Continuation of the conversation with Chip Self, audio engineer and President of Logic Systems Sound and Lighting, inc. - part B

To: "chip@logicsound.com" <chip@logicsound.com>
From: Ron Pellegrino <ronpell@microweb.com>
Subject: RE: your essay
Date: 8/19/98

Chip:

>Ron

Pellegrino - No need to be a computer genius. Just do a good scan of your test results
>>into any standard graphics program (Photoshop, etc.), attach the file to an
>>email message, and I´ll do the rest.

Self - I´ll give it a shot and get back to you.

Pellegrino - Do you wear ear protection on the job?

Self - Not while I´m mixing. As you know, long term exposure is the biggest
>threat. I use 15db pads in custom earmolds to limit my exposure. I've
>actually found that it´s a useful tool for a systems tech. At high volumes
>it is often difficult to distinguish distortion, once the pads are in and
>my ear can relax a bit, it´s much easier to distinguish, find, and repair a
>problem. I have recommended ear molds to a number of people in the business
>that I feel need to limit their exposure such as security personnel and
>stagehands. The average professional in the entertainment industry is
>exposed to MUCH more of a time / volume ratio than even the once a week
>concert attendee. As such, it´s important that they prepare.

Pellegrino - By wearing 15 dB pads in custom earmolds you´re inducing artificial deafness in yourself while you´re preparing an audio system for a public event. Highly questionable. In the music business a 15 dB shift is huge and I´m certain you have no argument with the principle that the function of the audio engineer is to serve the music. This is another instance of where a working knowledge of the fundamentals of psychoacoustics is critical. A 15 dB level shift significantly affects the human hearing system's response to spectral components (tone color) and, at the top of dB scale, can mean the difference between healthy and damaged ears. Pity the poor unprotected patrons. If the sound´s not safe for the audio engineer, the security personnel, and the stagehands, it certainly isn´t safe for the patrons, especially the unsuspecting "once a week concert attendee".

Pellegrino - Sensitivity variance from ear to ear is normal.

Self - It´s quite an inconvenience / handicap to an engineer. Ever try to balance
>a stereo PA when your ears are the slightest bit different ? It's quite
>challenging.

Pellegrino - Fundamental psychoacoustics again. The human hearing system is not a mass produced machine with built-in perfection. From person to person it´s a one-of-a-kind system that may share many characteristics with other humans but, in fact, it uniquely evolves, ages, and changes sensitivity according to genetic predispositions and environmental influences.

Pellegrino - Where did I say this "the guy who used to drive the bus and thinks he can
>>mix"? Please don´t misquote me.

Self - Poetic License. IMO any blanket statement such as yours puts the very best
>into a single category with the very worst. It would be no different than
>me saying that all writers are pompous windbags with little regard for
>facts beyond their point of view. Now, would YOU consider that fair ????
>I´m not a writer, so any opinion I express about writers can be no more
>than my opinion and I call it as such. It would be an entirely different
>matter if I were to spout off my opinion as fact.

Pellegrino - "Poetic License" is not the same as misrepresentation. One is art, the other is fraud. Also, check out my essay again and notice in the second sentence that I begin by saying "The majority of audio engineers..." That's not a blanket statement. If I had said "All the audio engineers...", that would have been a blanket statement. Notice that in the penultimate paragraph I contrast "rare audio engineers"" with "common audio engineers"; again no blanket statement. Notice that I also provide links to exemplary audio engineering work. Up to this point in our email exchanges everything you´ve said actually supports the positions I´ve taken in my essay.

Pellegrino - In addition to three decades of internationally producing and presenting
>>performance-multimedia events with the latest affordable emerging
>>technology I attend annually on average over 100 music events in every
>>imaginable venue. I always get the best seats that money can buy so I
>>figure what I´m hearing and seeing is the best the entire production team
>>can offer. I agree that the performance arts are a complex business but
>>that´s no reason to settle for mediocrity or even less as is often the case.

Self - So Ron, what´s the last show you mixed? When´s the last time you worked a
>22 hour day that started and ended with loading 5 semis ? How often do you
>configure and tech a large sound system. As with everything, sound system
>technology, and sound in general is MUCH more complicated than anyone could
>ever know .......... without doing it. It´s really easy to make a good band
>in a good venue, with a good system and a good crew. If even one part of
>that equation turns into "not so good", the whole thing goes down the
>crapper. I would suggest that I have no more credential for doing literary
>reviews than you have for passing judgement on the Live audio professionals
>of the world. Post production and scoring and multimedia are all wonderful
>things and all include audio. But no matter how much you disagree it IS NOT
>the same thing. If you disagree it is purely because you don´t get it.
>simple as that ! Everything you do is in a controlled environment where the
>second chances abound. Everything we do is in an environment of complete
>chaos, where everyone involved has a good degree of influence, there are
>WAYYYYYY TOO MANY CHIEFS, and we only get ONE chance. Again I say, if you
>don´t understand the tremendous amount of difference between your job and
>mine, you just don´t get it.

