Sometimes people get it right the first time
slaningham 100000GSNP Comments (3) Visits (1994)
why the greeks could hear plays from the back row. It makes me think about how far we've digressed in our approach to live acoustics. The idea is that, now, anything can be solved through amplification -- the kind that uses electricity. I'm not sure I agree. Certainly there are settings where it is not practical to locate or build an Epidaurus (famed Greek outdoor theatre where actors can be heard 60 meters away). But too often we all settle for a sort of sonic epidural, or so seems the numbing result of bad sound reinforcement.
Of course, this is most pronounced and obvious with live music. One example of it is what I like to call sound by Jack Daniels. SBJD is a condition where the individual operating the sound console at a live music event has come under the influence of actual or imagined spirits and has chosen to wreak havoc upon the eardrums of the audience members. If I may recall an example from my days as a drummer.
I was performing with a jazz band at an outdoor festival in Amarillo, Texas. If you're assuming that Amarillo is a sort of mecca for jazz, you are mistaken. Anyway, the local sound shop must have brought out every piece of gear they owned and chain-linked the whole thing together. I remember the way it hit me when I first arrived at the park. It looked like a cityscape -- endless uneven towers of black speakers. The huge openings on the speakers reminded me of the floodgates at the bottom of many hydroelectric dams. I think the sound crew may have sidestepped amplifiers and just wired the mixing board straight into the local power grid.
After we finished setting up our instruments, I went out front to see how the band looked from the perspective of the gathering audience. I recall it as something like Lilliputians perched between the big guns of a battleship, the guns being the enormous towers of speakers flanking the stage. When they were ready for a microphone check, the guy at the mixer yelled "KICKDRUM!" through the on-stage monitors and almost blew me off of the drum throne. I have never since heard a human voice amplified to that level. Suffice it say there are things going on in the human vocal chords that most of us will never know about.
I was afraid to oblige him, wondering what damage would be done to my body by the subsequent audio shockwave if I actually hit the kick drum. So I taped it gently and watched an old cottonwood tree shed its leaves 200 yards away. After that the sound guy said, "OK. You guys are ready!" They apparently cared nothing about checking the other instruments. The horns and keyboards would not be heard, and the bass and guitar were, naturally, set to maximum volume. The downbeat of the first tune registered 6.5 on the Richter Scale and a shout went up from the audience of, "ROCK N ROLL!!" The sound crew was in ecstasy, having achieved their end goal of transforming whatever happened to be on stage into Jethro Tull, and we sat there on stage, dreaming of an unplugged evening at Epidaurus.