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Musician And Comedian Reggie Watts On Why Sound Matters

Bandleader for "The Late Late Show with James Corden," shares an artist’s perspective on why high-quality sound is important.

By PSW Staff January 13, 2016

Reggie Watts performs with Karen at El Cid.

Musician and comedian Reggie Watts articulates his mission to educate people about why sound matters and explains the transformative effect a new Meyer Sound system has brought to his band’s performances at the El Cid nightclub in Los Angeles.

“With high-quality sound, musicians don’t play as loud. They feel more relaxed, and they play better music. This allows them and the audience to feed off one another.” – Reggie Watts, Musician and Comedian

Reggie Watts is an innovative, multi-talented musician and comedian whose performances are an eclectic blend of vocal improvisations, beatbox rhythms, and outside-the-box observations combined with mesmerizing looping effects. Though perhaps best known as the bandleader for “The Late Late Show with James Corden” on CBS, Watts is also a headliner of sold-out club tours and has made numerous appearances on the Comedy Central and IFC networks.

The following conversation took place at the El Cid nightclub in Los Angeles, where Watts performs in a weekly residency with his band Karen. Watts took an active role in the club’s recent acquisition of a new Meyer Sound reinforcement system of UPQ-1P loudspeakers, 1100-LFC low-frequency control elements, and MJF-210 stage monitors. In this Q&A, Watts provides an insightful artist’s perspective into the importance of sound, his growing relationship with Meyer Sound technology, and his ongoing quest to create the perfect audience experience.

Q: How important is sound quality in doing your best as an improvisational performer?
Watts: Sound is a huge factor that plays into how I feel connected to what I’m doing. If the sound is difficult, or just barely acceptable, I still try to do my best. But I’m not as relaxed; I’m working a lot harder.

The one thing you want in your sound for any performance is transparency, to use an over-used term. You want to be immediately connected to what you’re doing. You want to feel connected to the room, to sense how the room is reacting, and also have a feel for how the people in the room are reacting. But if there are technical problems with the sound, suddenly your focus switches over to the sound system. And then you have to deal with it; you have to compensate for it. That can take you out of the moment.

Q: Has your sense of what constitutes good sound become more refined over the course of your career?
Watts: Yes, it’s evolved over the years. I’ve had the good fortune to run into some pretty amazing situations—often in controlled environments like radio interviews—where what I heard sounded exceptionally good.

And I’ve also had the good fortune of playing at some really great live venues—places where I would almost forget that there was a sound system. I would immediately get fully involved in my performance, and halfway through, realize that I hadn’t had to complain inside my head about problems with the sound. Once you’ve had a taste of that feeling it’s hard to go back.

Q: When did you first become aware of Meyer Sound?
Watts: I did some special events at The Exploratorium in San Francisco. That’s when I learned about the Constellation acoustic system, and I went over and heard it at Meyer Sound’s headquarters in Berkeley [at the Pearson Theater]. I also learned about SpaceMap multichannel surround panning technology. An engineer had set up a program of loops, and what he did with them was amazing.

My dream had been to move my voice around the room, creating these counter-rotating fields of loops. I could assign a loop to something that, visually, might look like a ball on a billiard table and push it, and then have digital physics that would bounce it around, and then do another loop-ball and have it take a different trajectory. What I heard with SpaceMap was close to that vision.

Q: And what were your impressions after experiencing Constellation?
Watts: Hearing it in reality as opposed to hearing it in my imagination was quite a surprise, and it presented me with a whole host of new possibilities. The idea of changing a performance space with active acoustics is fascinating to me. It’s a powerful illusion, a really physical experience. The ability to create the impression that the size of the room is changing is so unnatural to our ears that it can become an effect unto itself.

All musicians play the environment that they’re in. Constellation really made me rethink what I can do with the room itself as an instrument—new ways of performing with different modes of producing sound from the stage and presenting it to an audience. It got me excited—I was imagining crazy scenarios where I could instantaneously change the room in real time as an effect. For example, I could switch back and forth from the Taj Mahal to a dead space, and effectively play the room with my voice. Or I could do a song where the walls slowly expand, moving 300 feet away from the audience over the course of a minute as I’m singing.

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