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Mix Blog Live: Rack Toms for Everyone

When a Rack Tom channel on a rented digital console started showing up across multiple scribble strips during soundcheck, Steve La Cerra did everything he could to make sure it wasn't actually happening; then he rebooted.

At a recent soundcheck I had a really weird encounter with a digital console. I loaded my file, and when checking the VCA group assignments I noticed that Rack Tom 2 was in several VCA groups where it didn’t belong. Rack Tom 2 is always in my Drums VCA, but Rack Tom 2 is never in my Guitar or Vocal VCA groups. Nevertheless, Rack Tom 2 appeared mysteriously in these groups. I attempted to remove it from the groups, but was unable to do so. Or so I thought. Turns out the changes in assignment weren’t necessary because it was all an optical illusion.

As I scrolled through channels and different layers of channels, Rack Tom 2 constantly held the position of one particular physical channel, even when the channels around it scrolled. Rack Tom 2 normally occupies channel 7 in my input list, but the scribble strip on channel 8 always displayed “Rack Tom 2,” even when channel 7 showed the same label.

Things got really weird when I started checking my vocal microphones. As mentioned, Rack Tom 2 appeared in the vocal VCA group. If I solo’d that channel, I heard audio from one of my lead vocal microphones. When I scrolled to other banks of faders, the channel labeled Rack Tom 2 would produce audio from whatever channel was supposed to be in that position. Confused? So was I.

On this particular console, there are two places where it’s possible to see the channel name: one is on the channel’s “select” button, which has a built in scribble strip. If you press that select button, that channel’s name and parameters are then displayed on the main screen. My situation boiled down to this: No matter what layer I was on, or which faders I was polling, the scribble strip on that one particular channel was always labeled Rack Tom 2—but when I pressed the select button on that channel, the label on the main screen showed a different (correct) name.

Read more Mix Blog Live: Resurrecting an Audio Dinosaur, The Final Chapter.

At one point, I selected a channel labeled Rack Tom 2 on the scribble strip, but the main screen showed “Don FX L” (Don guitar effects left)—and any adjustments I made to the channel applied to Don FX L. There was no way to reset the labeling, and I was getting a bit upset because this particular fader position also interfered with my lead vocal channels. I didn’t like the idea that during a show I’d be looking at a channel labeled Rack Tom 2, while I could be working on someone’s lead vocal microphone.

I briefly thought that maybe this particular channel was set to some obscure safe mode, like when you have a “star” channel that appears on every layer and remains in position even when the surrounding channels scroll—but that wasn’t the case. It was simply an issue that the text in the scribble strip on channel 8 was stuck showing Rack Tom 2. Not knowing what else to do, the systems engineer and I agreed that we’d restart the console after soundcheck.

We saved the file, backed it up to a USB drive (or three), held our breaths and rebooted the desk. The problem disappeared. The channel scribble strip that was stuck showing “Rack Tom 2” was now reading as it should, corresponding to the selected channel name on the main screen and changing whenever I scrolled through channels or layers.

Was it a bug? Maybe. Was it a graphics IC that went out for a bite to eat? Possibly. I’ll probably never know.