Dweezil Zappa vs. Roger Waters

December 7, 2010 at 11:33 am | Posted in Audio, Concert, Digital, Jazz, Rock, Theater/Theatre, Vocal | 3 Comments
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I wasn’t going to blog either of these shows, because they are both so epic that you really have to be there to get it. Then, I realized something. I’m not one of those people that uses the word epic on a daily basis; I must have something blog-worthy. So, here we go…

The Music
     Both shows feature decades old music written by highly respected, highly talented composers. Each features complex instrumental arrangements with uncommon instruments. Both feature horns, keyboards (analog and digital). Multiple vocal parts are present in each. Drums were tight, loud and crisply gated at each show. Both drummers were highly skilled. I’d say they are deft at keeping meter in both standard times, and random timings that only people with years of experience, or Master’s degrees in music, even know what it is called. 6/16th time with augmented triplets or some such…but I’m guessing. Guitar players are both highly capable. Dweezil got to show off a few more styles; due to the fluid nature of Frank Zappa’s composition – but the guys in Roger’s band played note for note as the album dictated. Overall music from each was an exceptionally clear sonic wall.

Both Winners.

The Visuals
     Roger Waters brings bleeding-edge projection technology to an arena and projects incredible animations from Gerald Scarfe, superbly edited movies, and pictures of soldiers from fans around the world; onto a giant wall which gets built brick by brick as the show progresses. The video projectors are capable of momentarily transporting you into another dimension, I’m pretty sure. There are video technologies in play at this show that I’m sure originated in Area 51.
     Dweezil Zappa had 3 screens that occcasionally projected time-synced (to the live concert) remastered film footage of his dad. The footage was great, the timing was perfect. The restoration work (or was it just great preservation?) on it was superb.

Winner: Roger Waters. Sorry Dweezil. Roger outgunned you massively on this one, but he was dealing with a much bigger venue. The scale leaned in his favor from the start, and I took that into consideration. Even with the scale handicap – he just plain outgunned you.

The Sound
     Impeccable. I can assure you I am intimately familar with The Wall. I must also admit that I was not very familiar with ‘ Apostrophe. I listen to a lot of Pink Floyd and Roger Waters. I only own one Frank Zappa Album; Quadiophiliac. However, it is in on DVD Audio; remastered by Dweezil in multi-channel surround, as was originally specified Frank.
     Everyone involved in projects by Waters or Zappa is the “cream of the crop”. Whether they be technicians, musicians, vocalists or personal assistants – I am positive they are held to the highest standards of excellence. I’m sure it doesn’t matter if they are making coffee or tweaking a knob on a 96/24 audio console; everything has to be spot on. There are no shortcuts. Dedication to audio perfectionism requires state of the art gear, tweaked by technical experts and massaged by audio artists. Both shows had this in spades. Since Dweezil was playing a much more intimate show, I can’t knock him for not bringing the Qadrophonic rig like Waters did. I’m not even sure Frank envisioned this material as multi-channel. The balls-on stereo imaging present at the Zappa show more than made up for the lack of quad.

Both Winners.

The Emotions
     Roger brings with him a personal tale of fear, regret, disconnectedness and an anti-establishment world view. I can relate to that. I get the story. I love the story. I’ve seen it on the big screen, small screen, mid-sized screens and now on Ultra-Huge screens. Great story. Emotionally charged. Power packed.
     Zappa’s tales are a bit more fun. Uplifting and whimsical at times. Dreamy and surreal. At one point, as Dweezil did a bit of improv on the guitar; he effortlessly played an instantly recognizable Jimmy Page riff. It was a fleeting, joyous moment. I felt a tear well up and roll out of the corner of my eye as I had an epiphany. Concerts at this level of musicianship aren’t always about the spectacle…they are about the music, and how it can transcend time and space.

Winner: Zappa

So, there you have it folks. Big vs Small. Grand vs Intimate. Composer against composer. A tie. All things considered; either of these shows beats out any other plans for the night you might have had. You really have to see them to believe them. I can’t describe just how well both of these guys were able to capture a moment in time, bottle it and preserve it to be released upon an unsuspecting (or anxiously awaiting) public decades later. They are both incredible shows. Zappa and Waters – I salute you both.
 

