Re: [Fwd: Concerts in Nov.]

Subject: Re: [Fwd: Concerts in Nov.]
From: John Oliver (
Date: Tue Nov 16 1999 - 01:43:01 EST

I was at that event too, Chris. I remember it differently. Paul did not
spark off the debate after his presentation: members of the audience
hurled insults at him, stormed out, etc. Paul responded to some of the
insults and accusations rather forcefully if I recall. He met fire with
fire. I remember a loud concert. However, I also remember being rather
impressed at how Paul achieved high density of sound and high volume
without risking hearing overload. There were no dangerous spikes or
drastic changes in levels to cause sudden changes in the ear's movement
and I remember a balanced representation of all frequencies and enough
change of texture to maintain a flow that I did not find damaging to the
ears. It was very loud however and physically moving, certainly not an
experience for those unprepared to have their torso moved by sound. I
also remember the hall was not particularly suitable for a controlled ea
presentation, with some very bad seats indeed!

While in Montreal this past week, I attended an event at Usine C that
became a very interesting event for me: GRANULAR SYNTHESIS, a group of
people from Austria (if memory serves me) who ran a show of about an
hour's duration from computers into a VERY BIG sound system and VERY BIG
screens. The ushers were actively informing every single ticket holder
that ear plugs were available in a bin just in front of them and that
they would probably need them. I took my earplugs and had them ready to
put in when the decibels got above a certain level. That level did
arrive for me about 5 minutes into the show when the throbbing bass was
in full tilt and the filtered white noise kicked in. The sound and
visual materials were very uniform and limited, the range of
transformations were similarly limited. I got bored after about 10
minutes and gave up after about 30 minutes.

Then I went upstairs to see the remainder of the photo exhibit I had
been looking at before the show. Upstairs there were about a dozen
photos hanging from mounting string on the very wall behind which the
video screens and loudspeakers were mounted. The frames were undulating
as the beats hit. I was able to see the images within the frames moving
before my eyes, these detailed ghosts of photo montage, these people
with histories, hysteresis, stories... dreaming... evocative... much
more so than the images I had seen in the loud room with over 300 people
in attendence. Then suddenly there was a women there on my left, looking
at the photos too. We both smiled at our common purpose. I pointed out
the moving stills and remarked on the loudness of the sound. Then she
pulled out a decibel metre and explained that she suffered from tinnitus
and was a student in journalism studying loudness and society's
willingness to subject itself to deafening sounds. She showed how she
had set her metre to measure the sound levels in the loud room. The
highest setting was 120 with a VU range up to +6. She said the reading
had pinned on 126 decibels. (I hasten to add that I didn't ask anything
about her methodology and so I have no idea what she did to get that
reading. She did say she was studying at Concordia so perhaps she is in
the class Kevin Austin has mentioned. If that's the case, perhaps Kevin
might have answers to the methodology question.)

Given a choice between loudness for loudness sake, which seems to me the
main point of GRANULAR SYNTHESIS, and loudness for the sake of bringing
as much textural clarity to the audience as possible, which is my view
of Paul's early tendency to play it really loud, I'll take the latter
any time.

(Since 1989 and throughout the 1990s, Paul experimented with presenting
his music in live situations with lower diffusion levels, perhaps in
response to some of the criticism, but I personally found that the
balance of his textures - in terms of both density and range of loudness
- suffered from the lower diffusion levels. It's a delicate balance to
find, what with differing diffusion systems, concert hall sizes,
rehearsal times, etc.)

(Another disclaimer: this was the third show by GRANLULAR SYNTHESIS in
Montreal and I was told that the previous two shows were more interesting.)

I'd be really curious to see some talk about this recent show. I really
wanted to ask this group from Austria one question: Warum? (Why?)

John Oliver

Chris Meloche wrote:
> All of this talk of high-volume concert levels brings back memories of the
> CEC >convergence< festival at the Banff Centre back in 1989. At that time,
> Paul Dolden sparked off a similar line of debate after the presentation of
> his work "Below the Walls of Jericho". Anybody else remember that?
> Since I was aware of what to expect, I positioned myself out in the theatre
> lobby just before this work began. I do remember others out there, as well.
> >From the lobby, it just seemed like an earthquake rolling through the area.
> Funny, I have listened to Paul Dolden's music (designed with a similar
> high-volume intent, I am sure) at *very* low volumes and found it much more
> interesting that way! I find that it reveals much more of the hidden
> textures which get lost in a seemingly heavy-handed LOUD presentation.
> Well, "different strokes..." as they say...
> Cheers,
> Chris

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