While setting up the new Broadway production Gettin’ the Band Back Together, I needed to find a solution for an accurate Leslie emulator. Even though having an actual Leslie cabinet would be wonderful, it’s not always ideal for a Broadway show given the considerations for space, noise leakage, and practicality. It’s not always easy to find a good location in a Broadway theatre to place a Leslie cabinet, often the loud volume of the cabinet can be distracting for other departments which need to work in close proximity, microphones can easily get bumped accidentally (interfering with the mix), and there can be reliability issues.
After much research, we found a great solution in the combination of the Hammond XK5 single manual organ and the NEO Ventilator 2 Leslie emulator. While the Hammond XK5 has a fantastic sound, action that feels like a real B3, and great drawbar response, its Leslie emulation leaves much to be desired. As soon as I heard it played through the NEO Ventilator 2 I was hooked. The Hammond XK5 sounds a bit warmer through the Ventilator and the Leslie effect sounds significantly more accurate.
The most tricky part of using the Ventilator is learning how to program it. Certain functions can only be accessed via pressing certain buttons in specific combinations. Once I figured this out, I realized that the manual is quite thorough. That said, the information in the manual could be spelled out a bit more clearly. We selected the Ventilator settings that correspond to a Leslie 122 cabinet, though there are instructions for how to emulate various other models of Leslie cabinet. The only thing that needed adjustment was the speed of the Leslie acceleration and deceleration along with tweaking the EQ on the Hammond XK5 itself. Once this was adjusted, the unit sounded beautiful both in headphones and in the overall mix in the house.
Although there is a custom remote switch that’s made specifically for the Ventilator, we decided to use a Hammond CU-1 half-moon switch to control the Leslie effect. This connects directly to the Hammond XK5. When using this switch it’s necessary to select the correct remote mode on the Ventilator, which required a bit of digging around and experimentation as the manual was a bit unclear on this. Once I figured out the settings, it worked beautifully.
Customer support from the manufacturer has been consistently responsive, friendly, and helpful. The unit feels solid and well built, and most importantly, it sounds amazing! I highly recommend the NEO Ventilator 2 Leslie emulator. You can’t beat the price, size, and stellar performance.
I recently had the pleasure to set up the MainStage rigs as the synthesizer programmer for the new Broadway production Gettin’ the Band Back Together. It’s a fantastic production with great music, hilarious jokes, a fun story, and freakin’ amazing band and cast!
On this production, we wanted to use click on nearly every song, but only had a few places in which we wanted to trigger any timecode or sound effects. Therefore, we couldn’t justify the expense for a separate Ableton rig. I couldn’t use the metronome that’s built into MainStage as some cues required tempo changes mid-song. I considered using the Playback plug-in, but there’s too much latency when triggering cues. I finally found a great solution in the EXS24, thus allowing us to send click from the MainStage rigs.
I created a template in Logic for building clicks. Using the EXS24, I created a high pitched woodblock click for each downbeat and a lower pitched woodblock click for the other beats. I then recorded my voice counting to four and chopped these up so I could create varieties of count-offs. I placed markers throughout the project as per the form of the song and built tempo changes into the tempo map of the project.
After bouncing the click and the count-off together as 44.1/16 WAV, I imported the file into a new EXS24 instrument mapped to the note C-1. I created a new EXS24 instrument for each click.
Depending upon whether the click was needed for one entire song or section of song, I’d either load the EXS24 instrument with the click at the set level or the patch level. In the K1 rig is a MIDI Solutions F8, which I use for the switch pedals that will operate the click. The START pedal is mapped to send Note On to C-1 to start the click. The STOP pedal is mapped to C#-1. I mapped C#-1 in MainStage to send “all notes off” to the EXS24 click channel strip.
Integration with FOH
There are a few places in which we needed to send timecode or a series of sound effects, but needed a quick and simple way to implement this. We achieved this by using a MIDI Solutions Quadra Thru. The K1 keyboard controller runs into the Quadra Thru’s MIDI In, and the MIDI Outs of the Quadra Thru go to the MOTU UltraLite mk4 Main, Backup, and to a MIDI Line Amplifier (MLA). The MLA then converts the signal to XLR to send to the front of house console where it’s routed to the QLab rig. Within QLab, C-1 is set to receive MIDI per cue. When it receives a Note On message from the K1 rig on channel 1, that signal either triggers timecode or an audio stem of sound effects.
As for the Hammond XK5, we wanted an authentic Leslie sound, but I’m not a fan of using a Leslie cabinet in a theatrical situation. They’re not reliable enough, they make a ton of noise backstage, and a slight accidental microphone movement can affect the mix drastically. Once I heard the NEO Ventilator 2, I was hooked. We use a Hammond CU-1 half-moon switch as a remote for the Ventilator, which required some adjustments to the stock settings. Also, I needed to tweak the Leslie acceleration and deceleration speed on the Ventilator and the EQ on the XK5, but eventually we achieved a sound that was quite authentic and that sits well in the mix.
The Keyboard Two Rig
The K2 rig was much more straightforward and was also built according the earlier post on how to build a redundant MainStage rig. However, there are several places in the show where the drummer needs to leave the drum booth and run to the stage to play drums in a scene as a member of the onstage band. During the underscoring cues in which he’s either onstage or in transit between the stage and the pit, I built drum loops to be triggered by the K2 player.
In Logic, I used samples from the stock Native Instruments Komplete drum libraries to construct loops based on the drum parts in the score. Our K2 player then triggers these as one-shots during the scenes in which the drummer is moving between the pit and the stage. I’m assuming the loops work well in the house based on a moment in tech rehearsal in which our K2 player was testing the loops on his keyboard and the choreographer asked the drummer to stop playing.
The Drum Rig
Our drummer is also using a Roland SPD-SX in addition to his acoustic drum kit. We use it mainly for sound effects and for some 808 drum kit sounds. However, there’s also a section in which he triggers a drum loop that he created on the unit. He used the internal SPD sounds to play and record the loop directly on the unit. I then recorded that audio into Logic for further editing. I adjusted the audio to place the hits exactly in time with the tempo grid and added some additional processing and layering within Logic to give the loop a bit more fullness. I then imported the new loop back into the SPD so it could be triggered with a pad.
Gettin’ the Band Back Together is currently running at the Belasco Theatre on West 44th Street in New York, NY. The show is hilarious, the music is great, and the band is rocking’. Sound designer John Shivers designed a beautiful mix that sounds incredibly full and authentic. This week, we’re recording a cast album at Power Station Studios which will be released on Ghostlight Records. I highly recommend checking out this incredibly fun show!