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Author Topic: Public Address Systems from Hell  (Read 9407 times)

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Accordion Dave

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Public Address Systems from Hell
« on: May 29, 2009, 03:32:01 AM »

In the "Playing Goes to Pot in Public" thread, I related an experience about how distracting public address systems can be.

Often the sound system is on the verge of feedback or some brilliant operator has decided that a 1 second digital delay will somehow enhance the performance.

At a recent engagement, I played for about an hour on both piano accordion and a 2-row melodeon with no difficulty.

The problems started when the sound system operator arrived. I find feedback and slapback echo make almost impossible to continue playing well.
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HallelujahAl

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Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
« Reply #1 on: May 29, 2009, 08:22:51 AM »

**********RANT ALERT**************
How on earth did people cope in the good old days of music-hall etc? Well, actually I think they coped without sound systems (and their so-called engineers) very well indeed.

I'm in agreement with you - have often had a perfectly reasonable occasion marred by poor sound system management. I much prefer to do without. I know that it can make things a bit difficult for folk who are hard of hearing and have come to rely on 'loop' systems - and I suffer sound systems for that reason. But otherwise, unless one's audience is very large indeed, I don't really think PAS is really that necessary. Decent voice projection and a good quality set of acoustic instruments will often be more than sufficient for any number upto a couple of hundred in an audience. Unfortunately we now live in an age when it's expected. And public speakers very often no longer 'know' how to speak publically.

I was playing on one occasion with a 6 piece brass ensemble - and I easily outplayed them for volume (though not in quality) ...on my banjo ukulele...now that is one loud instrument (designed btw specifically for the musichalls I believe).

************Rant over ****************
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Pushpull

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Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
« Reply #2 on: May 29, 2009, 09:45:40 AM »

**********RANT ALERT**************
How on earth did people cope in the good old days of music-hall etc? Well, actually I think they coped without sound systems (and their so-called engineers) very well indeed.

I'm in agreement with you - have often had a perfectly reasonable occasion marred by poor sound system management. I much prefer to do without. I know that it can make things a bit difficult for folk who are hard of hearing and have come to rely on 'loop' systems - and I suffer sound systems for that reason. But otherwise, unless one's audience is very large indeed, I don't really think PAS is really that necessary. Decent voice projection and a good quality set of acoustic instruments will often be more than sufficient for any number upto a couple of hundred in an audience. Unfortunately we now live in an age when it's expected. And public speakers very often no longer 'know' how to speak publically.

I was playing on one occasion with a 6 piece brass ensemble - and I easily outplayed them for volume (though not in quality) ...on my banjo ukulele...now that is one loud instrument (designed btw specifically for the musichalls I believe).

************Rant over ****************
In most cases of folk bands using PAs (public address or "sound system" if you must, not piano accordion) I have seen in recent years the sound quality has been risible. It seems to me that because a PA can now be obtained fairly cheaply, it has become a must have. Unfortunately as with most things, you get what you pay for. On top of that, most amateur "sound engineers" seem to think they are balancing a heavy metal band and go for sound levels to match.

Two particular exceptions stand out. Kathryn Tickell uses a very high quality and fairly small PA plus has an engineer who has worked with her for years. It shows. Then there is the excellent "Bill Lloyd's Wildwood Band". I've seen them a couple of times at festivals and although they use the festival PA they bring their own mike (yes one of them) which they gather around 50s style, balancing themselves and stepping forward to take solos. A great band and a great sound.
http://www.georgelloyd.com/wildwoodacoustic/index_band.htm

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Bill the Farmer

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Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
« Reply #3 on: May 29, 2009, 10:55:53 AM »

As morris musicians, we tend to get PA systems pressed upon us at events, etc. There's usually a PFY (Pimply Faced Youth, see BOFH) sitting behind a vast mixing board with one microphone plugged into it. If you use it, you can't hear what you're playing for feedback, because there's no monitor. So I avoid them if possible.
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Owen Woods

