Last weekend saw the arrival of ATP’s new sister festival I’ll Be Your Mirror at London’s Alexandra Palace. Alongside curators and headliners of both nights, Portishead, was a diverse range of acts selected personally by the band, including PJ Harvey, Grinderman and The Liars,to name but a few.
Whilst the line-up was drawing a great deal of attention, not to mention the anticipation surrounding the potential of Portishead debuting some new material (they didn’t), we were keen to discover just what the audio set-up would be, and just how well the sound would translate across stages in a venue with a somewhat troublesome reputation regarding its problematic acoustics.
Split into two main performance areas, the venue was divided into the Great Hall and the slightly smaller West Hall. With Skan providing the audio production for the event, the Great Hall hosted a Midas XL4 analogue mixing desk at FOH as well as an Avid Profile with 48 remote inputs. A total of 16 d&b M2 wedges were also in place, with 2 d&b C7s on either side of the stage. A full d&b line array system was used to providing sound reinforcement, made up of hangs of ten J8s on either side as well as four J12s and one J-Bump on both sides, with side hangs comprising three Q1s, one Q7 and one Q-Bump on each side of the stage.
Meanwhile, the venues smaller West Hall stage saw FOH engineer Sy Travis operate a Midas Heritage 3000 desk; a desk which Travis cited as a market leader for working the festival circuit. He explained: “I use these desks a lot. I find that on a festival circuit situation they are a lot quicker, unless you have already got a show file on your digital desk, but you can never guarantee which desk you are going to get. So having an analogue board out front means that you can see where everything is. Above all, they sound really nice and are very simple to use.”
Sound reinforcement on the West Hall stage comprised four J8s and four J12s and one J-Bump. The side hangs consisted of 7 Q1s, one Q7 and one Q-Bump on each side of the stage.
With a festival boasting a line-up as diverse and unconventional as that of I’ll Be Your Mirror, one would certainly expect the challenge of a band possessing an unusual set-up rear its head from time to time. However, on such occasions, Travis found no problems in providing the necessary solutions: “We had one band performing on the first day with four drummers onstage, which was a little bit of a challenge, but we had no issues with getting the sound right. Everyone has been happy with the sound. We’ve had no complaints, which is always good.”
Over the course of the weekend Travis’ sentiments regarding the festival’s sound certainly seemed to ring true, with a vast range of artists, each with widely varying sonic components and soundscapes, achieving optimum sound quality. No more evident was this than during Portishead’s headline performances, in which their complex combination of electro elements, traditional band instrumentation, percussion and vocals were blended to mesmerising effect. This achievement was made all the more impressive due to the cavernous shape and size of the main hall, a venue which, in the past, has never really been conducive to live band performances.
Adrian Utley, guitarist for Portishead, also performed as part of an equally complex arrangement on Sunday 24th, as he and a troupe of musicians including three harpists, members of the Monteverdi Choir and a whole host of others provided an original score to Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc, composed by Utley and Will Gregory of Goldfrapp. As well as being a genuinely remarkable piece of work and a fitting composition to the spectacle, the balance and clarity of the score was superb. For a film of such a harrowing and sombre nature, the sound needed to be absolutely perfect in its exposition; it most certainly was.
So, it appears safe to say that from pretty much every angle, aside, perhaps, from the pricey beer and hotdogs and a stringent no food or drink to be brought in policy, ATP’s I’ll Be Your Mirror was a great success. With just the right balance and variety of artists, combined with Skan’s provision of a well-constructed system to cater for the venue’s more problematic aspects, the festival found itself the perfect platform. Skan director Chris Fitch reflected upon securing the project: “I’d just like to say what a privilege it is for Skan to work with Shaun Kendrick (ATP production and show manager) and ATP. This is only our second event with ATP but I’ve long admired the interesting events they produce and I hope to work with them on many more.” Let’s just hope it’s not too long before this partnership puts another project into practice.