Sonic Masters

Chris Ekers discusses his role at this year's Glastonbury Festival.
Interviews, Delivery & Transmission
Interviews, Delivery & Transmission
Interviews, Delivery & Transmission

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NAME: Chris Ekers
PROFESSION: Freelance system engineer
ROLE: Contracted by RG Jones Sound Engineering as the pro audio systems engineer on Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage.

Ekers was responsible for overseeing the pro audio system installed on Glastonbury’s iconic Pyramid Stage. Assisted by Guy Davis and Remco Verhoek, who erected the PA and delay systems, Ekers supervised what he describes as an audio setup that was flown “efficiently” and ran “perfectly” for the entire three days.

What were the key features of the sound system?

CE: The installation was divided between four FOH and four delay systems. The four FOHs featured WAL Longbow loudspeakers. There were 15 in each cluster with a W8LD, which is a downfill box manufactured by Martin Audio, at the bottom of the cluster.

There was basically an inner left and right stereo system and then outfills on the other side of the goalpost trussing which was also used to house a large video screen. To augment the system out in the field about 110 metres from the stage, we positioned clusters of W8LCs with 16 in each drop. A WS318X was custom-made for the event, which is like a column with three 18-inch drivers in it, so we had sort of a cardioid array sitting in front of the stage with 35 of these boxes: 24 forward-facing and 11 rear facing, to help achieve the cardioid projection effect that we were aiming for.

In addition, there were some frontfill loudspeakers which were all WALCs hung just inside the Pyramid, left and right.

What mixing consoles were used on the Pyramid stage?

CE: The system-drive console was a Midas Heritage 1000 which received inputs from all of the guests and other house audio consoles. We provided two Midas XL4s as house mixing consoles but the majority of the bands brought their own digital desks.

There were DiGiCo D5s, Digidesign Venues, a couple of Yamaha PM5Ds and a Midas Pro6. The feeling was that we should go for analogue desks this year because most crews are quite happy to, or prefer to use, analogue desks. It was only really the headliners that brought their own consoles in, which were mostly digital, and racks of the usual outboard impression and dynamics.

The sound system on the main stage has come in for criticism at recent instalments of Glastonbury. How do you think this year’s technology compared?

CE: This was my first time working at Glastonbury, but from my perspective the whole production ran very smoothly for a number of reasons. The weather was great this year, which it hasn’t always been in recent times. We also seemed to have the right number of riggers in the right place at the right time.

There were also some issues relating to the structure of the stage at last year’s festival, which were resolved this time around, ensuring the whole process of setting up and tearing down was a lot quicker and easier.

We also had a very professional team on-stage, and they kept everything flowing extremely well.

We had a minor issue with one amplifier going down in the delay system, but apart from that, the equipment functioned absolutely perfectly for the entire three days of the festival.

Most challenging aspects of the production?

CE: Probably something as simple as floor-space in the FOH area.

Although it was quite a big space, we had a lot of guest consoles to accommodate and to fit all the production crew and tech in was a bit of a challenge.

The difficult side of the Glastonbury job in general is dealing with noise propagation issues.

We have a very good relationship with the environmental lawyers and those responsible for monitoring the site, but it can sometimes be very difficult to find a balance between what appears to be a problem on the boundary and determining who is responsible for it, as there is ambient noise coming from a variety of locations other than the main stage.

I think that, overall, this is one of the more difficult aspects of the job – keeping the show running at the volume demanded by the engineers, artists and punters alike, while also trying not to lose your licence by infringing on very strict LEQ levels at the boundary approach.

Are environmental noise regulations at Glastonbury stringently enforced?

CE: Yes and no. I think everything is negotiable up to a certain point. When you have the likes of Bruce Springsteen playing a phenomenal set which runs for two-and-a-half hours, it’s very hard to say: “well I’ve got to turn it down now”.

I think that you just need to have a broad idea of what’s in the rules. As with most things, there’s a certain amount of leeway. On the whole, we are generally guided by the monitoring specialists, so if they tell us to turn it down, then we do so. If another 15 minutes pass and we are still edging on a breach level, then we have to find another solution.

Reading the situation is often the most challenging thing.

Often in the first five minutes of a major gig, everyone is on tender-hooks, the engineers, the band, everyone’s very nervous.

All it takes is an extremely enthusiastic opener to breach the maximum levels straight away, and the authorities will come screaming at you immediately, instead of allowing things to settle down for the first ten or 15 minutes.

Invariably, if bands start too hot they’re immediately aware and then spend the rest of the gig back-tracking.

Who were the architects of the main audio system?

CE: The installation was effectively designed by Jim Cousins and Jason Baird of Martin Audio in London.

This year we modified it by adding a fourth delay tower – which was a significant difference to last year’s system – and fine-tuned it according to lessons learned from previous years. Jason Baird was located on-site offering guidance as well.

What was your best Glastonbury 2009 moment?

CE: To finally have Neil Young on stage and deliver such an amazing set was probably the highlight for me.

But I suppose when you have the moon setting over the Pyramid stage while you’re rocking-out to Bruce Springsteen or Blur, it’s a pretty amazing atmosphere.

Another image I’ll remember is looking backwards from the FOH tent and watching people enjoying themselves for as far as the eye can see.

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