The essay, Why are Audio Engineers the Enemies of Our Ears?, generates a good level of heat; email responses to it come in frequently. What follows is a response from an offended audio engineer that provides considerable food for thought and concern:

Date: Sun, 08 Feb 1998 15:46:56 -0500
From: john k l mang
Organization: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)
To: ronpell@microweb.com
Subject: Taking offense.

>Sir,
>
>I read your article "Why are audio engineers the enemies of our ears?"
>and am taking offense at some harsh statements that you have made.

RP - No need to take offense. If the depictions in that essay do not apply to you, count yourself among the elite in the audio field. On the other hand, if the depictions do apply to you, simply take the necessary steps to improve your work and elevate it to the level of excellence.

>I am an audio engineer by trade. I work in all fields of audio
>including recording, mastering, posting and reinforcement. I take great
>pride in my work and find your comments absolutely ridiculous.

RP - It does concern me that you consider audio engineering a "trade" which, of course, puts it in the same category as carpenter, tiler, roofer, electrician, plumber, etc. Not that I have anything against those folks because I know and like them well having hired them and worked side by side with them during the course of all of my major house renovation projects. Nevertheless, the problem with most people in the trades is that they tend to have a "basher" rather than an artistic attitude - they focus on speed and quantity rather than quality. Those folks who approach audio engineering as a trade also tend to be bashers settling for mediocrity or less in the quality of their work. The reason I call this section of my site Quest for Audio Excellence is that there is a crying need to foster, draw attention to, and cultivate an artistic attitude on the part of audio engineers. Pride and self-satisfaction are not measures of excellence.

>"Most audio engineers don´t understand what´s being discussed
>here"...And you are?
>
>Not only do most engineers understand graphs such as the
>Fletcher-Munsen, two psychoaccoustic researchers with Bell labs circa
>1933 (that you called equal loudness) but understand the repeated damage
>loud SPL´s can involve. While the reinforcement engineer is mixing,
>he/she is usually wearing hearing protection (frequency responsive at
>that). We mix loud because the audience likes it loud. If you want to
>blame that on someone, blame it on the Grateful Dead who have propagated
>this.

RP - Your writing about (and possibly understanding of?) the Fletcher-Munsen diagram is fairly ambiguous given that you seem to be somewhat bothered by my description of it as equal loudness curves. Perhaps you might want to revisit your reference sources and textbooks and spend some time studying the explanations of the diagram and giving the issue deeper thought. What you'll discover is that the contours of the Fletcher-Munson diagram are, in fact, equal loudness curves. What that means is that "each contour represents a family of sine waves, with such combinations of intensity and frequency that they all sound equally loud." Are you proving my case that "Most audio engineers don´t understand what´s being discussed here"?

Your statement that the reinforcement engineer "is usually wearing hearing protection (frequency responsive at that)" should give all audiences cause to fear for the health of their hearing. What you're saying is that you and your colleagues (most likely already partially deaf) are protecting yourselves from the deafening SPLs that you are subjecting your audiences to. That behavior borders on being criminal; you´re knowingly inflicting bodily harm on the audiences you should be serving!

There´s no argument with the excessively high levels at major rock events; high SPLs simply go with the territory. But it makes no sense to apply those rules or the damaged audio engineer´s ears to concerts of jazz, North Indian music, multimedia, classical experimental, etc. There is more to the music world than legacy of the Grateful Dead.

>Sound mixing is very subjective. Most colleague of mine are smart, hard
>working and very knowledgeable. You are referring to a minority Sir.
>It sounds to me like you are a teacher by trade. Do you like it when
>people make unfounded statements such as ´those who can´t, teach´? I´m
>starting to believe that myself.

RP - I wish that troublesome audio engineers were in the minority. But I´m afraid that's not the case. It´s the audio engineer who strives for excellence who is difficult to find. They´re out there but there aren´t many to be found. Check out my review of The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra's David Robinson for a rare exception.

I have to admit to being a teacher all my life but I´m not "a teacher by trade"; I´m more of a teacher by nature. Check out my site and you´ll see that my work focuses on multimedia composition and performance-multimedia with affordable emerging technology. In the 1990s my chief teaching vehicles have been this website and visiting artist engagements at universities, cultural centers, and museums. Some of us can create it, perform it, and teach it.

Ron Pellegrino, 2/24/98


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