04 December 2012

Semi-Annual Anti-Amplification Rant

I've lost track of how many times I've heard well-meaning live sound technicians and recording engineers state their unfaltering belief that the purpose of live sound reinforcement is simply to boost the overall level and not to balance the ensemble. And yet as numerous as these pronouncements are, they're not nearly as numerous as the number of small to medium-sized performance spaces which house a sound system.

A world in which one has recourse to sound reinforcement only to reinforce and not to balance is a world in which hard-wired sound systems are the exclusive domain of sports arenas and the great outdoors. In any case, sitting in CalArts' Roy O. Disney Concert Hall (misnamed really since most schools would call a room that size a "Recital Hall"), it occurs to me that I can count on one hand the number of instruments I've heard in person there or anywhere else which would truly require amplification in such a small space simply to be fully audible.

Of course, there are many fruitful musical endeavors (i.e. solo tuba with big band, to name one quite near if somewhat less dear), which artificial balancing enables; call them "works of fiction," as one of my frequent collaborators does. We'd be loathe to throw that baby out with the bathwater, and yet I'd gladly limit myself to working in "non-fiction" for the rest of my life if it meant I never again had to sit ten feet from a needlessly amplified grand piano.

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