The Summer of 2004 marks the launch of Madonna's appropriately named "re-Invention Tour," which began in Los Angeles and continues through mid-September, ending in the Netherlands. Madonna hit the road with an impressive cast of musicians, dancers, and audio/visual experts to deliver a show as inspirational as the kabbalah bracelets she sports.
The re-Invention audio team decided that employing a complete Sennheiser RF/wireless system and a bevy of Sennheiser microphones was the best way to insure trouble-free, high-quality sound for the tour.
"Sound and RF quality is of the utmost importance," explains systems technician Gene Phillips. "Trying to explain hits and dropouts to this artist isn't an option. She simply doesn't want to hear about that. Luckily for us, Sennheiser has the best RF gear out there."
While searching for an ideal wireless solution, Phillips examined many possibilities before deciding on the G2 systems for personal monitors, which are used by everyone on stage in conjunction with wedges and few side fills. "Basically what we wanted was a lighter weight pack that could be worn while dancing. During the show, Madonna is really moving around and goes out over the audience, so having a proper frequency plan is very important."
"Along with the G2 systems, we're using two AC2 antenna combiners, and the A2003 paddles," Phillips continues. "As far as the vocal mikes and transmitter body packs are concerned, I have two sets of the 2003s on either side of the stage, which works extremely well for covering the show."
Although Phillips has a variety of favorite features from his collection of Sennheiser gear, he is particularly fond of the EW300IEM G2 frequency scan feature. "There are 33 frequencies that we have to get each day and in the bigger cities, avoiding potential interference is difficult. To help with that problem, Sennheiser offers a scan feature in the banks of the G2 pack. You can take a pack into the facility, scan it, and it will tell you how many frequencies are free in each bank. That gives us a great starting place and we don't have to drag out the computer to tune everything. It saves a lot of time and for that, it's simply awesome."
Madonna on her re-Invention Tour
For vocals, Madonna is using a combination of SKM3072 handhelds with ME3005 capsules and a custom headset with a Sennheiser ME105 capsule. "She's been using the 3072s on previous tours and she, as well as her background singers, have always been really happy with them," says Phillips. "Headset-wise, we're using the SK5012 pack because it so incredibly small and works great. While in rehearsal, she requested a capsule that would sound like her handheld, and the Sennheiser ME105 fit the bill."
Phillips says that the custom headset–"designed and built by Gene," he proudly mentions–took some time to perfect because of a lack of fitting time. "Madonna didn't like anything right off the shelf, and there isn't anything out there that works for hanging upside down like she is at the beginning of the show. Getting the right headset required some custom work. She didn't have time to get fitted, so I could only put my hand on the back of her neck to get a rough idea. Finally, after a few fittings, it was right."
Madonna's high standards for monitoring have resulted in unique and impressive working situations for monitor engineer, Ian Newton and vocal monitor engineer, Sean Spuehler. The two-man team runs a dual Yamaha PM1D console configuration with a total of 92 inputs. Newton is in charge of crafting detailed monitor mixes, while Spuehler creates vocal effects and processing for Madonna's voice. As Spuehler works, he provides Newton with a stereo mix of the main vocal and its necessary effects.
"The main thing requested from Madonna is to make the monitor mix sound like the original recordings," says Newton. "Because of that, the monitor mix is really a team event. I have Gene doing the wireless systems with me, and Sean, who worked in the recording studio with Madonna, is doing vocal processing."
"It's really for her to get the vibe," says Spuehler. "Front-of-house has a separate vocal feed of just the dry vocal, because I'm compressing and putting a lot of high-end on it. Of course front-of-house really can't use that, so he has a stereo feed of the effects I'm using and he'll use those along with her dry signal while EQ-ing it the way it needs to be for the audience."
Using Emagic Logic on his Apple® G4 PowerBook for the majority of the vocal wrangling, Spuehler admits that Madonna is expecting the very best from him, and with good reason: he was in the studio while many of her compositions were originally recorded. "It's very exciting, and certainly poses a lot of different challenges as opposed to the studio where things are so controlled. Getting the effects right while dealing with audience noise and all the ambience can be pretty tricky."
Not only is the monitoring situation unique in theory, it's also unique in placement. Madonna requested that the monitor position be located right up front. "Yeah, it's pretty rare where we're placed in the show," Spuehler explains. "We're front and center at the edge of the stage so she can have all eyes on her at all times. If she needs something, she can communicate with us while she's singing. You know it's a good show when she doesn't look at you once, but we're right there so that she can stare daggers if she needs to."
FOH is handled by Kevin Pruce, Björk's touring engineer.