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Audio at Glastonbury 2019: The Pyramid stage and beyond

By Daniel Gumble, PSN Europe

Last weekend’s Glastonbury Festival saw PA systems from Martin Audio deployed across seven of its stages, including the Pyramid Stage.

RG Jones Sound Engineering returned to Worthy Farm following its fallow year to deploy Martin Audio systems across four major stages of the Glastonbury Festival, while SWG equipped an additional three stages with the company’s products.

Martin Audio’s MLA system once again featured on the Pyramid main stage, as well as West Holts and the Genosys stage of Block9, while its Wavefront Precision Longbow (WPL) made its festival debut on the new IICON stage, featuring an immersive 6.1 channel surround sound system designed by Simon Honywill.

In what was widely considered to be one of the finest Glastonbury festivals in recent memory, the Pyramid Stage hosted a trio of widely lauded headline performances from Stormzy, The Killers and The Cure, with such legends as Sheryl Crow, Liam Gallagher, Kylie and Janet Jackson gracing the iconic stage over the weekend. The system deployed was designed to maximise SPL levels and even coverage for the 150,000 strong audience while respecting offsite limits. A total of 72 MLA comprised the four main hangs with a further four MLA Compact arrays for infill flown from the proscenium arch. Eight delay positions in an inner and out ring consisted of MLA and MLA Compact arrays to optimise coverage across the expansive field. A vast broadside cardioid array of 38 MLX subwoofers stretched across the entire width of the stage to provide sub-bass support and control to the entire system.

Davy Ogilvy, FOH engineer for Tom Odell, commented: “I thought it was great, I expected the sound to get blown away in the wind but all the power stayed there, I’m very happy”, while Mike Timm, FOH engineer for George Ezra, added “I was really impressed with how it held up in the wind, it sounded great and the low end was good”.

As for Saturday night headliners The Killers, Martin Audio claims that the band we able to play at 106dBA – the first time such high levels have been achieved in the history of Glastonbury – while corresponding offsite levels registered as 62dBA, the limit being 65dBA. The Las Vegas band previously headlined Glastonbury in 2007, although their performance was blighted by technical difficulties. Kenny Kaiser, FOH engineer for The Killers, said of this year’s performance: “I’ve been touring with MLA for the last five years, but I’ve not had much experience with it outdoors and I was a little scared. But this system was phenomenal, everything was there, and MLA still has a very long lifespan in my opinion.”

Elsewhere, West Holts had 14 MLA per side, an out hang on house left of six MLA Compact and a house right outfill of eight MLA Compact which helped to extend coverage out to the Pathway to extend arena space. 21 MLX subwoofers deployed in a cardioid pattern, while two hangs of 16 MLA Compact delays were positioned 95 metres from the stage and extended coverage for another 75 metres before tapering off sharply using Martin Audio’s Hard Avoid feature to prevent sound spilling into market stalls. System tech, Jack Bowcher, commented: “This was a massive improvement from two years ago, with better quality audio through the field and better containment as well.

On Block9 – a collection of EDM stages – MLA Compact was once again deployed on the Genosys stage, a 70 ft-high post-industrial piece of architecture draped with exotic plants and steaming tubes, at the centre of which was a DJ booth. Sean Hatton, system tech, described the set up: “We’ve got 10 MLA Compact aside with six DSX subs either side of stage. Some of the issues of the site this year has been massive changes in temperature, from searing heat in the day to then very cold at night, but the snapshots that are easily uploaded in an instant without artefacts has meant we have been able to keep the coverage patterns we need. It’s been great.”

New for 2019 was the IICONIC stage, featuring a 65ft sculpture of a human head wrapped in a VR headset evoking ‘the pervasive nature of technology on the human spirit’. Martin Audio’s WPL made its festival debut on the stage by way of an immersive surround sound system designed by RG’s Simon Honywill, consultant sound engineer for the festival. WPL is Martin Audio’s new large format optimised passive line array from the Wavefront Precision series and is designed to offer an adaptable approach to optimisation of line arrays through Scalable Resolution, whereby the user decides upon the number of enclosures with dedicated amplifier channels that are required for the coverage, consistency and control of the space.

