MTV unplugged is known for presenting artists and their songs in a very stripped down, intimate atmosphere and with reduced instrumentation or even entirely acoustic performances. Now finally, Marius Müller-Westernhagen—one of Germany’s “Big 3” rockstars—sat on the barstool of this music TV institution. For this event Westernhagen went through his career-spanning songbook and came up with a set of his best known and most dear songs for the performance that took place at the legendary “Volksbühne Berlin” on July 16th and 17th. On stage he was joined by some other German music legends, like Udo Lindenberg and Jan Plewka. The show was very tastefully designed and directed by acclaimed director Fatih Akin.
We talked to Stefan Holtz who engineered the live sound at Volksbühne about the show concept and mixing the performance with the Avid VENUE | S6L console.
How many channels did you use for the performance?
Well, in comparison to other Unplugged productions, we were rather simple, as no orchestra was involved. In addition to the rather standard band setup with vintage instruments like Mellotron, Wurlitzer, Omnichord, Hammond etc., we just added one violinist. That led to about 50 channels. I provided a pre mix to the broadcast van outside for editing purposes. We were not broadcasting live.
We used the in-house PA which was absolutely fine, and we brought in a VENUE | S6L console with 32 faders and E6L-144 Engine. MADI [option card] was not yet available at that time. I basically used the core desk and added some analog toys that I always like to use: a Vertigo VSC-2 compressor and a VSE-2 Gyrator equalizer for summing. The guitar sum gets treated with two Chandler Germanium compressors; drums and bass go through Kush Audio Tweaker. Then I had two Kush Audio Clariphonics—one after the guitar sum and then for snare and the vocals.
For Westernhagen’s voice I usually use a Millennia STT-1, but during rehearsals we realized that this didn’t result in a significant improvement. This is because the preamps of the desk are already so good that you basically have no need for additional preamps, really. I did use the compression from the STT-1, but there are many great plug-ins available that enable you emulate the SST-1 as well.
Which plug-ins did you use for this show?
Not too many really. I had about 40 Time Adjusters at work as I like to create a panorama with delay effects. Then I had some reverbs like the ReVibe 2 and Oxford Reverb. For dynamic EQ I had the McDSP AE400 for female guest vocals and the Brainworks BX Otto for Westernhagen’s vocals. And of course I used extensively the channel EQs and compressors on the desk.
Was is your impression of S6L’s sound quality?
Spectacular, really! The sound quality is impressive due to the new 96 kHz operation. This is a step again above the S3. In both desks the sound is closer to analog than with anything else before. And the handling is great—you get used to it very quickly.
The input list is sequential, as you’ve know it for decades. You start with the drums and end with the vocals. Then some effects, maybe. During this show, the musicians changed the instruments very often amongst themselves, so I programmed a custom [fader] layer for every song. For each song I had the most important channels available on top so I had no problem with “just’ 32 faders.
What are S6L’s top features for you?
The amount of encoders is great, as you can create your own custom setup. For each bank you can design direct access to your most needed functions. If I select a channel, I immediately have the most important Aux sends, 2-3 EQ bands, compressor, threshold and gate available. The same for every channel, so my fingers can move very intuitively as the encoders all work the same.
Did you take the desk to the limit?
I tried to do a bit of surround, which this desk is basically not designed for. But to get some instruments more from the side and the back of the theatre and the choir whispering from everywhere, I could handle this very comfortably with some Aux sends.
In terms of stability, there were no issues at all. We had a very loose schedule for this production, so it was possible to take a lot of time overnight to try to stress the console and do nasty things to it, but I was not able to force a crash.