The LIVE SOUND MIXING
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Big Brother is Deafening You
All Rights Reserved © 1992 Duncan R Fry
As anyone reading this online will agree, computers are a way of life these days. Many years ago, seeking to upgrade my aging 386, I went along to a computer exhibition. By accident I wandered into the Macintosh area at first, only to be given the crossed finger sign to ward off evil when I mentioned my PC.
The Mac salespeople struck me as a strangely dedicated bunch. They have the same crusading, evangelical zeal usually reserved for Bose salespeople and holy rollers! The sort of "be reasonable, don't argue, just do it my way, because I know I'm right" and "In the beginning God created the Mac (or the 802 - take your pick)" attitude.
Guess I shouldn't bitch too much, though, because that attitude has made squillionaires out of Steve Jobs, Amar Bose, and Billy Graham, whereas I just sit here in front of the telly writing this rambling, anecdotal waffle.
To digress for a moment, they're advertising a new kind of pillow that makes you sleep better and leap out of bed happy and smiling in the morning, and I'm sure the woman on the screen just said "I used to wake up every morning feeling grumpy but now I just let him sleep!"
Anyway, there was so much noise passing itself off as music at this exhibition that I thought I had wandered into an elevator music convention. Working in the audio manufacturing industry all day, with wall to wall kick ass music on tap, I relish being able to sit down at the computer for some peace and quiet. I don't really want it to play The Star Spangled Banner when I open a file, nor the 1812 Overture when I press the Print button!
I suppose there are people who do, but I just haven't met them yet. They are probably the same people whose car horns play La Cucaracha, and who have the car stereo so loud that every time the bass hits bottom E the car jumps one lane to the left!
Just about every stand at this exhibition had some kind of Sound Pumper, Music Blaster, or Ear Bleeder card you could pop into your computer and wire it for sound. I stopped to look at a scanner at one stand, and gave the guy my card. "Audio Research, eh? You'll like this then, " he enthused, and tapped out a couple of commands on a keyboard.
Two tiny speakers immediately blasted out a synthesized version of the theme from The Sting, causing me and everyone else within spitting distance to recoil in horror with our hands over our ears. "Yeah, I thought you'd like it, great, isn't it," he continued, cranking up the volume so much that I thought the cones of these little speakers would jump out and land in my lap!
"That's not all," he continued, "Listen to this," and he jabbed more buttons so the sound changed from honky tonk piano to tuba to Stevie Wonder vocoder to 1,000 violins. "Wow, isn't that great?" he yelled. I went over and stabbed the Reset button and the cacophony came to an abrupt halt. I could suddenly hear everyone breathe a sigh of relief.
"Mate, that is the worst fucking sound I have ever heard in my life," I said, "I'd rather go deaf than listen to that crap."
His face had a look of uncomprehending hurt as I walked off. It got me thinking. What a waste of technology.
Hey, don't get me wrong, I'm no Luddite. I believe there's definitely a use for computers in music. Perhaps for the rest of the band to play games on while the singer combs his hair with the special 'untidy' comb, or maybe for wedging the studio door open on hot days. (How times change. I wrote this 16 years ago. Now I've got a complete hard disk multitrack recording system on my laptop !!!)
I'll say one thing in the guy's favour, though. At least he wanted to talk to people who came to his stand. So many displays were presided over by urbane little pricks in dark suits standing in the far corner of their stand with a mobile phone surgically implanted in their ears, all desperately trying not to make eye contact with the people their company has paid several thousand dollars to attract to their stand. If you ever wondered what happened to all those self important insurance salesmen, investment advisers and real estate salespeople when things got tough, then I can tell you. They're all working for computer companies. Or trying to give the impression of working, which is not quite the same thing.
I once worked on an exhibition booth that was right next door to some cheapo synthesizer company who had sampled the start of Peter Gabriel's 'Sledgehammer', then proceeded to play it non-stop for three days at a level that would make a dead man's ears bleed. And this in a show where the noise levels were supposed to be carefully monitored. On morning of the fourth day, a delegation of us trooped over to the booth and made some pertinent indications as to where the synthesizer would be jammed if they didn't stop. No translation was needed.
At one year's NAMM show in Anaheim, California, the booth next to ours had an enthusiastic salesman demonstrating a new trumpet. It was LOUD. Every five minutes he'd give a blast that sounded like a constipated elephant with haemorrhoids! Colin Park, one of my fellow ARX directors, was on the booth and suffering the combined effects of overdoses of jet lag and Cointreau. After a particularly loud blast from the trumpeter, Colin leaned over and tapped him on the shoulder.
"Do you think you could stop doing that?" he asked. "After all, it is supposed to be a low noise level exhibition."
"No," said the trumpet player, "It's a great product and I'm exercising my democratic right to demonstrate it."
"OK," said Col, "But if you do it again I'm going to exercise my democratic right to shove it right up your ass!" The trumpet player looked genuinely stunned. People just don't talk like that at music exhibitions in laid back Orange County. New York, perhaps, but not here in the land of personal space and getting in touch with the inner you.
However, the message did get through, and surprisingly enough, for the rest of the exhibition the trumpeter took customers out into the entrance hall to demonstrate his great product.
Gosh, here I am nearly at the end of the story and I haven't got to the subject I wanted to raise. What I really wanted to talk about this issue was Red Nose Day. No, I'm not making fun of it - it's a wonderful cause and deserves our support. What I was thinking of was a similar day promoting the awareness of sexually transmitted diseases in the music industry.
We could call it Red Nob Day.
This story first appeared in Connections magazine