MLA MINI GOES NUTS - BY SIMON HONYWILL
Sometimes life throws something at you that stops you dead in your tracks. Some things are good, some things bad, but the certainty is that whatever it is, on the other side of it things will be different. A windfall, the birth of a child, the death of a friend, a car crash. In my case, the diagnosis of aggressive prostate cancer was a highly effective handbrake. As sound engineers, we are invincible. We have to be, it's often a tough existence accompanied by a huge amount of personal sacrifice if we are to be successful. We find ourselves in the kind of situations that many would have difficulty dreaming up, let alone find themselves in. I have been known to liken it to being in the Armed Forces, only without guns (hopefully) and uniforms (sort of) and with a distinct lack of physical fitness (in some cases – no offence!) It is a lifestyle, a vocation and requires total commitment, often to the detriment of others close to us.
So coming to terms with my condition first demanded that I accept that I am not invincible. It then, following a great deal of hand-wringing, demanded that I find a way of reconciling my 36 years in the industry with the fact that I was a cancer patient, and that I had a disease that could very possibly kill me. Not feeling at all unwell made this doubly difficult, but I had to find ways of working that would reduce the stress and physical exertion, to allow myself to be tired and listen to what my relatively short body was telling me.
The idea was so obvious that I had to steal it from a great friend and mentor. A gig! Why didn't I think of that? It's pretty much the only thing I know how to do anyway! Having recently supported a charity gig organised by that friend and mentor where he vowed to learn to sing in 6 months (and failed!), it occurred to me that forming a massive band and playing the kind of tunes I wanted to play was not only going to be fun, but it was also an opportunity to stage something a bit special and raise some money for the amazing people at Plymouth's Derriford Hospital who have been looking after me so well.
We needed a funky name and a cool venue. The funky name needed to relate to the reason for the gig in some way – my beautiful wife and her wicked sense of humour came up with The Nutter's Ball. Perfect. The venue was a little harder - in my home town of Plymouth venues have been closing like toilet doors recently. Enter Her Majesty's Royal Marines, who at Stonehouse are in possession of the oldest barracks in Europe still fully operational and occupied. A good mate of mine is ex-service and suggested I give them a try. They agreed. I was gobsmacked.
The Officer's Mess at Royal Marines Stonehouse Barracks is a magnificent piece of Victoriana, with high ceilings, paintings of Churchill, Mountbatten, the Duke of Edinburgh and Her Majesty the Queen in abundance. The chandeliers hover like gilded helicopters. The fascinating history of the Royal Marines is everywhere in the form of art, silverware and the written word. The bar prices are irresponsibly low. The reverberation time in the dining hall is however deeply distressing.
After what amounted to nearly a year of rehearsal for my ten-piece band, including brass and strings, there was no way that this gig was going to look fantastic in this room but sound like rubble falling down a concrete stairwell. The only answer was MLA Mini. No other system would have been able to cope with the reverberation in this iconic space without compromising coverage. No other system would have been able to be programmed to cover exactly what was required, no more, and maintain an even frequency response throughout. No other system would have been able to ensure that the portrait of Her Majesty received as little sound as possible – she hates it when it gets loud. No other system would have looked quite so cool either!
It's the right thing to do to mention Wayne and Rylan from W E Audio who provided the MLA Mini system and a fine Digico SD10 with which to mix the gig. This combined with the loan of 12 channels of IEM from my old mucker Stew Chaney at Plus 4 Audio meant that we were well equipped to make the right kind of noises when and where required, and not where they were not. The evening featured largely acoustic acts all of whom I have some connection, whether as friends and/or work mates. Some of them presented a challenge to the dBS Music students on the desk – the very wonderful Wildwood Kin came with Irish bouzouki, toms and guitar, The Kirkwood Brown Trio with various things with strings from mandolins to resonator guitars and a 12 string that was suddenly 11 string to much consternation.
The MLA Mini was stacked eight high on stage and configured to 'hard-avoid' the ceiling and the upper sections of both end walls. This generated an electro-acoustic 'lid' over the audience, focussing the output exactly where it was required and avoiding the reflective surfaces that were going to send the energy rattling around the room, destroying the intelligibility and fidelity. For low end, the two MSX power-plants under each stack provided the majority of punch, with a single DSX sub in the centre on the floor there to knock over those moved to dance with ease.
For once I was on the back end of this PA system, wearing in-ear monitors – a unique experience for me. I had very little way of telling what was going on out front so had to rely on the opinion of the assembled to give me some idea. Some of them actually knew what they were talking about, and it would seem that the sound system was actually the star of the night, not really what I intended, but I'll take that. The fact that the bar prices were so cheap might well have had something to do it.
What I did come away with was the re-assurance that having associated myself and my reputation, such as it is, with this extraordinary range of loudspeakers, they still continue to excite me, which is something for a bunch of boxes full of magnets and paper attached to some serious DSP.
As for The Nutter's Ball, it would seem to have been a riotous success. We raised well over £3000 for The Chestnut Appeal for Prostate Cancer, and everybody had an absolute blast of an evening. The generosity of many made this gig viable. The MLA Mini system made it worthwhile and made sure I didn't look like a numpty.
Oh, and in case you are wondering, I'm fine!