Sight And Sound

Well, it has been an interesting few weeks of festivals. As we have been out for a while and this is the second year of this album, the gigs are getting further and further afield. I actually like this because we get to go to more interesting and remote places. This in turn has thrown up some more ‘challenging’ set ups at gigs. Although the science behind this concept is ill-defined, and probably ill-advised, I like the sound system to 'look right'. I like symmetry to start with. In fact we even cover it in the technical rider we send out with the bands contract. The left hand side of the PA must be the same as the right hand side… Obvious you may think - well, unfortunately this is not always the case.

Last week we had a festival where the main left and right speaker hangs were not the same. To make it worse they seemed to be pointing partially upwards into the rain filled sky. It definitely didn’t ‘look' right. I was assured that the prediction software and angles were all correct. Well, obviously someone had told the software that the audience would be hanging in mid air about 10m above the ground…

In front of the stage the bass cabinets looked like Roman remains. Big piles of sub scattered along the downstage edge.
In the end I spent all the available time we had trying to get the sub cabinets working together. Mixing sub cabinets from different manufacturers is always problematical. Mixing array types even more so. With half the cabinets in cardioid mode, i.e. some facing back, some forward, you need to have a clear plan of what you are doing and hoping to achieve.

My first response at times like this is to have a listen. I like to know what the system sounds like, and if there is a problem be able to show the house engineer what I mean, often using pink noise. On this occasion from the mix position a mono signal panned from left to right sounded slightly different, but not enough to warrant dropping in the whole speaker system. It was the sub that was more problematical. At front of house there just wasn’t any! Walking along the barrier you began to get an inkling why. When you do reverse cabinets and try a cardioid sub array you have to get it right. If you mix up your cabinets it falls to pieces really quickly. The main issue with cancellation is that when things add it is only a matter of a few decibels but when they cancel it is total. Walking along in front of the subs it was like the sound being turned off and on as different cabinets cancelled themselves out.

A decision was made and we re-stacked all the subs in a ‘let's point it all forwards' design. I recalculated the delays and we rationalised the system. It wasn’t great but it was even. It’s even distribution that's the key. You need to know that is pretty similar sound everywhere, that you are not pummelling the audience at one point and leaving them in a void somewhere else.

Unfortunately by the time we had re-stacked all the subs time, and my enthusiasm, had run out. The flown PA remained pointing vaguely at the sky but with enough pointing down to get by. Not great, but a compromise. The show was great from a punter point of view. We had a very lively enthusiastic audience who were out to have a great time. I had a reasonable show in that I enjoyed the occasion. A great sounding mix… no, but we got away with it.

So what can we learn from this? Well look at your system. Does it look right? What time have we got to fix things? Choose your battles but make sure you fight them.

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