By: Gilli Craig
I have recently returned from mixing the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The band, one of New Zealand’s most beloved acts, have an improbable cult following, who can’t get enough of the band and their ‘four stringed bonsai guitars’.
The ensemble of 10 singing ukulele players and a bassist translates into 30 channels of madness! There is a total of 16 ukuleles on stage, including baritones, resonators, a banjolele, a Tahitian ukulele that’s strung with fishing line, with concert and soprano ukuleles rounding out the ensemble. There is also, in a moment that some find alarmingly dylanesque, an appearance from an electric ukulele.
The band stand in a semi circle- there is no main soloist in the band as members take turns at singing the lead either from their position in the semi circle or they come forward to a front mic position. The beautiful ensemble singing and vocal arrangements are as much a feature of the band as the ukuleles.
All the ukuleles are miced up with DPA 4061’s. Two players have pickups installed in two of the instruments as well, which are used for volume boost in the monitors when they solo, and for the judicious use of a few carefully chosen effect pedals.
There are a couple of reasons why the DPA 4061 is the mic of choice: the primary one being the sound. They just sound great on the little bonsai imposters! The other reason the 4061 works is because it can be taped flat onto the ukulele, with the capsule poked into the sound hole and it doesn’t get in the way of the player.
Usually we run 8 wedges on 8 sends with a monitor engineer. For the Edinburgh Fringe Festival there were 8 wedges on 5 sends of monitors from front of house. The front of house console was a Yamaha CL5, which, as it turned out, was surprisingly good for doing monitors from FOH for the band. The venue, the Debating Hall in the Gilded Balloon, was nicely kitted out with d&b from Orbital including M4 wedges which are a favorite with the band.
Prior to going to Edinburgh, I was able to spend a few hours making friends with the CL5 thanks to Drew Mollison, the Yamaha guy at MusicWorks New Zealand.
As the CL 5 has plenty of inputs I was able to do virtual splits of everything for the monitor mixes. The layout of the console lends itself well to this concept for this band as the left fader bank has 16 channels, the middle fader bank has 8 faders, including DCAS, and the right section a further 8 faders including, usefully, another 8 DCAs .
Because there are 16 faders on the left side of the board I was able to replicate the positions of the monitor channels to be the same as the FOH channels by soft patching, ending up with two layers for FOH and two layers for monitors. As each player has a corresponding main ukulele and vocal, it also meant that the channels associated with each player stayed in the same place from layer to layer, and from monitors to FOH. So no Nigel wandering all over the console. Nice!
I also colour coded the channels and DCAs – green for FOH and red for monitors. That meant I could glance down and immediately see if I was looking at FOH or monitor channels. Having the extra 8 DCAs meant I could have a handful as master level controls for monitor channels.
As I was able to have all 16 DCAs in front of me on the middle and right hand banks, it meant that all my key FOH and monitor channels were within easy reach, and I could flick between the two FOH layers. I had each monitor mix as mix on faders on quick keys. While it still took a couple of steps to get in and out of the monitor mixes for monitor cues that were not addressable via the monitor DCAs, it wasn’t too bad. I just had to be very aware of getting myself back to my main FOH banks and faders.
The venue was busy, with tight turnarounds between acts…we had 15 minutes to get every thing onstage, patched and checked, and 15 minutes to get the house in. Anytime the band do a festival or multi band show, I always request 10 extra mic stands, so I can prep the ukulele microphones onto the mic stands. The DPAs are fixed to the stands with a cunning arrangement involving a bulldog clip, rubber bands and gaffer tape, ready to be whipped onto stage and into place. Rather than the band having the DPA s fixed to their ukuleles prior to going on stage, its easier and faster for both the band and stage crews if the DPA s are fixed to the stands ready to be patched into stage cabling and line checked. The band are quick and accurate at placing the DPAs onto their instruments, so I very rarely have an instrument sounding wildly different to how it should due to erroneous mic placement.
For this band, I don’t do scenes on digital consoles as they have a large repertoire and rarely repeat a set list. There is also a fair amount of improvisation, so it’s better and more fun to just roll with the show. However, if I was to mix monitors again from FOH on the CL5, as part of a tour rather than a festival I think I would create a handful of scenes to manage some of the monitor cues.
Finally, as the venue was originally a debating hall, the mix position was in a tiny old fashioned enclosed booth, with the windows open, up in the back of the venue. It was as cozy as a Finnish sauna! Orbital installed a couple of Genlec studio monitors in mix position to fill in missing HF detail, which worked really well.