What follows is the second email message exchange with David Wozmak, an audio engineer from New Hampshire, on the subject of my essay, An Audio Horror Story: Tuning a Soundspace. The first exchange is found at this link.
Thanks for your message. Once again, full of plenty of fine thought food.
<From: david Wozmak
<To: "'Ron Pellegrino'"
<Subject: RE: your page on audio horror -- tuning a "soundspace"
<Date: Fri, 3 Apr 1998 11:34:12 -0500
<I´m glad to see that you took my message in a good light...on
<seemed to have a biting tone that I didn´t really intend to be there!
<I think the true nature of the problem we´re discussing here
is that of
<specialization, and a widespread lack of "generalist" training... we have
<musicians and composers that haven´t the faintest idea of acoustics,
<electronics, and how it affects them in a venue; and we have sound techs
<that aren´t musicians.
RP - Bingo! Educators do poorly in these fields because they´re perpetuating their own specialist biases inculcated by their teachers; consequently students have few models for the wide and long view of any field including music and audio engineering. I´ve heard an unending river of reasons why educators simply can´t fit anything more in the curriculum. However it actually boils down to educational materialism, sloth, and lack of vision by both teachers and students. For decades teachers and students have approached education as if it were a supermarket full of goodies to be distributed and acquired; both entities miss the point that the function of formal education is to provide the foundation for lifelong self-directed learning focused on fundamentals and the integration of related fields.
What´s required of an individual is a lifelong commitment to paying one´s educational dues and that means a willingness to invest time, effort, and resources until one returns to dust; from cursory observation anyone can see that such an attitude isn´t exactly popular with either teachers or students. Any view beyond the end of one´s nose will show that one needs to be light, nimble, and fast in the face of a unfolding future with seemingly no speed limits. Rather than encouraging each other to expand their views by looking ahead as well as back, educators and students seem to be destructively locked into a myopic trance.
Overly specialized "training" definitely is a major contributing factor to problems associated with poor audio engineering performance. Today what´s required for both musicians and audio engineers is not training (rule based) but rather an education (principle based) steeped in the fundamentals of sound, hearing, the nature of soundspaces, acoustic and electronic instrumental sound production and generation, the idiosyncrasies of contemporary and historical musical styles, and all facets of sound recording, playback, and reinforcement. In addition, from the beginning, that education should provide nonstop opportunities to experiment with the creative application of all those fundamental principles in a production environment that fosters cooperation, collaboration, and communication. For today´s musicians and audio engineers, who most likely haven´t been blessed with such an education, applying the principles of cooperation, collaboration, and communication would go a long way towards improving the scene for them as well as their audience.
Your "little sidebar" that follows is a great example of what should be expected of audio engineers, namely a creative musical attitude towards all aspects of the audio business, an attitude that effects a musical integration by the application of audio tools guided by a cultivated ear. I´m leaving your description intact so that visitors to my site can read it in an unbroken flow. Following your description I´m including reflections on some of its details.
<Just a little sidebar: I learned how to do sound reinforcement
<gentleman that was the main sound engineer for The Who, The Rolling Stones,
<and a whole slew of other lesser and greater "gods". His technique for
<"tuning" a room was to first run some pink noise through an analyser, which
<would give him a general idea of the distribution of acoustic energy in the
<room, and identify any gross deficiencies. If you´ll suffer through an
<analogy, his attitude toward it was much like making sure all your
<ingredients were actually in the kitchen, before you start baking. He
<explained that very often, this preliminary step quickly identified gross
<errors, such as miswired speakers and other types of problems. He would
<then wander through the venue with a small collection of microphones, and a
<long cable, speaking a range of fricatives and plosives, and long tones.
< As he was doing this, he would call out frequencies that needed
<attenuation, usually in 1 db (slight) steps, "gently" peeling away strident
<frequencies, one by one. He was well-trained in establishing what the
<room´s fundamental resonances were, and would work primarily on taming
<them. Next, he would switch to reference program material (his favorite
<was "Flight of the Valkries") and evaluate his progress. Occasionally, he
<would jump up and re-direct a speaker stack, to better distribute things.
< After a while of this, his sound system would actually allow you to
<tolerate very high spl...if that was the requirement...
<Because everything was so smooth, listening fatigue was greatly
<as was the perceived need for high volume...because the mix just sort of
<happened all by itself, rather than having to be forced.
<He was not a musician, but his understanding and appreciation
of music was
<very fine. The problems we all face as performing musicians (I´m a
<bassist, vocalist, Chapman Stick-ist) is that the non-musician sound guy
<just doesn´t have the necessary perspectives. He has no idea what the
<instrument "should" sound like, so it is only by luck that the sound comes
<It´s a lot like the doctor that is baffled by his patient´s headaches...not
<having asked whether or not the patient is a boxer.
<70 Franklin St.
<Milford, NH 03055
RP - What makes a sweeping sine tone preferable to pink noise is that I can focus on any frequency from subaudio to supersonic to test and isolate all speaker elements very quickly. My sine tone source is the resonating lowpass filter of an analog synthesizer so I can program it to create very slow sweeps while I walk the space listening for room resonances, sympathetically vibrating room hardware, dead spaces, etc. The bands of the sine wave sweeps are adjustable from beyond the low and high limits of audiblity to barely perceivable frequency variations; in all cases I can set the sweep´s center frequency anywhere I choose. As necessary I massage the soundspace with the combination of the spectral and amplitude controls on the board and the speaker distribution/direction.
There´s a certain charm in your teacher's use of "Flight of the Valkyries" as test material but it makes a whole lot more sense for efficiency and accuracy to use program material of the group that´s going to be doing the event. My second step involves using my own music, music that I've composed and performed and that will be on the program I´ll be doing in the particular soundspace I´m tuning. I know exactly how my music should sound so I gently massage the system until it sounds just right to my ears.
The fact is that I never stop tuning a soundspace just the way a musician should never stop tuning the music; tuning on the fly is what separates the creative and inspiring musicians from the mechanical and mundane musicians. I know from a lifetime of making music that tuning in all its musical guises (pitch, rhythm, dynamics, tempo, balance, ensemble, etc.) is the key to good music of any style. Over the years I´ve included a broad stylistic range of solo and ensemble performing musicians in my performance-multimedia events - jazz, rock, classical, experimental, fusion, techno, folk, world, etc. Every style presents a special set of soundspace tuning problems and every individual practitioner of a style requires special tuning attention. I´m always fine tuning.
From reading the description of your teacher´s soundspace tuning procedure he sounds to me like a fine musician. The fact that he may not have had academic training doesn´t mean anything. Any audio engineer who has a fine "understanding and appreciation of music" and was able to apply them to the tuning of a soundspace so that the audience was able "to tolerate very high spls" and "listening fatigue was greatly diminished" deserves praise and recognition as one of the musicians in the group.
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