Award-winning Lebanese jazz trumpeter and pianist Ibrahim Maalouf has brought together the ancient and the modern to deliver an innovative live performance in the age of coronavirus. Staged in the historic Arena of Nîmes, a massive Roman amphitheatre in the south of France, Maalouf’s production used high-spec mobile NEXO sound systems to create an immersive soundfield in which to record a concert for multichannel replay in the future.
After the many months of lockdown that have taken such a heavy toll on live music, Ibrahim Maalouf decided once again to perform. This famous trumpet player and pianist, well known in jazz and world music circles, winner of many awards, composer of film music, and guest artist for many others such as Mathieu Cheddid, Melody Gardot, and Sting, chose the Arena of Nîmes as his venue for an intimate concert in an immense space.
One of the best-preserved Roman amphitheatres in the world, and one of the largest, it is 133 metres long and 101 meters wide, with two storeys of arcades. It has a long history of hosting live concerts. However, current pandemic safety restrictions meant that Maalouf could not have an audience. He decided instead on a unique movie concert project, choosing Samuel Thiebaut, owner of Oleo Films which has produced hundreds of jazz videos, to make a film for broadcast on Qwest TV, the VOD platform from Quincy Jones.
Filmed in remarkable architecture with the famous natural summertime light of the south of France, the main performers (Maalouf on trumpet, François Delporte on guitar) moved around the arena, from the balconies to the highest arcades and then to the centre of the arena, where they were accompanied by a choir of 100 children, and a brass band of 100 musicians, all standing 1.5m from each other. As far as possible, the director avoided visible signs of technology, keeping staging, trussing, light fixtures and pro-audio equipment out of shot.
Nicholas Poitrenaud from Herisson.tv was hired by Oleo Films as the recording and mixing engineer. “My first thought was simply to make an acoustic recording for the movie. But after talking to Jean Lyonnet, Ibrahim Maalouf’s tour sound engineer, I understood that the performers needed to feel the space and sensations of a live concert. Samuel Thiebaut asked us to create an immersive soundfield, which we could record and use in multichannel installations at a future date.”
Poitrenaud realized that so many singers and musicians couldn’t perform in such a big space without monitors. “We decided to bring in a PA for the event, so I contacted TEXEN to provide the equipment, and enlisted the help of NEXO and Bertrand Billon from the Engineering Support division. We asked them for a versatile and powerful FOH live sound system, that could easily be moved and deployed, with a minimum footprint to maintain the aesthetics of the project.”
TEXEN deployed NEXO GEO M12 loudspeakers, positioning three modules on top of two MSUB18s to create a highly mobile FOH system comprised of small powerful groundstacks, mixed by a Yamaha CL5 digital FOH console. Everything was powered by new NXAMPMk2 amplifiers equipped with Dante network cards. Poitrenaud also needed a discrete and distributed monitor system for the choir and the brass band, and for this, TEXEN deployed the super-compact NEXO ID24s on small mic stands, installed in a circle surrounding the children’s choir. NEXO’s new point source P8 cabinets were used as wedges and FOH for the remote stage, while P12 models were the perfect powerful main wedge for the two main performers.
“This was an excellent opportunity to show the full NEXO solution,” said Bertrand Billon, “we used all our technology, small and large, point source to powerful compact line arrays. Long cable runs from faraway racks were required to enable the stage to be kept as clear as possible. With the restrictions, we were rather short of few members so we had to merge into a task force to manage PA, monitors, and frequent relocation of systems. TEXEN was the perfect companion for the project.”
The film will be released in November, broadcast on Qwest TV, to accompany the release of Ibrahim Maalouf’s new album.