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Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
« Reply #4 on: May 29, 2009, 11:03:00 AM »

We have a fairly high quality PA system for gigs, the purpose of which is to balance more than anything else. We have monitors as well, which are essential. When you have a large lineup the quieter instruments tend to get drowned, which occasionally is undesirable. We never use stupid effects though, our sound engineers are all musicians! :P
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jb

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Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
« Reply #5 on: May 29, 2009, 11:04:46 AM »

Come on, guys. As the band member who often (but never painlessly) also brings along the PA gear, I know that there are some occasions/lineups where it is needed, and also that if set up with some care and thought it can enhance things for all concerned. And somewhere on the net there will be a PA.net forum where they are slagging off squeezeboxers, for sure....
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HallelujahAl

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Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
« Reply #6 on: May 29, 2009, 11:33:08 AM »

Quote
somewhere on the net there will be a PA.net forum where they are slagging off squeezeboxers, for sure....

Oh I do hope so...in the interests of 'balance' >:E
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Lester

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Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
« Reply #7 on: May 29, 2009, 05:28:12 PM »

The very first time I played for morris on my own was on a tour in Emden, Germany for Grand Union Morris. The big finish was in a sports stadium, The dancers were in the middle of the 100m straight and I was placed in the infield with a microphone. Opposite me on top the stand was one massive speaker, all seemed well until I played the first tune, there was a significant delay between mike and speaker so I kept trying to speed up to compensate - seemed the worst set up possible. Unfortunately this was not true because the sound guy then plugged in all the tannoy speakers around the track so every note came out 6 times just slightly delayed each time  :'(

This is where I learned to play without listening

Accordion Dave

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Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
« Reply #8 on: May 30, 2009, 07:42:02 AM »

I play by ear. So how can I play without listening?
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Theo

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Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
« Reply #9 on: May 30, 2009, 09:05:22 AM »

I play by ear. So how can I play without listening?

Don't you mean you learn by ear?   And probably play from memory?
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Martin J

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Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
« Reply #10 on: May 30, 2009, 11:40:02 AM »

Sound systems are so good nowadays that a hi fi quality 'can' be obtained.  But at a price.  The addage of garbage in garbage out, gigo., is more true than ever.  The higest quality pick ups are vital.  If you don't have a hi fi signal them you will just amplify electrical noise.  It goes for every piece of equipment in the line.  Kathryn Tickell's sound man is usually Julian, one of the best Piano Accordion players you are likely to meet.  He's been around folk music since he could crawl.  He knows what it is supposed to sound like.

So never use cheap equipment and never use a sound man who isn't a folkie.  How's that for positive advice?

Dogmatic, me?  When it comes to PA you bet I am.

 (:) :||:
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Owen Woods

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Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
« Reply #11 on: May 30, 2009, 12:49:57 PM »

So never use cheap equipment and never use a sound man who isn't a folkie.

Quite right. Everyone that operates our equipment is a full time member of the band of considerable standing.

Of course sometimes we don't have control over our sound, as in the 10 May Balls that we'll be playing in within a few weeks  :-\
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Falseknight

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Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
« Reply #12 on: May 30, 2009, 02:03:46 PM »

I've been "doing" sound for myself and other people for over thirty years now - ranging from rock bands to intimate acoustic combinations.  I've found over the years the problems with public systems are musicians who will not advice from the engineer as to how to use the system (stand up row with one pfy bass player who was on the point of refusing to hav his bass rig di'd because it would sound poor - he WAS wrong) and musicians who either do not have adequate pickups/transducers fitted or will not stay where they are put in front of a microphone.

I am riled by traditional singers with inadequate voices who refuse to use PA because it is not "traditional" (neither is learning songs from records!) and end up inaudible because they stand audience side of the microphone.

Fair play, you need decent monitors (dry feed only) and a sympathetic engineer.  Unless you are in a minute room with everyone listening avidly, these days, you are going to get lost in the general hubbub.
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Accordion Dave

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Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
« Reply #13 on: May 30, 2009, 03:58:00 PM »

I don't know exactly what I mean, but let me try to formulate and explanation of my concept of "playing by ear".

