Ron Pellegrino's Quest for Audio Excellence Audio Report 7

The Event:

Thursday, March 5, 1998
Theater Artaud in San Francisco, California
Kronos Quartet, the leading late 20th century string quartet in the new and experimental acoustic music sphere

The Space:

Theater Artaud is a performance space in Project Artaud, a former factory and warehouse home to a cross section of San Francisco artists since the 1960s. Project Artaud is the longtime heart of SF's South of Market experimental performance arts scene that recently gave birth to SF's Multimedia Gulch, a thriving business environment for many multimedia startups focusing on the internet, CD-ROMs, and DVDs. Theater Artaud is not a space designed for sound so it presents special problems for music performances.

What made the Kronos sound reinforcement job extra special was that it was done with such a high level of refinement that you could not tell it was there. All you could hear was the sound of the Kronos strings ranging from true pianissimo levels to fortissimo levels that fit the context of the music, the medium, and the space. To their credit the Kronos Quartet and their sound engineer, Jay Cloidt of Oakland, CA <jaycloidt@compuserve.com>, have worked out a system for maintaining musical integrity, a rare experience in today's audio engineering world. Their working principles should serve as models for other musicians reinforcing acoustic music:

Though Kronos has a global reputation for its new and experimental music efforts, this particular program featured only "old" music, music from the early part of the 20th century - Berg´s Lyric Suite (1926), Webern´s Six Bagatelles Op. 9 (1911-1913), Bartok's Quartet No. 3 (1927), and Stravinsky´s The Rite of Spring (1913). So this was a concert of straight string quartet music except for the arrangement of the Stravinsky that added the piano to the quartet. The fact the Kronos audio team managed to keep the focus on the strings rather than the audio gear resulted in a special treat for the ears of the audience. Their creative approach to sound reinforcement included some unusual measures such as: placing the mics for the second violin, viola, and cello close to the musicians on short stands around 18" off the floor; placing the mic for the first violin on a foam block set on the floor several feet in front of him; setting the piano behind the string quartet and putting a three foot high baffle on the floor between the piano and the quartet. The point is that what they did was not the result of applying an audio engineering technical textbook formula. Instead what they did was to take a creative approach to sound reinforcement that was guided by the requirements of the music and the nature of the performance space. It resulted in a refined musical experience for the audience enhanced by today's audio technology rather than marred by it which is so often the case in the late 1990s.

Audio engineers take note: take a fresh creative approach to every engagement and leave the formulas to the textbooks and the academics.




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