Back in 1974, the Grateful Dead put together what was easily the most unique, experimental and perhaps complex sound system ever configured for live sound reinforcement in that era.
This system was named the “Wall of Sound” and jt was a complete divergence from conventional sound reinforcement thinking.
There were two key concepts combined together resulting in a very interesting outcome:
1) Because PA systems of the day were stacked on either side of the stage and often blocked audience sight lines, they designed a sound system that was placed behind the band and acted as both the PA system, their instrument amps and as their monitor system (way for the band to hear themselves).
2) They found that when all the various instruments and vocals were mixed together into the PA speakers the sound was less clear than when each instrument was amplified separately.
To deal with this, they actually designed and used a separate sound system for each instrument and another sound system for the vocals totaling six PA systems!
While a giant step in forward thinking was made, it was not without issues. Having the sound system directly behind that band meant the speakers are pointed straight into the microphones.
Also, the sheer complexity and magnitude of the setup greatly limited the venues that it could be implemented and the fact that the sound system became the entire stage backdrop relegated it to become a niche concept that possibly could only be used by its creators and equally unique Grateful Dead.
Wall of Sound above, and below, the Stones PA behind the scrims (click to enlarge)
And as you can see in the top photo at right, it did not make for the cleanest stage set, while to provide some contrast, the photo below at right is a cool old picture of The Rolling Stones stage setup with the PA located behind the lips scrim.
Even with it’s awkwardness, the concept of the Wall of Sound was so intriguing that I had to try it and understand it.
I finally got that opportunity in 1986 while touring with Black Flag when, after some persuading, we talked the band into letting us set up the Rat PA in a mini Wall of Sound configuration.
Since I had designed and Rat Sound had built Black Flag’s guitar and bass cabinets exactly the same dimensions as the Rat PA, the system fit together really well. (That system is pictured directly below.)
Rat Sound’s Black Flag PA (click to enlarge)
On the upside the system was incredibly clear sounding while on the downside, it sounded a bit distant and the sound bleeding into the mics was cumbersome enough not to continue with that setup.
The most important thing is that I learned enough to set my sights on someday resolving the issues.
Twenty years later, through a roundabout way I have come full circle. My testing in designing the MicroWedge Series clarified my understanding and goals.