Miking a Moving Orchestra for Terence Lam’s First Hong Kong Coliseum Concert
Music Director Harris Ho talks about the challenges miking a moving orchestra for composer and singer-songwriter Terence Lam’s first concert at the famed Hong Kong Coliseum with over 140 channels of wireless.
Ho, who is one of the city’s most experienced music directors, worked with the rising Canto-pop star Lam to realize his “SUMMER BLUES” show in the late summer of 2022. The musical extravaganza featured a choreographed moving orchestra requiring an unprecedented amount of wireless systems at the venue, including Axient® Digital, ULX-D, UHF-R and PSM1000.
Pushing the limits of creativity and turning imagination into reality with today’s most advanced wireless audio technology, music director Ho, together with monitoring engineers Ka Ming Fong and Man Kin Ma, shared their experiences of producing such an energetic and engaging live concert.
Miking an entire orchestra moving on stage is no easy task.
Behind the idea of producing a live show with a moving orchestra, the latest and most advanced wireless audio technology plays a key part to make it work. The crew relied on the pristine audio and reliable RF performance from Axient Digital and other Shure wireless system to bring this onto the biggest stage in Hong Kong.
Reason behind assembling a moving orchestra for Terence Lam’s Concert in the Coliseum
Initially, a moving orchestra wasn’t a main component of the staged performance. Typically, when an orchestra performance was set up in a theater, wired mics are used with their location fixed.
“The Hong Kong Coliseum is a very special live performance venue – when a musician stands on the four-sided stage, there’s always one side of the audience looking at their back,” explained Ho. “So the crew came up with the idea of a moving orchestra to maximize the engagement with audience from all four sides of the stage.” Ho’s team chose the Axient Digital wireless system to capture the sound from the musicians. An added advantage was the convenient communication with the group of musicians via the wireless IEM (In-ear Monitoring) Systems.
Searching for the same quality audio for a lively ensemble
Nowadays the expectations from audiences are extremely high. They expect live shows to sound as high quality as digital recordings. “Of course, there is always a safe option to perform with the pre-recorded music. But I intentionally assembled this orchestra with some passionate and energetic young musicians, in the hope of making the best use of their liveliness and energy when performing with their instruments, to bring up the emotion of live sound in a delightful way,” said Ho.
Although there is a large group of musicians to coordinate, he emphasized that his expectation for audio quality was the same: smooth and pristine.
Setting the stage for the moving orchestra: the key challenge
Each musician required a microphone for capturing the instrument sound, and in-ear monitors (IEMs) for them to hear the sound back from the system. So the number of channel count required basically double the numbers of members in the orchestra.
For the very first time in Hong Kong, a live concert used over 140 channels of wireless equipment in a concert. One of the biggest challenges was that there isn’t even one single rental company owns such large wireless inventory, so to properly allocate the equipment for the vocals, bands and orchestra members, they also need to borrow some of the equipment from other rental companies.
Eventually, Ho and his crew set a record-high wireless channel count for a concert held in Hong Kong Coliseum.
The Solution that turns imagination into a real, live show
“Our top mission was to ensure the sound quality and the stability when using such a huge number of wireless system channels.” said ManKin Ma, the concert monitoring engineer for the orchestra and band.
As the musicians planned to walk around the stage, the solution required a huge number of channels to cover the vocals, the orchestra, and the band. Staying out from interference and audio dropout in such a busy spectrum environment is the biggest concern, as to ensure every night’s concert performed with same, flawless audio.
The decision to use Axient Digital as the solution for the show was based on the engineers’ long-term trust in the system’s reliability. “From our previous experiences, Axient Digital performed very well without any interference, and audio quality is good as well,” said Ma.
“We mainly allocated Axient Digital to vocals which requires 16 channels, and some major instruments like violin, cello and euphonium which will perform several times during the show, which needed around 28 channels in total. Further on that, an additional 44 channels of ULX-D and UHF-R systems were allocated to other minor instruments. Last but not least, 20 channels of PSM were used for in-ear monitoring, which added up to a total of over 100 channels used in the show. It was a big challenge for us,” said KaMing Fong, the concert monitoring engineer for vocals. “I foresaw the challenges on monitoring and coordinating so many channels at the same time during the show. Therefore, we reached out to Shure and asked for additional on-site support (on set up best practice and RF coordination).”
With a variety of instrument used in the moving orchestra and the band performance, different types of wireless components were used to pick up the sound from these instruments. “That’s why we chose AD1, AD2, AD3 and other accessories for providing an all-rounded solution to cover all use cases in the concert,” added Ma.
Another First: Effortlessly Monitoring RF with Wavetool
While Wireless Workbench 6 have been used extensively in concerts held in Hong Kong Coliseum, this was the first time for Ka Ming and Man Kin to use Wavetool, a professional audio and RF monitoring and listening software, in a live concert.
“A high-performance wireless management system ensures the show quality. With Wavetool helps monitoring the audio and RF performance in real-time, we can instantly find out the issue from any wireless microphones and its signal, or battery level on the fly, which allows us to focus more of our time and efforts for a good live show performance,” said Ma.
“Wavetool works seamlessly with Axient Digital, which is amazingly helpful because the crew can complete checking the functionality of each microphone within a very short time before deploying those to the stage,” said Fong.
While many of the other shows in Hong Kong normally include a lot of stage effect for visual impact, the Terence Lam show is different in a way that it mainly focuses on music.
“I feel blessed that it turned into an opportunity to develop a trend of concert which is solely music-focused performance,” said Ho, drawing a conclusion to the success of the show, “The RF performance (of Axient Digital) is excellent throughout the whole 7-day concert. And I was impressed by the sound quality coming from this high-tier digital wireless systems (Axient Digital and PSM1000), which is really catching up with those captured by wired microphone.”