“I would have loved to do a new approach for Zarkana, but Radio City Music Hall is an historic building, so there are very few places you can put speakers,” explains sound designer Steve Dubuc, who has worked on various productions for Cirque du Soleil from Alegria to Zaia.

“The in-house system at Radio City is JBL, but I brought in a Meyer Sound PA, with the MICA line array comprising a left and right array with 16 boxes on each side, plus eight in the center cluster,” says Dubuc. “The Meyer speakers is hung on the same FOH points where they hang their own system at Radio City.”

Dubuc found that although a lot of other shows at Radio City use these same positions, that the vocals seemed to be coming from above, not from the stage. “But when you see a singer on stage, the sound should come from there so I added Meyer JM1Ps on stage to lower the image, as an anchor down below so the sound doesn’t seem to be overhead,” he notes.

There are also nine Meyer MICA cabinets on each side of the house for surround sound in addition to 91 speakers that belong to Radio City for Dolby Sound for films. For under-balcony fill, Dubuc used the in-house JF60 EAWspeakers as there was no option for hanging others anyplace else.

In terms of the quality of the sound, Dubuc went for something different: “We wanted a bit of a rock opera sound, not a musical theatre sound where the vocals are so much louder than the music to tell the story… we wanted a rock show with loud music. “The composer wanted it to be a bit dirty, and we used various effects, sequencers, to avoid an over-produced sound, leave it a bit rough,” he says.

“You still need to hear the vocals, so I needed to find the right mix between musical theater and a standard Cirque du Soleil show,” adds Dubuc, pointing out that Zarkana is on one of the few Cirque shows with a story being told and lyrics in English… to guide you from one act to another. “The volume of the vocals, the musical arrangements and the words themselves… we had to get all three things together to see how much do we push the vocals to tell the story. It was a work in progress as we went along.”

Rather than the LCS console which most other Cirque du Soleil shows use, Dubuc specified the new Meyer D-Mitri digital audio platform; more of a distributed control system with a principal matrix in one rack, where everything runs via Ethernet with new AVB protocol (AVB makes sure everything arrives at the same time). “Meyer/LCS were one of the first to jump on the bandwagon and other companies are following suit,” says Dubuc about this new protocol “It allows gear to be used in new combinations, and allows travel of a lot of channels down the same piece of cable.”

The Zarkana audio rig also includes reverb: TC Electronics 6000 and Eventide SW 8000, with Phenix tube compressor for drums and Solid State Logic X-Racks for vocals. The various singers use DPA 4066 microphones with Sennheiser 5212 transmitters.

In Zarkana, a lot of quick changes and running around under stage, means mics can get knocked around, and as Dubuc notes: “once off center, they sound terrible. The DPAs are omni, so they can be off axis a bit, and give us much more leeway with costume changes, they don’t degrade the sound as much.”

There are wireless mic techs backstage, but with so much going on it’s hard to check every mike all the time, so backstage mirrors allow the singers to check placement of their mics. The lead character Zark, wears a headset over the ear, just to the left of his mouth: “We went with the rock opera look,” says Dubuc. “The volume of the show called for closer mics; the 4066 is small and hard to see, and it blended into his sideburns, the head of the mic is not much bigger than the end of a pen.”

Check out: Zarkana: Sound Design Part 2

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