Monday, April 23, 2007

Pillar to Post

Our local folkclub prides itself in giving our visiting artists all the bells and whistles when it comes to providing sound for our iconic Victorian venue. A hard room to play at the best of times, so we spend a bit on hiring the right gear for the job and having done a few dozen decent sized concerts now we (me and my team of hardworking, unpaid techies) believe we have finessed the venue. It's a wide, high vaulted room with inopportunely placed pillars but we've found the best layout, built a stage platform and arrange the room accordingly. It's a great venue when everything is working.

15:00 The boys turn up and we start lugging the speakers in (2 JBL Concert series), place them on their plinths, angle them just so - experience has taught us this is critical for uniform coverage of this widish room.
15:30 We're running out the multicore and plugging in the amps - about a kilowatt per side. The thing we know well is that big is always better where folk and acoustic music is concerned. No other music, except perhaps classical music, is more demanding of power for its wide dynamic range (soft to loud) and intolerance to any form of distortion or unnatural artifacts. "Headroom" is key and we strive to keep the sound warm, real and uniform across as much of the room as possible. To do this you ideally need big speakers gently moving swathes of air through the space to avoid peaks and troughs in different locations. It's those annoying peaks that listeners percieve as "too loud".
16:00 The lights are going up and the sound system is ticking over nicely with a CD playing through it. Lines, mics and di's are checked, the desk is EQ'd and things are looking good.
16:30 We're onto the housekeeping, taping down leads and packing cases away. Time for a celebratory beer. No hitches, callbacks or toolkit breakouts.
17:00 Soundcheck time. Enter the Talent, who look aghast and say, "We won't be needing that, this is not a rock and roll gig. We've brought our own gear."

I have to say, I was reasonably impressed with how good their own system sounded given it was one tenth the size of the system we were now packing up. Apart from being annoyed at the wasted expense (money and time) I was sad that, given how good this group was, we couldn't have made them sound as good as they could have. Needless to say, tiny speakers on a stick were never going to cut it in front of 50 plus people spread across a room as wide as this. As expected, intelligibility fell right off 30 degrees off axis, so unless you were right down in front, it was a bit of a struggle.

I suppose it comes down to a matter of trust, really. When you turn up at an unfamiliar venue, do you trust that the locals have got it sussed or do you manage what you can with what you've got. The problem here was that the detail of who was doing what was not sorted out by their agent at the time of booking. We both made assumptions.

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