Biggest Jam Session Ever with Sjoerd Terpstra

By in Live Sound, Music Creation

It’s the end of June 2016 and I’m off to a rehearsal. I’m going to mix a jam session with the biggest version of the Kyteman Orchestra ever. The Kyteman Orchestra, founded by Colin Benders—aka Kyteman, started in 2008 as Kyteman’s Hiphop Orchestra. The band included drums, orchestral percussion, bass, two keyboard players, four horns, four strings, and eight “angry” rappers. I have been involved in mixing FOH from the beginning and it’s still the most inspiring project that I’m trusted to mix.

One of the most interesting things in the Kyteman Orchestra shows, are the jams. Kyteman developed a way of communicating in a musical way with his band members. He developed hand signals for chords and notes, including minor, major, flats and sharps, allowing him and his ‘Orchestra’ to compose songs on the spot. These jam sessions, often played when out of songs on the setlist, became such an inspiration for both the band and the audience, that they decided to do shows with merely jammed music. It even resulted in a DVD/CD box set with five hours of improvised music. Kyteman has decided to do one more jam show—to “go out with a bang” is what he thought when he put the plan together to do a final jam in collaboration with a philharmonic orchestra and a big choir…

Kyteman Orchestra on their second tour

Like I said, I’m on my way to this megalomaniacal project. Kyteman added to his original orchestra (in itself good for 60 inputs) the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra (RFO) and the Groot Omroep Koor (GOK), a 60-piece choir that originated at one of the bigger Dutch broadcasters. The show will be in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, which is famous for it’s great acoustics (and presets in several reverb processors), but not friendly to anyone who puts up a lot of speakers. For this project I have the chance to use the new Avid live console for FOH, the VENUE | S6L, which is the successor to the Profile system. We will also be using three other consoles: two for in-ear and monitor mixing, and one as a premix console.

We have a full day of preparation before the musicians come in at the RFO studio. The guys that work for the RFO set up as many of the instruments on stage as they can, while our technical crew talks endlessly about how to fit this monster into patchlists and output buses. At the end of the day, we end up with 512 channels going up and down between the consoles, the in-ear systems and the FOH console.

At the RFO studio

Rehearsal day at the RFO studio

As we start the line check on the rehearsal day, I’m very impressed with the sound the newly designed S6L preamps are giving me. I try not to touch the EQ’s too much, as I know the acoustics of the Concertgebouw will result in a different sound than the room we are in right now. I enjoy the lowpass filter that has been added to the in- and output channels—it’s helpful when cleaning the channels from unwanted bleed within the orchestra. I decide to do nothing more then needed in order to stick this mix together, but it sounds great from the get go! The step-up from Profile to the S6L is amazing—it’s a completely new thing.

Line checks have been done, gains are set for the Kyteman Orchestra, and as the RFO and GOK sit down we end up with about 180 people on stage. We now have exactly four hours to get this set as good as we can. The guys that do in-ear- and premixes for the RFO and GOK are very experienced in this field of work and before I know it I receive the stems of the Philharmonic Orchestra and the Choir in the S6L and it sounds great! (good job Dirk!) What really stands out in the new S6L is the fact that I can place something in the stereo image and no matter what amount of channels I add, the image stays the same. The panned channels are not buried under the other channels. With 112 input channels that’s a great feature!

As the clock strikes 16:00 the rehearsal is scheduled to end. We are still in the middle of a jamm, but for a classical orchestra working hours are different then for us “rock and rollers”. As one of the first violinists stands up from his chair and leaves, the second one moves, third one goes, and soon everyone leaves…Schedule is schedule with them classical guys. Despite this strange and abrupt ending I have the feeling I’m well prepared for the show. I should be able to get off to a solid start when we have everything built and patched in the Concertgebouw.

The Concertgebouw

Set-up day

We set up in the Concertgebouw one day before show day. It’s very crowded on stage, but we squeeze it a bit more than usual and get all the instruments to fit. After we tune the PA to the room, I play the multi-tracks I recorded during the rehearsal via Ethernet AVB to Pro Tools just to get an impression of how it could sound. These last couple of days I have been giving a lot of thought on how to mix this 180-person monster. Putting the mix together in the rehearsal room was quite easy with the console sounding so good. Now, standing in the Concertgebouw and listening to the recorded tracks, it occurs to me that I would like to give my mix more depth. I’m going to recreate the distance between the different groups of instruments by using time adjuster plug-ins. I know it will never be as accurate as I want it to be, but it might fit things better in place than it does now.

