Cowichan Performing Arts Centre

Cowichan Performing Arts Centre

Located in Duncan/North Cowichan on Vancouver Island, the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre (CPAC) originally opened in 1978 as the Cowichan Theatre. It remains the premier multi-purpose entertainment facility in the region, an impressive 731-seat proscenium arch theatre that hosts the largest stage on the Island which is used for local productions, international tours, conferences, and events of all descriptions.

When we spoke with CPAC’s Head of Audio, Richard Nott, and Technical Director, Roland Simmons, in early January 2024, they were happy to discuss the recent purchase of a DiGiCo Q338 and the venue’s capabilities in general. Simmons explains that in terms of lighting, video, audio systems, and the amenities it offers artists, CPAC is exceptionally well-equipped and has undergone numerous upgrades over time, including new seating in 2023.

"It’s a lovely venue with incredible staff and crew – Richard and three other technical staff. And we’ve got all the good gear, the Meyer Sound products we’ve gotten from GerrAudio over the years, and now the DiGiCo Q338. We’ve got it all here,” he adds enthusiastically. “But the console was Richard’s dream to have, and since he’s the one who’s been using it, I’ll leave most of the talking to him.

”While CPAC has other consoles on offer, the venue is primarily a DiGiCo house – and the purchase of the Q338 was essentially a move to update their existing complement of DiGiCo consoles. “We’ve had an SD8 here since 2009,” Nott says. “It gave us 14 years of service, which is pretty damn good, considering the amount of time that thing's been turned on and the amount of shows we do here, but it was time to update. I wanted to try something brand new, and that’s the Quantum. It has all the bells and whistles and it’s compatible with our existing D-Racks, so there’s a lot of flexibility there.”“We also have a pair of S21s, one for monitors and one in our glassed-in control room for film screenings, film festivals, and the 16-hour dance marathons we do in the spring.

The S21s are great little desks – super versatile and user-friendly,” Nott continues, adding that they’re ideal for CPAC’s intimate Cabaret Series. “For that, everything’s on stage: seating for 120 people, a bar, lighting, and the S21s for FOH and monitors. Then we fly in a couple of Meyer elements from the centre cluster and some Meyer 650 subs, build a small stage out of risers, and do three days of those shows.”With the increased functionality of the Quantum platform, as a replacement for the SD8, “The Q338 is definitely a worthwhile investment" - an up-to-date offering, allowing them plenty of functionality to explore for a good long time.“I mean, there’s 40 Macros on it, which is nuts. I haven’t even gotten into the Mustard processing yet. We only recently received the desk, but I have gotten into Chilli 6 and Spice Rack. They’re amazing – especially for musicals. For vocals, the dynamic compression lifts everything right up. You get it EQ’d, and that sounds good. Then you insert what you want from Spice Rack, and all of a sudden, you have this shimmering clarity. And the onboard FX library is huge.

It’s going to take me a year to get through everything this board has to offer.”DiGiCo is also very common on the technical riders of many incoming engineers. “And it's an industry standard on festivals, too,” Nott adds. So, even for engineers unfamiliar with DiGiCo's Quantum platform, the leap from other DiGiCo offerings “isn’t exactly "death-defying. It’s the same work surface, essentially, as the SD Series. So there’s user-friendliness, compatibility, similar workflow (to other DiGiCo consoles) – all good.” Additionally, many other venues on the Island are also DiGiCo houses.

“So people can go from venue to venue here, download a show file, and it’s not a big deal (if there’s a different DiGiCO desk),” he adds. Generally speaking, that kind of compatibility is a rarity. “But DiGiCo is really good at that,” Nott states, citing the fact that, relatively swiftly and efficiently, a show file from a Quantum console can be used, with some modifications, on earlier DiGiCo consoles.

Nott also points to other benefits of the console: “The dynamic EQ is easy to access. As far as work surface operation goes, I love the colour-coded LEDs. If you want to hit EQ, compression, or whatever, you just hit the button on the side of the screen; the encoders automatically light up, and it’s the same colour – that’s been a long time coming. And having three screens is fantastic.”So, is this Nott’s dream console, as Simmons suggested?“Let’s put it this way,” he laughs, "It was a no-brainer. I hadn’t used a Q338, but I knew it would sound great, and there’s so much new functionality. The more I use it, the more I love it - the sheer power, the headroom - the deeper I get into it, the better everything sounds, and the more I look forward to learning how to use everything in it. We’ve got a large-scale musical coming in for two weeks with 32 wireless lavalier mics, and I’m really looking forward to working on the Quantum for that. Having access to Spice Rack to lift the principal players out of the mix, the Chilli 6 processing, the dynamic EQs and processing – I’m looking forward to digging around inside the console during our tech days.”Call it conceptual headroom, future-proofing, whatever you like, “We can handle anything that comes through here, we can handle it with the Q338.”

Nott would know. He started doing casual calls for CPAC in 2008 between tours with various artists and has been full-time at CPAC since 2017. The relationship between GerrAudio and CPAC goes back decades, he adds: “That dates to the early 90s. They installed our PA systems and have worked with this room for a long time. Whenever I have an issue, I call, and somebody at Gerr either picks up the phone or calls back within minutes. That's a rare thing with anything these days. And Gerr's Western Rep., Shawn Hines, is super-knowledgeable. They go above and beyond so that relationship is also a no-brainer.”