Pellegrino - The proof is in the pudding. The audience doesn´t care how long or how hard you´ve worked. They don´t care about the complications of your work. What they care about is what they´re hearing. Mediocre audio is one thing; painful and dangerous is another. Audio excellence should go unnoticed by the audience; they´re there for the music.

One of public things I do is performance-multimedia which is live electro-acoustics multiplied by live computer mediated video multiplied by live laser projections multiplied by live musicians, dancers, and other performers. If you're looking for complications and excitement, try that combination on for size.

Best to avoid the expression "you just don´t get it". It has that post-feminist-metamorphosed-to-academic-political-correctness ring and normally signifies that the sayer has run out of ideas.

Pellegrino - Every day it seems more obvious that it´s a very serious problem that
>>there´s virtually no oversight or licensing of the audio engineering
>>profession. In communications to me from audio engineers about their
>>problems, the house engineers fault the road engineers and both groups of
>>engineers fault the musicians and the presenters. The musicians and
>>presenters abdicate responsibility for the audio because, out of ignorance
>>and an inability to communicate effectively with the engineers, they
>>maintain that the responsibility for the audio lies with the audio
>>engineers. The audio engineers and the savvy folks in the audience come
>>prepared with hearing protection which is another way of saying they deafen
>>themselves down. Often the threat to the unprotected audience's health
>>borders on criminal. I expect it won´t be long before there will be
>>audience and class action lawsuits against the audio engineers, musicians,
>>and presenters and, in the end, we´ll all have to suffer with government
>>audio regulators swarming around public music events.

Self - Cool, I´m confident that I can get whatever license they require. It will
>probably eliminate some of the dead weight at the bottom of the food chain.
>My question is how in the hell do they intent to quantify any of this
>without the technology to do so ? How does one determine fault when the
>outcome is a direct result of the work of dozens of people ? and who´s
>gonna license the guitar players ? I just did Ted Nugent last night.
>Regardless of what I or the FOH engineer did, it was going to be a loud
>show. You tell Ted Nugent to turn down ... go ahead ....... I dare you !!

Pellegrino - I expect the basic regulatory mechanism will probably involve a new breed of multi-scale decibel meter that will be distributed in great numbers all around the soundspace. Everyone will have to adjust to the new reality. Possibly it will serve the music and very likely it will save some ears. Too bad the government needs to monitor the music scene.

Pellegrino - Think about it. The field of audio engineering as we know it today is a
>>relatively new entry on the professional scene and it´s literally exploding
>>into the public arena in a less than responsible manner without oversight.
>>The anti-noise movement is quickly getting the attention of all the
>>broadcast media and the government because ongoing research is
>>demonstrating that excessive sound is a serious health hazard. Based on
>>my personal experience, the intractability of audio engineers and their
>>reluctance to accept responsibility for the deleterious impact their
>>performances are having on the health of music and the music-going public, the net effect will
>>probably result in government regulation in the near future. Not a
>>pleasant thought.

Self - I think about it ever day. It disturbs me greatly. The part that bothers me
>the most is that the inspectors job will most likely go to some academic
>with nothing more than academic knowledge. I guess the new saying can be "
>If you can't do OR teach ...... regulate"

Pellegrino - I know it´s the audio engineer´s mantra but that expression "If you can´t do, then teach" and all of its variations should also be avoided like the plague. People who use that expression signal to the world that they´ve never had the good fortune of studying with excellent teachers. With very few exceptions the best in any field always stand on the shoulders of excellent teachers and those who have had them pay proper respect for the transfer of knowledge and inspirational attitude. It´s clear that many audio engineers working in the late 90s were students in the 1980s, historically a deep trough in American educational history characterized by minimal expectations, grade inflation, rampant cheating, and the flight of good teachers. Plus, just struggling to stay alive, university music departments added courses and programs to bolster their student numbers. Courses in music business and recording plus programs in audio engineering were part of the university-turned-into-technical school movement of the 1980s. The early teachers in those programs tended to be low paid, part-time, narrowly focused technical people who ran a modest recording studio nearby to the university. It´s not surprising that their students left with such a low regard for the educational system.

Self - Honestly Ron, I don´t see how you can expect to be taken seriously without
>the proper experience. Come spend a week with me and my crew, Then go write
>your articles.