Breathing In Music

November 11, 2010 at 2:02 am | Posted in Concert, Digital, Review, Vocal | 1 Comment
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Breathing, in music, is critical. Just ask any singer. I’d dare say that you could probably ask any musician, or for that matter – any human. Breathing is absolutely critical to life; it is also particularly important to music. Go ahead, google it – if you must. Wind instrument players have special techniques of breathing to play notes indefinitely. Guitar players and violinists use good posture and specialized breathing practices to play at optimum efficiency.

Breathing can also be bad in music. When? When it is done by audio processors (compressors), unintentionally. 

That seemed to be the case tonight, at Comerica (formerly Dodge) Theatre. Unintentional breathing. Irritating breathing. Maddening to me. I looked around, and figured I must be the only person noticing it. Everyone else seemed to be enjoying the Celtic Thunder show. Why wouldn’t they? The performers are attractive, and fairly talented. It is a pretty set-design (if a bit too artificial and contrived looking); with the requisite chemical fog/dry ice fog, and hazers fired up to accentuate the moving lights.  The voices are clear and bright, compliments of the state-of-the-art headest mics, capable of picking up a dying breath and projecting it to an audience…and “there’s the rub”, folks.

Whenever you take something as pure and recognizable as a human voice (or a violin bow drawing across a string) and electronically process it, there is a problem. The problem is the human ear. It is very good at picking up anomalies. How those anomalies are addressed by the human brain varies between individuals. Some people, like me, will dwell on them and get irritated. Others, like my beautiful girlfriend, will notice them but not realize that is why they just “can’t get into” the show. Still, others will seemingly not notice/care and will go about clapping, cheering and giving standing ovations. Maybe it is because the last group is 12 years old and was raised on mp3 files and compressed audio; or they are from the generation prior to “hi-fi” and assume that’s how it is supposed to be. Maybe they are just in shock, and awed, from seeing a modern moving lighting fixture cut through chemical haze with its dichroic colors and “totally cool” beams sweeping the stage and audience. I dunno… but I digress.

My point is that breathing in music is essential. Singers do it. They have to. The stringed, acoustic, instruments do it. They have to. The drums do it. They have to. That is how acoustic instruments work. They vibrate air. That is how the impressive speaker system hanging from the ceiling works. It vibrates air. Music breathes. Plain and simple.

My gripe, in this case, is with the electronics and the people that run them. Electronics do not breathe. They don’t interact with air; not like an instrument does. To them – breathing is bad. Breathing is a side effect of being set wrong. If your ears hear “breathing” or “pumping” that your eyes can’t physically correlate to a person – something electronic in the chain is not set properly.

Today’s sound engineering for live shows like Celtic Thunder is incredibly complicated. There is a lot of technology between that violin player at the back of stage, or the singer at the front of stage (wearing a headset mic), and the people in the audience. Sometimes that technology has quirks or problems. I get that. Problems like electronics audibly “breathing” is caused by a setting measured in milliseconds. For that problem to exist for almost an hour into a show is appalling. It is either caused by an electronics unit being faulty, or more likely; by that unit not being set correctly.

I applaud Celtic Thunder for their efforts and performance. The performers have talent. The “violin girls” are very talented. Too bad they aren’t featured a bit more. Too bad most of the string section was buried in the mix for half of the show. I wish I would have seen this show sans technology, and somewhat-cheesy theatricals, at some natural ampitheatre. It’s probably a great show acoustically and unscripted. Unfortunately, tonight that show got buried by the behind-the-scenes electronics I love so much not being transparent.

Once again…I must quote George Lucas and his THX division…”The Audience is Listening”.

Who’s to Blame for the Dolby Ripoff?

April 13, 2010 at 12:47 am | Posted in Audio, Digital, Dolby, Movies, science, TV | Leave a comment
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Dolby Digital. You know that term don’t you? You see it at the theatres, on your DVD boxes and DVD labels, on the Home-Theater-In-A-Box that you bought for some holiday or just before the “Big Football Thing”.

Oh yes, the thrill of surround sound. Helicopters flying all around, spraying bullets. Explosions that wake the neighbors because you haven’t figured out how to turn on the late-night-mode yet…hooking up all the wires…but that’s a different rant. Continue Reading Who’s to Blame for the Dolby Ripoff?…

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