Cavalia Inc. is an entertainment company that specializes in the creation, production and touring of innovative shows. Odysseo, the company’s second show, has toured to rave reviews and public acclaim since its 2011 premiere.
Known as the world’s largest touring production, Odysseo marries the equestrian arts, stage arts and high-tech theatrical effects at never-before-seen levels. This larger-than-life show sends hearts racing, but it is also a feast for the eyes that succeeds in delivering the spectacular with soul.
We got Asst Head of Sound - Monitor Engineer Philippe Palanque to sit down and talk to us about how sound and Ultimate Ears work in this incredible and unique show.
How does sound and music get incorporated into the shows?
Odysseo is truly a unique experience musically. Every single show is different from the next. That’s the beauty of working with horses. It’s impossible to expect a horse to behave the same exact way on stage show after show and Odysseo really embraced that from day one. The acts are not led by music. They are led by the horses and everything else wraps around them. So instead of having the artists choreograph every step on a beat, the musicians have to make sure that every bit of music fits the action on stage at any given time. I’ve never seen a show of magnitude requiring so much improvisational skills from the musicians. And we truly have skilled musicians.
How did you get your start in sound?
I began doing sound in my twenties. I assume like most sound techs I was in a band. I was also very curious and began playing around with DAWs and recording my own music. I started mixing shows for my buddies’ band and recording a few songs from home, then my buddies’ buddies wanted me to do the same. Until I realized I could actually do this for a living. I was mixing small venues back home in Montreal, Canada and still working a day job until I decided to go back to school in audio engineering and really focus on sound. I kept doing some recording and even managed to score an internship as a Sound Designer for video games but everything kept drawing me back to live sound. To me, mixing a live show is truly the heart of music. The beauty of a show like Odysseo is really that the horses can drive the show in a different direction each night and the music has to adapt in a heartbeat. Some nights it’s truly magical the way the musicians can read and anticipate the horses’ whims. The audience usually will never even imagine it’s not scripted. It’s truly inspiring.
What is an average workday like for you on the show?
There are a lot of other things the Audio department is responsible for on the show but the monitors engineer part of the job typically starts with making sure everything audio related on site is fully functional. When that’s done it’s usually time for soundcheck with the band where they’ll play different songs each time, focusing on things we noticed the night before. This time also serves as a daily rehearsal for the musicians. My role at that point is to make sure all the mixes are still perfectly balanced throughout any changes they might make. Once soundcheck is over the audio team is on standby, making final touch ups here and there. Ready to troubleshoot any problem that may arise at the last second before the show. Having sound equipment powered up and running 24/7 implies a lot of maintenance and keeping an eye on things to be able to troubleshoot before things break down. When the show starts my entire focus goes on auditioning all 5 of the musicians’ mixes and making changes on the fly. Maybe tonight the guitarist is playing higher on his neck, strumming harder, maybe the drummer is in a great mood and he’ll play even more assertively than usual. Well, I have to adjust all of that to make sure everybody hears the same thing consistently night after night to be able to give an optimal performance. That’s kind of the beauty of it. I never know ahead of time what my show is going to be like. Definitely, keeps me on my toes and always smiling!
How do Ultimate Ears fit into the production?
We run 7 shows a week and sometimes more than that. We needed a monitoring solution that was easy on the ears both sonically and physically. The Customs were a no brainer and we even got a chance to get 3D scans instead of the usual goo audiologists pour in your ears to get a print. That 3D scanning technology is really great and to me, the fit is definitely way better than anything else I ever had custom molded before. Reading product descriptions is great but being able to use generic tips and emulate the different models was way better. We ultimately settled on UE11 for everybody as they reproduced best the dynamics and sonic spectrum of the songs of the show. Isolation was also a huge factor for our drummer and bass player. The bass player is also the band leader on the show and he needs perfect sonic clarity at all times since he is not only playing and calling the cues, he also needs to hear and understand the Stage Manager at all times.
How did you discover Ultimate Ears?
Ultimate Ears is pretty much a standard in the industry and we kept hearing good things. We were using custom in ears for musicians and sound techs on the show already but when the show came to Irvine in early 2016, literally within walking distance from UE headquarters, we definitely wanted to check out their product line more closely and the musicians' customs were soon due to be updated. When UE actually got in touch with us before we even got a chance to we knew we clearly knew we had to give it a try. Some would call it a stroke of fate.