>Chip

Pellegrino - Five decades as a multi-instrumentalist musician - four decades as a composer - three-plus decades as an electro-acoustics pioneer and researcher - two trend-setting books on emerging technology in the arts distributed globally - several scores of published articles - a decade of teaching an upper level university physics course in the physics of sound - the design and implementation of professional, corporate, and university electronic arts facilities (all of which include integrated audio) - the production of over 500 public music-based performance-multimedia events in North America, Europe, and South America - a BM, MM, and PhD in music composition, theory, and philosophy - an avid attendee at music events of all flavors and stripes - and a continuing involvement in all of those threads affords me "the proper experience" and the license to report publicly on my experiences, observations, and reflections on subjects directly related to my professional life (and that includes the performances of audio engineers).

Please note that I don´t write about the audio engineering process; that´s the short view of audio and I prefer the long view. Experienced professionals know that today´s technology will be obsolete in just a few years; what really counts is the in-depth understanding of all audio related principles and the creative wherewithal to implement those principles with whatever technology is currently available. The audio engineering process, including you and your crew and all your equipment, should be completely transparent in performances. It should be as if the audio engineering team were not there in the soundspace at all. Concerts are about music, not audio engineering. What's important to the life of music and the aesthetic involvement of the audience is the quality of the sound as it serves the musical purpose. Far too many audio engineers are getting in the way of the music by making their presence felt in unmusical, painful, and often health-threatening ways. My purpose in writing about audio engineering is to mitigate its flaws, raise the consciousness of those who have ears to hear/eyes to see/smarts to grasp/heart to care, and warn audiences about potential dangers to their hearing.

I need to thank you for engaging in this process by exchanging email messages with me and responding honestly, without reservation, and in civil tone to my positions. I prefer not working in a vacuum so I´m especially appreciative of the stimulation your messages have provided. I hope our exchanges will be of value to others who are as committed as we are to audio in the performance arts.

Best of luck with your audio engineering career.

Ron Pellegrino


In this exchange the last words belonged to Chip Self. I felt pressed to respond to the queue of messages from other audio engineers - RP.

From: Chip Self <self@i1.net>
Reply-To: "chip@logicsound.com" <chip@logicsound.com>
To: Ron Pellegrino <ronpell@microweb.com>
Subject: RE: your essay
Date: Wed, 19 Aug 1998

>Ron,

Pellegrino - By wearing 15 dB pads in custom earmolds you´re inducing artificial
>deafness in yourself while you're preparing an audio system for a public
>event. Highly questionable. In the music business a 15 dB shift is huge
>and I´m certain you have no argument with the principle that the function
>of the audio engineer is to serve the music. This is another instance of
>where a working knowledge of the fundamentals of psychoacoustics is
>critical. A 15 dB level shift significantly affects the human hearing
>system's response to spectral components (tone color) and, at the top of dB
>scale, can mean the difference between healthy and damaged ears. Pity the
>poor unprotected patrons. If the sound´s not safe for the audio engineer,
>the security personnel, and the stagehands, it certainly isn´t safe for the
>patrons, especially the unsuspecting "once a week concert attendee".

Self - Your assessment is a bit off base. First of all, I ONLY wear my earmolds after I have completed my work. By the time I start wearing them, I have relinquished control ( to a degree ) to the guest engineer. The molds in no way effect my judgement or sensitivity in performing ANY of the system set up or configuration ( including the EQing of the system ). This is a critical difference. The sole reason that I wear plugs ( and suggest them ) is based on long term exposure. The weekly exposure to a security guard that MUST stand next to a speaker at 4-5 shows a week including soundcheck, without breaks is an order of magnitude greater than that of a concert attendee that sees even one or two high level shows per week. Again, this distinction is critical. Another critical distinction is that the attendee has a choice. No one is forcing them to attend. In most cases, they can get their money back if they are uncomfortable. But the basic fact is that humans are, have been, and will likely continue to be attracted to loud noises. As we age and mature, some of those tendencies subside. BUT, that does not discount the primal attraction to things like Motor cycles, race cars, large screaming crowds at baseball games, fireworks, guns, and concerts. Now who gets to be the dB police for these other events. There is a valid argument that forcing a baseball crowd to "keep it under 105" would negate the entire experience. Riding a Harley Davidson Hog modified to emit less than 95db would certainly NOT be the same experience ( YOU can be the guy who regulates that one at Sturgis !! ). And The Red Hot Chilli Peppers would not be the same at 95. By the same token, Kunzel and the Cincinnati pops would not be the same experience at 115. It's a matter of propriety for the performance at hand. If you don´t enjoy that level of performance ..... don´t attend. It´s really that simple. This does not eliminate the fact that there are some bad engineers out there. What I know is that the extent of my control is limited to my payroll. If there is a bad engineer causing a problem, it´s up to the guy writing the check to fix it. Expecting a broad industry wide accusation to yield a sweeping response in the concert industry is as likely to be effective as me complaining to the AMA that every dentist I´ve been to has cold hands, expecting sweeping reform as a result. No less, a sweeping reform tailored to MY specifications. Sound, in general, is as subjective as it gets. EVERYONE has an opinion. Who decides who's right ???? .......... You? ........... Me? ............. Janet Reno ?.............. The IRS ? ........... OSHA ? .........

