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Black Art

Discussion in 'Sound, Music, and Intercom' started by avare, Apr 28, 2008.

  1. avare

    avare Active Member

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    Sometimes what we take for granted in what we do is a black art to other people. Several years ago as part of the tech rehearsal I extended an invitation to any of the cast who were interested to take part in a tour of the sound system setup and operation.

    We started with the wireless wrangler, pointing out how we (I was A1 and Board Op.) would check each actor and mic for signal through the meters on the receivers and PFL on the board if we didn't get a chance to check when the mics were picked up. The battery indicator was also pointed out. I told them that whenever someone was about to have an entrance, the A2 and I would check for signal and quality.

    Next we went to FOH where the board automation was shown on a few cues, the effect of compression was demonstrated (I use a 1:1.5 compression to maintain level balances without getting compression type distortion) as well as EQ and a couple of effects.

    Then a description of the various mixes and how they were used in part of the venue.

    Finally some of tricks of the trade in determining where cues are exactly in the script.

    The general reaction was WOW! They never new what was happening with the sound, how complex it was, how much planning was involved,the incredible pressures of fixing things seconds before they were in the performance, or what was done to make sure it was not heard by audience (the sound system that is).

    The actors who took part in the tour became a dream to work with. Several of remarked that they thought it was either a simple turn on the mic or some form of black art.

    One of ones who didn't decided in one performance to turn his mic off when off stage. Yep, he didn't check with the A2 before going on stage and had a dead mic. I didn't have to do a thing. The other actors told him in no certain terms that he caused his performance to be inaudible.

    The point being if you work with people and let them know what is going on things will be much better.

    Nothing up my sleeve,
    Andre
     
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2008
  2. lieperjp

    lieperjp Well-Known Member

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    That is a really good Idea... Maybe it would show the people here that we don't goof off during the performances... What kind of demos did you do for eq and compression and such?
     
  3. avkid

    avkid Not a New User Fight Leukemia

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    Occupation:
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    I actually held two workshops for our various directors and some occasional staff.
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    8 people came the first time, 3 the second time.
     
  4. Grog12

    Grog12 CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    What fantastic idea. Its unfortunate on the collegiate level that this doesn't happen more often. Or if it does it happens during a class and half the actors view it as "busy work."
     
  5. avare

    avare Active Member

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    I don't all the details but the gist of it is as follows. The EQ started with basic gross boosts and cuts and band sweeps. Then micing one of the actors and switching in and the standard EQ I had set up for the mics. My philosophy is to try and achieve the most natural sound with high intelligibility. The stock setting was a graphically guessed inverse curve of the mics' (Sennheiser gold MKE-02s) response tweaked with listening. Watching the people's faces it was obvious that once it was explained to them what the EQ was doing, that the EQ was giving a more natural sound. I had the mic moved around on the face so that the effect of different locations could be heard. This emphasized the importance of consistent mic placement.

    Not exactly EQ, but I went over the HP filters. Specifically how make the speaker sound more unnatural but remove the mud and low end rumble. This included how the settings varied by gender in a general way and tuned per person specifically.

    Compression started with a brief history of live performance over the decades and how a REQUIREMENT for live voices was loud. Kate Smith was given as an example. The modern expectations of audiences which are used to TV and movies for not having to strain to understand lines was mentioned. No compression was used to provide a reference. The first example was typical FM brick wall. Not too many noticed the distortion. A/Bed it with no compression at equivalent level and the light turned on! Next 1:5 ratio. The lack of distortion was obvious to them.

    I had the miced actor go on stage and do some lines with a wide dynamic range several times, First time, no compression. I pointed out how the quieter sections were hard to hear even in the empty (as in quiet) house and with audience moving, whispering etc. the lines would be inaudible. Then with the 1:5 compression. The increase in intelligibility was obvious.

    Finally (after a getting a feel for the passage) riding the input level to the compressor to keep GR to 6dB max. The clarity, naturalness and intelligibility were obvious to all. The point of this exercise was to show that technology by itself is not a cure and that even with the automation, as things change from performance to performance, a person has to be there to make real time adjustments.

    FX were not used in that production so it was just a quick "this is what reverb/echo/pitch shifting etc can do."

    The greatest complements came after performances when I would be asked "What happened to the sound system? I didn't hear it at all.":mrgreen:

    Andre
     
  6. avare

    avare Active Member

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    Thanks Philip. I am not clear on what your point is though. With out knowing how large your group is, are you saying that you had a great turn out or a terrible one?

    The session I am referring to was with the cast of the production about to start. Not background people. The size of the cast was about 30. 6 people took part. I consider that to be a great turn out. Some of cast were also sound people at times. Some had their own recording recording studios/setups. Some were experienced actors and already knew it. Some were incompetent. In some ways the greatest impact was from those actors talking with their peers afterwords telling the other actors what is going on with sound and why.

    One pattern I can say though is that all the people who part in the session were definitely near the top in terms of the acting skills in the production. They care about their performance.


    Andre
     
  7. avkid

    avkid Not a New User Fight Leukemia

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    8 was a great turnout, 3 was disappointing.
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    My point is mainly to do as much as possible in as little time as possible.
     
  8. mnfreelancer

    mnfreelancer Active Member

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    Now there's words to live by if I've ever seen any...
     
