Renowned sound designer wanted microphones that delivered the feel of a non-amplified show, while still allowing the audience to hear every note and word in perfect clarity.
Creating a sound that felt unamplified was a crucial factor for Cameron Crosby when he was tasked with handling the sound design for Nixon in China, an opera composed by John Adams and with a libretto by Alice Goodman. The phrase Crosby uses is ‘clarified rather than amplified;’ and to this end he deployed an extensive range of DPA microphones for the production, which was a joint venture between Scottish Opera in Glasgow, The Royal Danish Theatre in Copenhagen and Teatro Real in Madrid.
All of the DPAs used were supplied by FE Live and were chosen for their superior sound quality. The list included products from the company’s new 6000 Series of Subminiature Microphones, which were small enough to be completely invisible when hidden in the actors’ and singers’ hairlines.
“In total, we used ten 6061 CORE Subminiature Omnidirectional Microphones – nine on the principle singers and one spare,” he explains. “The sound of the 6061s, when used on individual singers, is outstanding. DPA’s 4061s are extremely good, but I do feel that the 6061s have a slightly warmer sound, even if the specifications don’t reflect this. I also chose 6061s rather than 6060s because trained opera singers produce high SPLs, which the 6061s are better able to cope with. The actors had no issues wearing them, and I was delighted with the results and used minimal equalization.”
Photo 1 (l to r): Eric Greene as Richard Nixon, Nicholas Lester as Chou En lai and Julia Sporsén as Pat Nixon. Credit: James Glossop.
With more than 40 years’ experience in the live sound industry, Cameron Crosby is undoubtedly an industry veteran. In 1980, he and his business partner Allan Brereton set up The Warehouse Sound Services – a Leith-based business that eventually became the largest supplier of pro audio equipment in Scotland and the north of England. During the 35 years the pair were in charge (Crosby retired in 2015), The Warehouse supplied audio equipment to a huge number of artists and events.
A working engineer throughout his career, Crosby has designed and mixed the sound for many rock and orchestral productions. He has also been a film sound recordist for TV documentaries and dramas and has worked in theatre and events. His career highlights include touring India with the renowned Sarod virtuoso Amjad Ali Khan, working with the Grateful Dead on their 1978 shows at the pyramids of Giza. He also designed and mixed the sound for the fireworks concert that takes place at the end of the Edinburgh International Festival – a job he did for 34 years.
For Nixon in China, Crosby designed the sound for the Copenhagen production. He also designed and operated the sound at Theatre Royal Glasgow and Festival Theatre Edinburgh, which had three and two performances, respectively. In addition to the nine principal singers, there was a 40-strong chorus and an orchestra of 60-plus musicians.
Photo 2 (l to r): Hye-Youn Lee as Madame Mao Tse-tung and Julia Sporsén as Pat Nixon, Scottish Opera 2020. Credit: James Glossop.
“The combination of mics used along with the d&b Soundscape system employed – which tracked the aural image of each of the principal singers so that the perceived sound source moved round the stage with them, allowed us to deliver an audio experience that was very subtle,” Crosby says. “The make-up of the orchestra and the scoring means that the show benefits from some level of audio enhancement. For example, there is a point in John Adams’ score where the percussionist is required to play rhythmic ‘Slaps.’ This was achieved by the percussionist using her hands on her thighs, so we used a DPA 4061 Miniature Omnidirectional mic clipped to her clothing to enhance these.”
Crosby also used 4099 Instrument Microphones on two grand pianos and the principal double bass, along with five 4011 Cardioid Microphones to pick up the chorus. “I was looking for a high-quality cardioid microphone with a remote head option,” he says. “By using the remote cable, I was able to have very low-profile, high-quality cardioid mics as floats at the front of the stage.”
Photo 3 (l to r): Hye-Youn Lee as Madame Mao Tse-tung in Nixon in China, Scottish Opera 2020. Credit: James Glossop.
This production of Nixon in China was directed by John Fulljames, Director of Opera at The Royal Danish Theatre, and was well received by audiences in Denmark and Scotland. The storyline explores the reality behind the hype of Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, while the music mixes a huge range of sounds into an eclectic score that is widely regarded as John Adams’ finest stage work.