At Coast Hills, we’ve been doing a no-spoken-word Good Friday service for about seven years now. It’s grown and morphed a bit since the original, but the service still consists of three basic movements that walk the congregation through the events of that fateful day in a very powerful manner. It’s one of our most creative services of the year, and a great time to be on the tech team. Though it will be impossible to convey the true power of the service through pictures alone, I wanted to show you a little bit of what we did.
First, we’ll take a look at the set with just work lights. It doesn’t look like much under this light, but it shows you what we did. The big white piece of fabric hanging upstage is a white scrim. I say “white” but we joked all week that it kind of looks like it may have been white at one time, but like white curtains hung in an apartment of a guy who smokes 3 packs a day, it’s a little more beige now. In this first photo, if you look closely, you can see the outlines of a steel-framed cross in the middle. That comes into play later in the service.
The swagged fabric is a very lightweight chiffon-like material. Each piece is something like 60′ long, so we just hang it everywhere. There is also a white fishnet piece running back down to the drum riser. The caution tape is not part of the set; we just painted the decks just in front of the stage.
As you can see, we had lots of chiffon. The look we’re going for is ancient, and when the lights go up, it actually works. We use the scrim as both a projection surface, and a tool for selectively hiding and revealing the cross behind. A scrim is cool that way; when you light it from the front, it appears to be opaque. But if you light something behind it (with no front light on the scrim), it almost disappears.
The scrim was heavily lit from the front with a series of ColorBlast 12s. Also on deck were six Mac 700s (two more hung in the truss), and we also had our six Martin 518’s in the truss. The guys scattered another dozen or so ColorBlasts around the stage to light the rest of the fabric. One of the key features of this service is that there is no front light on anyone. The singers on the platform are backlit only, as are all the musicians who are on stage left and right platforms. More than any other service of the year, we want to convey that this is not about the band.
Also on the floor, you can see two sets of six pinspots clamped to a pipe. I was a little dubious of those when the guys put them out, but once they had them focued (in a cool fan pattern) and the haze was on, they looked very cool, as you’ll see in a moment. They functioned almost like blinders, though we have a very specific mandate to not shine lights in the eyes of the audience. Since the beam angle is so small on those fixtures, they set them up to hit the front of the balcony wall, and used them to create powerful beam effects.
This is the start of the service (which is close to walk-in look). All you see are silhouettes, and of course, the text on the screen. Note too, that you don’t really see the cross behind the scrim at all.
I mentioned the beam effects by the little pin spots, and now you can see them. We ran the DF-50 hazer pretty much continually that day to make sure we had an even and dense amount of haze in the entire room. We rarely get to do that, so it’s fun to have beam effects running all the way to the back of the house. One of the things we love about the oil-based DF-50 is that when the lights aren’t going through it, you don’t see haze. But turn on some focused beams, and you see shafts of light everywhere.
Now you can see how the scrim works. We remove the front light, and light the objects behind and suddenly, the cross is revealed. Our communications director, Ken, cut out a life-sized representation of Jesus from black foamcore. Our pastor has a crown of thorns that we set on top of the cutout’s head. When lit with a Parnell fitted with a color scroller and a single pin-spot focused on the thorns, it’s a very powerful effect.
The cool thing is, even with some front light, when backlit, the cross still becomes visible. In this way, we were able to both reveal it and project in front of it.
We have a team of high-school girls who have been dancing at the services for several years now. I’m normally not a huge fan of dance during a service, but in this moving rendition of Lead Me To The Cross it works. In addition to the oil-based haze that filled the room, we also set up our water-based Unique 2 under the vocal platforms upstage. The guys rigged up a piece of 4″ PVC pipe that ran out to a Y-fitting that dumped the haze under the circular Steeldeck platform. We left the skirting off the platform this year, so in the moments before the dance started, the guys fired up the Unique. Because it’s significantly more dense than oil-based haze, it created a smokey effect, that poured out from around the platform.
I have to say, the guys doing the lighting, Thomas and Daniel (high school students, both) did a great job. Isaiah, my ATD, also did amazing work leading them and working heavily on the set build and lighting look. This was perfect as it freed me up to be the audio director and focus pretty much exlusively on the sound of the day. It’s good to have a solid team.
