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Focus and Clarity

A good sound is a mix of a variety of elements. Each piece has its’ position in the aural spectrum but 99% of the time, first and foremost the number one thing you’re wanting to hear well are the words. Why is this? Well, whoever is speaking or singing has a message to share with their audience. In my opinion, if the words weren’t to be crystal clear and directly reaching every member of the audience then that message would be in jeopardy. In professional audio there is a phrase called ‘presence’. It refers to a small range of frequencies where the intelligibility of the human voice resides- around 3-8 kilohertz if you’re interested! Vocal clarity should always be present. An audience member should feel present and engaged with every word being ‘projected’ from the stage via the sound system and the presence of other elements should often be toned down so as not to interfere with the focus.

Noise (in the destructive sense of the term) and distortion are usually symptoms of adding more and more to an already crowded space when what’s really need is a ‘de-clutter’. By using a subtractive approach instead of adding more and more we are left with the fundamentals that we really want. Another term not so commonly used now days is sound reinforcement. Taking this approach, words on stage feel like they are being spoken or sang right in front of you- as you would hear in any day to day conversation. Only the engineer is aware that sound system is even in operation.

In any form of art there is a message wrapped up within it that the writer intends it’s audience to hear. The art itself  is the presentation- the package that surrounds it. Knowing this distinction makes all the difference in how we approach production. Every element has its place and I believe that often what we should be seeking isn’t more skill, talent or technical ability but judgement. Judgement sees the focus of any piece whether that’s a painting, a film, a sculpture, a novel, a play, a live set or a speech. Once we understand the focal point of what we are dealing with, then we can build everything else under this for a totally immersive experience. We don’t neglect the vision of the message and at the same time we pay attention to the details which form its backdrop.

There has been a lot of excitement (and critiscm) over 3D technology in film as it’s developed over recent years but live sound engineers have been using this principle since the beginning. There is only so much aural space that can be occupied, so as engineers we know to spread everything out in the sonic spectrum. we hear in stereo and so we take advantage of this and spread elements across the horizontal field, we push things ‘backwards’ in the mix to create depth. What we’re left with (or what we started out with) is the vocals. The focus of the show and sitting at the front of the mix, right in the centre with absolute clarity.


About Aston: 
” I’m a freelance sound engineer based in Nottingham. I am also an avid lover of photography and visual art, known for taking a lot of photos of my work and seeing systems and the many technical aspects of my job visibly and creatively- as opposed to purely numbers and data. I walk the fine line between being both technical and creative.”

Twitter: @AstonFearon

 [Photography: © Aston Fearon 2011]

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