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Universal Baltic Sound


Patricia Kaas, the Sony Records recording and performing artist based in France, is becoming increasingly popular due to a growing worldwide awareness of her evocative, blues-based cabana-style 'torch'-style ballads and danceable contemporary tunes. In October, 1998 the French entertainer and her 7-pc. Group completed a four-month long world tour including concerts in far-flung destinations like Egypt, Japan, and Turkey along with a large number of shows throughout continental Europe.

Kaas' music incorporates multi-layered keyboard and percussion textures, coupled with a solid blues rhythm section, fiery guitar and some unique touches including cello and accordian. In concert, two female vocalists complement Patricia's strong, sultry voice. Her live concert sound is handled by the team of Stefan Kijek (stage monitors) and Michel Trendel (house soundmixer), both based in France.

The show in Riga, Latvia was handled by regional touring sound rental company, Universsal Baltic Sound (UBS). The firm supplied their new HLA system from JBL Professional, along with QSC power amplifiers, Shure microphones, signal processing from Drawmer, BSS and t.c. electronics, and Soundcraft Series 5 and SM-20 mixing consoles. Patricia Kaas' sound crew brought along their own in-ear monitor systems and favorite signal processing devices for the concert in Latvia.

"In addition to Latvia, our working region includes Estonia, Lithuania, and sometimes parts of Russia," advised Aivars Jermichuks, Director of the Riga-based company. Together with partner and Chief Engineer Edmunds Zazerskis, Jermichuks has been helping to supply professional audio rental systems for more than a decade. He first learned his audio skills as an engineer for the Soviet Army in the mid-1980's. When Latvia gained its independence from the former Soviet Union, Aivars collaborated with Edmunds and other sound reinforcement enthusiasts to form UBS.

The company has been successful in handling a variety of live sound projects, from traditional music festivals, civic ceremonies and symphony orchestra productions to concert work for popular international music artists like Julio Iglesias, Gypsy Kings and Creedence Clearwater Revisited. Noted Jermichuks, "We hire exceptionally talented technicians. And we invest in the best equipment we can. Thus we are able to handle major international artists that our smaller, local competitors cannot serve. We believe an international touring artist deserves world-class service."

House soundmixer Michel Trendel was pleasantly surprised by the level of technical expertise and available sound equipment that UBS supplied for the Patricia Kaas show. The concert was held in a multi-purpose exhibit hall at the Technical University of Riga, which is the capital city of this Baltic nation. "I've used JBL HLA speaker systems before, in fact we just had a system recently in Germany. This UBS crew has done an excellent job, and their system sounds great. They are a very service-oriented crew, and their system sounds full and natural. The HLA units seem to couple well to make an excellent array. These days, it's important that a speaker system is able to be arrayed properly, especially in rooms with difficult acoustics such as this."

4,000 persons attended the concert in the curved-roof hall. The 13-metre ceiling height enabled the UBS crew to set up the HLA loudspeaker system five rows high. 9 HLA 4895 three-way units and 6 4897 low-frequency units were set up per side, giving a total of 18+12. A single chain motor hoist was used to raise the 12 HLA array modules atop the floor-based bottom row of 3 low-frequency enclosures. Five QSC Powerlight dual-channel amplifiers were used to power each side of the system…making a total of only 8 PL8.0's and 2 PL1.0's for the entire 30-module main system.

"We believe it is important to have plenty of electrical and acoustical headroom for a contemporary music show, and the advanced transducers in JBL's HLA speaker system give us a distinct advantage" explained Aivars Jermichuks of UBS. "Here in this hall, with full-frequency pink noise input we have measured the system output as 120dB SPL at the front-of-house position (35 meters from the arrays), before the first clip-light indicator even comes on for any of the QSC amplifiers. We don't expect to run the concert that loud, of course, but we are prepared to offer our rental customers clean, solid, distortion-free coverage of the entire audience area with plenty of dynamic headroom in the system. I can't think of many other speaker systems that could do this. The HLA loudspeaker system is so clean and free from distortion, it enables us to provide a solid, punchy live show sound with plenty of high-end detail, without causing ear fatigue."

