SoundCheck: Le Poisson Rouge — Managing Fast Musical Workflow

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As they raise a pint fresh from the tap, even the most seasoned audio engineer may not notice the complexities of keeping a music-first nightclub humming. When things move as efficiently as they do at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC’s Greenwich Village, the work that goes on behind the scenes is even easier to overlook.

Everyone is welcome in Le Poisson Rouge's musical world.

Everyone is welcome in Le Poisson Rouge’s musical world.

Endowed with recording studio-level acoustics, a 5.1 surround sound system, and flexible staging, Le Poisson Rouge (LPR) has stood out as an audiophile’s night spot since it opened in 2008. But moving the adventurous lineup of live music along at this 12,300 sq. ft. duplex complex means more than just repeating “Check one two” into the mics.

For Richie Clarke, who’s been LPR’s Technical Director since 2009, maintaining seamless operations at this NYC hotspot is more like overseeing an airport than a club. “We can do two shows a night, seven days a week,” Clarke says. “You need to do a lot of advance coordination to make sure everything keeps running. You have to make a system that kind of works like an airline, so the plane stays in the air.”

Designed by recording studio architect John Storyk of Walters-Storyk Design Group, LPR was meant to accommodate a very wide variety of music and performances from the start. The club’s founders, David Handler and Justin Kantor, envisioned the space – formerly the famed Village Gate – as a 21st Century Cabaret that would accurately present classical, indie rock, electronic, jazz, blues, World music, singer/songwriters, and avant garde for starters.

Ballet, opera, plays and every other live kind of entertainment is regularly welcomed at the club as well. But as anyone who has been there on a busy night can attest, the best thing that comes into LPR every night is the crowd – a positive vibe almost always pervades, with the clean and powerful sound system giving music lovers plenty to sink their ears into.

Managing a Major Hub

Come downstairs into LPR early, and you’ll first encounter the smaller Gallery performance area, an intimate lounge and bar perfect for a DJ or a compact live artist. When it gets closer to show time, the doors open up to the 3900 sq. ft. Main Space, a highly versatile room that can accommodate 700 standing or 250 fully seated.

Composer Alan Howarth, performing in the LPR corner stage setup.

Composer Alan Howarth, performing in the LPR corner stage setup.

In addition to a fixed corner stage, there is a portable 16’ round stage that can be set up on the floor for a theater-in-the-round. An upstage cinema-scale projection screen can enhance the visuals, but even better is what it’s paired with: A 5.4 Surround  sound system comprising over thirty self-powered Meyer Sound speakers, processed via two Meyer Sound Galileo 616 System Processors and six Yamaha DMEs.

The result is a room with maximum flexibility for everyone from the stagehands to the FOH mixer, who can easily switch between different stereo and surround setups, depending on the program material.

With so many possibilities, making sense of it is essential to ensuring that each day’s performance schedule goes off without a hitch. “The top priority is communication,” says Clarke. “That goes for everyone including the music bookers, the artists, and the tour production managers of all these different events.

“Once we have that, we look at the second priority, which is schedule, and make sure all the things that people aspire to do is actually possible with the time we have.  That means making sure the gear requested will be there when needed, that it will be out of the way for the next event, and that it will be back when needed again.”

Fast Transformations

From local artists to international touring acts, word got around that LPR is a desirable place to play. Just a small sample of who’s played there includes A Camp, Afrika Bambaataa, Bill Laswell, Calder String Quartet, Debbie Harry, Deerhoof, Florence & the Machine, John Zorn, Laurie Anderson, Matt & Kim, Medeski Martin & Wood, Moby, Mos Def, Norah Jones, Philip Glass, Raekwon, Salman Rusdhie, School of Seven Bells, Sleigh Bells, Steve Reich, They Might Be Giants and Tortoise.

When things get really interesting is when the Main Room has to go from the corner stage configuration to the theater-in-the-round, and/or back again. “That was important to the original concept,” Clarke says. “The founders really wanted to do something special, and they felt that being able to do shows in the round would create a certain intimacy and experience which would be hard to replicate.”

Doveman, Norah Jones, and Sam Amidon in the round at LPR (Photo Credit: Matt Taplinger)

Doveman, Norah Jones, and Sam Amidon in the round at LPR (Photo Credit: Matt Taplinger)

Clarke and his crew only need 90 minutes to do a safe and thorough switch from corner stage to center stage. First, speakers are re-rigged into the grid. Next, the center stage, made of three individual sections, is pulled out from below the corner stage where it lives. Then wiring is run through a conduit below LPR’s 23’ diameter hardwood sprung dance floor. If need be, the club’s Yamaha DS6M 7’ concert grand piano is loaded on (a job that requires a 14-foot ramp up to the stage and at least three people), after which monitors and additional tie lines are connected.

“The switch is a sight to behold,” grins Clarke. “You’re in the main room, and 90 minutes later you see something completely different. It never gets old for me – like a miracle happening every day. Some switches are more extreme than others, and it’s a team effort: Everyone from the bussers to the managers to the production team knows what part they need to play to move it along, and it all happens.”

The aforementioned monitor re-rigging results in an entirely different sound system for LPR’s center stage configuration, based on a mono ring formation with lower and upper rings. Subwoofers are attached beneath center stage. Meanwhile, FOH moves the faders on an AVID VENUE D-Show Profile console with 48 inputs.

While Storyk is renowned for designing Jimi HendrixElectric Lady Studios, not everyone is aware that he got the gig after the guitar great visited Storyk’s first commercial architecture project in 1968 – a SoHo nightclub called Cerebrum. Impressed by the aesthetic, Hendrix tracked down the then-22 year-old Storyk to design his signature studio that’s still running strong, just a few blocks from LPR.

Other live venue credits in Storyk’s portfolio today include NYC’s 54 Below and Rockwood Music Hall, as well as the recently completed Fenix in San Rafael, CA. Together with the comprehensive sound system, the room’s acoustic design works in harmony with the music, making listening a transparent and satisfying experience.

“The diversity of the programming called for a special design which they planned for from Day One,” Clarke comments. “Some people look at what we have in the room and say, ‘Wow, you have a lot of speakers everywhere.’ It may seem like overkill for a rock venue. But when it’s an opera that’s minimally amplified, it’s nice because it feels minimally amplified – yet you can hear it everywhere.”

True Surround on Demand

Keeping things sonically stimulating at LPR is the club’s readiness to play out a full 5.1 score on its surround system – a capability that indie filmmakers, composers, performance artists, and other multichannel mavens appreciate.

The view from LPR's FOH mix position. (Photo by Robert Wolsch)

The view from LPR’s FOH mix position. (Photo by Robert Wolsch)

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  • J.S

    Fantastic article on one of my favorite venues in NYC! Always a good time and great sound at LPR!