Ron Pellegrino's Quest for Audio Excellence Audio Report 1

The Event:

Sunday, April 21, 1996
Marcus Roberts
Acoustic Jazz Piano
Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley

The Space:

Standard university concert environment. 9 foot Steinway grand. Jazz pianist with a wildly inventive musical mind and a beyond-belief technique.

The Key Principles:

The key psychoacoustic principle at play today is that the human ear/mind is highly adaptable to the low end of the dynamic range, that is, soft sounds. Roberts opened the concert with extremely soft (my wife maintains tentative) playing. He was beginning an afternoon of thinking musically out loud (real-time composing), but initially thinking out loud very softly. The soft opening encouraged the audience ear/mind to adjust and extend downward the range of dynamic sensitivity. The net effect was to increase the overall musical dynamic range and set the stage for increased sensitivity to musical nuance.

One key practical principle is to avoid electronic sound reinforcement if at all possible. If it can't be avoided, use the lowest amplification level possible and let that level be set by a musician who knows the instrument, the music and the performer. Insist that a knowledgeable musician instructs the audio engineer in the appropriate sound levels and equalization settings. All electronic sound reinforcement systems inherently color - read, distort- the acoustic energy (sound) that they process and reinforce. Even the best audio engineer with the best audio equipment must live with that inherent deficit - distortion. Audio blurring or loss of definition, a radical reduction in the musical dynamic range, overdriven physical mechanisms of the ear, and overt audio assault are common audience experiences in music treated with electronic sound reinforcement. Insist that musicians decide on appropriate sound reinforcement levels. Don't leave that decision to audio engineers; the vast majority of them are hearing impaired, especially in the 2-5 kHz range, the range of greatest human sensitivity.




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