guest blog – enchanted forest

the enchanted forest 2013
This week we have a guest blog from the very talented composer and sound designer R.J. McConnell, sharing some of his experiences from the Enchanted Forest. You can read and hear more from R.J. on his web site
It was a cold and wet October afternoon in Faskally forest and I was standing at a make-shift flightcase-come-table mixing a 200 channel piece of music on my Macbook Pro. The 2013 Enchanted Forest show “Absorb” was almost ready to be unveiled to the public. “Absorb” was the fourth soundtrack I had created for The Enchanted Forest and the show had an overarching theme of orbs and spheres as conceptualised by lighting designer Kate Bonney.  This wonderfully ambiguous premise allowed for a somewhat imaginative soundtrack. The Enchanted Forest is a massive lighting and sound promenade show in Faskally Forest near Pitlochry – and how the music and soundscapes are played back on site and more importantly how they sound is as integral to the show as the musical content itself.
It’s a real pleasure to work with Marcin Buczek (DM Audio Project Manager) and the rest of the team at DM Audio in realising the sound for the show  We conduct several site visits over the months leading up to the event considering which loud speakers to use in each space and their placement and orientation. This is then translated by Marcin into a site-wide system design that will faithfully re-produce the soundtrack on site as conceived in my sound design.
As well as several sound installations around the site there was a large son et lumière display ‘Prism’.  The composition for this piece was a collaboration between Jon Beales and myself. It had a concept of prisms and colour spectrums. I proposed to represent this by exaggerating the various harmonics of the sounds and instruments within the piece –  serving as a sort of sonic bed for Jon’s superb orchestral arrangement. We incorporated several different bells into our composition which naturally produced a complex array of overtones. They also acted as a sort of “sonic narrator” joining the different movements together. It was important to us that the synergy between composition and sound design would have a holistic quality – and the balance between the two was something we were constantly fine-tuning until it was just right. Once the arrangement was complete we set about replacing some of the MIDI parts with performances from live musicians. The brass parts were recorded at Verden Studios with some rather nice Royer microphones and then drums and percussion at DM Audio with Marcin as recording engineer for both sessions.  Whilst recording Paul Hameed performing the drum and percussion parts Marcin suggested we utilise the vast DM Audio percussion stock – which we did. The surprise success of this was the flexitone that added superb colour in the percussion build up in the piece.
“Prism” was the biggest installation for sound on site and Jon and I wanted it to have physical depth as well as have the ability to pan sound in various directions and create different perceived distances.  This we hoped would further portray the spectrum theme. Throughout our various site visits with Marcin we discussed what we had in mind for the show.  Marcin designed a PA of d&b cabinets and amps that had various stacks at different distances, a row of C4 sub cabinets and mounted E3s running along an “apron” at the front of the show area, with a pair of 90 degree C6’s at either side to add a nice super wide field.  This allowed for dramatic panning effects sweeping through the close perspective E3’s and the varying distances of the PA stacks allowed us to place the different parts of our “orchestra” around the space and create a realistic and immersive sound.  That is what is great about working DM Audio – I am always confident that the finished article is going to sound  amazing, and “Absorb” was yet again testament to that.  In fact Marcin once jokingly remarked that he “turns RJ’s crazy ideas into actual physics”.  I don’t think I could have phrased it better myself!
RJ McConnell