It’s amazing what a few days rest does. To be honest I’ve done almost nothing. Lots of sleep, a nice walk around the countryside with my better half and hours spent playing League Of Legends and watching Netflix. Sometimes nothing is the best thing for you to do and now I’m feeling refreshed and ready to go. We are destined to hit Friday traffic so Paul suggests leaving 2 hours earlier than we would normally need to. It turns out to be a great idea. The M3 roadworks (guess how many people were working on it?) into the inevitable M25 carpark slowed us down a hell of a lot. The Sat Nav is set for Chelmsford today, an area I used to frequent a lot as it is the home of a previous client of mine, Suzy Quattro. Benji suggested asking her if she would like to come to the show but unfortunately I don’t have her phone number.
After the slow journey we arrive at the Cramphorn theatre. A strange name for what turns out to be a strange room. Eventually we find our way in and I meet with the house tech’s Dave and Mark who are both helpful and clued up on the matters at hand. The venue is a rare find for a council run theatre. They actually spend money on maintaining and upgrading it. The sound system is relatively new and so is the seating, plus the venue doubles as the obligatory cinema. The P.A. is an EM acoustics rig with the main installation being a small pair of speakers ideally suited for speech but not music. There is a sub under the raked seating to give some punch, and to beef up the system 2 Martin speakers are placed on stands which are what I would expect for a gig of this size. There are also 2 little infill speakers to cover the front row of the audience. All this equipment is decent quality stuff plus I am given an iPad with individual control over each speaker, so this shouldn’t cause me too many problems (or so you would think). Unfortunately adding more speakers doesn’t necessarily make things easier or better. For starters each pair sound totally different to the others and secondly the more speakers you add to a situation the more phase coherence problems you will encounter.
Settle down class, here comes a basic introduction to phase!
If you have 2 speakers, one close to you and one further away and they both send you the same signal at exactly the same time. As you would expect the sound from the closer speaker hits your ears first. When the sound from the second speaker hits you it doesn’t necessarily add to the volume and can actually cancel some of it out. This is a form of phase cancellation and frequencies you are listening to can disappear completely. To make matters worse as you move around the room and change your distance between the speakers the frequencies that are being cancelled changes. This is a very very basic definition and hopefully I have worded it well enough that it makes some sense.
At todays gig I have a total of 6 speakers all causing various phase problems throughout the room. There are ways to help overcome the worst of these problems but to do it properly I need more time and software that I don’t currently have on my laptop. Soundcheck therefore doesn’t go easily at all. I was expecting some phasing issues but they are really bad in this room. The sound is pretty consistent if you move from left to right but if I move up and down the steps between the seats the sound changes drastically. It takes me ages changing the E.Q. and volume levels of each individual speaker to try and clean things up and I never get to a point of being happy with it. We finish soundcheck at a point where it feels like it’s just gone on too long and we know that as usual the audience coming in is going to change things anyway.
For the gig I find a spare seat on the back row. It's not normally an ideal position but as every point in this room sounds different it doesn’t really matter where I sit. When Faustus start to play it just feels weird. I can only really describe the sound as like listening to vinyl, it’s really warm, too warm. I try to add in some hi frequencies several times to give a bit more excitement to the sound but it just doesn’t work. This P.A. and this room are just not going to do it. After a couple of songs I admit defeat on what I want to do. This is a situation you come to every so often when mixing a live show and is an important lesson to learn when mixing.
When you can’t get what you want, work with what the room gives you.
Each room has it’s own sonic characteristics. Often you can manipulate them but sometimes you can’t without the sound deteriorating into a horrible mess. Most of the time it is volume dependant, your mix can be technically great yet still sound awful. Dropping the level 2 or 3 db can make a huge difference. Other times it is frequency dependant problem as is the case today. So i decide to mix a more warm and fluffy show that hopefully will sound ok in all the different areas of the room. I have also noticed over the years that each room has its own tempo. I make the presumption that it is to do with the time it takes the reflections of the original sound to come back to you from the walls, floor and ceiling. Rarely is it a problem but I notice that several of the songs in tonights set are slower than normal. I have heard this effect a few times over the years, usually with artiste’s I know very well and only if they do not play to a click. In short the room is completely changing the “vibe” of the gig.
Faustus find it quite a difficult situation and I can tell from my seat that they are working hard tonight to keep things together. They feel completely isolated from each other in the well draped room and although I turn them up in each others monitors to help, it is never the same as the natural sound you get when the stage is just right. It is a testament to the quality of this band that nobody notices any issues. The guys still pull off another great show even with a completely different feel from anything else we have done this tour. A lot of the audience tell them how much they enjoy the show and that it sounded great………..Phew!