Study Hall

Something In The Air

Accounting for environmental and other changes in the sonic atmosphere between sound check and show time.

Ideas are magnetic and when a useful concept gains popularity, minds will refine and push the limits of innovation, often to the point of absurdity and well past the point of diminishing returns.

Meanwhile as a technological feeding frenzy progresses, there are often gaps between productive practices and comprehensive solutions. These gaps are what I find especially interesting to explore and solve.

Take a moment and picture the scenario of overseeing a nightly posh dinner banquet. Each day setting up a table layout for a grand multicourse dinner with perfectly folded napkins, crystal champagne flutes, fine china and pristine cutlery placement.

After attending to every detail, confident with your presentation and watching the guests arrive, you notice a rippling motion. The once stable table begins to move as if the tablecloth now lies upon an undulating water mattress.

Your exquisite meal wobbles upon the liquid-filled membrane while the guests obliviously lean and push more and more waves into rolling motion. Glasses are toppling, food sloshing, and a culinary chaos ensues. With a flurry of panic, you and the staff are reaching in all directions to regain control, sop up spills, and replenish the losses.

Just when it seems the entire meal is hopelessly lost to calamity, the intensity begins to ebb, all that will spill or break has already done so. The messes become familiar; you’ve replaced tall champagne flutes with wide bottom cups on stable saucers. All excess frivolity has been carted away. A balance has been reached and tensions relax with a new and different result than the original intent as the wonderful food and smiles ramp up into a meal to remember, albeit one with a rough start.

The following day once again the task begins, setting a table while carefully attending to each detail, and once again the arriving guests are subjected to a meal that starts as a chaotic mess—some nights more, some less, and sometimes it barely happens at all. You never know when or why and or even if it will happen at all until one day; oh, wait! The table is always made out of ice, and the ice sometimes melts to slush or water between preparation and meal time. It’s not a mystery after all.

Everything’s Perfect
In this equation, we as sound engineers are overseeing the meal, with the system techs as the waiters setting the table and serving the meal. The band is the chef in the kitchen, and the dinner guests are the audience. Not unlike the slosh-water-table parties, we too face the challenges of a changing and interactive workspace. Though the venues we work in have the same physical dimensions throughout the show, the acoustical properties of any given space are constantly changing.

It’s common for us to spend a surprising amount of time fine-tuning every single detail of tonal balance, phase interactions, and loudspeaker positioning, resulting in complex EQ curves and a plethora of precisely calculated parameters. Meanwhile, we consistently find that the tonal balance and coverage of the system changes significantly from sound check to show time, and it continues to change throughout the performance.

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