Thursday, July 26, 2012

Dave Rat Blog Ukraine

Hanging out in Kiev before a plane trip to Warsaw and some free time pondering.

HanGo PJB100 Personal Jukebox.jpg
Hey, check this out, it was my first MP3 player.  I was out with Rage Against the Machine and soon to start back up on Chili Peppers' Californication tour.  A full two years before Apple grabbed and packed them for the mass consumer market there was the Hango PJB! I remember how excited I was to not carry the huge foldout of CD's for playback music, that I inevitably and crushingly so often left behind when doing one-offs.  How nice it was to not get the radio calls from production that house music stopped while I was eating dinner? How nice was it to not have a constantly dwindling music collection! At the time it was revolutionary, now it is just the predecessor to another thing we take take for granted.

So on to more modern times, the gig in Kiev saw sunshine and it was refreshing to actually start a show after nightfall for the time this run.  Daylight really takes the edge off of the impact of show start and subdues the excitement. It was actually quite a nice modern stadium.

Though maybe a bit too modern. Once we fired up the sound system, a high pitched warble sound shows up everywhere in the sound signal chain.  Yikes. We have touring stage gear and FOH on a giant transformer, Euro vendor Highlight sound gear on their own distro, a euro powered recording rig and a pretty much an audio ground cluster-fuck that can usually be sorted.  So some unplugging and wandering slowly leads me back to the amp racks under the stage and eventually to the main distro room. Holly shit! a whole room that the exact sound is blasting audible loud and what? The entire sound and light systems are run off of batter backup units? Wow!

And that s when I met the Galaxy 7000's. Up to 500 KVA battery backup units and there was at least 2, maybe 3 or more in there.  The entire rock show was run on battery backup UPS units. 

Maybe that is good for power drops but casing out the inverter noise was a like herding cats. Turns out the units were running run full time charging the batteries, full time the entire audio rig was running off the AC inverters and in itself, that is manageable as long as the inverter noise is not pumping down the ground lines.  At that point I stepped away and attended other adventures.  I was informed a bit later that they made some changes to how audio was grounded to solve it.  I would try and know more but even without the language barriers, getting a solid explanation of multiple people resolved it would be tough. It worked, noise gone, move on.

I promised a pic of the sub fan setups so:

and the booty shot:

Ya know it is just so sketchy to see riggers climbing without safety clips. Makes me nervous to watch, but hey, I used to do stuff like that all the time and be fearless.  Now I reserve my risks for adventures that have the potential for more thrill when successful. Oh and check out this Russian tin drum, kind of cool.  May go and try and buy it if I can remember where I saw it.

Mid wander dinner

And out and about I head.  Next stop Warsaw.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Competition and Cooperation

I am sitting in my make shift production office at the Olimpiyskiy Stadium, Kiev Ukraine, 12:35pm, eight and a half hours till show time.  Fending off the seemingly endless stream of emails mixed with curiosity Google searches and drop a word into the  word with friends games I have rolling with my daughters.

And as select between responding, delegating, deleting, marking as spam and procrastinating on the literally hundreds backed up in my inbox, I stop to ponder one in particular that I am CC'ed on wherein to get enough speaker boxes to cover the gig, we would need to either rely on two competing vendors to work together or use one brand for the main system and another brand for the delay clusters.

While not optimum, getting a fairly consistent sound when mixing brands of high quality systems is achievable. What I found most curious about the email was the absolute reluctance of one vendor to consider working together with the other and it really got me thinking about both sides of that equation.

