|The combination of a small footprint, exceptional processing power, Dante networking and local i/o makes Yamaha's QL series digital consoles ideal for the Festival Fringe - Edinburgh's annual smorgasbord of the inspired, the ingenious and the idiosyncratic.
The Fringe is renowned as a difficult taskmaster on both equipment and staff alike. A month of relentless hard work, with shows continually playing from morning through to the early hours of the following day, staff have to grab sleep where they can and equipment is invariably left powered up for the duration.
Add into that mix many of the venues are in 'found' spaces, or parts of university buildings, that aren't designed for live shows and the size of the task becomes even more apparent.
"It's always a challenge and the equipment needs to be up to it too," smiles Matthew Ferrie, Pleasance head of sound, as he leaps up to a precarious-looking mix position, sweeping dust from the crumbling plaster of Pleasance Two's walls from the QL5.
Supplied by Orbital Sound, Pleasance is a long-term user of Yamaha mixing consoles. This year, QL1s were installed in the Queen Dome, Ace Dome, Pleasance Forth and the Cabaret Bar, QL5s in Pleasance Two and Pleasance Beyond, as well as a Yamaha CL5 in Pleasance Grand and some LS9s and 01Vs in smaller venues.
"At Pleasance we strive to provide the highest quality equipment, even in the smallest venues, which is why we put Yamaha digital consoles in all the spaces we can," says Matthew.
"The mix position in some of the venues is tiny or awkward to get to, so the footprint of the console is really important. There are a lot of funny-shaped rooms where we can't just do proscenium left/right and a couple of delays. There will maybe a L/R of some sort, then a fill here and a fill there, some delays there, other delays over there.
"Even for things like stand up comedy, where all they need is an offstage mic, an onstage mic and a few channels of playback, the sound reinforcement is quite complex. So the fact that we can do all the time alignment and EQ within a package as small as a QL console is fantastic."
Pleasance stages a broad spectrum of shows, including some complex theatre productions and live bands, which is where the versatility of the QL consoles really comes into its own.
"We are using Dante and R-series i/o units with three of the QL consoles and the CL5; the rest of the QLs are using the desks' local i/o. But even on those shows, the fact that I can add more i/o channels via MY series interface cards means we can have a complex show running on a very small console," Matthew continues. "We have a live band in Ace Dome at 1am, for which we have to move a load of loudspeakers around every night, but it's all mixed on the QL1."
The Fringe is renowned as a first step for those at the beginning of their careers in the live production industry and the fact that the QL series is so straightforward to learn has benefited both them and their peers at Pleasance.
"To be honest I hadn't seen one before they arrived," Matthew admits. "But the user interface was very familiar and I literally learned the consoles as we put them into each venue, set them up and trained the crews in the four days between them arriving and the first shows. The QL is very undemanding to get to grips with.
"Working here is a real baptism of fire for the crews. But once it's over, they've learned a whole load of new skills and used them in the real world, they've worked in a team and done very long hours, all of which are part of working in theatre. At first it takes them a while to solve problems, but within a couple of days they'll be doing it in seconds, almost without thinking about it. Having consoles that they can learn very quickly is a key part of that."
He continues, "Because of the quick turnaround between shows, we teach them to keep things simple - patch it all 1:1, everything to the stereo buss and then use the matrixes to do delays and so on. Within days they've invariably taught themselves complex stuff with DCAs, mute groups, custom faders, the Premium Rack and so on. We've had to pull them back and remind them that, if they go sick, someone else won't know how they've set the desk up. But it demonstrates how the QLs are also an excellent teaching tool."
In future years, Pleasance and Orbital aim to use Dante and R-series i/o units on more of the shows, mainly due to the awkwardness of running traditional multicores through many of the venues.
"There are some horrible multicore runs which have to go up and through roofs, round corners and through doors, etc," says Matthew, looking up at the exposed joists of Pleasance Two, a good 30 feet above the auditorium. "Until this year, you had to get up there and heave a heavy multicore the length of the building. Doing it with a Dante cable has made it a lot easier this time!"
Despite the constant use in harsh environments - whether that be dust or the relentless heat and humidity of continually-used small venues in summer - Yamaha QL consoles have proved an unqualified success at the 2014 Fringe.
"Reliability is obviously key and we've had zero problems. We switched the QLs on on the first day and, despite being used so heavily, we haven't had a problem with any of them. Not one single issue, which I think is a real testament to a new console," says Matthew.