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NIN ROCKS THE HAND THAT FEEDS

By Dave Robinson for ProSoundNews on June 1, 2005

LONDON, U.K.—He seems to like pigs, does Trent Reznor. “Hey pig piggy, pig pig pig,” he sings on the appropriately titled, “Piggy,” and then there’s “March of the Pigs,” another of his tunes. So he couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate venue for his U.K. show than the London Astoria then, because at this moment, the corridors backstage stink like a bloody pigsty.

Mr. Reznor—aka Nine Inch Nails, aka NIN—is here for a couple of nights to promote his first studio album in five years, With Teeth. Though he works alone in his studio, the stocky American will be joined on stage tonight by a 4-piece band that will thrash its way through songs from his albums, Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral, as well as the new single, “The Hand That Feeds.”

“Firehouse [Productions, Milan, NY] said it was going to be an amazing gig, and I’m really please I’m doing it,” says FOH engineer Jim Warren as we sit in the artists’ dressing room. Warren has a lengthy mixing history, which takes in Radiohead and Peter Gabriel, to name a few. “I’ve never been with a band where the backline sounds so good at source. They are a lovely bunch of people and they make some amazing noises.”

Warren joined some six weeks after monitor engineer Mike Prowda had spec’d much of what was required for the band. “There were a few things that were done slightly differently; like, we had to place the kickdrum mic [an Audio-Technica AT2500] inside the kick drum, because quite a lot of death and destruction goes on onstage.”

Indeed, Reznor is one to break mics, so the stage techs have to be prepared, waterproofing everything, gluing pots so they never move and taping over all important connections. “They are going into battle!” smiles Warren. “The guitarist broke his guitar against the sidefill yesterday—but the sidefull won.” Reznor’s mic is a Shure Beta58, chosen in part because it’s tough enough to stand being “baseball-batted” across the stage.

So aside from war-zone readiness, what of Warren’s input? “I just did a few of my little tricks, like having an omnidirectional lavalier mic that goes in the middle of the kit. It picks up a little of everything, and you can do all sorts of tricks to it: Put effects on it, squash it, compress it, put that into the mix…”

Ah, the mix. And that’s what’s so radical about tonight. Not one but two Digidesign Venue live consoles are being used, for both FOH and monitors, along with sidecars. Both are owned by Firehouse.

“I’ve sworn I wouldn’t use new digital consoles before, because you end up beta-testing them,” he says. “I knew this was going to be fresh and new, but early conversations I had with Digidesign guys told me they were carrying the same philosophy that they have in the Pro Tools kit into this, and that’s been the case. Mike’s been on [the Venue] for 10 weeks, and he’s never had a system failure.

Warren is a straight-talking man, and is in turns faultfighting and admiring of the desk. One of his criticisms is the “global approach to recall. You can’t dictate on a channel-by-channel basis, which means—as I pointed out to the guys at Digidesign—if you want EQ recalled on every channel, then your vocal EQ is going to be recalled, too.”

The snapshot system has some limitations, certainly, but Digi knows about these and plan a software update to address the issues. In this case, there is a work-around, which means leaving the EQ switched off on that vocal channel and using a plug-in instead. “Everything comes down to the magic plug-ins, but they are fantastic,” Warren reports. “I’m hammering the Bomb Factory compressor on there. It’s doing a job you’d be hard-pressed to find a hardware compressor that could do as well.”

Warren is taking 48 inputs from the stage, and he expects this number to increase with the next version of the software, due for release in the summer, which will also fix a few other concerns he has about the desk. Warren reckons, for instance, that the 16 auxes are more than enough for his FOH work, but a monitor engineer might require 24 or 32. “I think Digidesign always thought it was going to be a front-of-house desk,” suggests Warren.

In the monitor position, Mike Prowda is very fond of his new monitor console, he tells me later. And 16 auxes in not an issue for him: With a little cunning, he’s used to the matrix to create new mixes by grouping the eight post-fade send together, though he knows that the software update, to at least 24 auxes, will make life easier.

“I’m an analogy guy, but I love this desk,” gushes Prowda. “It’s got real analog feel to it. I’ve hever heard it distort, and I’m driving it as hard as I would any analog desk. It’s got massive amounts of headroom, massive!” He adds that the Joemeek MEQ plug-in is “easy to use” and “brilliant.”

Monitoring was going to be an all-person-all-monitors affair, but, say both Prowda and Warren, in rehearsal, Reznor and his band found they just weren’t getting enough energy by just listening through Westone soft-molds. Firehouse wedges now provide extra muscle.

For the Astoria shows, Firehouse used the in-house V-Dosc system with a small amount of Arcs for sidefill. “Soundchecks in here are pretty horrible, and as many times as I’ve been here, it still took me by surprise yesterday. But it’s the old cliché that it sounds better when people are in…” he says as we wrap up the interview. “And that place stinks!”

Ah, so you noticed.

Transcribed by laursifer

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