Last November, the Toys “R” Us holiday parade in New York featured an unusual application of six Meyer Sound compact line array MILO systems to shoot sound up-and-down a mile-long stretch of Broadway. The approach and the MILO arrays were selected by event sound designer Jim van Bergen of Audio Art Sound.
“I've been using the entire line of Meyer Sound self-powered products for several different shows on Broadway, but also on large-format industrials and rock concerts,” van Bergen explains. “I'm familiar with all the competitive line array products in varying sizes, and felt that for an event that had very stringent requirements in a small window of time, MILO was the finest choice.”
Only minutes before the parade began, two 7ft. arrays comprising three MILOs plus Meyer's M3D-Sub were wheeled into position in Times Square. One pointed north and projected as far as 52nd Street. The other pointed south and could be heard clearly for about ten blocks in the other direction, to 35th Street.
The police blocked off Broadway at 8:30 a.m., according to van Bergen. “The event producers wanted pre-show music heard down the length of the route in five to ten minutes,” he says. “I was also asked to cover about a quarter-mile on either side of Times Square, but we easily doubled that distance.”
Located near the Toys “R” Us flagship store in Times Square, the MILOs also served to project sound from a performance area set up in front of the store. Thus, while floats with their own sound systems moved along Broadway, parade viewers also got an aural sense of what was happening in the performance zone several blocks away.
As with any show or event, van Bergen had early production design meetings to determine the needs of the client. Having been sound designer for the last two New Year's Eve bashes in Times Square, he definitely knew the territory and the time constraints.
“In an event like this, time is crucial,” he says. “I would have liked more rehearsal time and better weather. Dealing with a harsh RF environment, cold weather, and strong winds are standard for Times Square during that time of year. Most important, I chose a strong support staff, from [business partner] Chris Cronin to my lead RF tech, Henry Cohen of Production Radio Rentals [White Plains, N.Y.], to John Petrafesa, [COO of] One Dream Sound [New York, N.Y.], the primary vendor for this project.”
In addition to the MILOs, van Bergen selected 24 UPA-1P and UPA-2Ps hidden behind bleachers and set up in front of the performance area. These comprised the inner and middle systems, with the outer systems being the M3Ds and some UPA fill speakers on either side of the stage. While the main stage featured performers from the parade, it also included musical excerpts from Broadway shows, as well as an appearance by the Radio City Rockettes.
Van Bergen also designed sound systems with self-powered Meyer speakers for a selection of large floats and vintage vehicles in the parade.
As floats would arrive at the Toys “R” Us staging area, one of van Bergen's engineers would hop on, turn the float sound off, and route all wireless systems to the main PA position. Each set of performances often took place on the floats themselves.
“It was an impressively gargantuan number of in-ear monitors, plus IFBs to be able to listen to particular cues or tracks, and a significant number of wireless handheld and lavalier mics,” van Bergen explains. He utilized a combination of Sennheiser and Shure wireless systems, along with a Comtech IFB system provided by Cohen's company.
One of the trickiest parts of the job involved powering the vehicular systems. The event's producers wanted something with power so that when a vehicle came by, people would hear a clean and clear impression of that character's soundtrack.
Van Bergen therefore opted for a high-quality Meyer Sound UPM-P speaker with a digital drive source, clean mix/amplification path, with simple components and flexibility. However, some of the vehicles were extremely small.
“Basically, a vehicle that had room for one driver and one spare seat,” says van Bergen. “You're really limited with what you're allowed to do. A lot of times, people said, ‘Just use the car's sound system.’ That's not going to work for people listening critically outside the vehicle, though it is often the solution used in parades — but not for me, if I can help it.”
Because these were classic cars, van Bergen's team wasn't allowed to mount anything that might damage the vehicle in any way. But with a combination of hard-cell and soft-cell foam, good engineers, and an Exacto knife, he was able to create a hub position, barrier, breaker, or support at any angle in relationship to items located in the vehicles. In the end, speakers were positioned within the vehicles firing up and out at 45-degree angles.
Ultimately, patrons didn't see the systems. In the case of the floats, they were the lowest profile, and not as much of an issue since there were other scenic elements and ground rows.
In the case of one vehicle, van Bergen had so little room that he used a rechargeable custom battery he made that was 4'×6' and weighed less than 2lbs.
“I had a long conversation about this with John and Helen Meyer at the AES show in New York, and within three weeks I had my prototype available for preproduction,” van Bergen recalls. “The children's TV character, Clifford the Big Red Dog, was placed on the back of a tiny, cherry red MG convertible with two bucket seats. I barely had enough room to get two UPMs in the vehicle, but still, the battery packs were small enough to fit on the side. At full volume, they put out about 94dB into the crowds on the sidewalk.”
SRO audio columnist Alex Artaud is a musician and engineer living in Oakland. Email him at email@example.com