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Taking No Chances: Celine Dion Tours World With Two Studer Vista 5SR Consoles

She’s one of the best-selling recording artists in history, but she hasn’t toured since 1999. Following a record-breaking 5-year engagement at the Colosseum at Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas, Celine Dion is back on the road with her ‘Taking Chances’ production tour, the first major artist to carry two Studer Vista 5SR digital audio consoles to handle front-of-house and monitor mixing.

Dion’s world tour kicked off in South Africa on Valentine’s Day 2008 and is due to run until the end of January 2009. Audio for the tour is being supplied by Canadian PA company Solotech, which has had a long relationship with Celine Dion; in fact, most of the tour’s key personnel have worked with Dion for nearly 20 years, including tour manager Denis Savage, front-of-house engineer Frankie Desjardins and monitor engineer Charles Ethier.

Frankie Desjardins took over front-of-house duties last year, replacing Denis Savage who has stepped up to become tour/production manager. Together with Charles Ethier, they began the search for the tour’s control systems while Celine Dion was performing in Las Vegas, determined to find one model that could be used for both front-of-house and for monitoring.

“The priority was to find a small desk,� says Desjardins. “We needed something compact to carry all over the world, which would work in testing environments like the humidity of an outdoor show in Kuala Lumpur. And we wanted the same console on monitors. This makes it much easier to train people, especially our support techs, and it means that if we want to switch engineers, there is no problem.�

After spending so many years at front-of-house, Denis Savage knew exactly what he was looking for. The critical test involved recording a Dion show and playing it back. “We were very picky – we set the bar very high!� says Desjardins. “The Vista was one of the best-sounding consoles, and it had a very small footprint and weighed just 30 kilos.�

Desjardins is using 96-100 channels for the show, mixing groups and input VCAs. “The Vista 5SR is really different from other consoles. You have to use it to get used to it, but that only took me about a week. Now I find it very fast to use, very powerful and overall a straightforward tool. I’m confident that it was the best choice for this tour. If there are any compromises to be made, we just remind ourselves of the amazing footprint of the desk!�

Because the ‘Taking Chances’ show is staged in-the-round, monitor engineer Charles Ethier typically sets up his ‘office’ in a remote location. In London, for example, there were some 300 feet of cable between the stage and monitorland. “At first, it was a bit of shock! It is totally another world. Of course I have audience mics to give me an idea of what’s going on, but I miss feeling the SPL, the resonance of the room on my body.�

Ethier presides over a very clean stage. All performers are using in-ear monitors and wireless mics, requiring some 60 frequencies between them. The complexity of output routing, more than 120 buss out to handle the 24 stereo in-ear mixes and 12 click tracks, was a big test for Studer’s new Vista 5SR design. “I sent my spec to Studer, and they sent me Jamie Dunn who stayed with us for 3 days.�

The free configurability of the Studer Vista 5SR DSP engine allowed Ethier to custom design the channel/bus architecture of the console to solve a number of key requirements for his monitor application. The first of these was the very large number of stereo in-ear mixes that he needed to provide – 24 in total. “The ‘Contribution’ feature of the desk allows me to handle this number of complex mixes quickly and easily, without compromise and with great speed and comfort, even though the console’s control surface footprint is small.�

Ethier didn’t want to hear the click tracks in his mixes, preferring to inject them ‘downstream’. The flexibility of the DSP allowed him to configure 24 additional stereo Matrix busses, with a single Aux (Monitor mix) feeding to each one. The click tracks could then be fed into the appropriate Matrix busses, without interfering with Ethier’s monitoring. The matrix channels also allowed for additional EQ processing, giving 8 band parametric EQ in total for each monitor path. The powerful DSP Configuration Tool is available as standard with all Vista 5SR systems.

Studer is a unit of Harman International Industries, Incorporated (
Harman International designs, manufactures and markets a wide range of audio and infotainment products for the automotive, consumer and professional markets, and maintains a strong presence in the Americas, Europe and Asia, employing more than 11,000 people worldwide. The Harman International family of brands includes AKG®, Audioaccess®, Becker®, BSS®, Crown®, dbx®, DigiTech®, Harman Kardon®, Infinity®, JBL®, Lexicon®, Mark Levinson®, Revel®, QNX®, Soundcraft® and Studer®. Harman International’s stock is traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol “NYSE: HAR.�

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