Mixer of the Mind
This article is an editorial and expresses the opinion and experience of the author. Please post comments in the discussion page.
We get going round and round about stereo, mono, localization, spaciousness, reverberation, psychoacoustics, early arrivals and Guitar players who just won't leave (okay the last bit was a joke).
I got to thinking (again) about how we experience sound. I wonder how little drivers in headphones can feel like gigantic speakers pushing air. How can we create a sonic image that suggests a much larger space than is physically there? Why do I hear stereo from a single source? Too many questions.
Mixer of the Mind
Here's a simple idea. Offer the listener clear, clean inputs and let him/her construct the sonic image in the mixer of the mind. Toss the sound into a room with a single Cylindrical Radiator® for each performer, and let the asymmetrical nature of the room produce the different sounds that suggest spaciousness. Let the listener combine this with visual cues and s/he can create a satisfying representation of the physical, in the non-physical realm of the mind.
We have to play and for some, we have to do it live
Playing Live is Flawed
Performing live is inherently flawed. Setting aside the big shows where the performers may have some control of the environment, many of us walk into a multi-purpose space, set-up our gear, and hope for the best. We compete with less-than-optimal acoustics, strange sight lines, the roar of coffee grinders, people trying to order, the clatter of dishes, competing demands to turn it up and turn it down, put on a great show in the least amount of floor space with the ideal combination of minimal impact and optimum results.
Sharing the Experience
Maybe we want to share the experience, warts and all, with those with whom we play, and our audiences. If we want complete control of the environment and what the audience hears we can produce our music in the studio, deliver it electronically, and require the audience to listen on premium equipment under ideal circumstances. Well the last two points are over the top, but you get the idea.
The Mixer of the Mind
If we accept that playing is live is something special, dynamic, in-the-moment and to a large extent, out of our control then we are at liberty to do all kinds of things. First, we are freed from the need to control what the audience hears. We do not have to produce a sound that rivals a recording, pristine, perfect, accurate - that can stand up to repeated playback. We need to honour the live experience.
We need to offer the listener clear, clean inputs and let him/her construct the sonic image in the mixer of the mind. We toss the sound into the space that we are sharing with our audience. I think that sharing each performer individually, instead of the entire band mixed-down to a big front of house speaker allows the listener to combine what s/he hears with visual cues. S/he can create a satisfying representation of the physical, in the non-physical realm of the mind.