  9. BNBSound

    BNBSound Active Member

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    I used to want to show everybody what went on behind the scenes. Then I decided that the less they know, the better. The last thing I want is an actor bugging me about their EQ settings because the echo they hear off the back wall sounds odd to them, particularly in the middle of the rest of the chaos that goes on before curtain up. If I do my job properly, I'm totally invisible and nobody gives one thought to the sound system. With suspension of disbelief being the goal, why give away the goodies. It would be like watching "The Making Of" section of a DVD before you watch the movie, it drains the mystery.

    And besides... if nobody knows what you're up to, you can totally pull a Scotty from Star Trek. When you tell the captain the dilithium crystals need to be realigned and it's going to take four hours, you look like a total hero when you get it accomplished in twenty minutes. Just kidding. It does help me out sometimes though if people think I'm a wizzard. My directors consider me an asset because I can almost always "work the magic" and accomplish what they request. And I can brush off annoying actors by saying something about what they want to do not being possible the way the system is configured and stride off mumbling about errant noise from the dimmer racks.
     
  10. Andy_Leviss

    Andy_Leviss Active Member Premium Member

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    And I find I get more work by taking the exact opposite approach. Very often directors, producers, etc have been more than willing to go the extra mile for me when I'm able to explain the reasons behind something I do/don't do in concise, simple terms that they can understand. It's precisely because I don't try to baffle them with my BS that they like me.

    And with actors, it's all about psychology. The best A2 I've ever had didn't know much about sound, I had to teach him most of the job, but he had the one thing I couldn't teach. He knew actors and was good at getting them to feel comfortable, and keeping things running smoothly. He had my back so many times, from calming actors during a problem to defusing anger when things beyond our control went wrong.

    Contrary to what anybody else may believe, in this business, it's all about the actors. If they're not happy, nobody's happy. To a producer/director, actors are much less replaceable than crew is, unfortunately. They view us as much more interchangeable, in many cases. Make friends with the actors, and you'll be a step ahead.

    --Andy, who can tell you the drink of choice (tea, surprisingly often!) of nearly every lead he's worked with professionally, because it's just a good idea to know that sort of thing!
     
  11. Unmanedpilot

    Unmanedpilot Member

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    Cut the quote to save space :grin:
    Anyway, I've been volunteering with sound for 4 years and have had a paid job at a local theater for a few months now. I've found if the artists or actors know whats going on and understand what your doing then they are much more cooperative when something needs to be done differently. I have 2 examples: First, when I work at my church I often have people ask me to set up monitors or microphones minutes before we are supposed to start. Setting up a monitor and having it at proper levels will take much longer then the time we have. When I tell them I can't the either agree but give me some weird look or flat out ask why and get angry with me. This usually happens because they just don't understand the process. Perhaps not the best example but its all I could think of. The second example is from the theater, one of the actresses was singing backup to "The Lion Sings Tonight" and would do the high pitched, "yell" is the only word I can think of. Well when she would perform she would cup her hand around her mouth cutting the sound from the mic. I simply explained how the sound travels from her mouth to the mic and how her hand was blocking the sound instead of enforcing it as she was trying to do. She quickly understood and adjusted her hand to get the best sound quality.

    So by having the actress understand whats happening I got her to be more cooperative. I believe if they understand whats going on they will be more willing to help and more impressed when you do a good job. Otherwise they think its black magic and expect you to be able to do anything.

    Sorry for the long winded post with a short meaning.
     
  12. BNBSound

    BNBSound Active Member

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    I guess I should have included a couple of my basic philosophies in that post that's been quoted from so much. The first is to try and always say yes and the second is not to burden people unnesecarily with things they don't need to know. When my director asks for a monitor hanging upstage so actors can hear a cue and make their entrance, she doesn't want to hear about rigging hardware, schedules, work loads or anything else. My answer in a case where we're five minutes from go would be, "Yeah, I can get that but I can't rig it till later. I'll stick it somewhere out of the way for now." Or some such thing. People don't always need to be informed. Have you ever had someone ask you how long you'll be in the space and give them a run down of all you have left to do? Ever watch the expression on their face when they realize they're not going to get an answer in minutes? Better to give people only the info they need to get on with their business. Have you ever gotten into a long winded technical dissertation with an actor to explain why their request isn't possible? Why not just tell them no but you'll try to find an alternative? Actors don't need to know all about the tech that surrounds them, they just need to know that there are competent people in charge of that stuff who have their best interests and those of the show at heart. Then they can put their worries aside, knowing the folks in the black shirts have it under control and can get back to their parts.

    I should have put a toung in cheek disclaimer on that first post anyway, this one is more representative of how I actually operate.
     
  13. avare

    avare Active Member

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    I don't understand you Jon.

    My post was about a tour to those who were interested. IOW those people who wanted to know.

    In case it wasn't implicit, I'll make it explicit. The tour was during a break in rehearsals, not five minutes before a performance, setup, etc.

    Andre
     
  14. Peter

    Peter Well-Known Member

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    To bring out another aspect of this issue; this gets even more complecated when $ becomes involved. The college production club I work with charges for our services depending on the size of the required rig and how complecated it is. Educating people about what is involved with making things sound good, and how much equipment they actually need for their event (even when they would probably prefer to pay for something cheaper) is really important and not easy. On the one hand, they dont need to know the details, but they need a general idea of what is going on, especially the other clubs that do many different concerts of various sizes.
     

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