If you happened to have bumped into any of the other meandering rambles in this audio/travel series you’ll know the plot. I’m traveling round Europe with my audio partner, Chris Lambrechts, showing the delight and unbridled audio horsepower of our new mixing monster, the Avid VENUE | S6L. We will visit 11 countries, 15 cities, drive more than 10,000 km and talk to 500 audio brethren. So now after relentless travellin’, roadyin’, travellin’, roadyin’, we pitch up in Berlin for a two week residence at the uber hip Black Box Music. Chris, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, is having a week off to climb mountains on a bicycle. “Why would he want to be doing that?” I hear you all asking. I dunno, my best guess is it might be an extreme reaction to living in Belgium or something—you’ll have to ask him.
Marathon at Black Box
Anyway, as I was saying, we have two weeks in the same spot at the afore mentioned BBM (Black Box Music), my rental company of choice when I need some bits and bobs like speakers and amps to get the band a bit louder in these parts (you can see last year’s video about the Massive Attack tour filmet at Tempodrom, Berlin, PA as supplied by the BBM). Now, I’ve spent most of my audio life working with mainly UK rental companies, particularly Brit Row and Wigwam. Wouldn’t swap either of them for the world; technically superb and the loveliest people in Rock. Bryan and Mike at Brit Row and Mick, Geoff, and Alex at Wigwam I consider old and trusted friends. You wouldn’t however describe their respective warehouses as “hip”. You’ll get a lovely cup of tea but no style tips. BBM however looks like a magazine shoot in the Face circa 1990. There are matt-black cars for hire, like tattoos on wheels, outside the building next to Big Black ‘artics’ in the loading bay with the BBM skull and cross sm58 logo on the sides. Inside the repurposed post-industrial complex, it’s all white or grey walls, pale wood floors, huge windows and bits of antique audio kit as ART installation – Pretentious moi?? – but in a rock and roll kind of way. Right up my Strasse, as you can probably guess if we have even a nodding –“hello mate-how’s it goin’? -have you seen Davo recently?” type passing acquaintance. Ask Deptford Andy or JDB about the nose flute music at The Jazz Café if you need affirmation. I digress hideously, sorry.
So as I was saying, cool surroundings and no Chris (busy trying for a premature heart attack in the Alps), but I did have my, also uber-hip colleague, Ansgar, helping out—the only roadie chum my kids judge as “cool”. Talking about urban hipsters; also working the room were Kai and Jonas from SEA, our German reseller partners. They look like pop stars from that well-known boy-band Eine Richtung. I felt like everyone’s Dad and they never let me forget it. Endless gags about how old/slow/out of shape/grey/forgetful I was. Ah well, it’s all paid for.
Now, some of my friends might want to sit down for this next bit (you know who you are, Mr. W, Swanny), but Ansgar has a terrible allergy—he’s allergic to alcohol, poor boy. It’s true he just needs to look at the stuff and he goes bright red and needs to sit down for a bit!! However, that doesn’t stop him being loads of fun. You might have seen his walk on part in one of our earlier videos, giving his version of street dancing. Check it out here (about 1 minute in). Don’t tell him I told you about it though, he’s quite sensitive.
Meeting the locals
You know what they say about German Roadies—its all true. They’re so clever and technical it’s frightening. I remember being admonished by a PA tech at an early Manic’s gig: “I do not think you have read the manual for zis piece of equipment.” Totally true mate! Just bluffing it as usual, like everyone else I knew (except maybe Dr. Nelson and M.C.). I more or less knew how to find, save, (just about), and abuse the two settings I liked on the PCM 70 he was prodding his finger at. Happy Days.
So first in the door whilst I was still setting up came two of my favorite German audio chums, Horst and Stefan. They were prepping for a tour downstairs and popped their head round the door. Horst is a fierce monitor engineer often to be found at the other end of the multicore from my great friend Madders—recommendation enough for me. Stefan is a great mixer and also a top system tech. You don’t often get that combo nowadays. Anyway we had a good laugh and caught up with each other’s stories. It took about two minutes to show these guys the workflow. In fact I think they just worked it out whilst I told some long-winded roadie tale. They were very happy with it and then spent the next ten minutes suggesting all kinds of improvements. I got out my little black moleskin notebook and took it all down. One of the great things about this tour has been showing the desk at quite an early stage, before everything is nailed down, as it were. It means we can tap into the collective roadie hive mind and tweak our concepts to fit the world we live in. I really believe you can’t sit in the proverbial ivory tower and prescribe what way people should work in a modern digital workflow. It’s been brilliant to get first hand feedback from four hundred plus audio professionals, my peer group, and feed all that knowledge and experience back to the design team. Chris and I go out of our way to ask as many questions as we answer.
Tapping the collective experience
Mr. Scovill and myself have about eighty years behind a mixing desk between us. I think and hope that that has been useful in the process of developing these consoles, but the 400 engineers we’ve spoken to have maybe 8,ooo years pushing faders, in every kind of audio situation imaginable. How powerful is that?? Avid’s credo is to connect the artist with the audience in as powerful and meaningful a way as possible. Our community has always done that. It’s what we do, right? enable the audience to hear the musical intention of the artist on the stage as honestly and clearly as we can. So let me thank you for sharing all your positive feedback and brilliant ideas. We can’t design a desk by committee, but we’d be crazy not to consult the best-qualified experts in the field. As I always say, only half jokingly, “I’ll steal your best ideas and pretend they were mine!!”
Over the next week we met some quite brilliant engineers most with a background mixing on VENUE. It is the industry standard in many ways. However, there were plenty of engineers who had mainly used other consoles and they could be quite challenging, and I really enjoyed talking to them too—maybe even more. So much knowledge passed through that room, we were absolutely buzzing at the end of each day.
Welcoming the Swiss
Anyway, it turns out Chris survived pedaling up the mountains and we arrived back reunited for the second week in town. First up, a whole gang of colleagues flew in on the Monday from Switzerland. I’d like to say it all went like clockwork, but that would be too easy a gag so pretend I didn’t, cos its cheesy, might threaten their neutrality, offend the Gnomes, and I could lose my secret banking rights! OK, got it out my system. Had a lovely day showing the guys round the desk. Several I knew from Montreux Jazz festival, maybe my favorite festival, over there by the lake, lovely and clean and well organized.
Wrapping it up
So well rested was Chris from his week free of roadying duties he suggested we make a couple of hardware and software updates to the two beta build consoles we had with us. We waved our Swiss chums off to the airport and got out our tools. Turned into a bit of a long night. I should explain that there is a lot of stuff going on under the hood that we make simple and user friendly by the time we release a product. Before that it’s all telnetting in and coding in the registry. I haven’t a Scooby Doo either—thank the roadie gods that Chris does. We finally typed in: shutdown –s –t 0 at stupid o’clock and went to bed. The desks, however, had several new pages and features for the edification of our audio audience. Over the next couple of days we had some great fun. Highlight for me was a session with a couple of audio guys I’ve known for a million years. Willie, who I met mixing on tour when my oldest boy was a baby (he’s now at university!). Willie always calls me “Island Monkey”. I think it’s affectionate, not too sure. There’s also the fantastic Bodo, so much energy and enthusiasm; Holgar, who is at the Hadg/Nelson end of the brainbox scale; and too many other pals to mention by name. Anyway, it was great to see them and loads of other top guys I’ve met over the years. Felt like I’d had an intensive course in the brain academy by the end. We finally packed it all up and then Klaus, Horst, Stefan, myself, and the gang, all went out for an end-of-tour dinner by a canal. Apparently Berlin has more canals than Amsterdam. Who would have thunk it.