Imagine if I had an electronic "accordion" in a completely soundproof booth with no means of hearing what I was playing. The audience outside the booth would hear the electronic "accordion" through loudspeakers, but I would have no speaker or headphones in the booth.

I don't think that I would be able to play any acceptable sounding music. This is especially true of a piano accordion with 120 bass. I have to do some long distance jumps on the standard Stradella bass button board.

Let's say I have to jump from a D-minor to a F-Major to a G-Major to a Bb-Major back to a D-minor to an F-Major to an A-Major as in the song "Stairway to Heaven".

Not being able to hear what I am playing, if I make one miscalculation in jumping from one set of tiny buttons to another, I have screwed up the bass entirely for the rest of the song, unless I can locate the indentation in the C-Bass button and re-calibrate.

I may be able to keep the song going on the piano keyboard, but the bass will be totally dissonate with the treble.

All of those lttle buttons on the left side FEEL exactly alike except for the well worn indentation on the C-Bass button.

If I can HEAR what I am playing, I immediately know when I am off by a button and correct immediately without anyone noticing.

Without the auditory feedback, the chord jumps must be absolutely perfect for the entire song. No mistakes allowed and no means to correct a minor mistake. One miscalculation and the entire song is destroyed.

Also, back to the subject of public address systems, if the speakers are howling and there is digital delay, it throws off my self correcting mechanism as I am playing.

Often the two Bavarian ladies will sing a couple of bars of a song. We will find a comfortable key and off we go, making some prety good sounding music.

Everything fell apart on Memorial Day until we figured out that there was this ridiculous digital delay from the loudspeakers, one only 3 feet away. The girls gave up by that time.
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Falseknight

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Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
« Reply #14 on: May 30, 2009, 04:24:54 PM »

Exactly right.  We all need to hear what we are playing so that we can correct and adapt to what is being played with us.

Hence the need for good, clear, dry monitors.
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Owen Woods

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Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
« Reply #15 on: May 30, 2009, 05:12:39 PM »

Aye. Monitors are a godsend, especially since my useful and incredibly cute little electric uke doesn't make any sound without them...
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HallelujahAl

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Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
« Reply #16 on: May 30, 2009, 08:22:10 PM »

Quote
Aye. Monitors are a godsend, especially since my useful and incredibly cute little electric uke doesn't make any sound without them...

Electric Ukes - whatever next http://hallelujahal.wordpress.com/leaning-on-a-lampost/....?
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Owen Woods

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Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
« Reply #17 on: May 30, 2009, 10:12:56 PM »

Quote
Aye. Monitors are a godsend, especially since my useful and incredibly cute little electric uke doesn't make any sound without them...

Electric Ukes - whatever next http://hallelujahal.wordpress.com/leaning-on-a-lampost/....?



There she is. I have the red version. Lovely beastie, but so much more difficult to play than my other ukes. Mostly I play Charango, which has 10 nhylon strings (I tune it aa dD f#F# bb ee) and if your stopping is a bit dodgy the string just doesn't sound. With this one if you make a mistake it twangs and buzzes and everything. Challenging. I think I'd get along a little better if it were a sop rather than a tenor, but I can't possibly get rid of it now. Nor do I have the money to buy a sop for that matter.
« Last Edit: May 30, 2009, 10:14:53 PM by ukebert »
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Accordion Dave

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Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
« Reply #18 on: May 31, 2009, 01:04:35 AM »

In the soundproof booth I thought I was playing "Stairway to Heaven" when it was actually "House of the Rising Sun".
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Accordion Dave

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Re: Public Address Systems from Hell
« Reply #19 on: May 31, 2009, 01:09:16 AM »

I am going to create my own closed-circuit monitor system, a couple of small microphones, a small amplifier and some inconspicuous headphones.
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