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Some tips on better sound from Owsley Stanly


wgscott

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Straight from the head dead head acid head:

 

"I have never worked in a studio, nor made any multitrack recordings of any sort, live or otherwise. The only reason you are able to listen to this album (and most likely any live two-track of the Dead or other bands) is a result of my early idea that keeping a diary or 'sonic journal' of my work at each show (and many soundchecks and rehearsals as well) would be dead simple- just plug in a tape machine to the output of my FOH mixing desk. I figured the the mix was there, already done, so why waste the opportunity? For some time in the early days, we all (band, crew and I) would listen the tapes after each show, and this benefited both myself in mixing and balancing the music, but also helped the band who could hear the things they were doing (just as the audience heard them) and in addition, they learned to use dynamics, something most electric bands never learn.

 

I have never used eq in my PA (some was necessary for the monitors/foldback). I feel it damages the integrity of the sound, and if the sound is not 'right', then the source needs attention- by changing to a different type of mic, or moving it around. I also use the leakage most mixers try to eliminate by close mic'ing- I call this 'constructive leakage' and found it adds a great sense of space. The fewer mics used the cleaner and more transparent the sound- this show used only 12 mics onstage and there were 2 added into the tape machine (bass and lead guitar) for presence.

 

The two drum kits had only two mics each- one overhead and one on kick, on the beater side and near the floor toms. This helps the clarity, tonality and definition of the drums. A drum head vibrates in a complex manner, and the sound is not integrated until it reaches a distance of twice the diameter of the drum head, so the overhead mic should be near the drummer's head to hear what he hears. Kick is one which must be near-mic'ed, so the impulse is in time, I don't like the sound of a kick drum with a hole in the front head, or no head or with padding inside- most of these things will make the drum sound like a big spoon hitting wet cardboard. I put each of the two overheads separately in one channel along with the kick of the other drum kit- this gives a nice stereo sound/space and permits the individual drums to sound clearly without masking each other. Each of the other sources, such as guitars and bass were captured by mics set in places which produced a stereo image of two sources due to leakage. The organ it self had two mics, one on the top of the Leslie, the other on the bottom, each one into different channels. The only thing I was unable to provide iin separate sources in two channels was the vocals, which are centered, and cause a slight deterioration in the clarity of the stereo imaging.

 

My philosophy in setting speakers is to try to put them as close together as possible, but in those days I was not able to set them this way, so I tried to be sure they pointed front- I feel that it is a mistake to try to make each speaker array cover every seat- sound propagates everywhere and thus all the sounds are heard no matter in which direction they begin. By pointing them front a larger area is free of multiple direct sources with differing arrival times- although it does little or nothing for the chaos of the reflected sounds.

 

The human ear and brain process sound in a unique manner due to our evolution. We began as hunters working in cooperative groups. It was important for us to be able to hear and understand each other in very noisy, confused circumstances. So the human brain has developed an ability to 'filter' out the noise in the environment if presented with sounds which have only one point of origin, no matter what that sonic environment is like. A single speaker/array in the worst trash-can of an arena will sound pristine-clear so long as it is flat, and has not been eq'ed to 'correct' for the venue's storage modes ('ring frequencies'). I have found that almost no other soundmen seem to understand this principle and thus will make the sound lousy by 'pink noising" the hall and taking energy out of the system at the very frequencies the hall stores energy (the peaks seen on a spectrum analyzer when the room is fed pink noise). This means that as soon as the audience comes in, and the band plays, all add energy to the hall separately from the PA, filling all the storage modes, burying the sound at the ringing frequencies. As a result the PA has less energy at the very point it may need a bit of boost (not a cut). The storage modes, or ringing frequencies of a hall have only a limited capacity to store energy, and so long as the PA is not reduced at those critical frequencies it will override any energy in storage- sometimes a slight boost at the ring frequency is needed- the exact opposite of general practice.

 

So long as large systems are set with two arrays separated by the width of the stage, usually from 60 to as much as 1200 feet, the system will always be unintelligible in most of the hall due to the arrival times of the two sources of sound- especially where the same mic is panned into both channels. This is simple physics. Sound travels through air at a speed of one foot/millisecond, and human ears are set 1/2 foot apart, giving us a discrimination of 1/2 millisecond max in arrival of a sound in each ear. It is this sense for arrival time (phase/delay)which is used to determine direction. In addition- any delay in a single sound of more than 10 milliseconds will be perceived as 'reverb', turning into 'echo' at about 20 milliseconds. Thus, arrival times of 60- to 100 milliseconds produces a sense of utterly confused sound- muddy and unintelligible. Thus the ideal of any large system is to be set as a single cluster in the room, ideally as a centered cluster, but works equally well on one side or the other of the stage. This way all the sound emanating from the PA is in perfect time, allowing our inbred ability to filter out the extraneous sounds of the hall to function as they naturally can.

