The Who’s Tommy

Dates: 5 March 1996 – 8 February 1997

Shaftesbury Theatre

3 rows of 6 projection screens upstage had three Kodak Carousel projectors per screen, a total of 54 projectors, all synchronised and timed to work together to form a range of stylised backdrops. 

Related Equipment:

Carousel Projector (1961 - 2004)
SFX (1995)


LSI: Tommy (April 1996)
[800kb PDF]
From Lighting & Sound International

Director: Des McAnuff
Set: John Arnone
Lighting: Chris Parry
Projection: Wendall Harrington
Production Manager: Ted Irwin
Producers: Pola Jones, Joop Van den Ende, Robin de Levita

SFX Software on Tommy by Brad from Stage Research (from the internet archive)

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 mics, 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.

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 mics 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 mics 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.