- by George Petersen
in Production Profile
Solotech Supports Céline Dion’s Return to the Road
With an enormously successful recording and live performance career spanning more than three decades, with legions of fans worldwide and some 200 million albums (in English and French) sold to date, pop singer Céline Dion is nothing less than a phenomenon.
Yet along the way, Dion was never afraid to take chances, such as her decision to enter into a long-term residency at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, performing her show, A New Day, which morphed songs, staging and advanced performance technologies into high art. And that paid off, both creatively and financially, with the initial run expanding into more than 700 performances over five years, grossing more than $400 million. And part of that success came from the casino itself, which invested $100 million into transforming the casino’s old Circus Maximus Showroom into the then-new Caesars Las Vegas Colosseum, a 4,298-seat auditorium designed specifically for a single artist — Céline Dion.
Dion, an astute entrepreneur who originally approached Caesars Palace management with the concept, was herself closely involved with the project design, mandating that no single seat in the facility would be more than 120 feet away from the stage, which required a wide, fan shaped arena. Perhaps more surprising than the venue itself was its incorporation of high technologies into the show, with a huge stage, an enormous Mitsubishi Diamond Vision screen across the rear wall and a 150-speaker Meyer Sound system to present the show in 5.1 channel surround audio. To cap it off, the console of choice was a 96-channel Solid State Logic Axiom MT-Plus 4848 digital console. Although designed for film and video mixing rather than live work, the SSL MT-Plus was one of the few consoles on the market at the time that could handle the creation of multiple 5.1 mix stems.
The venue’s sound design team included two long-time Céline Dion audio veterans — Denis Savage (still mixing FOH for Dion) and systems engineer/SIM tech François “Frankie” Desjardins, also still with Dion. And Montreal-based Solotech handled the installation, which began in planning stages in 2002 and was completed in time for the opening of the 90-minute show on March 25, 2003. Dion’s highly successful artist-in-residency concept caught on with fans and has since been followed by artists such as Cher, Elton John, Bette Midler and others.
Earlier this year, Dion had begun another full-on residency at Caesars, but cancelled after the cancer deaths of her husband/manager René Angélil and brother Daniel, both in January of this year. Weeks later, she resumed the residency and launched into new recording projects, including an appropriately-titled Queen cover of “The Show Must Go On” and Encore un Soir, a new French-language studio album.
To support that release, Dion returned to the road for the simply titled “Summer Tour 2016.” The sold-out outing was really more of a “tour in residence” than a typical multi-city tour, with 28-shows packed into five venues, beginning on June 20 at the Sportpaleis in Antwerp, Belgium, followed a nine-night run at the AccorHotels Arena in Paris. The production then hopped la mer, heading to Canada for 10 nights at the Bell Centre in Montreal and five shows at Quebec City’s Videotron Centre, followed by two performances in Trois-Rivieres’ Amphitheatre Cogeco, with two final two shows presented as a benefit for the Céline Dion Foundation.
For the shows on both sides of the Atlantic, Solotech provided an all-Meyer Sound rig, with key components consisting of LEO, LYON and MINA line array elements with 900-LFC and 1100-LFC subwoofers — all driven via Meyer Sound Galileo 616 and Galileo Calisto 616 system controllers and a Meyer SIM3 analyzer.
Tour manager/FOH engineer Denis Savage and system designer/engineer Francois “Frankie” Desjardins made certain the LEO family system made audiences feel like Dion was talking directly to them. “When you looked at the [SIM] screens and listened to the system, everything seemed close and intimate, even when you were 200 feet from the stage,” remarks Desjardins. “The ‘proximity effect’ you get from the Meyer LEO system is remarkable. It removes the gap between performer and audience.”
Even when applied to a variety of differing venues, “the system is very flexible and easy to configure,” Desjardins adds, “and it worked great for Céline. The dynamic characteristics of LEO are really outstanding. It goes from really quiet music through moderate pop right up to rock. The intelligibility is also very high, which helps us to keep everything absolutely transparent.”
For the Paris run, the system was configured with a total of 52 LEO-M and 12 LYON loudspeakers in the four main front arrays, with dual arrays of 16 LYON-W each covering the far side seating and eight LEO loudspeakers for rear delays. LF was supplied by end-fired arrays of six each 900-LFC low frequency control units flown behind the left and right arrays, augmented by 24 1100-LFC elements floor-stacked as three cardioid arrays.
The systems for the ten Montreal shows, as well as five performances at the Videotron Centre in Quebec City, deployed most of the same loudspeakers but in slightly different configurations as suited the acoustics and layout of the venues.
Other key members of the audio team on the tour include audio crew chief Louis-Philippe Maziade; head P.A. tech Jonathan Trudeau; monitor engineers Jean-Charles Ethier and Jean-Sébastien Bouchard; RF engineer Marc Thériault; stage tech Adam Harris; and P.A. techs Francis Lussier and Franck Martin.
The Systems View
Desjardins — who is known by his nickname “Frankie” — started out as a musician, but like many other audio professionals, found he “liked to be behind the camera and behind the scenes, rather than in front. I became more interested in the techniques and technology rather than performing, and from that point the sound and audio technology grew on me and I have been with it for a lot of years.” And Desjardins has been successful in his career. He has prepped the audio system for every one of Céline Dion’s shows since 1992 and now holds the position of director of technology research and development at Solotech.
