May 2010 Issue
Production Profile

Viva ELVIS! The King Gets the Cirque Treatment

Everything about the new Cirque du Soleil show is Rock Concert, capital R capital C. It's Viva ELVIS, after all, and it required a sound design that is a departure for the prolific French-Canadian troupe and Sin City mainstay.
The goal is a fusion of dance, acrobatics and Live Music (also capital L, capital M). The sound took on new importance because it needed to be a major piece of a suitable tribute for the star who was not only (arguably) the King of Rock ‘n' Roll but (arguably) Las Vegas' King.

 

The creative team of Cirque once again turned to sound designer Jonathan Deans. His credits include Fosse, Ragtime, EFX and Parade, to name a few, and he's currently at work on Bono and The Edge's Spider-Man show on Broadway.

 

Cirque built the 1,840-seat theater, and it is certainly not "in the round" like most of their shows. Its proscenium measures 80 feet wide by 50 feet tall and holds 176 audio speakers with 36 subwoofers, 20 of which are buried in the floor. It boasts the largest single-ring, fiber-optic audio transport system in the world. The video system includes four front projectors and two overhead projectors plus a 30-foot-by-40-foot LED wall that can split into eight separate columns. It's all intricately fused to support new arrangements of old songs that aim to inspire new fans as well as satisfy old.

 

"Viva ELVIS is more of a concert," Deans explains. "The musicians are on stage 80 percent of the time, and the main focus 50 percent of the time. They have an onstage presence, which is a fantastic thing."

 

A Different World

 

The creatives got the rights to bring Mr. Presley "back" to Vegas and were immediately faced with a quandary: How do you take on something that is larger than life?

 

Thirty of Elvis' songs are used in the production, and like the Cirque's previous big splash, the Beatles-themed Love, there are remixes designed to accentuate and boost the emotional charge of his original performances. Elvis' voice is the only male singing voice in the show, joined occasionally by live female singers and the band.

 

Armand Thomas, director of creation, has been with Cirque since 1996, though this was his first show as a creator. "We didn't want to repeat, that's for sure," he says. "So we started off looking at the theater itself, and steered away from it being in the round like Love." They also wanted to distant themselves from the use of characters within a song.

 

But like Love, the music came first: "The traditional Cirque way is to create an act, then fill in the song. But with these big iconic songs, we did the reverse."

 

The show is presented in quasi-chorological order, starting off with the early days and ending in (appropriately) his Vegas years. There's no envy in picking what songs made it in the show, though: "In the Elvis collection there are at least 750 songs, and you can easily toss out 600," Thomas says. "But that initial list we came up with had 100 songs, then we kept whittling it down." Coming up with the final selection, even when some songs were not performed in their original length, was daunting.

 

They wanted Elvis's actual voice as much as possible, which proved challenging. "We wanted to extract his voice and put it in a new arrangement that would be completed by live musicians. Sometimes we bit the bullet and decided that a recording made with one mic in the middle of a room in Tennessee recorded decades ago was too tough to clean up."

 

Thomas adds a personal thrill: The creative team got to travel to the famed Iron Mountain vault in Pennsylvania and hear the original masters. "We spent three days listening to all the songs we were considering, and sometimes there were up to 25 takes," he says. "It was fun listening to the banter between the songs." Technically, however, it was an audio engineering nightmare: Those tapes were in four or five different formats.

 

For Deans, Cirque's permanent theaters and its big top are two quite different worlds when it comes to sound design. "There are different technical demands, but as far as the texture and the layering of the music and sound are concerned, it's the same," he says. "My work is to create a unique environment for every production. And whatever the environment is, I need to make sure that sonically the audience members know they are entering a different world."

 

Not Bigger...Grander

 

Deans has done 13 Cirque shows, seven in Vegas. "I'm very honored by Cirque for getting to do so many," he says. "If I can be so bold, I've grown with the company." His work took on special meaning for this one. His previous work, Love placed extra importance on the music, but there was no live band.

 

"After doing Love, I too wanted to reinvent myself and not copy my own design," he says. Three years were spent on building the theater and the production. "The concept was to create a concert sound system, with left/right concert speakers, and then split clusters over the proscenium arch that allowed for us to pull [audio] focus left or right as needed."

 

A surround system was built into the theater that is especially responsive. He's able to switch off the FOH main speakers and have sound coming just out of the side that's powerful enough to go well past ambient and into something that can broaden the field of music. "Here we have a big production, so I tried to make it wider, yet keep focus in the audio sense. I'm not talking just bigger dynamics, but grander."

 

With so much experience working with the creative team, there was little guesswork. "I knew what I wanted to do, and am fortunate enough to have the experience to know how it would turn out." One bit of boldness that required some experimentation was the decision to bury 20 subwoofers in the floor under the orchestra level. "There was no way one could forecast how that would work, but I had a hunch of what it would mean," he says. "I'm pleased to say that with Elvis' music having updated arrangements created by Erich [Van Tourneau, musical director/arranger], the extra power that the subwoofers provide really create a unique concert experience. It's a concert experience without hammering people, but they do feel the theater move."

 

The subwoofers used are passive with no processing, and since they were literally being buried and nearly impossible to get too, they had to be maintenance-free. He chose Danley Sound TH-115TH to give the buried treasure treatment to, and says they work extremely well.

 

The rest of the speakers are all Meyer, Deans' speaker of choice. "When you take the product out of the box, they always work. When you take two of the same products out, they work exactly alike. That's important, because I hang speakers in ridiculous positions, and want to move sound around a lot, so they must always have the same voice."

