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Cocteau Twins

Article from International Musician & Recording World, March 1985

Jim Betteridge wades through the swirling, ethereal ambience that is the Cocteau Twins' music

The Cocteaus: Wear it's at

BAND: Cocteau Twins
VENUE: Sadler's Wells Theatre
DATE: December 15, 1984
PA: Protone, Holland

The past few years have been a period of hard struggle for London's theatres. One suspects it is only with the greatest reluctance that establishments such as The Sadler's Wells Theatre have consequently had to start opening their culture-steeped doors to Rock/Pop acts and all the frightful indignities that such occasions can entail. This venue is more accustomed to the standard, well defined gentility of opera and ballet audiences.

Not that their clientele was always so self-contained. A few hundred years ago Ben Johnson told of "citizens that come-a-ducking to Islington ponds when cockneys, coming to breathe fresh air and drink cream, set their dogs off to hunt ducks for dinner". Duck hunting is somewhat rarer these days but there's still plenty of a-ducking and a-diving going on around the Islington area — alternative ducking and diving, of course.

In terms of performers too, it seems they don't make 'em like they used to: of a certain early 19th century comedian named Grimaldi we are told, "his nose alone was capable of exhibiting disdain, fear, anger, even joy". A pinch of snuff, and the chap was away; I wonder how AC/DC would fare, given such minimal props.

The last year or so has seen very few live performances from the Cocteau Twins, and indeed presenting the act on stage carries with it its share of difficulties.

With only three in the band, a good portion of the live sound is recorded — if that's not a contradiction. A four track tape is used as the basis for every number: tracks one and two include all drums and percussion (courtesy of an E-mu Drumulator), tracks three and four contain various piano, keyboard and even bass parts when Simon is needed to play a second guitar.

The original source of the recordings varies from track to track; so too does the level and quality. Some of it is remixed from the relevant albums, although even then inconsistencies are apparently considerable. Continuity is helped by a Drawmer stereo compressor/limiter across tape outputs three and four, but still FOH engineer Ray Conroy has a very difficult job.

Within the highly controllable conditions of the studio Elizabeth's voice is beautifully strong and expressive. The technical limitations of a live setting are less accommodating. In the studio, her relatively low acoustic output is of little concern; you can simply turn the gain up a little. On stage, however, a complicity of monitor feedback and high ambient noise levels only compounded Raymond's difficulties.

By British — Hire Dutch

In a brief discussion guitarist Robin told me of his dislike for major British PA hire companies and what he considers to be their appalling treatment of support bands: roadies demanding money or drugs before providing mikes for the kit and generally not giving a monkey's about their sound etc. I'm not about to play judge on such matters, but that is one of the main reasons why the Twins now use a Dutch PA company, Protone, with which they have a very good relationship. It goes without saying that the band are also very happy with the live sound obtained; it isn't just a social decision.

Protone were using a Turbosound rig consisting of six TMS 3s per side. It was basically the same rig as used by Van Morrison in Frankfurt (see IM&RW April 1984) and they employed the same policy of keeping the bass end impedance reasonably high (8ohms) and using heavy cable to maintain low power loss and a high damping factor with long cable runs. Each cabinet contained 2x15" 8ohm bass drivers wired in series to give 16ohms. The cabs were driven in pairs using a stereo V800 in mono bridged mode for the bass and the same in stereo mode for mids and highs.

The crossovers were BSS four-way active. Only three ways were used for this system, although for large venues a sub-bass unit can be added.

The FOH desk was a modified Soundcraft 400B with added output transformers, and a custom patchbay conveniently connecting to the desk via multicore, but allowing full channel/source/insert patching. Other changes included moving the master module to the far right thereby keeping the talkback mike out of the way; adding an extra stereo recording output coming from the main stereo buss, but padded down to -20dB from the standard +4dB for compatibility with domestic cassette machines.

The foldback desk was a modified Soundcraft Series 200 with the four aux sends being made pre-fade, thus leaving the main channel faders and stereo outputs as extra sends, in this case feeding a pair of TMS 3's per side as side fills. Large three-way Protone wedges were used for the rest of the band, and to allow higher levels without feedback, the lads experimented with putting the fills out of phase with wedges, and/or the wedges out of phase with the FOH — and all permutations thereof. Results tended to be a bit hit and miss depending upon the distances involved, but improvements were definitely found.

Astral Robin

And how does Robin create the famed astral guitar sounds? He played a Fender Jaguar through a Fender Tremolux combo, between which he placed the following effects, all of which are Boss unless stated: compressor, distortion/feedback, stereo chorus, vibrato, flanger, Ibanez harmonic delay, Yamaha 16 memory DDL, and phaser; the phaser goes last for 'maximum swirl'.

No surprises on the mike front: all SM57s and 58s except for Liz who, after much experimenting, uses an AKG C535, about which the lads' comment was that it was a great mike unless the artiste was given to projective salivation whilst performing; Liz isn't.

Nothing unusual in the FOH auxiliary rack either: a UREI LA-4 stereo compressor and a Klark Teknik DN300 stereo graphic were split between Lizzy's vocal and the bass. The excellent Yamaha D1500 DDL was used together with the Roland SDE3000 DDL for treating the kit off tape and for general stage effects.

I like the Cocteau Twins' music, I think the Turbosound rig is second to none, and it seemed that both Ray and the lads from Protone knew what they were doing. But, I have to say that the sound was abysmal; it was worse than a little suspect. The most disquieting component was from about 6kHz upwards everything sounded harsh and distorted and on the edge of ringing/feedback.

The theatre seats a comfortable 1500 on three levels, and although I'm sure the deep balconies could produce nasty resonances etc, bad acoustics weren't enough to explain this one.

The inconsistency of the backing tape, the quietness of Liz's vocal, the possibly awkward acoustic — all partial explanations; but whatever it was down to, the sound needed sorting out.

I spoke to Ray the next day and he agreed with some of my points, and said that it hadn't been a good night. In fact they intend to remix much of the tape to make it less harsh and more suitable for its live applications. So the future looks brighter.

As for the house management of the Sadler's Wells Opera House, I think they could have done without the whole thing.

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International Musician - Mar 1985

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman




Cocteau Twins



Feature by Jim Betteridge

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