(Photography: Andrea Huber)
Most symphony halls host several performances a month, one to two per week at most. The Philharmonic Gasteig in Munich, however, is not most symphony halls. Not only is the Gasteig home to two of Munich’s principal orchestras—the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra and the Bavarian Broadcast Symphony Orchestra—the facility also hosts jazz, big band, dance, world music, theater performances, lectures and other cultural events.
And, with four separate performance halls, the Gasteig’s concert calendar would make any event planner dizzy. In addition to regular performances by the orchestras, the Gasteig hosts more than 2,500 concerts each year.
Recently, the hall decided to upgrade its main mixing console for the first time in 15 years. Since there are often multiple concerts taking place each night, it was important to find a console that guest engineers could quickly understand. In fact, visiting engineers might have as little as 10 minutes before a show to get up and running. “We have a very short timeframe between productions,” said Peter Brümmer, the chief audio engineer at Gasteig. “There could be a classical recording on Thursday and then a jazz recording on Friday. Or, we could have four performances in a single evening.”
The Speed of Sound
Brümmer came up with a plan that would allow him to test some of the best consoles in the industry for speed and ease of use. Three of Europe’s leading manufacturers each brought in a console for a one-week trial period, allowing Brümmer to determine which one would enable him to mix the fastest.
Although each console sounded great, Brümmer felt there was one that stood apart from the competition for its intuitive mixing workflows—the Studer by HARMAN Vista X large-scale mixing console. Vista X’s Vistonics interface integrates the console’s rotary controls and buttons directly into a flat-screen display. This enables audio engineers to mix with the familiar control and feel of a traditional analog console, while enjoying the speed and convenience of a modern digital mixing system.
“I loaded up a live multi-track recording from a pop band to determine how fast I could dial up a nice mix,” said Brümmer. “The Vista X was the fastest, by far, and the Vistonics technology provides the best user interface on the market. I can turn a knob and see it happening, without having to deep dive into a computer. It reacts like an analog board. Now, when we have a freelance sound engineer, we can show him the board in 10 minutes and have him ready to mix the performance.”
Recording is also a major part of Gasteig’s audio workflow. For more than 20 years, they’ve recorded every performance of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra. They also record well-known jazz orchestras, big bands, chamber music ensembles and others.
Gasteig’s Vista X system includes two Studer Infinity Core 800 processing engines for redundancy, a Studer D21m remote stagebox with 48 microphone preamps and a Studer D23m I/O system with AES/EBU, MADI and Dante. The entire facility is now connected via Dante, enabling engineers to mix and record performances in any of the four performance halls with the Vista X.
Pushing the Bounds of Surround
Orchestral performances are currently mixed in 5.1 surround sound, but Brümmer has been experimenting with creating mixes in 9.1 that convey three-dimensional height, depth and width.
“With the Vista X, I can create 9.1 mixes by setting up two surround-master busses—one for the lower layer in 5.1 and one for the upper layer in 4.0,” said Brümmer. “With 800 channels and the AutoTouch Plus Dynamic Automation System, the Vista X makes the whole process fast and easy. The best part is, I can accomplish all of this without ever having to use a mouse or a computer screen!”
Many thanks to Peter Brümmer for sharing his insights about selecting a mixing console for Philharmonic Gasteig. Are you a system designer, integrator or AV professional who manages a complex mix of performances? If so, share your insights in the comments.