 

Even in the CAD stages, he says when he's placing speakers, virtually walking around the 3D version of the auditorium, he can hear with great accuracy in his head exactly what Meyer speakers will be delivering for him.

 

"The board is LCS (Level Control Systems), which has recently been acquired by Meyer," Deans says. "It's a board that Cirque has used for 20 years, and it's a mixing board that never tells the designer ‘no.' There are no limits." He provides the analogy of sound traveling like a driver from New Jersey to Manhattan. The driver must go through the dark, narrow confines of the Lincoln tunnel before emerging again in the light. "With LCS, there is no tunnel."

 

All the musicians are wireless, of course, and the team went with Sennheiser to supply the system. Deans notes that because of the white space nightmare that we all now live in, combined with the interference complexity of CityCenter where the theater is housed, they were restricted, and making sure the gear and the PMs are working properly is a nightly challenge. "This is not the fault of Sennheiser, but a problem with the CityCenter," he states emphatically. "But the sound team is fantastic, and they pull the show out of the bag 10 shows a week. I'm incredibly proud and tip my hat to Kevin Owens [head of sound] and Aaron Beck [sound project manager] and the rest of the operations crew."

 

Otherwise, he says he's in awe of the sound source: the musicians. A highlight for him is the "Burning Love" number. "All the musicians are spread across downstage, and while there are movie clips playing above, it's really just about the band. They are playing with this tremendous energy, and it's just fantastic. The percussionist is right on the edge, practically in the front row, and the musicianship is astounding."

 

The sound/video/communications consultant was Auerbach Pollock Friedlander's Matthew Ezold, CTS. Solotech served as installation company, with Bob Barbagallo and Mario St-Onge playing key roles. The associate sound designer was Jason Rauhoff. The sound operations crew includes Dave Robertson, Whitney Day, John Kessler, Jason Bauer and Ezra Fowler.

 

GEAR

FOH/Monitor Consoles:

Meyer Sound LCS LX-300 (Each console consisting of 11 frames - all AES/EBU.)

Meyer Sound LCS Cue console (Each console consisting of 4 fader, 3 meter and 1 transport module)

24 channel Meyer Sound Wild Tracks playback system

2 TC Electronic 6000

8 TC Electronic M-One XL

24 Mac and PC show computers (to control all parts of the production)

Custom console furniture by Sound Construction & Supply, Nashville, Tenn.

 

Speaker System: (total 208 enclosures)

Main left, right, center left and center right arrays (12 Meyer Sound Mica array speakers - total 48 speakers)

Main left and right subs - 8 Meyer Sound 700HP subwoofers

Main center subs - 8 Meyer Sound M3Ds

Bunker subs (below concrete slab) -
Danley Sound TH-115THs

Front fill speakers - 9 Meyer M1-SMs

Side front fill speakers - 2 Meyer UP Junior and 4 M'elodie array speakers

Front overhead surround - 5 Meyer Sound MTS-4As

Center overhead surround - 5 Meyer Sound CQ-1s

Rear overhead surround - 5 Meyer Sound UPJ-1Ps

Side surround - 8 Meyer Sound MSL-4s, 8 Meyer Sound UPQ1-Ps, 10 Meyer Sound UP Juniors

Rear surround - 14 Meyer Sound M1-SMs, 6 Meyer Sound M'elodies, 6 Meyer Sound UPJ-1Ps, 11 Meyer Sound UPJ-1Ps

Stage monitors - 10 Meyer Sound M1-SMs, 2 Meyer Sound CQ-2s

 

Speaker Notes: All speakers on RMS loudspeaker monitoring system

Fiber optic audio transport system provided by Optocore

Audio network consisting of 504 inputs and 776 outputs

2 different show files for live show and playback with 128 input Nuendo multi track version for sound checks and rehearsal

21 IDs on the synchronous, redundant, optical ring

13 DD32E, 3 DD2FE, 2 LX4AP, 3 YG2, 1 YS2, 8 X6-16 Out, 3 X6P-16 In, 3 X6P-8/8

2 channels of MIDI transport over the fiber ring

 

Wireless System (123 total frequencies)

40 Channels of Sennheiser EM 3732 UHF
receiver

29 Sennheiser SK 5212 bodypack trans-
mitters

7 Sennheiser SKM 5200 handheld trans-mitters

4 SKP-3000 plug on transmitters

30 channels of Sennheiser SR350 IEMG2 PMs with EK300IEMG receivers

10 Telex BTR 800 wireless intercom base
stations with 40 Telex TR-800 transceivers

intercom, paging and video system

Dynacord Proannounce paging system and EV Netmax N8000 digital matrix

Clear-Com digital intercom - Eclipse
Median with 96 ports

32 Clear-Com V Series user control stations

 

Microphones

4 different drum kits and 4 different percussion kits

92 microphones for drums and percussion alone

6 Neumann TLM-170s

32 Neumann KM140s

24 Sennheiser MKH 40s

12 Audio-Technica 4040s

12 Audio-Technica 4041s

5 Audix DP-7 drum microphone kits

12 DPA 4099 horn, sax and guitar microphones

6 DPA 4066 headset microphones

16 Radial direct boxes

12 Little Labs red eye guitar reampers

Misc. other Shure, AKG, Radial microphones and direct boxes

Misc. K&M and AKG microphone stands and hardware

 

Breakout/Snake Assemblies and Power Distro:

8 Whirlwind USA Audio W6 Series 28 channel multi cables

Motion Labs power distribution equipment

6 custom band snakes (2 AC & 12 Fiber in 1 Jacket) by Clark Wire & Cable

 


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