The LIVE SOUND MIXING
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"Travel the world, explore other cultures, meet interesting people...and kill them!" (Army recruiting slogan)
©1997 Duncan R Fry
I see from the TV guide that Gene Hackman's movie, Uncommon Valour is coming on TV soon. Advertised as 'The first time on this channel!' which means it's probably been on all the other channels about 10 times.
The last time I saw the movie was at the snow.
Somehow the band had organised that rarity of touring - a night off! So on this night the inn's management decided to put on a movie.
I was hanging around the bar in the afternoon, getting stuck into a couple of jugs of après ski, when a wizened old man in a dust coat wheeled in a movie projector and set up a screen on the stage. The projector could easily have been one of Thomas Edison's factory rejects (Crazy Tom's Projector bargains - come on down!), and when he turned it on it wheezed, groaned, and then started clattering like a team of castanet players on speed.
Satisfied that the thing actually ran, the projectionist carefully placed a tiny speaker box on the stage. It looked like an early 40's guitar amp, with scrollwork on the speaker grille, and a whopping 6 inch speaker!
The thin sound that came out of it barely covered the clattering noise of the projector, so I went up to the projectionist.
"Why don't we run the sound through the PA?" I asked.
He shook his head.
"No, mate, you can't do it. The last band here told me it's got a special plug, and it wouldn't match up with their system. Then they told me to fuck off!"
"Hmm, let's have a look at this 'special' plug then," I asked. How different could it be? He uncoiled the lead and showed me.
It was a guitar jack!
"Well, it'll be a bit tricky mate," I said, trying hard not to laugh, "but I think we'll be able to match it up somehow."
His face lit up.
"Gee, do you reckon you'll be able to do it, then? That would be great. Thanks a lot young feller" He shuffled off, probably for a training session with the geriatric bobsled team, and left me to it.
For those of you who haven't seen the movie, it's a rip roaring adventure where Gene Hackman goes back into the jungles of Vietnam after the war to retrieve some M.I.A's (Missing In Action). Chuck Norris had also made a string of 'Missing in Action 1, '...2', '...3,' 'Missing in Action goes to Hawaii' 'Missing in Action and the Temple of Doom' movies with a similar theme, not forgetting lord of the mumbles in Rambo 2. So there was to be plenty of action.
First, I ran his signal (with the 'special' plug!) from the projector into the mixing console, and from there into a couple of bi amped monitor wedges, placing one each side of the screen facing the audience. The sound was a vast improvement, but I wasn't finished yet.
I took a line out from the first channel and ran it into a gate, a compressor, and then out to the main system, a couple of Series 2 ARX 1812's, big all horn loaded boxes with a couple of 18's for bottom end, which was just sitting there on stage doing nothing. I wound up the level of the low frequency end, carefully set the Thresholds on the gate and compressor, and then went out to roll around plastered in the snow, just like everybody else!
At showtime that evening, I fronted up to the mixer just as the old projectionist was hand cranking his projector. I pushed up the levels to where I had marked them in the afternoon, and settled back to watch the movie.
For the first twenty minutes of the movie there was just dialogue, which came from the two monitors, and the audience seemed quite happy with the sound of things.
But with the first explosion of the movie, BANG, the whole PA system erupted into life, with an enormous amount of bottom end, literally knocking everyone backwards in their seats!
It sounded great. Each time there was an explosion, or machine gun fire, the main PA would turn on, and then go back to the monitors for dialogue.
The audience loved it, and so did the management.
"Shit, that sounded fantastic," they said, coming up to me and shaking my hand. "How much would a system like this cost? We've got to get one."
However, when I indicated that something in the region of twenty thousand dollars would be necessary, they became distinctly less enthusiastic, and the idea was never mentioned again!
This story first appeared in Connections magazine