Monday, August 4, 2014

The Curse of Meredith Wilson

Just closed a show. Written in the past few years, it shares that same curse; at least four major songs that have overlapping parts.

When I realized that these sections almost always repeat existing material instead of introducing new material, I started mixing them as a round. Each time a voice is added, I bring them up just slightly until the listener has had a chance to recognize the line they are recapping.

For instance; the last part of "Who I'd Be." FIONA enters with "An Ogre always hides..." and then continues on with a reprise of "I Know It's Today" from earlier in the act. I ride her until DONKEY joins with "You need a pal, my calendar's open" from his first song, and then pull them both down level with SHREK who is reprising "I guess I'd be a hero" from the top of the song.

This is subtle (or is when my Zen is on) -- a dB or two either way. This is imposed on the larger fader moves that are already there; our DONKEY tended to belt his first words, while SHREK and FIONA fell in energy on a more gradual (but still marked) pattern through their verses. Plus there are four distinct boosts in the overall song level, with the last being a 5-dB crescendo on the orchestra over the last chords.

It seems like a way to make the Meredith's a little easier for the audience; push the unfamiliar material until it is comprehended, then return to balance. Pretty much what you do in strictly orchestral situations, where you enter a new instrument or line just a tad hotter, and pull it back in through the verse once it is established.

But I'm starting to feel this is re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

I'm getting good responses from the audience, even the unfortunates who are seated directly in front of the drums. But I feel like I need to step back, question some of the assumptions I'm making, refresh my ears and try some different approaches.

I'm reinforcing basically flat field, single point now; the system is tuned up as a mono system that covers the entire seating area with relatively equal volume (due to a balanced system of fills and satellite speakers on carefully tuned delays). And all the material is sent to it -- including SFX; with the presentational style of most of the Playhouse shows it seems appropriate to treat them as part of the musical material and not as strongly localized effects.

That, and it is a real pain trying to reinforce a localized effect (aka, a practical speaker inside an on-stage prop) when the rest of the sound is very much not inverse-square fall-off. I'd have to push effects into the satellite speaker system on a unique delay, and that's just a pain to try to balance.

The general theory is that the reinforcement simply bulldozes over any direct contribution (such as backline leakage from the pit, or random stage noises). But conversely, the magic center is when the direct sound pressure from the actors adds that extra localization cue for the people sitting closer to the front (back in the rear, the angle between speakers and mouths is acceptably small).

And that means that I don't actually have an infinite capacity to blow over too-loud drums or other unwanted noise. The design works best when the contribution from the live orchestra, wanted on-stage noises like tap shoes or un-mic'd actors, and of course the singers themselves, can be heard contributing actively to what the actual audience member hears.

Add to this, I'm mixing from the back of the house. So I'm having to guess at what the majority of the audience is experiencing.

So I need a re-think. I want my assumptions checked. I want my ears checked! I'd also like to see some other shows, although (perhaps in some sort of mis-cued attempt at an attaboy, people mostly tell me about how bad the sound was at the last venue they were at). I am starting to feel strongly I am making some basic mistakes, and I want to move forward.

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