Building a U2 concert and Walt Disney Concert Hall

Its handle is PopMech on Instagram and Twitter and every so often Popular Mechanics Magazine does put the Pop in Mechanics. Beyond the obsessive nerdfan chronicling of Elon Musk’s spaceflights, and frankly alarming survival guides … “How to Survive a Nuclear Attack” in the front of the current issue and ads for survival kits and mini-generators in the back, there have been long studies on the mechanics of popular music. Jack White was a coverboy last August to celebrate the opening of his record pressing plant in Detroit and in the September issue a detailed account of how U2s stadium shows in New Jersey were set up, how the concert infrastructure operated in performance, and how it was broken down.

U2 have what’s described as the world’s largest mobile screen. “The screen is designed for in situ adjustments. Geiger, the engineer, helped make sure it would actually work on the road. He made sure the company that made the screen, PRG, added brightly colored handles to the panels so he could communicate to new crews in each stadium what he needed them to do. The carbon-fiber tubing that holds it up also braces it against the wind, and collapses into itself, nearly flat, for easy travel. A conventional screen this size would pack into seven semitrucks. This one packs into four, shaving $225,000 off the tour’s bottom line.”

“….[Sound Engineer] Joe O’Herlihy’s guys spent months before the tour poring over every song the band might play, every sound from every video. Before every show, they look over stadium schematics, searching for trouble areas: glass scoreboards that could reflect sound, prevailing winds, stadium designs that could mess with cable lengths. Once they’re in the venue, they get Rocko’s [soundcheck] band to pluck out some notes so they can adjust the faders, fine-tune, update the presets. They tune the stadium by ear—the crowd is human, so the tuners should be human.”

In 2005 William Gibson not usurprisingly described the setup of a U2 concert as if it were a science fiction story: “Pan across derelict concrete runway at dawn, somewhere in the American Southwest: Someone’s unpacked the whole convoy of semis that haul the equipment for U2’s Vertigo//2005 tour. Unpacked the lights and the behemoth speakers and the Wi-Fi cart for the backstage offices and spread it here, on the outskirts of some city from a ’50s horror film where distance plays tricks on the eye. Every last piece of cargo has been set out, part of an angular, bilaterally symmetrical Rorschach blot – a hard-edged Mothra, inducing a faint deja vu.

The flat, interlocking plates of the stage are laid out like a game of solitaire.

Now the gear field stirs.

Scraping across oil-stained concrete, it bunches up anthropomorphically. Heaving up, Transformer-like, it comes alive, its shoulders the housings of giant speaker arrays, trailing epaulets of LED lighting.

Its eyes are clusters of surveillance cameras.”

There’s a similar account of the building of Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. Iron by Gil Garcetti, photographically chronicling the framing of the building. Gehry has often said that the building was designed from the inside out, but in the foreword to this book, accompanied by images of the ironwork taking shape, illustrate the design process.

He writes in the foreword. “Because the focal point of the building is the Concert Hall itself, we essentially designed the structure from the inside to the outside. To ensure the primary function was satisfied, our office went through over 50 iterations and enlisted the participation of Esa Pekka Salonen [then Chief Conductor of the Los Angeles Symphony], the orchestra members, and acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota. In quest of a synthesis of acoustics and architecture the solution was a room shaped like a box but with a sculptural seating arrangement. I likened it to the idea of a boat in a box; hence the evolution of the sailing metaphor. The ceiling started to be shaped like sails and then the outside started to be shaped like sails.”

…”Due to the unusual forms, including box columns that lean 17 degrees, they had to be creative about rigging, scaffolding, and safety. Charged with the grave responsibility of erecting a structure that can withstand the forces of nature, the role of the ironworkers is critical. Because of the atypical geometry, we’ve known from the beginning that the integrity of the concert hall was directly related to the steel. Subsequently, we reverse engineered it down to the steel. We knew if we got the steel right, we would get the building right. If we got it wrong, the concert hall would never be realised.”


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