I remember the Steve Wozniak's US Festival back in 1983 when Rat was hired to provide sound for a tiny air filled dome that had a laser show inside in the new technology area called "Wozi-Land." From my early eyes in the sound industry, back in those days North America had two huge sound powerhouses, Clair Bros and Showco, that seemed to do all of the major tours and events. From the underside looking up they appeared to be fierce competitors and with strong employee loyalties and  both with an "our gear is best, everyone else sucks" mindset  In fact that was the general mindset of all the sound vendors and cross rentals were nearly non-existent not only for ego reasons but the complete lack of any kind of similarity or compatibility. In those days nearly all large scale tours carried proprietary systems that were independently designed and built by the sound vendors themselves and the few large scale off the shelf systems available were heavily associating with or an offshoot of one of their systems.

Bring up the US Festival as I distinctly remember my amazement, Clair and Showco, arch rivals, are going to work together to provide the sound?

Wow, it just seemed so impossible that they would set their competitive differences aside to work for a common goal. I remember not only I was taken aback the the tech themselves that worked for the two vendors each were more than will to share the highlights of why their system was better and the politics of which band wanted which system and how the sheer magnitude  gig left no single vendor able to cover it solo. It was almost like a real version of  Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheep Dog in a way

"Ralph and Sam have become a sort of American cultural shorthand for "the usual suspects" or "the loyal opposition," describing two adversaries who have opposed each other for so long and become so familiar with each other that they've come full circle and are now nearly friendly."

Fast forward to now and I look back on that solo project mentality "us or them" mentality as archaic and short sighted. Rat has  worked toward is positioning to network with a wide range of competitive sound companies. We may bid against a company and then subhire gear to or from the company we bid against, depending on who won the bid. We work with other companies to increase compatibility between our systems so that we (and they) have the advantages of access to a larger pool of gear. A larger pool of gear that we have access to but do not have to own all of in the entirety of, the ability to offer clients more consistency and full systems of identical boxes rather than mixing and matching system types , struggling to purchase more or just plain not having enough to cover the gig properly.

And in a perfect world, each tour bid would be like playing table tennis at a backyard party, "try and win and then return to amicable cooperation. 

Yet I also am keenly aware that there are some critical factors that must exist for cooperation between vendors to exist:

 Dependability, compatibility, and trust to name a few.  Will the gear be available as promised? Will it work properly? Will the sub vendor attempt to undermine our relationship with the client? There are companies we do not work with purely because they do not have gear we need or visa versa.  There are vendors that have sub standard gear maintenance and also companies that follow lines of greed and domination rather than a balance of growth while maintaining honest and ethical business practices. 

Anyway, I do not know the details of why the two vendors cant or won't work out their differences but when I think about all the reasons that would prevent cooperation, it seems pretty clear that those would be good things to clean up anyway. Hey, if being a reliable company with quality gear and a trustworthy ethical stance positions you to work together, seems like something to strive for. That said, who knows

Monday, July 23, 2012

Peppers Euro Stadium Tour Leg 2

Kiev, Ukraine and show 3 will be the day after tomorrow.

Oh the joy of being on a big cumbersome tour where we stand in lines comprised of clusters of our own 50+ humans standing behind each other in airports and hotel check-in lines.

A meterless cab ride from the airport as Scott, Leif and I traded out a 20 hour bus ride from Moscow over roads so rough that people were getting airborne in their bunks. Instead, a 90 minute plane flight and relaxing day in an interesting city.

Gigs 1 and 2 were St Petersburg and Moscow. Russia was a fascinating mix of curiosity, beauty and an uneasy sensation that the overly decorated roaming authority figures play by loose rules with a heavy hand.

So far the shows have been solid and fun, I have two system techs, Jim and Ulf who do a great job of setting up consistent systems in adverse environments…

I started off thinking I would be ok with standard sub arrays with endfire edges to increase coverage but that was not good enough. We have switched to a sub fan setup like I did for soundgarden and peppers arena tours and it is a night and day improvement. Clean, clear distinct sources and we moved them way ouitward to reduce sub on stage and it just sounds so good.

I will take and post pics soon. Ok, off to check out more Kiev and I recommended an trip out this way to all the adventurous and curious humans who enjoy finding fun things to remember.

Dave Rat