The Who's Tommy
by Brad Rembielak


Tommy is a rock opera originally written by The Who. As the chief sound engineer, I used SFX ProAudio to handle the playback of sound effects, the operation of a MegaMix M1600 MIDI controllable mixer for setting levels of 16 wireless mikes, and the operation of an intelligent lighting controller. Following is a discussion of the development of the Tommy workspace through multiple Sound Effects lists and Cue lists. Finally, I will discuss how the show was managed from one, main cue list, leaving me with only one "GO" button to click and operate all the separate components. 

The computer used was a Pentium-100, 32 Meg of RAM, with an Iomega Jaz drive, and one sound card. 
Before creating the actual cues to run the show, I set up Sound Effects views to organize my sound effects. The sound effects not handled by the band consisted of an air-raid siren, a number of explosions, an airplane fly-by, a mirror smashing, and a crowd cheering. The graphic on the left displays the Sound Effects view containing the Tommy sound effect files. I would draw from this list later when I created the actual show itself.

MegaMix M1600 MIDI Controllable Mixer

The MegaMix M1600 is a 16-channel MIDI controllable mixer that manages volume levels and mutings. The M1600 does not contain any memory to store scenes, so all this information was contained in SFX. The M1600 was inserted in the 16 channels that the wireless mikes were assigned to on the main mixer. By following the manufacture's documentation, I was able to set up MIDI command cues that would control the M1600 from SFX. 

The M1600 was used to control the mikes on/off levels for each scene. I only had to tweak the faders on the main mixer. In SFX, I made two effects for each channel: volume to full and volume to infinity. The graphic to the left displays the first Sound Effects view that contained these MIDI effects. The notation I used was 0 dB reduction (full volume) and 100 dB reduction (no volume). 

You can see from the graphic on the left that the file Types are CMD, or MIDI Command. To add a MIDI Command, just click on the MIDI Command effect in the Effects Tool Box, and drag-and-drop it into a Sound Effects view (at left) or directly into a Cues view. Later, I modified the M1600 Sound Effects file and created a Tommy Wireless Sound Effects file that was specific to the show. Like the Sound Effects view above (containing the Wave file sound effects), this MIDI command Sound Effects view would be used later to create cue lists from. By creating them first in a Sound Effects view, I could just drag-and-drop them quickly into Cues views where I needed them. 

The graphic below displays the properties of a sound effect from the Tommy Wireless file. To display the properties of an effect, select the effect and click on the Properties button. If you were to drag-and-drop a MIDI Command effect into a Sound Effects view or a Cues view, the same dialog box would be displayed, but it would be empty so that you could input your own specific MIDI commands.


The "MIDI Command String" is the hexadecimal values that were listed in the manufacture's documentation.

Intelligent Lighting

The production used a number of intelligent lighting instruments. At one point, a bomb sound effect and an intelligent lighting chase sequence were required to execute in tandem. It was decided that SFX would be used to manage both events so that they would occur simultaneously. The intelligent lighting controller was controllable through MIDI, and like the above M1600 mixer, SFX could easily send it MIDI commands to activate its different scenes and chases. 

To the right is the SFX sequence that handled the two events. The first cue is a MIDI command that initiates a chase sequence on the lighting controller. At the same instant, the bomb sound effect is executed so that both sound and lights activate at the same time. A half-a-second later, when the bomb sound cue is about finished, another MIDI command is sent to the lighting controller commanding it to halt the chase. 

I used the same MIDI output on the sound card to control both the M1600 mixer and the intelligent lighting controller because each unit was assigned a separate MIDI channel. The mixer was MIDI channel 14 and the lighting controller was MIDI channel 1. 

Preparing the Tommy Workspace

Having created my Sound Effects lists, I was ready to begin creating the actual show itself. To the left is the Tommy Edit desktop at this stage in the development. One list contained the sound effects, and the other contained the MIDI commands to control the M1600 mixer. The next step is to create a cue lists (or cues lists) to manage the show. Adding effects to the cue list would simply require dragging and dropping effects from the Sound Effects views.

Click on image to see a larger version.

The "All Off" Cues List

Many times throughout the show, I would have to mute all 16 mikes. I created a cue list that did only that: the All Off cues list. Also, I created an All On cues list that brought all 16 mikes up to full volume. Here is a graphic of both cue lists on the desktop. No more cues will be added to these cue lists. Remember though, I will still run Tommy from only one cue list (discussed later). 

