Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dave Rat Porta-Blog - Chaos and Anarchy

One of the more challenging aspects of mixing sound is developing an awareness and compensating for the fluctuating nature of our humanly perceptions.
From the inside out we cannot help but see the world and develop our decisions, preferences and opinions based on comparisons against the reference points we hold within our minds. "Am I Tired? Hungry? Warm? Happy? or Successful? Perhaps all and none at the same time as it really depends on to what we are comparing our perceptions to. Furthermore, our internal reference points shift over time due to numerous factors. The first few days visiting a summer Hawaii are filled with thick syrupy breaths of humid air and sweating in exhaustive heat. Fast forward two weeks and returning home to 70 degree weather has me looking for a hoodie in t-shirt weather.
So let's slide this into a sound perspective. "Where are my ears, at?" I've hear there is no reason grammatically to add the "at" at the end of a 'where' question but I think in thIs case it is warranted as it inquires the perception of the ears rather than their physical location.
Or better, "where are my ears at today, right now." Are our ears honest? Where are the ears at of the people we are mixing sound for? What if my ears are clean clear and crisp from plenty of sleep, healthy eating and exersize and I am mixing for an audience who has drank enough beer to fill Lake Michigan? What will be important to that audience? Subtle perfections or sheer volume.
What about monitor engineers? Where are the monitor engineer's ears at? Where are the band's ears at?
Unraveling all of this into a somewhat manageable and predictable presentation is probably more complex than mastering chess due to the fact that there are no real rules to this game.
Numerous planes crash for loss of a reference point as simple as wind speed. The altimeter is a very useful reference point for a skydiver wishing to avoid splat. Camera's have light meters to calibration for white balance, musicians use 'A' 440 or at least tune to each other as a common reference point.
A complete and total elimination of all reference points would have no option but to result in chaos, anarchy. Gravity is a reference point for all things earthly holding the planet together. So back on audio track. If you agree the lack of reference points is chaos, then establishing reference points is crucial to achieve order and consistency.
For me to try and tackle the ear drift issue, I establish familiar reference points. The constant I use to compare to is a pair of headphones, a familiar song played on a familiar music player. Reference points that are important to the task at hand should be developed, learned, studied and refined over time and once established, they can be of absolute importance.
So why the ramble? Well, because clinging desperately to reference points was how yesterday was spent. On three hours of sleep to wake to a broken shower knob straight into back to back plane flights with a 2 hour layover straight into the gig had my ears numb and ringing, everything hurt and from that hazy state of burry exhaustion, having my ears hear anything close to what all the energetic and heart warmingly wonderful Costa Rican ear would want, was just not going to happen.
The fact is that my ears were fried and no amount of willpower or positive attitude was going to fix them in time for the rock show. Like a pilot landing in a white out, it is all about being using and trusting my hopefully reliable enough, reference points. If I mix the show so it sounds correct to me, it will surely sound like ass to everyone else.
For a bIt more on the methods I use to factor hearing drift and sag out of the equation, check out "when hearing starts to drift" article I wrote a while back either on Prosoundweb.com or daverat.com:
As far as answering the question of whether the methods were successful? I think so, I hope so, sure seemed so and I guess that can only truly be answered by the 20,000 or so rocking Costa Rican's who came to hang out with us.
Oh, so a bit about the pics above in no particular order.
Just imagine my 5am airport line glee upon seeing so many wonderful people all heading the same direction as me!
Who woulda knew Big Daddy could throw down some grooving percussion beats!
The group photo of the our Columbian FOH sound and light crew, super cool!
And the shower handle still makes me smile at the mini mental tanti, turned dispair, turned laughter.
Hey, look at Peppers meals in Bogota!
And finally, my home, my interface, my connection and conduit, my instrument, my unlabeled, unlit 1000 pound bundle knobby joy, my mixing board.
Well all right, how about we go check ourselves out some Peru!
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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Camping Trip

Bogota Columbia and a nice day off crew wander and meal followed by a 5pm lobby call. 'Day before presetup' and though I don't like to gig hug, we really do need it. It's another ice cold audio start. This will now be the 5th time monitor eng Tim-Sam and I have dialed up fresh consoles, repatched and started from scratch. At least it is only for 30,000 people with "TBA" on the sound check in the itinerary. But hey, no use stressing on aspects beyond my control. It's just all about getting my head around the solutions.
If you have been doing sound for top level headline acts on any sort of larger scale, you may comprehend the challenges at hand with every single knob and control is at zero. Though I do find it a bit peaceful and enjoyable spending a chunk o time massaging a console into performing how I desire, having a well tuned board is a much sweeter pleasure.
Its a Milo rig today and for the course of the South America dates, I will be rolling into a wide variety of sound systems. Some more Meyer Milo, some JBL Vertec, some Adamson, D&B and way too few L-Acoustics rigs. So until we start the Euro run in Oct, its going to be a party wave of sound systems.
Another dynamic that is throwing a bit of a wrench into today's adventure is the altitude. Bogota sits at a lofty 8600 feet up and you feel the thin air the moment you gasp your first few breaths off the plane. Even though there are less air molecules running around up here with the research I have done, I have yet to find any convincing fata showing the sound changes. Conversely, ask anyone who has mixes high altitude shows and and without missing a beat, they will tell you that things sound screwy up high.
Regardless of whether the 20% thinner air here alters sound propagated our perception of the sound, either way, it's a bit of an octopus wrestling match to try and solve.
Next on my mind is the 5:30 am aftershow flight tomorrow to Costa Rica for another large one. Hmmm, show ends at 10pm, 2 hours to load out, 1/2 hour to hotel, figure if everything runs absolutely perfect we'll hit beds by 1am for a 3am lobby call. Airport straight to gig, dump trucks and there we will be, bright and chipper fresh to tackle the new day. But hey, at leaest my consoles will still be dialed in from the Bogota show.
Oh, well I guess this is payback for bum rushing Biarritz last week and one of those times that helps me appreciate when things roll easy.
In the mean time, Columbia, let's get down to business and do ourselves a rock show!
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