And unlike Dion’s FOH engineer Denis Savage — who is also well-known as a studio engineer/producer and co-owner Montreal’s Studios Piccolo recording facility — Desjardins never did much studio work. “I’ve always worked with — and prefer — live audio,” he explains.
“Céline Dion has kept me pretty busy for the past 25 years,” Desjardins continues. “I have done some work with other artists and festivals for Solotech, but mainly my work has been with Céline Dion over the years. Denis and I have been working together for many years — we both started 20-something years ago, and I pretty much work with Denis on all his major live projects since the 1990’s and we’ve had many adventures together. I’ve also done some things with Big Mick of Metallica, where we recently did the closing and opening of the new arena in Quebec City together.” That 2015 inauguration of the 20,000-capacity Videotron Centre featured Metallica performing in the round with a system comprised of 144-box Meyer LEO-M/LEO-W line array boxes and 40 1100-LFC elements.
Besides doing the 2001 initial design of the system at Caesars, Desjardins also did a later update on the system. “After the conclusion of the A New Day run in 2007, they slightly refitted the system and converted the system so it would be ‘friendlier’ to most standard acts, with changes such as making it a standard left/right — rather than a multizone — system. When we returned in 2011, we upgraded the system for better coverage everywhere. Here we are in 2016, and it’s working and doing okay.”
Changes at FOH
There have been other changes over the years as well. Rather than take the Solid State Logic MT-Plus on the road for Dion’s 2007 two-year world tour following the Caesars Palace residency, the team switched to a Studer Vista 5. “It made the most sense to use at the time. And recently — about a year ago, we switched again, this time to an SSL Live L500. It sounds great and gave us the flexibility we were looking for,” Desjardins says.
“With Céline, we do a lot of little touches and details, which are mostly transparent to everybody. The flexibility of the console allows us to do what she wants and when she wants it. So if she wants her ears with the tracks, it’s easy and we can just flip the whole system and have the 128 tracks come back from front of house. If she wants to have the feel of the P.A. coming back here, we can play the multi-tracks from front of house and she can hear the stems that we are doing onstage. We just roll the cues and she can rehearse and tweak any things she wants.”
According to Desjardins, the key to a Céline Dion tour is to be ready for anything. “We carry our own drive system, so we can use the Caesars P.A. or the touring P.A., and the drive rack — with our own distribution to the P. A. — always follows us. So whether we are using an L-Acoustics system or a Meyer system or a JBL VTX system, I can connect that audio system directly to our drive system. It works great for us, and there are no complaints.”
Back to Work
Céline Dion’s return to Caesars is underway now, with the current semi-permanent run having begun on Sept. 20 and going through Oct. 8 (a special date commemorating her one-thousandth concert) and then returning for the entire month of November, before starting back on Jan. 17. But for Dion and crew, it’s just another day at the job. After all, as the song goes, ‘The Show Must Go On.’”
Celine Dion Summer Tour 2016
- Sound/Lighting/Video Company: Solotech
- FOH Band Engineer/Tour Manager: Denis Savage
- House Engineer: François “Frankie” Desjardins
- System Engineer: Jonathan Trudeau
- Monitor Engineers: Jean-Charles Ethier, Jean-Sébastien Bouchard
- Wireless Engineer: Marc Thériault, Eng.
- Stage Tech: Adam Harris
- Crew Chief: Louis-Philippe Maziade
- Head P.A. Tech: Jonathan Trudeau
- P.A. Techs Francis Lussier, Franck Martin
- Main P.A.: Meyer Sound LEO, LYON, MINA, UPJ-1P, UPQ-1P
- Subwoofers: Meyer Sound 900-LFC, 1100-LFC
- Drive Rack: Meyer Sound Galileo 616, Galileo Calisto 616; SSL Alpha-Link MADI
- Analyzer: Meyer Sound SIM3; Rational Acoustics Smaart 8
- FOH Console: SSL L500+
- I/O: SSL D32.32
- Outboard gear: TC 6000 system; Briscati Design M7; Eventide Eclipse; Waves
- Recording: Avid Pro Tools HD System; TASCAM DV-RA1000HD; SSL Delta-Link
- Monitor Consoles: Studer Vista5 SR; Yamaha CL-5; Roland M-48
- I/O: Studer m21; Yamaha Rio3224-D; Focusrite RedNet D64R; Roland S-4000D,
- Roland S-MADI
- Outboard FX: TC 6000 system
- In-Ear Monitors: Shure PSM-1000, Shure SE535; Sennheiser SR2050 + EK2050
- Headphone Amplifier: Grace Design M903
- Recording: TASCAM DV-RA1000HD; Avid Pro Tools HD; SSL Delta-Link
- RF Analyzer: IFR 2950
- Microphone Preamps: Millennia Media HV-3D-8
- MADI Converters: SSL Alpha-Link MADI
- Hardwired Microphones: Shure, Sennheiser, Neumann, DPA
- Wireless Microphones: Sennheiser SKM5200-II + DPA d:facto + EM3732-II
- receivers; Shure AXT200 + SM58 + AXT400 receivers; Sennheiser SK 5212-II
- Direct Boxes: Radial Engineering JDI, JD6; Avalon M5
- MADI Router: DirectOut M.1K2; DHD Audio System 52; SSL MADI-X8
- Master: Riedel Artist 64
- Remote Panels: RCP 1012E
- Interfaces: Riedel C44+, Riedel PMX 2004; ClearCom IF4B
- Belt packs: Riedel C3, C22
- Headphones: Sennheiser HD-25-1; Riedel MAX