Jody Elff is a multitalented audio professional with over 25 years of experiences in venues of almost every shape, size, and quality. He cut his teeth in the late 80s and early 90s in Boston, and then after moving back to the New York area, working front-of-house for leading-edge jazz acts like The New York Voices and Diana Krall.
Over the course of his career, Elff has amassed a collection of favored technology, including Metric Halo SpectraFoo sound analysis software.
“Back in the late 1990s, when I started working with Laurie Anderson, I had my first opportunity to have complete design control over the PA system (rather than just being a guest at a venue for an evening), and I was well aware of how important proper PA alignment was to a successful show,” he said. “Back then, in many local venues, it was still the Wild West. I could walk into a venue with an artist and it could be great or it could be really terrible. Through my friends at Firehouse Productions, I was introduced to the guys who, at the time, were just starting Metric Halo. They gave me a run-through of SpectraFoo, and I immediately recognized its value for system analysis, and started using it on Laurie’s tours. I’ve been using it ever since.”
Although most of the venues Elff travels to in the United States with his current roster of clients, such as Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, use of state-of-the-art sound reinforcement, many of the venues he travels to around the world do not.
“There are still lots of venues around the world where the in-house staff has little or no idea how their system works (if it works at all) and still others where technicians come in and hang some speakers and then leave entirely,” he said. “I use SpectraFoo to get a quick and accurate picture of what’s happening in the room so that I can make the most efficient changes for a good show.”
One thing Elff uses SpectraFoo for, even in the best venues in the world, is to accurately time-align the system to match the arrival time of the onstage percussion.
“Most of the acts I’m working with require delicate careful sound reinforcement, rather than just amplification,” he said. “The Silk Road Ensemble is made up of instruments that don’t always sit well together acoustically. It is even sometimes difficult for the musicians to hear each other when they practice. That said, I’m not using the PA aggressively, and you can still hear energy from the instruments on stage. I use SpectraFoo’s delay finder to align the sound from the PA with the acoustic impulse from the percussion, and it’s remarkable to hear what a difference it makes. Without the time alignment, the PA is obvious and, to my mind, distracting. When I kick in the delay, it’s like the PA disappears and the focus returns to the stage, where it belongs. This is not a “new” technique – engineers have been doing this for decades – but it is still astonishing how radically it can improve the audience’s listening experience, especially in a primarily acoustic setting.”
In venues with multi-zone systems, Elff uses SpectraFoo to separately time and phase align subwoofers, main arrays, balcony fills and front fills. When he teaches, Elff uses SpectraFoo to give students a visual representation of sonic characteristics that are otherwise difficult to effectively talk about.
“In addition to using SpectraFoo’s Spectragram when I’m getting a handle on, say, a museum space, it’s a great tool for teaching,” he said. “For most people who are not musicians or audio professionals, sound is a relatively abstract thing, and we lack a common vocabulary for talking about its different aspects. Often, the public at large can only say that something is ‘too loud,’ ‘too quiet,’ ‘doesn’t sound good,’ or ‘sounds great.’ But students who are getting serious about working with sound need much more than that. I’ve found that showing them a Spectragram is hugely revelatory for them. It’s a powerful first step in making the intangible tangible and from there you can begin to have a real dialog.”