Here are a few things that I found while I lounged around on Tuesday recovering from Easter.
We take a look at several audio interfaces from MOTU, including the new Audio Express. If you’re looking for a high quality, reasonably priced FireWire & USB interface that doesn’t have the DSP (like the higher cost Mark 3 line), the Audio Express looks like a solid choice.
A few months ago, I wrote a post called The 90% Principle. In that post, I postulated that most of the time, getting a project 90% (or so) of the way done is a solid game plan. I still hold to that principle; but once in a while an opportunity presents itself to work on that last 10%. For me, that was Easter week. At Coast Hills, we have two types of services during Easter week—two very powerful, no-spoken-word Good Friday services, and five great, celebratory Easter services. Thanks to a variety of factors, I was able to spend a good deal of time working on the mixes for those two services.
The first factor was that we’ve radically overhauled and upgraded our infrastructure since last year. This made set up and rehearsal go very smoothly. I also had a great team in place, which meant that I could really focus almost all my energy on being the audio director for the week. That, combined with our relatively new SD8 and virtual soundcheck system meant I could spend two entire mornings refining our mixes.
Normally, we don’t do a mid-week rehearsal for our weekend services. So even though we record one service a week in multi-track, it’s really more for training than anything else. But this week, we had a Tuesday night rehearsal for Easter, and a Thursday rehearsal for Good Friday. I tracked both rehearsals, then spent the morning after tweaking. I have to say, it was a lot of fun.
Now, it should be noted that the mixes didn’t get radically better as I tweaked. I had them pretty well dialed in when the band was live. But like I said, this was the final 10%. I decided to employ a feature the SD8 offers in the snapshot function called Groups. Basically, I added each snapshot for a song to a group and from that point forward, every time I made a change to the mix, I could either update every snapshot in the group (eg. Kick up for the whole song), or just that particular snapshot (drop the level of the BGVs during the verse).
It took me a little while to get used to what and how it was updating, but again, this was a perfect opportunity for experimenting. Since the band was “virtual,” I could make some changes and if I didn’t like them, re-cue the track and try again. Normally, I will do a single snapshot per song; I record the snapshot at the beginning of the song so when I fire it, it takes me to my starting point for the tune. On a normal weekend, this works fine, and I like doing it this way.
However, for this weekend, I wanted to raise the bar a bit. We were doing some songs that benefited from varying the delay time on the vocal effects, for example, or really punching up the reverb during a breakdown. I could have done that manually, but I had to do it six times for the weekend services (five services plus rehearsal), and I would have to do it the same way each time for consistency’s sake. So I figured why not automate it?
Another benefit of virtual soundcheck was that I was able to really dial in our BGVs. Most weekends, I leave their EQ pretty close to flat. And for most weekends, that’s fine. We typically have 2-3 BGVs so I don’t need to work that hard to make them blend well. But for Easter, we had six vocals; for Good Friday, I had 11. Getting them to all sit right took some work, and it was great to cue up a section of a song when they were all singing and go through them one by one to make them all sound great.
I started by soloing the vocal, and adjusted the EQ. Most took very minor boosts and cuts to get them sounding really sweet, since we’ve already done the hard work of matching singers with the right mic capsules. Then I would solo up a group of them (all the women, for example) and make sure they were blending well. Then I would get them all in the mix and tweak a little more.
The end result was fantastic. The sound was big, yet tight. I was able to run it louder than normal without a hint of harshness. Several people commented on how great the sound was (mostly musicians who really pay attention to that kind of stuff), and the services were very consistent. I did still mix things live; I didn’t want to automate the whole song. But for each section of each song, everything went were it was supposed to and all I had to do was tweak little things here and there. I wouldn’t want to do every weekend like this, as I normally don’t have the time to set it up and do it well. But for big events when we have a rehearsal, it makes a big difference in the finished result.
If nothing else, I was happier with the mix overall, even if the vast majority of the people in the pews didn’t notice a difference. And given how much work we do during weeks like that, it’s kind of nice to do something just because it makes us happy.
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