones for the orchestra including Schoeps, Neumann, Audio Technica and DPA amongst others. BBC R3 then supplied further flown circuits with DPA and Schoeps spots over the orchestra and a DPA 5.1 main array. The R3 flagship mobile studio “DSV” was parked outside the hall and recorded the show onto 128 channels of Pyramix for both R3’s broadcast and Sound By Design’s post production requirements.
The front-of-house PA was Sound By Design’s permanent RAH install system comprising Meyer Sound M2D and M1D curvilinear array, with UPA-1Ps, UPM-1Ps and UPJ-1Ps as fills and 700-HP sub-bass enclosures.
Phil Wright’s weapon of choice at FOH is a DiGiCo D1 console that has the channel capacity of a D5, but fits in the bijou and compact mixer position requirements of a classical concert at RAH. Outboard was minimal, with all the dynamics handled in the board, and only a Lexicon PCM91 and T.C. Electronic M3000 providing a little sparkle, most of the reverb requirements taken care of by the sumptuous surroundings! As a classical concert with no front-of-stage vocal monitoring requirements, monitors were derived from the FOH console, but mixed on stage by Sound By Design’s monitors engineer using a laptop computer on a wireless network back to the board. Rhythm section wedges were EM Acoustics M-12s, with the conductor listening to a Mackie SRM150 for vocals.
Sound By Design’s 112-channel MADI recorder was utilized to provide virtual sound-check facilities at the hall, having production rehearsed the entire show in BBC Maida Vale the day before. This enabled Phil to spend time fine tuning vocals and the rhythm section mix ahead of working with the full orchestra, saving a lot of valuable time on the day.
The show was filmed for cinema and DVD release by Sony Pictures, and John Du Prez, the composer and music producer chose to work with Phil and Sound By Design on the post production. In their new home with Delta Sound in Esher, Surrey, Sound By Design have shared access to the on-site studio facilities, and it was here that the cinema and DVD mixes were prepared.
Mixing to time-coded pictures from the film cutting room, Phil and Mike Silverston (Pro-Tools operator) worked with John to provide a 6-channel theatrical mix and a Dolby 5.1 DVD mix for the production which would convey the enormity of the event and the immense sound of the venue. Using a custom built Pro-Tools HD2 system with more than 150-channels in the mix was a monumental task over three weeks of editing and mixing. The final result opened to critical acclaim in UK cinemas on the 25th March and will be released on DVD later in 2010.
The DVD has been released and reviewed, with Ian Jane from DVD Talk commenting: "The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track on this disc is a winner, with flawless directionality and excellent use made of all six channels in the setup. Most of the action comes from the front of the stage, as you're basically placed in the audience for the duration of the show, but rear channels are used very effectively for audience response and applause. The orchestral music sounds beautiful, with basically every different instrument able to be picked out in the mix, while dialogue and choral arrangements are clear and never hard to discern or understand.
The levels are very well balanced, ensuring that the applause gets loud in spots but that it never buries the performers or the music, and there isn't a trace of any hiss or distortion to complain about. This is one of those mixes that really puts you in the middle of it all and makes you feel like you're actually there with the audience."