LOS ANGELES CALIFORNIA - JUNE 2008: Controversial American artist Matthew Barney and collaborating composer Jonathan Bepler - the team that created the celebrated "Cremaster Cycle" series of art movies - have begun a new project of hugely orchestrated one-time opera/performances set around the world and inspired by Norman Mailer's 1983 novel "Ancient Evenings." The first performance, "REN," took place in mid-May at an abandoned car dealership off the I-5 Interstate south of Los Angeles. Some 600 spectators witnessed the event, which involved a drum and bugle corps, the complete destruction of a Chrysler Imperial by a twenty-ton excavator, the release of several thousand crickets, and much, much more over the course of two spectacular hours. Together with the composer Jonathan Bepler, Daniel Teige, sound engineer at Bepler's Berlin studio, was charged with the Herculean task of capturing sound for a future video release of the event. In addition to a well-chosen rack of converters and audio cards, Teige and Bepler counted on the bomb-proof reliability and unsurpassed fidelity of four TRUE Systems Precision 8 mic pres coupled with over two dozen Microtech Gefell microphones strategically located throughout the event space.
As is the case with any of Barney's and Bepler's works, "REN" is difficult to succinctly describe, though an attempt might be: a melding of ancient Egyptian mythology and symbolism with 21st Century themes and ephemera. The wrecked 1967 Chrysler Imperial used in "Cremaster 3" sat in the parking lot of the abandoned dealership, which was decked out with believable salesman, eighty new Chryslers, and other nuances so as to look fully operational. The performance began with an approach from all directions by squads of a fifty piece drum and bugle corps, who gathered throughout the huge site to play a vast, surround-sound introduction. After a rousing, post-modern fanfare on the roof, the Imperial was dragged by forty-five laborers into the showroom to compete with a 1979 Pontiac TransAm whose mega sound system played groaning sub-tones. An all-female mariachi band led by the great Mexican singer Lila Downs, and the salesmen (assembled as a "choir") provided the musical accompaniment as an amazing stockpile of 11,000 crickets emerged from the twenty-ton excavator that eventually shredded the Imperial. Through all of this, the audience moved from seats to the showroom. The music came from all over the lot. From Teige's perspective, it was tremendously challenging to capture sound, given the event's radical dynamic range and spatial extent.
Although Barney and Bepler had been working on REN for well over a year, Teige only began his preparations seven months prior to the event. As the date approached, he readied the studio's awesome collection of Microtech Gefell microphones, making sure that each one was performing perfectly. Even though there would be over two dozen microphones, he needed only a scant four-rack space of mic pres in the form of four TRUE Systems Precision 8s. From the Precision 8s, signal would flow to an Apogee AD-16x converter and two Apogee Rosetta 800s, all of which were clocked to a bank of Pro Tools HD cards in a Magma chassis by an Apogee Big Ben running at 96kHz.
Nevertheless, there was only so much that he could do from Germany! Teige arrived at the abandoned lot two weeks prior to the performance. "It was a huge amount of work to do in such a small amount of time," he admitted. "It was one of those things where we had so many other things to worry about, we had to trust our hardware completely. The Apogee converters and TRUE Systems mic pres are the sort of thing I never lose sleep over. They always perform perfectly. In this case, we counted on that!"
Although Teige and Bepler concentrated the bulk of their recording gear in the showroom, where most of REN's action took place, they had mics located all over the lot. With over one hundred musicians and actors and a mobile audience, blocking REN was intense. Making sure that every significant utterance or note was captured - let alone captured with stunning clarity - was the sort of thing Teige and Bepler lost sleep over.
From Teige's end, everything went off without a hitch. On a larger view, a few audience members were injured by flying glass! "The sound quality is excellent," he said. However, this came as no surprise as the engineer and the composer had paired TRUE System pres with Microtech Gefell microphones in previous projects "The TRUE Systems Precision 8s and Microtechs are the perfect partners. We've had countless unsolicited praise about the clarity and beauty of the sound on previous projects from people who don't think much about audio. It's that obvious."
"REN" is certainly not the last use that combination will see, either. Barney and Bepler have plans for six more performances of similar magnitude but different content to take place in a mine in Poland, a steel mill in England, a taxi garage in New York City, a building site in Abu Dhabi, a ship-breaking yard in India, and finally (and closest to conventionally!) an opera house in an as-yet undetermined location.
TRUE Systems, Tucson, Arizona designs, engineers and manufactures high-value, high-end professional audio products at reasonable prices for the domestic and international marketplace. Tim Spencer is the principal designer and engineering force behind the company. Tim has been with TRUE Systems since it's inception in 1997. The U.S. built line includes the SOLO series, the P2 Analog and Precision 8 multi-channel mic preamps.
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