When sound reinforcement provider Firehouse Productions came on board to handle sound for NBC’s live production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar this year, it turned to Sennheiser’s Digital 6000 and Digital 9000 wireless systems to ensure the highest level of quality within the demanding context of a live television musical.
For audio producer Mark Dittmar, who oversaw the design, layout and coordination of audio for Jesus Christ Superstar, reliability was a paramount concern from the earliest planning stages.
“Number one, everything has to work,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how good or bad it sounds if it’s off.” Beyond reliability, Dittmar cited repeatability as key. “We knew we would have a compressed time schedule, so it was important to know that we could get everyone miked up exactly and each pack transmitting the same way some 12 or so times before we get on air.”
Lastly, Dittmar sought to deliver the best possible sound quality. “I want sound quality to be perfect on a production like this,” he said, “but it can’t come at the expense of reliability.” To fulfill the marriage of these requirements, he turned to Sennheiser.
“We decided on Sennheiser pretty early on,” Dittmar said. “The Digital 6000 is a spectacular platform. For a show this big with this tight of a rehearsal schedule, the power and flexibility of the Sennheiser wireless is just bulletproof.” Sennheiser’s digital transmission capabilities helped him simplify his antenna setup while retaining clarity. “The new digital RF stages are spectacular,” he said. “They get more coverage with less effort, so we don’t have to place antennas all over the place.”
RF coordinator Luis Espinal associates the Sennheiser brand with past successes. “I have had terrific experiences with Sennheiser for RF.” Both Dittmar and Espinal knew that they would have only limited time to get the complex setup up and running, so turning to a trusted manufacturer was a given. “The entire onsite rehearsal process was nine days,” said Dittmar. “When we got on site, we loaded in on Monday and by Thursday we were soundchecking 150 inputs, including 48 cast members with eight mixing boards. It was relentless.”
The coordination of 170 channels of wireless was made even more challenging by the demanding RF environment in which the show was held: the New York State Armory in Brooklyn. “The room was large — 300 feet by 500 feet — and we had actors entering all over the place,” Dittmar said. “Not to mention we were right in the middle of Brooklyn, and some of the packs needed to work outside or near a completely open door, so it’s not like we were in a completely isolated space, not even close.”
Sennheiser’s digital technology made coordinating 62 channels of Digital 6000 and Digital 9000 fast and easy, even in a challenging RF environment. “It was really nice that I could pack up all these mikes almost as close as 0.6 MHz,” said Espinal. Even in such close quarters, he felt fully confident in the signal integrity. “With Sennheiser digital, no matter how hard the performers were hitting the mikes the signal would stay consistent, it didn’t modulate like a normal analog transmitter would have done, which eliminated the risk of it opening up and spilling to other mikes’ channels.”
Sennheiser was also chosen due to the compactness and durability of the SK 9000 and SK 6000 bodypack transmitters. “We had nine principles, each of whom was double miked, and the rest of the ensemble and dancers would be single miked, so there’s a lot of stuff hanging on our actors,” Espinal said. “The costuming is such that there are a lot of people without shirts or with very open clothing, so there’s a lot of RF rigging through the legs or lower hips or sides. That made size and weight very important, and the Sennheiser packs had a clear lead in that department.”
Espinal utilized Sennheiser’s Wireless Systems Manager (WSM) software platform to monitor battery and wireless performance of the complex system. “I have six production audio technicians calling out numbers to me rapid fire for checks, and when you have this many mikes it’s not practical to try to visually ID each corresponding receiver on the fly,” he explained. “With WSM, I have four screens all networked together and it’s all right in front of me.”
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