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”.

Alice Breaks The Chains At Dodge Theatre

February 18, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Posted in Concert, Review, Rock, Theater/Theatre | Leave a comment
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I’m happy to report that rock ‘n’ roll as we know it is still alive and kicking ass.

Alice In Chains

Warm up act Creature With the Atom Brain sounded pretty tight with a solid back beat. However, the guitars and melodies were probably more suitable for an all day festival where you could really get into a nice groove a la Deep Purple. Their stage set consisted of nothing but a big black curtain behind them and 8 moving lights in the front which were limited to color and iris changes. But hey, as an opener even being allowed iris changes isn’t always guaranteed.

As their set ended a big white drape came down in front so the set change could happen in privacy. Turned out that it really wasn’t just a privacy screen. Alice In Chains used it to project their shadows on as they opened their show. Definitely caught me off guard, and looked really damn cool.

That shadow screen dropped to reveal what we called a rock concert back in the day. With Sean Kinney pounding the skins and Mike Inez on bass; an incredibly tight, awesomely loud vibe filled the room at Dodge. I’m sure that had a lot to do with the fact the pit chairs were removed for Standing Room Only GA Pit admission. Something we almost never see anymore.

Jerry Cantrell’s definitive guitar sound and new vocalist William Duvall let us know immediately that Alice In Chains is back in full force. That was a big relief, as I’m sure many of my fellow concert-goers were unsure that AIC could rock like they did before the loss of frontman Layne Staley in 2002.

Opening with old, familiar tunes brought even the seated crowd to their feet, where they stayed all show. Familiar material dominated the first half of the show before they threw in new material from Black Gives Way to Blue at us. even though the new stuff was unfamiliar to me I can tell you it kicks ass. William has a great voice for rock in roll, though he did let us know he was “sick as a fucken dog”.  That definitely accounts for his voice tiring a bit near the end.

Like I said above, this was definitely a rock concert. Moving lights were the order of the day. Looked like perhaps a mix of Vari-lites and some cool new stuff from High End Sytems including three DL-3 projectors and some fancy LED automated wash luminaires. I’ll have to see if Mike Baldassari can give me specifics. Update: Mike did get me some specifics. I was wrong on the Vari-lites. The majority of the movers used were actually Martin MAC 700’s. I knew something was different about their shape, but I didn’t grab any pictures – sometimes its hard to guess make/model numbers by memory.

Those DL-3’s are ultra-cool little units. They look like a standard moving light, but they pack some secret weapons. Namely, the ability to project and shoot full motion video. That means they can film the band and project them on any surface they can reach. They’re bright, so they can reach just about anything in the theatre, too.

Concert audio was supplied by the standard Dodge line array system (not sure of manufacturer – EAW perhaps? I’ll have to ask the guys next time) which, for the most part, sounded great because of all the standing people really tightening up the bass. It had some fleeting moments where the high mids broke up slightly and I’m starting to wonder if perhaps my “usual seats” might be a “weird spot” for those frequencies in particular, or if the system could use just a tad more headroom (insert standard soundman joke here).

All in all it was another great concert at Dodge Theatre. As usual, we took the light rail down there and I definitely encourage you to do the same as its very convenient and costs less than parking in the garages!

~~I’m throwing some photos up on the photo page but be aware that Dodge has a policy against ultra-zoom cams so these are done with a tiny pocket cam~~

Avatar – This Changes Everything

December 21, 2009 at 11:57 pm | Posted in Movies, Review | Leave a comment
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Consumers, film buffs, home theatre aficionados; take note. You can bet Hollywood has. James Cameron has produced a “game-changer”. Yes, he also wrote it and directed it – but all in all its more of a production.

What’s a game-changer? Star Wars IV A New Hope (the first, original one was). Jurassic Park was. The Abyss (also a Cameron film) was to a limited extent – the extent that there was a lot of cool stuff filmed underwater. Star wars changed the game with never-before-seen visual FX (light sabers and blasters come to mind) and created a standard for audio presentation (now known as THX) unlike anything the world had heard before. Jurassic Park did it with lifelike dinosaurs that scared the **** outta you and ushered in a new audio era (known as DTS) among other things.

Avatar does it with…3D. Not your normal 3D. Revolutionary 3D. Game changing 3D. Believable 3D. Real-D, IMAX 3D, Dolby 3D…it’s available worldwide in a number of 3D formats…take your pick. Each has ins and outs…but behind them all lies a revolutionary camera system developed by Sony at the request of Cameron. Its not a film camera – but an HD video camera on steroids. It can use video standards, or film standards for how many frames per second it can capture. It’s light and mobile and can be mounted just about anywhere. It fits on a Steadicam mount. It has two lenses that can move independently like human eyes. It films in 3D. I don’t know all the specs but suffice it to say after seeing Avatar tonight (in Real D)…IT KICKS ASS.

There’s other ultra-cool tech that Cameron developed/employed here like real-time viewing of green screen stuff, where the actors are being filmed with green screens and he can see them in the virtual world onscreen as he films it. There is the cool underwater photography he is so good at. There are CGI worlds created that only he could visualize (or artists could draw because they have seen his underwater documentaries) containing amazing bioluminescent flora and fauna.

Apparently, James also knows when to say when. After all, he’s writing, directing, and producing – all while revolutionizing…sometimes you gotta delegate. Need a creature designed to meet your vision? Call Stan Winston Studios. Need excellent audio? Skywalker Sound is the place, they can master in Dolby and/or DTS. Need visual FX that are game-changing? Yep. Industrial Light & Magic. Got a few other things like makeup, design, models, weapons and such that need some awesome creation and detailing? WETA.  Wanna show your 3D creation to as many people as possible?, Turn to RealD. Need to show it to cinephiles REALLY REALLY BIG…let IMAX handle that. No stone is left unturned. All the bases are covered.

Look for my reviews on the optical tech behind this shortly. Then we will cover audio stuff, if anyone cares. I’m sorry to say I didn’t catch who was behind craft services during this…you’ll have to look elsewhere.

In the meantime – just remember – all the 3D formats are propietary – so don’t bother to bring along the glasses from the last film to your next viewing…I know Avatar has a “green message” behind it all – but it apparently does not trickle down to eyewear.

U2 Getting Intimate With Glendale Arizona

October 21, 2009 at 4:34 pm | Posted in Concert, Photography, Review, Rock, Social Networking | Leave a comment
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Have you ever tried to be intimate? With a stadium full of people? U2 has.

U2 Intimate Superstructure

U2 Intimate Superstructure

What does it take to get intimate with 50,000+ people simultaneously? Well, as far as I can tell…a whole lot of cash. Way more cash than getting intimate with one or two people for sure. I’m talking the kind of cash even a supergroup like U2 needs to round up a corporate sponsor like Blackberry for.

Once you have that kind of cash you can go about calling up someone like Willie Williams and asking him to come up with some ideas on how to go about it. In this case, it apparently only took him one idea according to the guys over at Live Design.

I’m not going to get into the exacting specs of just how they pull this amazing feat of intimacy off, but here’s a quick list of some of the many things involved and you can follow the links if you have a burning curiosity for all things “concert tech” or an extra $ 50 mil burning a hole in your pocket.

  • Audio – Incredible 15 zone system Clair i-5 – Yes it goes to 11.
  • Lighting – Nope. Not what you think. No Vari-lites here. These are Bad Boys from the guys over at PRG. There’s a lot of them.
  • Spotlights – Coupla dozen for sure
  • Video – Insane, Custom-designed LED job by the guys over at Barco. Yes it moves. Yes it’s ginormous. Follow the links if you wanna know just how amazingly crazy this thing is.
  • Cameras – Robotic Moving Awe-inspiring setup from the guys at Telemetrics
  • Massive Superstructure Stage Rig – Bono calls it a UFO. See the show to find out why. Suffice it to say this rig is the key to pulling off the intimacy-on-a-grand-scale concept. Its big, heavy, expensive and they had to build 3 of them.
  • Band. Oh yeah – Insert supergroup into the middle of all that technology and Bam! Instant rock concert.

So, there you have a quick breakdown of how to get intimate with a bunch of people at one time. Once you have all the pieces in place the only thing that can stand in your way are traffic problems and social media-ites that like to complain about $20 parking costs.

So, as I close – you are probably asking yourself – did U2 actually pull off getting intimate with an entire city? Look at the pics on their photo page and you tell me. Keep in mind, these shots were from the upper level of the stadium. Intimate enough?

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