Where is sound in theatre going and where did it start

When I were a wee lad sound departments didn’t exist in theatre and the newest crew member had to do the sound. This was when sound used vinyl records and revox reel to reel tapes. By the time I got to adulthood the industry was on the sampler / minidisc tree of evolution with cds being the latest technology.

My career has been spent reading manuals of the latest bit of sound kit and watching audio technology improve at an astronomical pace. I was the first ever sound engineer to use Yamaha’s digital 02r, the developers from Japan came to London to ask for my opinion and the desk has a couple of my ideas on it now – 🙂 Translating their sketched instructions from Japanese was a trial! Then computers were fast enough to process sound – I am talking about 100MHz speed (yes that is 0.1 gb speed and we only had 4mb of ram – not the 4gb (4000mb) we tend to use these days) – we were one of the first theatres in London to be able to burn a cd using a DAW called soundscape and the clunky penguin add-on.

So sound people moved to CD, while the die hard sound engineers stayed with samplers leaving minidisc and cassette tapes to phase out into the ether. Computers were only now being used to control sound desks, not really fast enough to play audio, software like G-Type or Soundman

Then just before the millennium computers finally became useful with speed of 1000Hz (1Gb) and software was developed to harness this power, we all clambered to use tese systems that would change volumes, play multiple cues at the touch of a button – systems like Stage Research SFX 5, Multiplay, SCS.

The current method of playback is moving towards ipads and mp3 – these household devices are powerful enough to run apps that can handle audio – however using compressed audio on a non-stable device fills me with fear. The number of times I have seen people running sound then check their email during a show on the same device is scarey!

Don’t they know adobe and java and apps will be constantly checking to update itself – audio needs a hell of a lot of processing power to make it flawless and that is why I use dedicated computers on my sound playback – I disable in the operating system internet, networks, updates, reformat hard drives to read faster and cleaner. Don’t people who use mp3 players or tablets for sound care about their show enough to face the dreaded glitch in a track? Why use compressed audio (mp3) – it sounds great coming out of your phones speakers or headphones – but played through a large pa it is dreadfully muddy. No depth and overly sub based.

Convenience is the word I would use for these people, now don’t get me started on Line Arrays either – professional sound people should know that these are bad for the industry – but with budgets being slashed producers don’t seem to care about audio quality only volume!

We surely should be using modern tools to make sound better not just easier and cheaper – I have an app on my phone that could be used for sound playback – but I won’t trust my reputation on it.

The future will eventually bring an app that can shut down all the updates and changes that are constantly using the processing power of a handheld device automatically – I hope so, otherwise I will still be using my dedicated DAWs for Spotlites for a long time to come. Maybe someone is currently making this as I type, I hope so.

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