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200 Motels, Royal Festival Hall

Frank Zappa wrote an Orchestral work without really expecting ever to hear it performed. It came close forty two years ago but at the very last minute the Royal Albert Hall cancelled the performance due to the adult nature of its content.

In 2013 Southbank took up the challenge and combined the BBC Concert Orchestra, the Southbank  Sinfonia, a rock band and the London Voices along with a cast of ten, including Zappa’s daughter Diva. Gail Zappa came over for the show and took a personal interest in the production, bringing Frank Filipetti to oversee the sound with particular regard for the video shoot.

Neil Varley produced the BBC recording of the show with Marvin Ware at the helm of the console in the truck. It was the first time we had ever heard Marvin say he had run out of capacity on the desk.

Between us the BBC and RNSS had to rationalise over 250 mics onstage and our team worked alongside the BBC to rig and derig the whole thing - for logistical reasons we had to rehearse on Sunday, remove it all and then replace it for the show on Tuesday. We supplied a Soundcraft Vi1 to sub mix the choir, operated by Richard form the BBC, whilst backstage Louisa sub mixed the strings on a Midas H3000 and dealt with the comprehensive comms system. Marvin provided sub mixes of the huge percussion set up made up of eight ‘stations’ utterly filling the rearmost riser of the Festival Hall stage. Emma Wood found a tiny space next to the main patch racks in which to squeeze herself and a CL5 to cope with everyone’s monitor needs and Dennis Fernandez excelled himself as usual both at FOH and in wrestling the huge Dante Network into submission before converting it to a MADI stream for the BBC truck. The patch lists had to be seen to be believed . Wones, Victoria and Richard from the BBC worked with Stuart, Harry and Pavol to get the correct mic squeezed into the correct spot at just the right time- the stage was so tight the musicians had to enter in a particular order and once in place barely had room to breathe, let along perform the movements required of them in the score.

The cast were mic’d up using two DPA heads- one omni for the recording, one cardiod for the house – on Shure UHF R  radio systems and both FOH and monitors had a score reader to enable Dennis and Emma to keep pace with the action.

Richard was there to try to bring a sense of cohesion and single point of contact to the audio process, in order to ensure that all the different stakeholders got what they needed from the sound department. The crew managed to work round him……………..

"you guys, every single one of you, did the most amazing, fantastic job and I’m insanely proud and happy to work with the best technical team in the world.  So thank you all."  

Production Manager, Southbank Centre

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