Dubai’s Al Wasl Dome is an architectural masterpiece, acting as a hub for visitors and vibrant performances alike. Originally the centerpiece of the EXPO 2020 Dubai, Al Wasl was recently repurposed into a 3,000-seat concert venue, outfitted with a 360-degree projection screen to offer an immersive audio and visual experience. To celebrate its reopening, the dome hosted Grammy-winning Composer A.R. Rahman’s all-female Firdaus Orchestra and a 30-piece choir, accompanied by UK-based Indian singer Abi Sampa and her band, for a classical performance combining the sounds of the east and west. To assist with orchestral reinforcement for the show, which presented a slew of acoustical and environmental difficulties, Rahman’s team called on sound designer and mix engineer Phil Wright, who turned to his tried and trusted DPA Microphones (opens in new tab) solutions for their durability and natural sound.
The acclaimed sound professional selected the brand’s 4099 CORE Instrument, 2011 Twin Diaphragm, 4011ES Cardioid Condenser and 4066 Omnidirectional Headset Microphones to help elevate the production. “The band and orchestra were primarily 4099s,” he explained. “This included the guitar, French horn and cello, as well as the more traditional instruments such as the tabla, harmonium, ney, oud, sitar, daf, frame drum and qanun. These are tiny, very quiet instruments and the DPA 4099s really brought out their sound within this massive orchestral texture we had going on. For those instruments that were a bit more open, we used the 2011s, and then the double basses in the orchestra were on my 4011ES mics with 19 mm capsules. For the choir, we had 30 of the 4066 wired headsets. Overall, we had around 120 people on stage between the 30-person chorus, a 75-piece orchestra and Abi Sampa’s ensemble of fifteen.”
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Miking traditional instruments wasn’t the only obstacle Wright had to overcome. The Al Wasl Dome’s unique shape posed an interesting acoustical challenge as well, with its centrally located performance space and open sides, which exposed the stage to the natural outdoor elements. Assisted by Dave Scarlet, Paul Medley, and Pete Austin of SFL Productions in the UK, Wright knew DPA mics would be a welcome aid to the audio team.
“The durability of the 4099s was so impressive,” Wright said. “We weren’t in an air-conditioned concert hall—this was an open-air, outdoor venue with all the heat, high humidity and dust blowing in from the desert. Despite all of this, we didn’t have a single microphone failure. The heavy-duty cable for the 4099s also allowed for easy replacements, which was useful as we had a few people trip and damage the mic cables.”
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Knowing they would be working in such a challenging environment, Wright notes that the team made the decision very early on to mic everything very closely. “The flexibility and range of mount options for the 4099s was most appealing to me,” he explained. “I was able to get really close and tight on absolutely everything on that stage whilst retaining that natural sound and air. We had lots of positive feedback about being able to balance these very quiet and traditionally challenging instruments.”
The complexity of the venue’s acoustics, which has proven difficult for other seasoned audio professionals, along with the classical nature of the performance was exactly the reason Wright was entrusted by both Rahman and Mohanaselvan Jeyapalan, vice president of the portfolio management office for the venue, in the first place. Building off his background in orchestral engineering and over 25 years’ experience working with DPA Microphones, Wright crafted an impeccable sound that was otherwise lacking in previous shows at the Al Wasl Dome. “Both Mr. Rahman and Mr. Jeyapalan let me know that we had achieved everything that they had hoped for this show,” Wright explained. “With the DPAs, the concert sounded just how they wanted, and they were blown away.”
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The Al Wasl Dome re-opening concert on Nov. 19, 2022, included performances of scores by iconic composers John Williams and Hans Zimmer, as well as collaborative work by both Zimmer and Rahman. To complete the merging of eastern and western sounds, Rahman’s solo score compositions were also performed, accompanied by the choir. Prior to Rahman’s production, the likes of Coldplay, Alicia Keys and John Newman had all graced the venue with performances of their own.