Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The best job ever!

Nice curves baby!

I spend a lot of time in this blog talking about three things very near and dear to my heart: MBH, LB, and cooking, particularly baking. And unless it is a rant, (i.e. see this post or this one), you rarely read about what I do to earn a living. I wrote about it once in this postbut since my last post was a long winded gripe about work, I thought I'd share something that is good about my job. No strike that, what is my favourite part of my job: turning a 19,600 seat NBA/NHL arena sound system into my personal stereo system. Today I finished tuning the new, improved sound system that I designed for the Boston Garden (The Fleet Center until a few months ago when TD Banknorth bought the naming rights from the now defunct Fleet Bank and restored the true name back to the building). I don't mind telling you, it sounds damn fine.

Now, what makes my job one of the best jobs ever? Well, a few things. First, as I wrote about before, there is something about the thrill of cranking a 150,000 watt sound system up really stinkin' loud until your ears bleed. Ok, that is an exaggeration, the sound system at the Boston Garden was designed to meet and exceed the minimum NBA specification of 105dB. How loud is that?? Basically that is equivalent to a jack-hammer at 20 feet. To put that in better perspective, a packed pub at happy hour with the jukebox playing at normal "bar" level is about 95 dB and that is as loud as most people can shout over. dB (decibels, the unit of loudness) are logarithmic and in their world 1+1 does not equal 2 but rather = 10. So, if something is 95 dB (our example pub) and you compare it to my Boston Garden sound system, well my sound system plays 10X louder! In fact, it will play 20X louder because I can easily hit 115 dB before the limiters, a safety valve so some numbskull operating the system when I leave the building doesn't blow up speakers, engage. 115 dB BTW is about as loud as a jet engine taking off from 40 feet. Oh and one more BTW, that is what rock concerts START at because by the time the band gets to the third set, the sound guy and band's ears are numb and they can't hear the mix so the sound guy starts cranking up the volume and by the time you stagger out of the place three hours later, you have just exposed your precious hearing to over 120 dB for an extended period of time (and taken about 4 years off your ears lifespan) So ALWAYS take those little foamy earplugs with you when you go to a show...this ends my public service annoucement and the science lesson. Now where was I....

Oh yea, telling you about the things that make my job really cool. Another thing that makes my job really cool is I get to go behind the scenes at some really neat places. My job has taken me backstage at an Elton John concert where I met Sir Elton and then proceeded to set him up with a groovy monitor rig for his keyboards. It got me on the tour bus of Kiss (not for THAT reason....jheesh). They weren't there but I got to fix a speaker on their surround system for the bus video system and drink a beer with the road manager who fixed my brother up with back stage passes to meet the band! (which I never fail to remind my little bro of when he gets too big for his britches). I've been to too many NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB, college football/basketball games to count (no, not 'bama yet Todd, but when we redo the system there next year, I'll let you know) and always had the best seat in the house: the catwalk high above the action or at the sound booth. I think my favourite place my job has gotten me is either the winter olympics at Nagano (say it with me boys and girls...sushi!) or the summer games at Barcelona (can you spell T-A-P-A-S? Come on, I had to get some food in here). The best backstage in all of opera you ask? Paris without a doubt. Even though the MET in NYC does have the best flywing and it was a blast to fly across the stage while rigging a back stage fill speaker.

Besides these perks, there is one other thing I really, really get a thrill doing. And that is taking a really nasty sounding room like an arena or big cavernous theatre and designing a sound system so that the owners and the ticket buying public can hear and understand every word said and the music played through the system sounds just like it does when you listen at home (albeit in a slightly bigger room). My favourite moment as a sound system designer? Well, it wasn't filling all 111,000 seats at University of Michigan's Big House with sound so loud the police in Ypsilanti, MI five miles away get calls during game day nor even making sure Pope John Paul II was heard from front to back at the Basilica of St. Paul (but that DID send a tingle down to my toes). No, it was watching a lowly church secretary breakdown in the back pew of her church in tears because she had never heard the cassette tape of her grand-daughter's piano recital sound so good. That system consisted of one speaker, hung in the center above the pulpit and filled a church that sat about 200 people. But, having that woman walk up to me after I was finished tuning the system and hug me was the best feeling ever. And that, my dear reader, is what I love about my job.

Playlist for Tuning the Parquet

When I tune a system (with basically means, set up the amps and equalizers, etc), I use songs from albums that are very well recorded without a lot of extra studio processing on them. I also use songs from artists I don't necessarily LOVE because if I do use those artists I get lost in the music and quit paying attention to the mechanics of tuning a big system. I save them for after I'm finished setting the system up when I can enjoy the fruits of my labour. I have certain songs/cds/artists for each different part of the system. Oh and I don't normally listen to the whole song through, just certain parts over and over and over and over (another good reason not to use music your really really love. You will hate it after hearing the same 30 seconds for four hours straight). Here are the tunes I used this week at the Garden. There are links if you want to hear what I heard and if you want to see more pictures from my tuning at the Boston Garden go to here.

-Falling into You: Celine Dion (Say what you will, this woman sings on key and is produced impeccably. This is the song I use to get a baseline on the system before, during, and after I finish)

-Make You Happy: Celine Dion (Great for making sure I have the kick and snare drum sounding just oh so right)

-The Chain: Fleetwood Mac (I KNOW I've got the system rumbling at the bottom end when the John McVie's bass guitar solo rattles signage)

-It's AWESOME baby- Dick Vitale/Tribal Dance - 2 Unlimited (From Jock Jams 3. The system will get up and go for the jumbotron guys when I actually do a little dance to this one)

-Angel: Sarah McLachlan (I break my rule about not listening to artists I love with this one. The piano and her voice are just so clean that I know the mids and highs are locked in with this song)

-Male Voice from Syn-Aud-Com (10 minutes of a guy with a great radio voice talking about the history of installed sound. Great disk to make sure speech is understandable in a 5 second room)

-Pink Noise:20Hz - 20kHz (I actually get applause from the other folks in the building when I turn this stuff off but it helps me see what I need to do on my analyzer when I set a baseline equalization for the system)

-Tone sweeps from 30Hz - 300Hz (I use these to ring out low frequency rumbles in the room that will destroy the punch. I use a tone generator to do this part of the set up)

-Breathe Me:Sia (I just HAD to hear this song on this system)