In 2015 whilst we were out supporting Mumford & Sons' UK Tour, Jack and I began to talk about a new iteration of his live show ready for 2016. I had already rebuilt his SPDSX & Keyboard rig to make it better suited to the rigorous touring and promo schedule and so, when ideas began to form for how he might go about scaling-up the live-show, Jack came to me to help realise his ideas.
Jack and I first met when I played drums with him at Ronnie Scotts, so the live drums elements were the easiest to implement. What was tricky was building a MIDI and Ableton system that was failproof (A/B), but could handle 48 channels of outgoing audio, incoming audio for live effects, and MIDI auto-switching.
Using Kenton MIDI utility boxes, state-of-the-art MADI systems from DirectOut, some custom circuitry and a whole heap of Ableton programming, I designed a combined Backline/Monitors package to tour with Jack around the world ensuring his InEars mix and splits to FOH and Broadcast were consistent for every show.
On-Stage, Jack retains control of Ableton. He can switch across to the B machine himself if he detects buffer latency creeping in, he has a heads-up read out of the current scene, and naturally, he controls the MIDI return switching so that every instrument on-stage is updated with scenes and control settings as Ableton steps through.
From the custom Gibraltar rack, to the FOH and Monitor control systems, and all the way down to the relays and switches in the Ableton rack, I budgeted, ordered, built and tested Jack's rig from the ground up, but this was only possible because of a close working relationship with Britannia Row (PA), Luke Oldham (Ableton Programming) and Cam Atkinson (Drums & Guitar tech), and you should hit them up if you need any of their skills; they're all ace.
Jack Garratt - Rig Design & Build
Since building Jack's rig, I have found a weird little niche role devising and building MIDI and Audio systems that shake up the live music scene and get artists away from a standard 'press-play' playback system.
Nowadays artists want to tour their playback rig wherever they go. In the past this has meant having very few channels of playback, otherwise there just gets to be too much copper inside to fly the units around within baggage weight restrictions.. With my rigs however, I have taken my broadcast audio systems knowledge and applied it to the touring world, building 128-channels of dual, failover playback into a 3u rack case!
And this was a similar brief with Emeli Sandé.
When Gav (Emeli's MD) got in touch, he was after a small and fly-able A<>B Ableton rig to tour the new album tunes and also to run SMPTE TimeCode and MTC to trigger lighting cues and other external devices.
I supplied a fully-built and tested rig to them within a week of approval that incorporates kit from RME, Direct.Out, Ferrofish and M-Audio as well as Kenton and MIDISolutions MIDI utilities and custom trigger and relay circuitry.
Working with my plate-cutting and flight-case partners, I made sure to get a really pretty-finish on the outside, whilst the inside is gnarly and complicated.
As with all the rigs I supply, I hand over comprehensive schematics for MIDI, Power, Sync and Audio flows so that any engineer could troubleshoot in an emergency, but also so that if requirements should expand or change, I can work remotely with the crew to facilitate any changes.
Emeli Sandé - Playback Rig Design and Build
At the end of summer 2016, Alex was having some serious issues with a rig that had been built for him by another playback designer. The audio interface was dropping buffer packets of audio and sometimes dropping off of the buss entirely such that the computer stopped seeing the interface on the USB and reverted to Core Audio.
This unfortunately happened live on stage during a televised set from Pukklepop festival and the second Alex got back to the UK, he called me directly and asked me to fix the issues.
I had around four days to rebuild the rig so that it worked exactly as before in terms of the performance - since there was no time to re-rehearse the set - but also, crucially, it had to work reliably on stage!
I took a quick look at the existing rig and established that the fault was being caused by a conflict in the firmware coding of the interface in use. I spoke at length with the manufacturer but they were unable to resolve the issue in time and as such I replaced the unit with an interface from RME, a company with whom I have an open dialogue with technical support.
By combining MIDI and Audio interfacing into one unit, I could reduce the processing load on the computer, as well as stabilising the system. With a little re-working of the MIDI processing from stage to ableton we also acheived a much simpler and more robust MIDI signal flow AND rebuilt the unit into a Peli that could fly as regular luggage with the artist wherever he needed to go and be fully protected no matter what the handlers decided to subject it to.
Since our rebuilt, Alex hasn't had a single problem with his rig on stage and you can watch his live show HERE.
Alex Vargas - Ableton Rig Rebuild
In the Autumn of 2017, George got a new band, and with it, some new toys to play with. I have a long-standing friendship with George's new MD; James Wyatt, and James came to me to design and build the playback system for the new touring show.
Again, this was a MADI build that comprised playback from Ableton as well as live VST instruments for his keys sounds and some percussion.
I teamed up with Fraser McColl and Matt Harris who took on the primary load of Ableton programming; creating a show in arrange-view allowing vamp and loop sections with options for codas and arrangement changes live on stage. My job was simply to provide a robust infrastructure for the MIDI and Audio and the rig has been on the road now for six months with only glowing reviews!