“I thought that rather than just having this incredible structure and then just straight forward left right standard deployment, let’s go a bit crazy and do it in surround sound,” said Honywill. “So we had six hangs of ten WPL all pointing inwards with optimisation of the sound fields to maximise the experience through the space for a 15,000 crowd. A single 23-metre long SHX218 sub array in a broadside cardioid pattern provided the thumping bass, but also control too. Each night there was a specially-commissioned presentation where the stage structure is projection mapped combined with 6.1 surround audio which worked highly effectively. Then for the DJ sets we used a Trinnov Altitude 32 system to effectively up mix the stereo output to the 6.1 surround system and the results of that, were frankly outstanding.”

Dom Harter, managing director of Martin Audio, added: “What sets Martin Audio apart is its signature sound that can faithfully reinforce the eclectic artists and musical genres that Glastonbury Festival offers. Combine this with our unique technology that optimises sound coverage, consistency and control and we are able to unite massive audiences while respecting other stages and surrounding local residents. We are grateful to RG Jones for their continued faith and faultless deployment of our systems.”

Beyond the four Glastonbury Festival stages on which RG Jones fielded Martin Audio systems, there was also a strong Martin Audio PA presence on the John Peel stage, The Park and Left Field, courtesy of SWG Events (SWG), which has been supplying numerous stages with sound and lighting infrastructure since 1995.

For the John Peel stage, SWG again sub-contracted elements of the audio supply to Martin Audio MLA partner, Stage Audio Services (SAS). The latter’s MD, Kevin Mobberley confirmed that having fielded MLA Compact previously they upgraded to the full-size MLA this time around for enhanced control, coverage and consistency. With design assistance from Honywill, the main PA hangs comprised 20 MLA cabinets (10 elements flown each side) with 12 MLX subwoofers providing LF extension. Four DD12s, positioned on the stage, focused the sound on the nearfield while further outfills were provided by six MLA Compact.

SWG project manager Mark Bott explained that being a televised stage, concessions had to be made to the BBC TV crew with regard to the sub positions, necessitating the MLXs to be divided into two stacks instead of being presented as a cardioid array across the front – a recommendation made by Honywill. “It’s really important the barrier line is as close to the stage as it can be to ensure a connection between the audience and the artist remains,” Bott said. “It’s this connection that the BBC is trying to capture and its as important for those inside the tent. Using all of the tools MLA offers ensures we get even venue coverage.”Meanwhile, SWG has been providing PA for The Park every year since its inception 11 years ago, and having had a year off in 2018, The Park team has come back with many changes, new creations and locations. According to Bott, owing to the number of surprise TBA acts that appear unannounced on the stage, audience capacities can range from anything between 200-20,000, “but we aim for between 4,000-6,000,” he noted.Bott’s team, including Ian Williams, who looked after FOH and system design supported by Tim Mitchell, deployed SWGs Martin Audio W8LC system, flying 12 elements a side, with two W8LCD Downfill boxes on each hang. These were reinforced with 16 x WS218X subs similarly left/right stacked to comply with BBC TV requirements. Martin Audio Blackline X8s were used as lip-fills.

Over on the Left Field, due to the political nature of the stage, speech intelligibility is of paramount importance, “and that’s why we use W8LM, as it handles speech perfectly”, continued SWG’s project manager. For headliners, KT Tunstall, Sam Fender and ever-present host Billy Bragg, they provided 16 x W8LM (eight cabinets a side) with six WS218X subs (three a side) and Blackline X8 infill.

Summarising the weekend overall, Bott said: “SWG Events has had a really good year. Everything went smoothly and we had a lot of positive comments about the PA’s. In fact we never have any issues with rider delivery and performance with any of the systems we deploy from Martin Audio.”

Harter concluded: “It’s such a pleasure to see the pervasive nature of Martin Audio at this prestigious festival and I’m grateful to SWG Events and Stage Audio Services for delivering our signature sound, coverage, consistency and control for these three important stages.”

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