One man´s profoundly perfect guitar sound is another man´s offensive piece of shit. Would you be willing to subject YOUR mixes to random review by people with the power to revoke your license to work ? Before you answer, what if it´s one of those pieces where you had some bonehead producer breathing down your neck and couldn't tell him to piss off because he's footing the bill ? How about the one where the guitar player had the most offensive tone and refused to change it. Or possibly the intimate theater gig where no one could understand the lyric because the overzealous "trumpet artist" can't get "his tone" at a pianissimo level. Now tell me Ron, is that YOUR fault ?

Pellegrino - The proof is in the pudding. The audience doesn't care how long or how
>hard you´ve worked. They don´t care about the complications of your work.
>What they care about is what they´re hearing. Mediocre audio is one thing;
>painful and dangerous is another. Audio excellence should go unnoticed by
>the audience; theyvre there for the music.

Self - I´ve worked with enough "artists" to be EXTREEMLY confident in saying that in many cases the LAST thing you want to hear is the artists direct output. The artists are the deaf ones. Take an SPL reading at the drummers head during a rock show, then we´ll talk. And of course it´s musically critical that the vocal be louder than the drums. Who´s fault is it now ?

Pellegrino - One of public things I do is performance-multimedia which is live
>Electro-acoustics multiplied by live computer mediated video multiplied by
>live laser projections multiplied by live musicians, dancers, and other
>performers. If you´re looking for complications and excitement, try that
>combination on for size.

Self - Been there, done that. [Pellegrino - Open to question. Audio engineers are not multimedia artists and producers. Composing production environments for musicians, dancers, and other performers is done by artists, not technicians. Performance-multimedia that includes live video capture, processing, mixing and projection is also done by artists, not technicians.] Try 65 shows in 70 days in 42 states on 65 different pa systems in 65 different rooms ( many for the first time ). Try that one on for size. THIS is the NORM in my business. Perhaps you could foresee getting identical pristine performances of a highly complicated guitar piece on that schedule using a different guitar, different amp, different strings, and different tunings every day. Add to that, regional promoters that are solely interested in the ROI for that specific gig. Now that is what the touring engineer get to do every day. Who's job sucks now ?? Now with yourself in that position, and some half drunk redneck says " There's too much bass when I sit directly infront of the subs". Who's the whiney prick now ? Who's fault is it ? You're the guitar player ... play the song. It's that simple ......... or is it ?

Pellegrino - Best to avoid the expression "you just don´t get it". It has that
>post-feminist-metamorphosed-to-academic-political-correctness ring and
>normally signifies that the sayer has run out of ideas.

Self - My wife would get a kick out of ME being called a feminist. But I honestly think that even with all of your credentials, you still don´t get it. I´m sure you are an expert in your field. But this ain´t it. There are lines between what we do that you don´t even see. I don´t fault you for not knowing the difference, how could you ? The fault I find is in thinking you do.

Pellegrino - I expect the basic regulatory mechanism will probably involve a new breed
>of multi-scale decibel meter that will be distributed in great numbers all
>around the soundspace. Everyone will have to adjust to the new reality.
>Possibly it will serve the music and very likely it will save some ears.
>Too bad the government needs to monitor the music scene.

Self - I´m all for equal regulation. However, I mean equal. Like I said, YOU get to go "regulate" the SPL at a Harley convention. YOU get to regulate the SPL at the drag races. And YOU get to tell Metalica that they have to meet the same SPL guidelines as James Taylor. Next you get to explain it to those audiences. Go ahead......... really ...... I dare you. I know, I have a show coming up with The Woo Tang Clan. stop by and I'll let YOU explain to the crowd that tonight´s event will be run at 98db for their own good. Of course, then you have to walk back to FOH through the crowd and stand at FOH with your hand on the master level. I agree with you on an academic level. However it is purely an academic point of view. Until YOU get your life threatened over "kick that shit white boy" you don´t get it.

Pellegrino - I need to thank you for engaging in this process by exchanging email
>messages with me and responding honestly, without reservation, and in civil
>tone to my positions. I prefer not working in a vacuum so I´m especially
>appreciative of the stimulation your messages have provided. I hope our
>exchanges will be of value to others who are as committed as we are to
>audio in the performance arts.

Self - No problem,

Chip

End of conversation with Chip Self.


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