How The Chemical Brothers Show Arranges: Technical Details and Switching

Hello, Habr! I present to you the translation of an article about the internal structure of The Chemical Brothers show.

Over the past 30 years, The Chemical Brothers has achieved international fame at all times. Their shows and technical equipment on stage are considered one of the best. We went to meet with their full-time specialist, Matt Cox, at the Creamfields Festival in Liverpool in 2015 for a tour of the stage and equipment used.

Matt has been a designated Brothers backstage technician for many years. At that time, only the Akai MPC 3000 sampler and several hardware synthesizers were used. But with each new tour, the configuration evolved, and Matt's responsibility was to guarantee the operation of this impressive installation.

Matt Cox checks audio effects systems a few seconds before the show.

Preparation for the new tour took 6 weeks. Matt first met with the Brothers in their studio to help prepare the audio tracks for the main playback. He also began to assemble a rack with a playback system and equipment that the Brothers would use during the performance.

The initial stage of assembling the system of audio effects

After 4 weeks, everyone gathered in a small studio to combine all the components, rehearse and make technical changes for a flawless performance. Then everything is transferred to a large hall for building a stage and adjusting the synchronization of sound, light and two giant robots that appear at the end of the show.

Robots George and Mildred - The Chemical Brothers mascot

Equipment during rehearsals in a small studio

To perform the show, 3 racks filled with equipment and 8 people traveling on 2 buses are required. When a team enters the stage, it fulfills all aspects of the show: sound, switching, light and video. The festival team will only intervene in the release of giant robots on stage, and that’s all.

The performance is a cross between a DJ set and a live concert, because the tracks are connected at the beginning and at the end. The main substrates are pre-recorded in audio tracks and played with the Macbook Pro, while the Brothers manipulate the sound textures of the synthesizers and bring together all the sound sources in real time on the remote control.

This is a linear show in which the timeline starts at the beginning of the show and stops at the end.

The performance is based on live mixing of 25 audio signals thanks to the Soundcraft GB8 mixer. Most synthesizer and drum parts are pre-programmed, but some simple things are played live. The “patches” in the synthesizers are also preloaded, their “Brothers” switch in real time on stage.

Soundcraft GB8 mixer - the “heart” of the performance

Transitions between tracks are the main points of improvisation. The Brothers play one-shot samples using the Ableton Push controller and use sound effects systems to fill the void spaces of the timeline.

Equipment used on stage. In 2018, Korg Minilogue and Roland TB-03 were added to it.

Playback system:

After Matt has tuned all the synthesizers, he sets the timeline to the beginning and remains at the computer to intervene if necessary. Logic Pro plays 13 pre-recorded audio tracks and sends an LTC (Linear Time Code) signal to the video command. For the output of the audio signal are the interfaces of the MOTU 16A.

Playback system: 2 x MacBook with Logic Pro X, 1 x MacBook with Ableton Live, 1 x MacBook with Avid ProTools

Two computers A and B play the same content at the same time, they are perfectly synchronized thanks to the MTC clock (MIDI Time Code), which is generated by the Rosendahl MIF4 module.

Rosendahl mif4 module

Thanks to this system, in case of failure of the first computer with Logic Pro, the other can continue to work without problems. Even better: the first Logic Pro can then be restarted and synchronized with the same timeline as the second. In addition, the audio signals sent from two Logic Pro X instances go through the Radial SW8 switch, which constantly monitors the status of the signals and switches the source in the event of a first laptop crash.

Finally, the MTC is generated by the Sync-Gen II LE module to start and synchronize the synthesizers and drum machines that surround the Brothers. These small boxes were designed to solve the problems of synchronization between software and hardware.

Sync-Gen II LE Module

Logic Pro Plugin Interface

Instead of the classic USB or FireWire MIDI interface, Sync-Gen II LE is a plug-in that generates a pulse signal to an external unit, which then generates a MIDI clock. Pulse and traditional audio signals are combined in this device, providing stable lossless synchronization. The MIDI signal is then sent to Kenton LNDR MIDI for transport via Ethernet cable to the stage. The receiving side uses the MOTU MIDI Patchbay, which distributes the signals to all other equipment.

Synthesizers are pretty vintage and error prone in nature. They can be out of sync at any time. Matt created an iPad app to conveniently restart the MTC signal during a show. At the right time (when the drum parts are not playing), he can re-synchronize all the machines at a critical point.

The third laptop is equipped with Ableton Live and is used as a sampler, and also interacts with the NI Maschine plugin. All vocal parts play in Ableton as audio tracks. Some drum scenes are triggered by the “Brothers” from the Maschine Studio controller, “one shot” samples are started from the Ableton Push controller as a Drum Rack tool. Black Box USB Extenders are used to interface USB MIDI controllers between the stage and backstage.

A fourth computer launches Pro Tools to record every show, including microphones, to capture the sound of the crowd.

Sound engineer at the MIDAS Legend 3000 console.

Two sound engineers travel with the team. One of them is responsible for the sound from the main console (Front Of The House, FOH), the other provides monitoring of sound on the stage. They are very active during the performance, they adjust the levels and frequency peaks sent from the console on stage. They also apply real-time compression to get a solid organic mix. MIDAS mixers also go beyond their capabilities to get even warmer sound. Matt Cox's Twitter

Signal Flow Diagram

(source for some photos)

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