Mix Masters Make X Games Audio Stand Out

When it came to audio, last week’s Summer X Games made more with less this year. With the number of primary mix trucks reduced to two from three last year, a pair of A1s worked with three submixers to cover an expanded show. They all proved more than up to the task.

Florian Brown, A1 aboard NEP’s Denali Summit remote truck, says his 96-input Calrec Alpha console was close to maxed out, using about 85 inputs constantly, all fed either from the MADI network or over the integrated Hydra routing system and almost all signals coming in over fiber. Four MADI and four Hydra boxes were in use.

“I have some DT[-12 copper cabling], but it’s really not going anywhere,” he says, as the Moto ramps inside Los Angeles’s Staples Center come alive on the video monitors above the console. “But I have gained a submixer,” he adds, noting the two submix positions manned by Shawn Peacock, covering the Rally and Big Air venues, and Devin Barnhart, mixing effects for Staples Center, both working on DiGiCo SDTenB consoles. Submixer Mark Cochi worked the Park and Street venues, which came back to the NEP SS32 truck, where A1 Jason Blood mixed.

Brown says that fewer trucks and A1s means more repositioning of input sources in the field and reconfiguration of inputs and outputs on the console, and building sufficient time to do all of that is always a challenge in a live show. The expanded Rally Cars event, for which effects microphones could not even be laid out until Friday night because of traffic along Figueroa Street, and an added Hot Wheels monster loop in the parking lot created significant time pressure during the show.

However, doing more with less has been a trend at X Games for some time. Ed Johnson, audio-systems designer for the live-event side of the show, recalls that, when he started working with it a decade ago, there were seven broadcast trucks and the number of remote trucks and venues didn’t reach parity at four each until two years ago. “It’s been headed this way for a while,” he points out, “so I’m not surprised.”

The cabling infrastructure of the two main trucks ran the gamut. Brown notes that the Denali truck has a large complement of analog inputs, which are useful for its gigs at music-event shows like the CMAs and the Grammy Awards. The second truck, NEP ESPN SS32, which covered the Nokia Theater venues and the 3D broadcast, has more built-in fiber routing. “They were actually starting to run out of analog inputs,” says Brown. “We definitely are using a lot of [cabling] real estate on this show.”

Around the corner, submixer Peacock handled the effects mixes for the Big Air ramp at Rally Cars at what’s dubbed Venue A, as well as for the Hot Wheels event at the B Venue; both were mixed from the Denali Summit truck. He managed a huge number of microphones, including the 60 ESPN Xducers laid out by A2 Andre Caradajal on the underside of the Big Air ramp to catch the sound of skateboards traversing and landing on the runs and the assortment of Sennheiser 816 and 416 shotgun mics laid out along the edge of the ramp, some aimed upwards to catch the sound of starting runs and prerun chatter, others aimed squarely at where contestants land, to catch the impact sounds.

“The key is getting good separation along the route, so the sound can really follow the picture of the skater coming down the ramp,” Caradajal explains, pointing to the four Xducers positioned underneath to cover the full width of the ramp.

Other interesting effects come from contact microphones placed on a rail at the top of the far end of the Big Air run, which generates a satisfying clank when contestants making it that far hit it as they reverse course, and a PVC pipe buried 6 in. beneath the Rally Cars track at a landing point and miked with Sony ECM 77 lavalier microphones.

“That really picks up the ‘whoomp’ of the cars landing there,” says Peacock. “The goal is to really tickle the LFE channel by creating some specific input for it.”

In fact, the larger goal of all the mixes for X Games is to drill down and find the individual sound elements that take a larger-than-life sports circus like this and give viewers specific and visceral sound handles to grab hold of and pull themselves deeper into the show.

“This is a big event, and there’s a lot of roaring engines and big sounds to go with it,” says Kevin Cleary, senior technical audio producer, ESPN Event Operations. “But our focus is to identify and pull out the small, individual sounds that make it unique, like the skateboards hitting the rail. We have our anchor talent in the center channel and the crowd sounds in the rear surround, but these kinds of effects are very present in the left and right stereo channels, and it creates a fantastic effect.”

Peacock says that’s what makes X Games’ sound stand out and puts it slightly over the top. “We’re less concerned with natural racing types of sounds, like you’d have with NASCAR, and are looking for an almost comic-book effect: tires squealing and skipping around a track, cars zipping by. It’s like the Three Stooges, but on skateboards.”

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