Jermichuks' observation was on track, with Michel Trendel's tasteful, well-balanced mix fluctuating from 94-102dB SPL at the console throughout the solid music passages of the concert. "It is best to start low, and gradually build the level of a show," Trendel explained. "It is of no use to just 'blast' the audience with sound all the time, especially in a highly reverberant space like this one. You can build a good, solid foundation on the bottom end and have plenty of clarity and detail on the vocals and instrumental textures if you resist the temptation to over-power a room with too much audio level…even though a system like this one obviously can deliver a great deal more than I am asking it to."

UBS technicians supplied a total of four compact, 2-way JBL Soundpower enclosures atop two Mobil-Tech equipment hoists. Designed to hold up to 150kg of weight with a maximum extension of 4.7 meters, the lightweight precision hoists employed as signal-delay towers were easily put together and set in place by one person in just a few minutes. "We find that with our HLA system, we don't need delay speaker towers in most venues," noted UBS system engineer Dainis Urbanovichs. "However, in such a long narrow room, where you have so many seconds of low-end reverberation time, it helps enable the soundmixer to keep reasonable volume levels in the front part of the audience area while providing clear, present sound in the rear also." In addition, four of the Soundpower enclosures strategically-positioned as a front-fill array for the "expensive seats" in the center area.

The UBS crew relied on the JBL Smaart Pro software measurement and analysis package, running on a notebook PC, to do MIDI-controlled filter settings on dual-channel BSS Varicurve digital equalizers, and to accurately dial in the delay settings on a JBL DSC260 system controller for the rear delay speaker towers. A U.K.-manufactured Abacus brand RTA and sound level meter with calibrated microphone was used as a roving "quality control" device during both soundcheck and the concert.

"The audio gear, all of the 'toys', from the speaker arrays to the test equipment, they really should be looked at as tools," offered Jermichuks. "Like a good mechanic would do, they must be properly set up and correctly used if one expects to get professional results. It seems that some rental companies just buy whatever equipment they see in magazine ads, and try to go into business. Then they wonder why they get such a flawed reputation so quickly for poor service and bad sound. Anyone with money can buy equipment. But, the live sound rental business is really about being committed to your customer, and to providing a service, as audio professionals who care about the outcome. It is not about just showing up with some trendy equipment and expecting it to somehow all work out. It is important for any company truly interested in seeking excellence in live sound to invest in training, to find and keep good people, and of course, to always learn from your own customers. It is good to find out what they think you can do better. Shouldn't we all be trying to improve what we do, all of the time?"

Insightful words from a an ex-military engineer in a rapidly-changing new republic, nestled on the shore of the Baltic Sea against ex-Mother Russia. Despite an uncertain economy and a painful transition from communism to a free market, a growing number of concerts and special events fill the upcoming calendar for UBS.

"The arts and culture are very important to our people here, as evidenced by the Cadac G-type console that will be found at the front end of a theatre-sound reinforcement system, in our 100-year old Opera Hall. The system is even outfitted with 16 zones of t.c. electronics' signal delays and digital equalizers," summarized Aivars Jermichuks. "Yes, as you may hear, the economy is tough here in parts of what used to the USSR But we at UBS believe that if we can invest now in the best live audio tools we can find, and provide a quality service to as many different events as we can, then we will build our own business as we help our nation use musical productions to re-build our Latvian culture and create entertainment for our society. People know and appreciate excellent sound when they hear it. It makes a difference. I hope any touring sound engineers who may come to our region will know we are fully prepared to enable their show to sound good, and to help them have a great time here!".

UBS can be reached at: 5, K. Valdemara St. Room 409 Riga, Latvia LV1010 Phone: 371-7-321152 Fax: 371-7-323455 Email: