Tuesday, November 21, 2006

From the mailbag...

Robert Miller writes:
1. If anyone wants wants to hear the nearest thing to the real Shlomo they can easily find the recorded Shlomo, or they can sing his tunes themselves. A good tune can have varied good interpretations.

2. We ought to realize that Jews created and sustained a wonderful tune-making enterprise, namely, the American musical theatre of the 20th century. How and when we decided to settle for gaudily arranged boring music that you know before you've even heard it is something to ponder. Hevel's sacrifice was accepted over Cain's because Hevel gave his best. If Torah people want to make Torah music, shouldn't this be our best?
Jordan writes:
From the back cover of Mikdash Melech:

"This is to my great friend Benedict: (The arranger of Mikdash Melech) Thank you for putting so much heart into my songs. Everyone who will hear this beautiful music will love you as much as I do and will miss you as the whole world will. Peace be with you. Shlomo"

In the story of Schvartze Wolf, Shlomo pointed out that a lamed vavnik was like a mirror. If you look at him and see an obnoxiuous person, than you are obnoxious. And if you look at him and see an ugly person, than it is you who are ugly. Well, Shlomo was the same way. If you look at him and see an illiterate out of tune singer with an unkempt beard and dirty shirt, than gevalt, it is your beard that is unkempt and your shirt that is dirty, and by God, it is time you took some guitar lessons and let someone else do the singing. But if you look at Shlomo, and see a sophisticated folk musician who used a variety of settings for his music, and whose songs are firmly rooted in the tradition of eclectic Jewish music, drawing from the Central European Classical music influenced Modzitz dynasty, Russian folk tunes, and German Synagogue Music traditions, as well as Pete Seeger, Leadbelly, and Woody Guthrie, than you're mamesh unbelievable.

Ben Zion Solomon, by the way, did graduate work in Ethnomusicology at UC Berkley.
Ron B. writes:
I just got back from a wedding, I won't mention where or who played but... suffice it to say that it was what you would call a high-class type affair with an 8 piece band and famous guest singer. Aside from the competency of the band and the "star signatures" of the singer, which were fine, some things struck me as off. The hall was large but not huge. The sound system was a full blown front-of-house system, with at least 10 or 12 compressor-expander-limiter sound processors in the rack and each player had earbuds or headphones with an individual mix. The sound engineer, who was situated behind a 24 track board which was also behind the stage and the speakers, was wearing headphones. The sound system had about six 1600 watt amps, which could drive a medium to large size theater, with 4 huge flown speakers and 2 huge subwoofers. Even though everyone had earbuds or headphones, each musician also had a floor monitor including the drummer who sat behind a lexan shield where all the drums were miked.

Why is this important? Well, first off, the position of the engineer and his headphones gave him no clue as to what the sound in the place was like for the audience. Secondly, limiting-compressing and expanding every player completely kills the dynamics of the band and makes everything a constant leveled wall of sound. Thirdly, giving everyone a set of phones or buds where they can adjust their own levels in their own in-the-ear-mix does not give them any idea about what the band really sounds like in terms of dynamics and balance.

To my ears, the entire mix in the hall was dull, muddy and bland, with no nuance or dynamics. It was a shame. Throwing so much technology at live music to squash it when it's loud, lift it when it's low and otherwise homogenize it into and electronic facsimile of a live performance. This in itself is not so bad if it's applied judiciously in what we call a Front of House system. That's where the engineer is situated in the audience position, without headphones and adjusts things according to the way it sounds, using technology as tools to enhance the live show as it happens, adjust the balance for clarity and nuance of expression - not to set some presets to flatten it all while behind a set of headphones.

I don't get why the band needs floor monitors if they all have phones and/or buds. No one really hears the music as it should be heard, including the audience. Maybe the musicians don't care because it's a job and the engineer brought new toys for them, so why make a tzimmes - take the money and run. The famous singer sees all the blinking lights and expensive gear and feels like he's in Town Hall, OK. And the audience, they don't know the difference except they can't figure out why they are getting a headache because it doesn't really sound that loud. It's just and ersatz version harmonically re-processed and re-engineered in real-time to sound good to one guy in headphones, who has to be listening at high db levels to counter the room sound and probably needs an audiologist. But to the audience, it's a fatiguing psycho-acoustical torture on the ears.

What ever happened to the sound of live music? What ever happened to the art of sound engineering? The whole dynamics and nuance of the drum set, violin, horns, vocals were flattened into a stream of fog and mud. The guitar, bass and keyboard sounded electro-mechanical. What the musicians were playing was sounded like it was translated into the sound of AM radio
commercials on the beach with the bass boost and volume turned up.

How is it possible that we managed to perform live music in the past without an overkill of techno razzle-dazzle and sizzle-sazzle processing?

Did we lose our trust in that most remarkable technology which Hashem endowed us with: our ears?