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Simon Says – Wasn’t like that in my day …

Klang, and the world of immersive monitoring.

I have always been a bit scared of stage monitors. Not only do they have the potential to mess up my beautifully crafted house mix, but they can also feed back at frightening levels and make famous people very cross indeed.

My first ever experience with this situation was with the extraordinarily Dame Shirley Bassey back in the early 80’s. To say the situation could be unpredictable would be gross understatement. Dame Shirley would arrive for sound check all smiles and hugs, but as soon as the monitors (usually Martin Audio H350 sidefills set to weld; wedges spoilt the frocks darling) were not quite right … well … the hugging ceased and the pressure mounted.

My policy over the years has been to ally myself with great monitor engineers – Fred “Gumby” Jackson, Becky Pell, Steve Lutley, Simon Hodge – fellow RG Jones alumni – the late, great Steve Watson, Joe Campbell, Annette Guilfoyle, Dee Miller to name just a few. The kind of people of who can navigate through these (often tricky) waters with ease. The art of good monitor engineering demands the kind of skills that very few really possess, and I often wonder how some of them would fare in situations of global importance, rather than a daft gig somewhere in a rattling old arena. It’s about personality management more than anything, but there is also a great deal of sonic technology and hearing skills being deployed to attempt to overcome the laws of electro-acoustics and make a wedge become the loudest thing on Earth.

Imagine the joy when the arrival of in-ear monitoring took wedges and feedback out of the equation! Here was a brilliant solution – using the technology from radio microphones, turn it all around and give the band some custom-moulded ear-phones. They have become ubiquitous, and changed the skill sets of monitor engineers everywhere. The piece of air between the wedge and the mic has been taken out of the system, placing the audio right next to the ear drum. With IEM’s it’s become more about creating reference class mixes for each person on stage than it is about just getting somebody heard above the drummer’s fills. That, and radio frequency management.

IEM’s have been with us for some time now – my first gig with them was in 1998; more about that another time – and as is the way of things, the technology has moved on. RG’s have recently invested in a system called Klang, which allows the elements of a stereo IEM mix to be positioned within a virtual sound field in the listener’s head. Imagine if you were wearing a sonic halo around your head, level with your ears, on which the position of anything in your mix could be placed just where you want it. With Klang, stereo has become full 360°, where your drums can be placed behind you, the guitars in front of you but spread wide and your voice can be dead centre, right between the eyes. Oh, and hang on, if you want it will create a fully immersive 3D sound field with azimuth control for sources.

You’d be forgiven for asking ‘why?’ I certainly did when I was first made aware of it. I also asked ‘why?’ when plug-ins first appeared for live sound consoles. I now own hundreds of the things. History has a way of proving others right..

Here’s the reason why this is a great idea. When human beings hear sound, we are responding to more than just variations in air pressure. The directional information our ears decode is critical to just how we decide whether what we hear is friendly or dangerous. Pretty useful when dealing with some of the bands I know. The fact is that time-based signals, combined with amplitude and tonal content make much more sense to us that a 2-dimensional stereo signal. Our ears are designed to deal with sound that comes at us from everywhere, and we are well-equipped to understand this highly complex set of sensory stimulants.

It therefore makes sense to create a monitoring system that can generate a much more 3-dimensional sound field. It’s a more natural listening experience, and instead of turning a mix element up to hear it better, it can be just as effective to place it differently. The result is clearer IEM mixes delivered at lower levels, and subsequently reducing the danger of hearing damage. IEM’s don’t feed back, but they can produce extreme high sound pressure levels right at the ear drum. Anything that can help to keep the levels optimised without compromising an artists’ performance has to be a good thing.

RG Jones has always strived to make considered investments in technology that makes a real difference. Looking back, the company were early adopters of digital mixing consoles for live sound. In the days of RG Jones Recording Studios, the company was the second company anywhere to invest in Solid Stage Logic’s then revolutionary studio consoles. Martin Audio’s ground-breaking MLA system found its first home in RG’s warehouse. The use of DPA’s miniature microphones to enhance live classical music was instigated by RG’s. The list goes on.

And so it will, but there’s one thing I can say that won’t change. It wasn’t like this in my day.

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Category: Simon Says

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