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Bon Iver Gets Immersive Live in Santa Barbara

Extensive planning, deployment went into immersive show.

Santa Barbara, CA (October 22, 2018)—Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon seems to be always up for putting himself out there in the name of art, whether making his initial splash with the downbeat For Emma, Forever Ago; collaborating with Kanye West; or more recently, playing an immersive concert for the first time before 4,500 fans at the Santa Barbara Bowl.

An L-Acoustics L-ISA Hyperreal Sound system was brought into the venue for the immersive show—its second at the site, following a gig there earlier in the year with Odesza. Bon Iver FOH engineer Xandy Whitesel teamed with L-Acoustics and Clearwing Productions for the show.

60 Seconds: Jeff Rocha, L-Acoustics

Whitesel recalled preparations for the show, noting, “I brought in a multi-track of a live show that I had mixed in a Cubase session, and I was immediately impressed with how easily my stereo mix transferred to L-ISA. After some thoughtful spatial positioning in the L-ISA Processor for each channel, very little change in EQ and level were needed for a very presentable product. That began the critical process of converting my brain from a stereo presentation—or mostly mono in the live world, really—to the L-ISA Scene/Extension setup and how to apply L-ISA to Bon Iver’s current show.”

Clearwing Productions flew a 7.1 L-ISA configuration comprised of three center hangs of eight L-Acoustics K2 plus four Kara down, paired with two adjacent hangs of 14 Kara for the five-array Scene system. Further out were two hangs of nine Kara enclosures each for the Extension system, while a dozen KS28 subs were flown in two cardioid arrays directly behind the center K2 hangs for focused LF.

Bon Iver Expands Onstage

Nine coaxial X8 spread across the stage lip delivered front-fill, while two ARCS II on either side of the stage supplied coverage for the fans on the extreme sides of the stage. L-Acoustics LA8 and LA12X amplified controllers powered all of the enclosures, and a pair of L-ISA Processors at FOH generated the show’s spatialization.

The five-piece band required 85 inputs in total headed out to the DiGiCo SD7 console at FOH; an SD5 sat at stageside for monitors, mixed by Donato Paternostro. The immersive show allowed Whitesel to create additional depth for musical elements during the evening, such as providing distinct separation when two drummers played simultaneously.

Bon Iver’s production manager, James Dean, noted, “Walking around the venue, you can more easily place instruments in the field of ‘vision’ using your ears. It was much easier to notice which drummer was doing which part. It was like wearing headphones, but without the headphones—very detailed! For the amount of subs in the system, I was also highly surprised by the clarity and strength of the low end. I was not expecting that.”

As the FOH engineer and ultimate decision-maker on the show’s L-ISA mix, Whitesel says that he walked the venue extensively during the band’s rehearsal day and soundcheck to critically listen. “I found that the mix and image at front of house was impressively presented at almost every seat in the house, which was fantastic,” he says. “My primary objective for this show was to increase perception of width and audio quality for the bulk of the audience, which it absolutely did. L-ISA lives up to its hype.”

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“With each sonic element having its own distinct identity in the wider soundscape, I also had several moments during the concert where I noticed things that I’d never noticed before. And, as a mix engineer, being able to identify elements to operate on with speed and precision made mixing this complex band easier, faster and even more fun. The performance was easily my favorite Bon Iver show in the past three years. We accomplished a beautiful, huge, wide, immersive, engaging presentation of the band’s music, and it turned out magnificent!”

Bon Iver •

Clearwing Productions •

L-Acoustics •