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Thread: Live Music

  1. #1
    Dang. Amateur speakerdave's Avatar
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    May 2003
    Northern California

    Live Music

    I've mentioned this before, but I've recently had another couple of refresher courses in live music. It really changes one's perspective on audio reproduction and the insular little world it can become if you don't get an occasional taste of the real thing. I'm speaking specifically of acoustic music in its various forms, of course, because live music through an SR system, although it has the advantages of freshness, is really just another experience listening through a sound system.

    Most recently I heard Cecilia Bartoli and the little Baroque Orchestra that accompanies her on tour. Her voice is marvelous of course, but what struck me was the sound of the strings. We were in the balcony (where the tickets were only $50) so I think we could hear the orchestra even better than if we had been downstairs. There was a sweetness, delicacy and subtlety in the sound that I have never heard reproduced. And just one double bass could quite easily fill the auditorium and balance the rest of the orchestra--this was thanks in part to the amazing acoustics of Zellerbach Hall on the UC Berkeley campus. I've thought I had pretty good woofer setups at times, but I don't think I've any that have that open relaxed naturalness of sound. Listening to speakers is just spatially wrong, or something.

    I also recently heard Rudolph Buchbinder do a solo concert in a smaller hall on campus (these are in the Cal Performances Series). The piano was a Steinway (is it always?). I can't say what model, but it looked as long as a dragster and two stage hands strained to roll it a few feet when it turned out there was a floor fixture right where Rudolph wanted the heel of his pedal foot to be. Here is where the power and refinement come in, trying to reproduce that sound. I have to say that some of the speakers I've heard do an amazing approximation, but the live music just washes over you and IT HAS NO PROBLEMS!

    Anyway, this is by way of encouraging you all to avail yourselves of any opportunity you have to hear the living thing if you can. We have the great good fortune to live within fifty or sixty miles of places where world class stuff gets put on, but I think if you look around you'll find something within a doable distance. Even when I went to my first college out in the middle of the country in western New York, there was a concert series that was quite good. And if your taste is for acoustic country or small combo jazz there are often local groups that can provide a pleasant evening of the real sound.

    After one of these refresher courses my expectations from the home stereo are quite moderated. I appreciate more what it can do as a reminder and obsess less about its inability to do the impossible.


  2. #2
    RIP 2011 Zilch's Avatar
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    Jun 2004
    Berkeley, CA
    Hiya, David.

    It raises a simple question I have asked myself many times:

    "What is it that so distinguishes live versus reproduced sound that I can invariably tell the difference from the bottom of the stairs outside the club?"

    Whatever that is, it's what we need to fix.

    [ps: Maybe come by for a listen next time you're in town....]

  3. #3
    Dang. Amateur speakerdave's Avatar
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    May 2003
    Northern California
    Quote Originally Posted by Zilch
    [ps: Maybe come by for a listen next time you're in town....]
    Thanks, Mr. Z. I usually have other people in tow, but sometime I will make it happen.


  4. #4
    Senior Seņor boputnam's Avatar
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    Apr 2003
    northern california
    Quote Originally Posted by speakerdave
    Anyway, this is by way of encouraging you all to avail yourselves of any opportunity you have to hear the living thing if (and while...) you can.
    Nice one, Dave. And by all means, make it acoustic when you can.

    Last night I did FOH for a wonderful trio, who'd never before played together. Two guitars, +/- mando, and keys. The trusted me with their monitors, obviating their own amps and that kept on-stage sources to a minimum. I know, a different genre from what you are referring, Dave, but relevant, nonetheless. I was rapt. The audience was too. It was great. Maybe 75dB max - all kinds of ambiance and dynamics.

    The sound of the instruments and voices was honored, big-time. Wonderfully expensive instruments of great tonality and priceless voices. Made me envious - too often I'm fighting stage noise and trying to deliver good product under impossible circumstances. Not last night - they handed me a favour...

    Very cool...

    "Indeed, not!!"

  5. #5
    RIP 2010 scott fitlin's Avatar
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    Apr 2003
    Brooklyn NY
    When I hear live acoustic music, what always gets me, besides the sheer beauty of real music if they are playing well, is that YES, it sounds right, all the subtleties, the tone of the instruments and how the musicians express themselves and the music through their instruments, but that even though it may not be loud, as Bo said his trio was maybe 75DB, its satisfying! You dont find yourself saying man I wish it were louder, at least I dont!

    For many years now, I think music playback, concerts, and clubs, has become far too loud! We have reached insane SPL levels, and I think sometimes these very high SPL,s totally obscure the music being played, no matter how clean is the system!

    In the right room, with a good system, a great vocalist, and a very good mix engineer, its amazing how velvety the human voice can sound. And its even more amazing at how good the Opera singers sound at the Metropolitan Opera in NYC with NO sound system!

    Just my nickels worth!

  6. #6
    Senior Member Steve Schell's Avatar
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    Jun 2003
    Long Beach, CA
    As a piano technician I am fortunate to hear a lot of good, live music. I work frequently for two orchestras and attend rehearsals quite a bit. The balcony is often the best place to hear an orchestra. The typical modern wedge shaped hall deprives concertgoers in the close seats of most wall reflections, leaving them with a dry, bland sound. Also, much high frequency sound, like the rosiny sheen of violins, travels up and out toward the balcony. This is one reason why recording microphones are usually mounted high up.

    I've always been amazed how both high and low frequency sounds propagate in a large space. the percussionist can just touch the skin of the bass drum and you feel as well as hear it anywhere in the hall. The slightest touch on the triangle can be heard with such clarity and purity hundreds of feet away.

    Orchestral music in a hall should be performed without any sound reinforcement. If a PA system is required, the hall is too large or poorly designed. Alas, some modern music specifies spotlighted sound reinforcement in the score. I have watched rehearsals where the (de)composer micromanages the settings and such. The inexorable trend seems to be toward big ugly sounding blasting speakers everywhere, for every kind of performance. Phooey.

    Yes, the sound reinforcement levels in most places are tremendously too high and represent a societal sickness to me. I recently witnessed a rehearsal at a church where three singers with guitars were performing some folk music. The sound guy had cranked the levels in the large space up past the point of pain, parting the hair of some elderly people watching the rehearsal. Crazy!

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