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The Tool Page: An Article

Publication: ProSound News

Date: December, 2001

Transcribed by
K[elly] (spiral.out@attbi.com)


  page: 70
 title: Tool for the City
author: Clive Young

New York has seen some dark times recently, but that didn’t 
dissuade Tool from bringing its bleak hybrid of Goth, metal 
and prog rock to Madison Square Garden for two sold-out 
nights. Touring in support of the top-selling Lateralus album, 
the group used unusual staging, a variety of video screens, 
acrobats and bombastic music to made its presence known, 
much as it had at each stop along the tour, which ended last 
month.

Providing audio for the journey was Showco; FOH mixing 
duties were handled by independent engineer Alan “Nobby” 
Hopkinson, who has mixed acts like Rage Against the 
Machine, Joan Aramatrading and Bush, after getting his start 
in 1980, touring with The Exploited. Much as punk rock 
evolved in the ensuing decades (he regards Tool as punk), 
so has live audio gear, finding Nobby behind a Midas XL-4 for 
the tour.

A key to the band’s sound live is bombastic low end, of which 
Nobby noted “We try to go for the fat sound, and as Stewart 
[Bennett, system engineer] will verify, we do draw a lot of 
power. I want it aggressive and fat, but I don’t want that 
harsh sound. This particular building, we’re running pretty 
hot. We’re dancing with the system in here, more so than 
other places because it’s wide and it’s the New York show. 
Last night the band came in firing a little heavier than they 
had at soundcheck, so me and Stew were, ‘OK, let’s get a bit 
of headroom back here’ The first song they play, called "The 
Grudge," is insanely dynamic – it’s all about drums, so it’s 
quite a hard number to start with. When you’re trying to 
judge how the room’s changed, you start to try and reclaim 
stuff with that song, and when they settle into a lightly more 
straightforward song, you have to take things back out. So 
you have to ride the wind then land.”

Given the low-end orientation, Nobby tended to keep the 
sound relatively clean, explaining, “When I came [on to the 
tour], there were loads of stuff that I didn’t think was suitable 
for them, so we cleaned a lot of it up. It’s good gear, great 
for the studio, but there’s a time and place for everything. 
For the intensity for this, well, we switched some compressors 
from tube to dbxs, just to harden it up a bit.”

Equally hard is the volume on stage. Monitor Chris Gilpin tool 
on Tool after handling stage sound last year for A Perfect 
Circle, Tool singer Maynard James Keenan’s other band. 
Accordingly, Gilpin spent the Tool tour providing a Shure 
PSM700 personal monitor for Keenan and a variety of loud 
stage mixes for the rest of the band. One benefit, however, 
was the unusual stage configuration, which found the bass 
and guitar at stage front, and the drums and singer on risers 
at the back. Allowing the video screens to take the audiences’ 
attention, the band members never left their quadrants, 
which helped to isolate the vocal mic from the massive 
onstage volume.

The guitar and bass had four Showco BFM 15-inch wedges 
each, aided and abetted by two Prism cabinets laid down 
horizontally, used as sidefills; the guitarist also had an extra 
sub on a separate send – a necessity that arose on the 
road. “We had a problem where I was actually taking a lot 
out of the speakers,” Gilpin admitted, ”because I was running 
it so loud. It made more sense to clean it up, take the low 
end out of the wedges and give him a sub instead. It worked 
out great; I can choose to put in low end from specific 
instruments in there, so I don’t have low end from everything 
else.”

Of course, speaker-busting sound can make a vocal difficult 
to work with, as Gilpin acknowledged: “You have three guys 
playing loud music and one guy singing, and he can’t 
compete with that. Therein lies the problem – separating all 
the other sound out of his vocal without taking his vocal 
away. That’s where all the gates come in on the ATI Paragon 
desk I’m using. I actually have a few channels where 
everything is duplicated so I can do it one way for the stage 
and one way for the personal monitors. I have a group for 
the toms, which runs through and Aural Exciter. I’ve got a left 
and right mix of all the toms that goes through that. That 
means I can roll off a lot more low end – it would sound 
terrible if you put it through the monitor, but it actually works 
well for the ears, because there’s only so much information 
you can put through a driver the size of a pin head.”

All of which gave the show, with its affecting visuals and dark 
subject manner, an audio to match. “The show has severe 
volume and dynamics, and then such quiet,” observed 
Nobby. “It goes from the sublime to the ‘cor, blimey.”


Posted to t.d.n: 04/01/02 22:39:58