 

To sum up this philosophy- Ideally each musical 'voice' should have a separate and unique source for each channel, the center of stereo PA speaker arrays need to be separated by no more than 10 feet, large system therefore must be in contact, and set so they act as a single multi-channel source. It is not necessary to point each channel towards every seat, they can go off in opposite directions, even. Coherent sound in a space acts something like the vibrations in a gel, and are perceived in their proper relationship, whether as direct or reflected sound- trust me on this, I have tested it many times and find it works that way whether my terms of explanation are technically correct or not.

Is is also best to avoid any kind of eq, in the chain of amplification: With a single exception, Meyer Sound's CP-10, all eq circuits insert phase changes as well as amplitude changes, thus damaging the integrity of the sound. Choosing a mixing desk with as few amplifying stages as possible also will give a clearer, better sound.

I hope all this chatter is of some interest- or better, use- to you, the reader of these notes. I also hope you enjoy this album."

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Well, with very limited experience, I say his idea about keeping speakers close together seems valid. Unlike my initial ideas I tend to think without heroic measures for a live concert you probably are better off all in mono.

 

I talked with a fellow who did live sound for half his life though now retired. He was doing some charity work at a church. He needed an assistant so I agreed to be the help. Discussing set up with him I asked if he ever ran sweeps or pink noise to quickly get an even sound balance. He said some did, he had tried it a few times. His opinion was he never heard it done that it didn't worsen the result during the concert. He said better to do nothing than to do that. He had no idea why just a flat statement it did not work well. Maybe for the reasons listed in your post. You put a trough in resonances and you can't EQ the crowd so the result is muddled portions of the spectrum. Such never occurred to me until reading your post. Sounds plausible I suppose. Might be different for a different type of concert where the crowd will be mostly quiet during the music.

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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  • 5 months later...

Hi wgscott,

 

I especially liked Owsley's statement that " if the sound is not 'right', then the source needs attention- by changing to a different type of mic, or moving it around."

 

It is reminiscent of something I've often referred to when I've mentioned what I call "The Questions." If young engineers were taught to ask (or *thought* to ask) them, they might just result in answers. One of my favorite examples if "What did I do wrong in a previous step that I believe might be remedied by turning this knob?" and "What makes me think turning this knob will remedy what was done wrong earlier?"

 

It isn't that EQ is bad. I believe there are times when it is, in fact, quite good. But those times *are* when something in an earlier step was done wrong (in my opinion). Proper EQ *can* help -- big emphasis on "proper", which occurs less than rarely -- by diverting the ear's attention. This is like lighting a stage for a dramatic performance or a film -- the way it is lit "drives" where the eye goes.

 

***

 

One of my favorite Owsley recordings (even if not quite superb sounding) is "Old & In The Way" by the band of the same name.

 

Best regards,

Barry

Soundkeeper Recordings

http://www.soundkeeperrecordings.wordpress.com

Barry Diament Audio

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BTW, if you believe in such things, Acoustic Oasis sells a high resolution version of all four sets the band did on 10/1 and 10/8/1973:

 

Acoustic Oasis Music Downloads | Old & In The Way - Live at the Boarding House 10/1/73 Hi-Def Master

Sometimes it's like someone took a knife, baby
Edgy and dull and cut a six inch valley
Through the middle of my skull

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My son and his college pals were listening to a lot of "classic rock" on vinyl last year. His roommate, who is a big Neil Young fan, bought a turntable and a bunch of records at the beginning of the school year. When he came home for Thanksgiving I gave him a bunch of my old vinyl to take back to school. So they started listening to Skull and Roses, American Beauty and other goodies. He said one of his friends listened to The Who Live at Leeds and said "Gee, I didn't know The Who rocked like that."!! And his roommate, a sometimes guitarist, was so inspired by my old copy of Old And In The Way that he took up the banjo!

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BTW, if you believe in such things, Acoustic Oasis sells a high resolution version of all four sets the band did on 10/1 and 10/8/1973:

 

Acoustic Oasis Music Downloads | Old & In The Way - Live at the Boarding House 10/1/73 Hi-Def Master

 

Unfortunately, it is upsampled redbook.

 

I was very pissed off, so I must have posted it here somewhere. Edit: here it is:

http://www.computeraudiophile.com/f14-music-analysis-objective-and-subjective/old-and-way-24-96-sampled-red-book-17723/

 

eg:

 

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 4.48.21 PM.png

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Unfortunately, it is upsampled redbook.

 

I was very pissed off, so I must have posted it here somewhere. Edit: here it is:

http://www.computeraudiophile.com/f14-music-analysis-objective-and-subjective/old-and-way-24-96-sampled-red-book-17723/

 

eg:

 

[ATTACH=CONFIG]19628[/ATTACH]

 

I just checked the files on my computer. The files from the 10/1 show appear to be upsampled rebook but the ones from the 10/8 show look genuine:

 

01 Home Is Where The Heart Is.aiff_report.png

Sometimes it's like someone took a knife, baby
Edgy and dull and cut a six inch valley
Through the middle of my skull

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The only part of his notes I agree with is the use of pink noise and eQ in an empty venue and expecting the same results once the venue was full of people..........but this isn't a revelation instead a basic principle, live sound 101. You can't take the venue or room out of the equation by ignoring it completely and you certainly can't expect the same results in different acoustic spaces by doing so. Hippie stoner rubbish.

