Friday, February 11, 2011

Addis Ababa part 4 - A Night in Hell

Tried posting this yesterday but the local power went out. That seemed quite appropriate for the subject matter.

My approach to recording or mixing audio is always done in the nature of a scientific experiment. In these experiments one may be looking for desired or expected results but nothing is guaranteed. Even when multiplying a number of possibilites to create probabilities designed to work.

As we approached the venue for the evening's concert you could hear music blasting from the PA to the point where Skiz, our videographer, wondered if the opening band had gone on already. It was a DJ turned up about as loud as he could go, or so I thought. Turned him down when I got back to the board; he proceeded to turn himself up. This went on a couple more times until we arrived at an uneasy compromise.

If I had my druthers, there wouldn't have been a DJ in the first place. Blasting club volume sound pressure levels at the back of a 10,000 seat ampitheater isn't my idea of how to warm up the ears of a crowd attending a World Music concert. Later, I found out that Bill had requested no DJ but the promoters didn't agree.

Everything started smoothly enough. The opening act began with an instrumental; everything sounded as it should. When the singer came on her mic sounded too low at first . Was able to get it up to a decent level without feeding back but it still didn't sound quite right, to me. She was using a wireless Beta 58. I'd seen a wireless Beta 58 fall on the concrete earlier in the day and suspected it was the one she had. I asked Sisay to swap her mic with one of the wireless mics the background singers were using and the lead singer sounded much better. At one point Brook Girma gave me a thumb's up.

About halfway through the opening act I started to hear a loud crackling distortion on the left side of the PA. Told Sisay, who had also heard it. He said that a cable connecting the flown line array on the left side had been disconnected which he reconnected. The PA seemed stable for the opening act's last song.

After positioning the mics for Material during the change-over, I headed back to the mix position. I immediately noticed that the DJ, still playing at an excessive level, sounded completely bassy with no discernable treble. I was hoping it was just the DJ.

As soon as Gigi and Material started it was obvious that no high frequencies were coming through the flown line arrays. At first I thought it to be just the left side but later it became clear that both sides were affected. I thought the line arrays weren't on at all but if you went to the front and stuck your head in front of one you could hear midrange at a moderate to low level. I was devastated.

The horns on the cabinets that were not flown still worked so the sound for about half of the crowd nearest to the stage was alright. Back at the mixing board, you could still hear everything but it sounded a million miles away. I went on stage in the middle of a song and told Bill what was happening and suggested we stop the show to fix the problem.

Despite the technical malfunction, the crowd response to Gigi was overwhelmingly positive. People knew the words to her songs and were singing along even at the back. From this, and from the crowd's response to Gigi's banter between songs, I could tell that the crowd at the back could at least understand what she was saying.

Most people didn't seem to realize there was a problem though one tall Britsh non-gentleman berated me quite loudly about the poor sound. I yelled back that the PA was broken. Needless to say, nothing changed from this pointless exchange of amplified hominid grunts and squawks.

Fortunately, they didn't stop the show. That probably would have broken the flow and made people aware of a problem they didn't know about which, more than likely, didn't have an easy solution. I was actually worried that a sizeable portion of the crowd would leave and demand their money back but their love and enthusiasm for Gigi and the excellent musicianship from Material won out over the poor sound.

I did the best I could with a broken PA and ended up turning up the high frequencies on the BSS EQ all the way - something I never do as I prefer to use the House EQ to cut frequencies when needed, never to boost.

At one point, Brook Girma told Bill that the problem had been solved, so I guess it wasn't the end of the world as I knew it.

All in all the concert was considered a total success by everyone. The backstage tent was jam packed with people, trying to meet and have their picture taken with Gigi. The musicians were completely cool about the situation, taking it in stride. "These things happen," was Dominic's response. They had a great show.

I decided to take a lesson in not being overly attached to my work. The frustrating things for me that I was working on not being attached to were: 1) It would have sounded great if the PA hadn't broke down. 2) Despite the loud distortion and the PA cutting out for the opening act, I couldn't get Sisay or Brook to believe me when I said the PA wasn't working. For Brook this is understandable because he's not a technician.

When I got back to my room, my body felt feverish and incredibly sore all over. The climate in Addis is very similar to Northern California, temperature was in the mid 70s in the day and quite cool at night. I didn't think I needed sunscreen and wasn't constantly drinking water like I do in the hot sun of Mali. However, Addis is even closer to the equator than Bamako (our base of operation in Mali) and I'd gotten sun stroked. Had a restless night's sleep and couldn't eat the next day.

I still felt well enough the next day to go to Abegasu's new studio site in Addis with James, our stage tech, and give Abegasu some advice for studio design. My final words to Abegasu were that he should choose a good name for it; James' final words were to make sure to have a good parking lot.

After that, we met up with most everyone else at the Ethiopian National Museum. Saw some human teeth dated at over 10 million years old and saw Lucy, the oldest human skeleton. The old girl wasn't looking too bad for her age. A sign in the display case indicated that Lucy was named after the popular Beatles song, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Quite the foresight her parents must have had!

Following the museum we drove up a hill overlooking Addis, quite a spectactular view. We checked out an Ethiopian Orthodox Church and a smaller museum connected to it. Skiz grilled the attendent about the Arc of the Covenant which he thinks is in the area. The fellow said that a replica of the Arc is in every local church - by that he means a copy of the tablets containing the 10 Commandents which the Arc is supposed to contain. The attendant wouldn't directly answer Skiz's question if he'd seen the real one.

Vultures flying overhead underscored the fragility of life.

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