UK band ∆, better known as alt-J, hit the ground running with its 2012 debut album, An Awesome Wave, winning the British Mercury Prize, an Ivor Novello Award, and multiple Brit Award nominations. Nearly three years later, alt-J has just completed a circuit of festivals, sheds, amphitheaters and arenas, in support of its second album, This Is All Yours, carrying full production on a North American tour for the first time, including an L-Acoustics K2 rig provided by Rat Sound Systems of Camarillo, Calif.
“It was only since the beginning of this album campaign that I even started carrying a console,” reports Lance Reynolds, the band’s front-of-house engineer, who began working with alt-J, named after a Mac keyboard command, when the band first started touring the U.S. “I’ve been a sound engineer for quite a while, but it hasn’t been often that I’ve been able to choose all of my own gear. I’ve done a lot of festivals and shows in theater-sized venues with in-house systems. Even when we were doing tours where we could spec equipment, it had still generally been P.A. du jour.”
alt-J’s North American tour crew, from left: FOH engineer Lance Reynolds, Rat Sound Stage Tech Brett Heet, Rat Sound Systems Engineer Tom Worley, and monitor engineer Ron Sharpless
The most recent tour—promoting alt-J’s sophomore 2014 release, which debuted at Number One in the UK, Number Two in Canada and reached Number 4 on the Billboard Top 200, while topping Billboard‘s Alternative and Rock Album charts—carried a full complement of L-Acoustics gear.
According to Rat Sound Systems Engineer Tom Worley (KSE), the main rig comprised 44 L-Acoustics K2 line array modules and 22 SB28 subs, plus eight K1-SB enclosures flown in venues where enhanced LF throw was required. A couple of SB28s as side fills provided low end for the four band members, who are all on in-ears, while eight ARCS II and six 8XTi boxes were also available for fill where needed. LA8 amplified controllers drove the entire system.
Prior to this North American jaunt, Reynolds says he began to critically assess the alternative systems available. “I said to everyone, having really been paying attention, I keep walking away from these festivals with my best shows being on L-Acoustics. In fact, my absolute best show was the first Coachella Festival on the Main Stage with the K1, with Tom dialing it in.” Coincidentally, Rat Sound has provided Coachella’s sound reinforcement for the past 15 years.
Worley says, “I don’t think Lance could have had such a pristine mix every night with any other system; it sounded the same every day. He was the one that really pushed to go with the K2, and all his expectations came to fruition. At the first show I think he was blown away that the K2 does have the same signature characteristic as the K1. It doesn’t quite have the 15-inch sound, but in terms of in-your-face impact it certainly has the ferocity. He was really, really impressed with it.”
The tour’s main arrays were comprised of 14 L-Acoustics K2 flown beneath four K1-SB, with eight more K2 per side addressing the far left and right.
Sound for the tour’s last couple of shows was further enhanced by Reynolds adding a center cluster of four Kara modules. “With alt-J there are no monitors on stage; there’s nothing really making a sound other than the drums,” he says. “I wanted those super-fans right in front of the stage to be very well covered. I didn’t want them to be standing in front of the singer and hearing the sound bouncing back from somewhere.”
Worley reports that he would quickly draw the room each day then start tuning. “I’d do all my contour EQ in Soundvision,” L-Acoustics’ 3-D acoustical simulation software. “Then I would sit at front-of-house and pop in the appropriate filters with LA Network Manager, turn it on and verify everything, and 99 percent of the time it was spot-on.” L-Acoustics’ LA Network Manager provides software control and monitoring of amplified controllers within the L-Acoustics L-Net Ethernet network.
LA Network Manager offers both IIR and FIR filters, adds Worley. “I use FIR filters for the low box shading—the bottom two boxes and the zone above predominantly. I’ll shade those depending on trim height and other variables. That tapers off the high end as you get close to the array. In the far field I’ll use the Air compensation and FIR filters again to keep the contour consistent. It works really nicely.”
In addition to Reynolds and Worley, the primary audio crew for this recent leg, which wrapped up in October, also featured alt-J Monitor Engineer Ron Sharpless and Rat Sound Stage Tech Brett Heet.