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I believe if there is rubbish ("hippie stoner" or otherwise) it comes from sources whose work is not available for us to hear, often in the form of criticizing those with ample and well-proven track records. There's a lot of the former in Internet audio fora.

 

Got something to share? Let us hear it. Otherwise it is just talk, just noise, just more negativity.

So I say, if you've got it, please share something we can listen to and enjoy, and perhaps learn from. Make it positive.

I know I like to learn from any source that is available. Please share your work with us.

 

Best regards,

Barry

Soundkeeper Recordings

http://www.soundkeeperrecoridngs.wordpress.com

Barry Diament Audio

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Gotta go with Barry on this one. I like a lot of what mayhem13 posts, but the proof is in the pudding. The Dead were one of the best sounding live electric acts I've ever heard. If they could keep the noodling down they were even enjoyable to listen to.

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Aaaaaagh Barry.......as you so eloquently put it so many of your posts that generalize and criticize, simply it's been my 'experience' or in my 'opinion'......yours may be different.

 

As for my accomplishments,...well.....I've worked more FOH in too many venues and countries to remember. But the specifics are of little value to you as us weaponized militants that you so often refer to rarely seek the credits of album liners and such. We're simply too busy enjoying the exciting life on the road.......without safety nets.

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I don't know what else to add really. You yourself have moved from cone drivers limited to beaming at frequency dependant on diameter. Clearly the diagram posted of the wall of sound is riddled with phase cancellations which create serious errors to the timing....compounded by great listening distances. How much physics and engineering do you want me to ignore or forget in order to agree with you on this one? Add in all the primitive analog crossover components and their limits beyond complex ladder delay filters and you can see where this all leads. If you really did enjoy that presentation from a reasonable spot in the audience my only conclusion is that you were either drinkin', smokin or snortin whatever the hippies were sharin!........

 

......so other than the physical damping added when the venue is full revelation and changing the mic or its placement to get the right sound instead of knob twisting, what else is there. These are fundamentals practiced in both studio and live situations. Today's modern line array technology with near constant directivity and beam steering are MILES beyond the performance results that were in the dead's system.....or any other system for that matter. These things do matter. Your dipolesque Maggie's which cancell sideways unwanted sound and early reflections.....they matter. Show me an old Midas or Soundcraft board and I'll show you real variances of 3-5v DC from the power supply from amperage fluctuations and a mix that simply wanders in dynamics and timbre throughout the show. This is so blatant an issue to actually be caught on camera where the boards backlighting and indicators dim and intensify at will.

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Hi Anthony,

 

There you go again with the negativity.

Perhaps some of that stuff the hippies were sharin' might do you some good. ?

(Try to remember how much you enjoy audio. It doesn't have to be a fight. It can be fun.)

 

Well, I tried. The thing is, I'm not arguing with your theoretical points. I'm agreeing with them, but I'm saying they alone aren't sufficient because we don't listen to theory. Have you ever heard the Dead's sound system at a concert? I have. A number of times.

You already know what I think of most (but certainly not all) of the live sound I've heard.

I'm saying that despite what you might think, here is a system that doesn't farking hurt!

I think that is a milestone and couldn't care a whit about comb filtering in this case, in view of the fact that IF there was any, it wasn't audible (to me). What *was* audible was that I could hear everyone in the band and the sound system felt like it was reinforcing the band and not assaulting the audience. I think that ought to count for something.

 

By the way, Maggies, like any planar dipole, don't cancel early reflections. What they do is they tend to *not* excite the room vertically or sideways, cutting out two of the three dimensions in which the room can get going. The front-to-back dimension still remains, and must still be treated, including early reflections.

Interestingly, there has been some use of MMGs for sound reinforcement. I've not heard them used in this application (yet) but what I've read and seen on the web is very encouraging. (Of course, would need a few boatloads of them to fill a really large space. And a few billion watts. ! ;-})

 

Back to the Dead's sound. I found it interesting that when I saw them, the wall was composed of hundreds (?) of AR-3a speakers and not the usual horn/cone mix. (Those were my favorite speakers way back when.... before Dahlquists, which for me, were before Maggies.)

 

Maybe what I'm saying can be summed up this way:

If the sound is good, really good, and theory says it shouldn't be, do we throw out the sound? Or do we look deeper into the theory with the understanding that it hasn't *completely* described what we heard?

 

Some things are simply of the "you had to be there" type.

 

Best regards,

Barry

Soundkeeper Recordings

http://www.soundkeeperrecordings.wordpress.com

Barry Diament Audio

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