Since 1974, Chip Davis and his group Mannheim Steamroller have been breaking ground in the electronic music world, emerging as one of the most notable forces behind the New Age music scene. But it was with the release of their first Christmas album in 1984 that Mannheim Steamroller truly crossed over to mainstream critical acclaim. And with numerous follow-up holiday releases, the group has virtually become synonymous with the Christmas season itself.
This years' Christmas Celebration Tour was another great victory for the group, and some of this success is owed to the artistic sound mixing of Rande Ferguson and the addition of a Mackie Digital X Bus console to the show's audio arsenal.
For the last 16 years, Ferguson has served as sound engineer for Mannheim Steamroller during their traditional November and December touring months. During the other ten months of the year, Ferguson is a design/build contractor in Omaha, Nebraska with Audio Support Group. "In this job I'm able to stay well-versed in new audio products and technologies," commented Ferguson. "In fact, this is how I first became aware of Mackie's new digital console. It was my good friend and sales rep, Tim Eakins of Eakins-Bernstein & Associates, that suggested that the new Digital X Bus might be just what I needed for the Mannheim Steamroller tour."
Furguson continued, "I'm always interested in getting the job done with the best equipment for my budget, and I hadn't yet found anything that was able to address the specific needs for this show. Chip has been writing in the surround format for over 20 years, and for this reason, I've been mixing the show in surround since the mid 90's. When I heard of the advanced panning capabilities of the Digital X Bus, I thought this might just be the console I've been waiting for."
For their Christmas tour, the seven core members of Mannheim Steamroller are augmented by a 24-member symphony orchestra made up of local musicians hired in each city visited by the tour. This year, all 24 symphony members were mic'd, and connected to the Digital X Bus. Ferguson then ran a four-channel sub mix (stereo front and stereo rear) out of the Digital X Bus and into a Soundcraft Vienna where the rest of the band was mixed in.
For loudspeaker support, left and right clusters of the Clair Brothers I-4 Line array received a stereo signal from the Soundcraft console while a second stereo signal was sent to left and right hangs of the Grund Audio compact line array at the back of the room. Amplification was a combination of Crest, QSC, and Carver for front fills and subs.
"This configuration gave me the option of selecting the orchestra as a whole, or a single instrument, and moving it around the room as I liked using the panning capabilities of Mackie's X.200," explained Ferguson. "In this way, the board really accomplished something extraordinary and allowed me to control the sound in a way that I had never been able to achieve before."
As for sound quality, Ferguson was amazed. "The sound quality of the X-bus can't be beat. There is not another console in this price range that sounds anything like it," remarked Ferguson. "I purchased the Digital X Bus because it gave me the tools to present the musical vision of my artist. I'm concerned with what he writes, what he's thinking, and this console gives me the ability to really interpret what the artist intends the music to sound like. Chip Davis is big on surround, and the Digital X Bus got me as close as I have ever been to realizing what he wants to hear from a live performance, and that is a major accomplishment."
Ferguson has been so impressed with the capabilities of the Digital X Bus that he is planning to make it a permanent addition to his equipment list for all Mannheim Steamroller tours to come. "I fully intend to take the Digital X Bus out with me again. I received so many positive comments this year from arena managers who said things like: 'What does Steamroller do that other guys don't? My arena has never sounded better.' I guess this means that we've put together a really solid system. I'm definitely looking forward to working with the Digital X Bus again."