S6L at front of house

Showday

Soundcheck goes fast. We’re playing one jam to check if everyone is able to see Kyteman’s hand signals. One more jam is played to get comfortable with the room. No one has an idea of what they are going to play tonight, and for me, that means I have no idea where the focus needs to be in the mix. I have made a custom fader layout on the desk that allows me to alter all volumes of input and output channels at all times. Using the S6L’s 24 fader frame in Layout Mode, I created a custom Layout with a mix of Inputs, VCA’s, and Group faders. When selecting an output bus in this Layout, I’m able to use the 32 knobs in the rotary bank as “faders” for the channels assigned in that particular group (both on Subgroups and VCA’s). That gives me control over channel faders that are not on the surface—very helpful when I need to access the large number of inputs.

The option to color code your faders is really nice—it helps me find my channels quickly and that’s worth a lot in these mixes! I assign 23 faders and keep the spare 24th fader as an extra “flex” option. If a channel needs extra attention, I go into Layout Assign in the Universe screen and assign that channel to the Layout. That gives me the option to alter everything on that channel. My plan to be able to stay in this mixer Layout just might work…

The time I invested in trying to recreate the depth on stage pays off, or at least it seems to. The orchestra playing acoustically in the Concertgebouw is amazing, but, without sounding cocky, when I open the main fader on the S6L, it gives the orchestra an enormous boost! The blend between the PA and the acoustic sound is amazing, and at FOH we’re all smiling.

 

The Kyteman Orchestra, the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Groot Omroep Koor in effect

About plug-ins

The S6L’s onboard dynamics are great sounding, and I have no need for additional plug-ins that “just compress”. Besides that, the onboard dynamics give you fast access and a clear picture of what’s going on. When I grab for plugins, it needs to do something the console can’t do.

A few plug-ins are worth highlighting:

I use the McDSP AE400 to prevent sounds of becoming harsh. For instance, on the violin pickups I use the channel EQ to make it sound nice when the instruments are being played in a “normal” way. But when things are getting loud in this production, the string players will adapt and play louder without the instruments benefitting from that. The sound can get pretty ugly, but with the AE400 kicking in on those frequency bands that generate the ugliness, I’m able to keep it sounding nice and keep it in the mix.

A new plug-in I use is Flux’s Bitter Sweet-Pro. There is not much more I can ask for in a plug-in on a kick or snare drum. It works great on both our drumkits. We use two different drum kits, with different mic technique approaches. Our first kit is the “vintage” one. It’s miked using Glyn Johns’s 3 mic drum technique with an old AKG D12 and 2 Neumann U87’s (I add tom and snare mics to be able to lift these if needed, but 85% of the sound is made with three mics). The other kit is miked “modern”; Shure Beta 52 for kick, sm57 for snare, Beta 98, and AT4051 on hi-hats and overheads. I call this drumkit our “sample” kit. Using the Flux Bitter Sweet-Pro I can sculpt the kicks and snares to accentuate their character in a way no other plug-in can. Try it out yourself—you will be surprised what it can do!

And of course harmonics. I love harmonics! I still grab for a Sansamp PSA-1 plug-in on things that will not cut through the mix. Insert it, give it some bite, set the level, and there it is! If things need to be warmed up (and not too heavily like the SansAmp) my weapon of choice is the “Warmth” feature in the Sonnox Dynamics plug-in. I often run it on the LR bus and somehow it gives me the impression that my PA system becomes a more expensive system with the amount of warmth I add. I don’t know how it’s done (who does??) but it’s gooood!

Furthermore, I’m using a fair amount of Sonnox Reverbs. I run them on instrument groups to give dry signals like keyboards, electronic percussion, the choir and the close miked violins a lot more “space” and make them blend in the room.

Showtime!

House lights go down and I feel good and confident. The S6L works great and during the show I’m thinking that I’m making good use of the console’s potential. It almost feels like it’s happy to be at work! Its sound is without a doubt a giant step forward compared to its predecessor, and the transient response of the S6L is simply incomparable to any other desk. Kyteman’s shows are famous for their extreme dynamic range, but whatever happens in the show—extremely loud or really quiet—I never loose the depth and width in my mix with the S6L. Customizing the workflow on the desk by using Layouts works just as I hoped it would. I think I left my “mix layout” only three times during the show! Whatever happens, I can easily find the right fader. I feel in control.

As the show comes to an end I get out of my saddle (it actually is a saddle seat), stop the Pro Tools laptop that has been recording the show, and take a minute to think about what just happened… We have come a long way with this Orchestra, and I never ever dreamed it would end up like this—and I’m looking forward on doing it again! Good thing we had it recorded….

 

Yours truly,

Sjoerd Terpstra

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I grew up in Amsterdam, studied to be a chef but ended up mixing music instead of food for a living. Been in the studio and on the road for about 20 years mixing all kinds of bands. Always on “tour" in Holland and abroad with Maher Zain. When not mixing I’m having fun with the family—we surf as much as we can and I try to brew the best coffee in town!