The Trigger Effect

I've already discussed the Wave file effect and the MIDI command effect, but now I'd like to introduce the Trigger effect. The Trigger effect can be found in the Effects Tool Box, and can be drag-and-dropped into a Cues view like all the other effects. The Trigger effect is the feature that will allow me to run the many cues lists from a single, main cue list. Below is the Properties dialog box that appears when you drop a Trigger effect into a Cues view. 

A Trigger effect is an effect that targets another effect or cue list, and causes it to do something. For example, dropping down the "Command" combo box reveals the different Trigger commands available:

From the above graphic you can see that a Trigger effect can target a specific effect, target an entire Cues list, or manage the internal MIDI Time Code clock. A Trigger effect can target effects in any cue list. For example, dropping down the "Effect List" combo box displays the names of the other Cues views that a Trigger can target including the list the Trigger was added:

The Main Cues View

Armed with Target effects I can keep my main cue lists simple. I will use one Cues view, and add to it Trigger cues that will manage the other Cues views. Take a look at my desktop with a main Cues view. Notice that I minimized the "All Off" and "All On" Cues views -- they don't have to be maximized to work. This way, they are out of my way, and I have more desktop to work on. 

Because the cues in the "All Off" and "All On" Cues view are linked by Autofollows, simply triggering the first cue in the sequence will initiate the rest of the linked sequence. 

The next step is creating the individual scenes, which will require bringing specific mikes up and down. Looking through my script and notes I can now begin to drag effects from the Tommy Wireless Sound Effects list into a fourth Cues view, called Wireless. Here is the desktop with the Wireless Cues view. Notice that once I add a sequence of cues in the Wireless Cues view, I add one Trigger cue to the Main view to play that sequence. Again, clutter is reduced to a minimum. 

Various Screen Shots of the Resulting Workspace

The Play Desktop for the Tommy workspace. This is the desktop that I used during the production. Notice that I now have a Notes view that explains to me the purpose of each cue. Along the bottom of the desktop are the minimized Cues views: All Off, All One, and Wireless. These are the Cues views that the main Cues view targets. The Main Cues view not only contain Trigger cues, but it also contains Wave file sound effect cues. The entire show is managed through one "GO" button: controlling the MIDI mixer, the sound effects playback, and an intelligent lighting cue. Also note that bitmap image I have tiled in the background of SFX!

This is a shot from later in show. Notice the type of Notes I've used to describe the cue. I have the song title, the cue action, and which wireless mikes are coming up. If mikes were taken out by the cue, I would precede the actor or character's name with a minus sign. Also note the Memo cue of "Act II" before cue #47. A Memo cue is a dummy cue that does nothing but provide you a place to type some information. In this case, I used it to divide Act I and Act II visually.

Click on the graphic for a full image.

Description of Graphic

The Play Desktop for the Tommy workspace. This is the desktop that I used during the production. Notice that I now have a Notes view that explains to me the purpose of each cue. Along the bottom of the desktop are the minimized Cues views: All Off, All One, and Wireless. These are the Cues views that the main Cues view targets. The Main Cues view not only contain Trigger cues, but it also contains Wave file sound effect cues. The entire show is managed through one GO button: controlling the MIDI mixer, the sound effects playback, and an intelligent lighting cue. Also note that bitmap image I have tiled in the background of SFX!

This is a shot from later in show. Notice the type of Notes I've used to describe the cue. I have the song title, the cue action, and which wireless mics are coming up. If mics were taken out by the cue, I would precede the actor's or character's name with a minus sign. Also note the Memo cue of "Act II" before cue #47. A Memo cue is a dummy cue that does nothing but provide you a place to type some information. In this case I used it to divide Act I and Act II visually.

Conclusion

Although things appeared complicated during the first steps in the creation of this workspace, once I started dragging effects into the cue lists, things went quickly. Thanks to the Trigger effects, I was able to organize four Cues views and keep them separate. During the show, a quick glance to the Notes view kept me on top of things without any confusion. The one "GO" button that controlled the sound effects, the MIDI mixer, and the intelligent lighting also contributed to easy execution. 

The bottom line is that SFX provided me the means to manage a fairly complex show reliably every night.