Bad Sounds!

It’s incredible that even in the Barbican Hall they amplify things according to their capability and not the requirements of the audience or the music.

It was a session from a series called “Reverberations: The influence of Steve Reich”. First piece I really enjoyed – Clapping Music with Reich himself as one of the performers. From then on, with mostly orchestral pieces, the sound-stage was really damaged by the amplification and the levels were at times painful. The Barbican has a good acoustic – there’s really no need. Might as well just buy the recordings.


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2 Responses to Bad Sounds!

  1. admin says:

    I sent this to the Barbican’s feedback page…

    I’m extremely disappointed about the decision to amplify all of the performances tonight. And I’m quite concerned that the levels of amplification for Owen Pallett’s section were at dangerous levels. I don’t expect to need earplugs when visiting the Barbican!

    There are many problems with amplification. The Clapping Music worked well and I didn’t notice the amplification in that. The second Reich piece (You Are), however, was flattened by the amplification. The vocals sounded thin an breathy (were they mixed to a level that the singers had to sing that quietly to get the effect the conductor wanted?) Because the speakers sit in front of the stage, the sound image was strangely altered as well. The singers sounded like they were in front of other things when they were really at the back. In the third piece (Cruel Sister) there were some peculiar resonances and artifacts. Quite apart from the background hiss of the amplifiers the flutes were particularly prominant and piercing. There was a passage where the basses were being bowed so slowly that you could almost hear each hair as it crossed the strings (which was great) but there was a peculiar heartbeat-type sound that continued even after the bass’s stopped playing. It could have been someone breathing on a mic’ or siomething like that but there was no instrument that I could identify that was making that sound. My wife commented on that independently so it’s not just me! Was that an artefact of the amplification? Again the sound-stage was flattened, damaging the performance.

    The Double Sextet would definitely have been better without amplification. Again the clarinets and futes were too prominent and, really, it sounds better on the web site than it did live. I’m very disappointed.

    Owen Pallett’s music was far too loud and dreadfully mixed and I simply could not enjoy it for that reason. He really shouldn’t have bothered singing because his voice was muddied by the rest of the sound and the lyrics were incomprehensible. Good mixing leaves lots of space to put the voice on top of everything else so the lyrics can be understood. Or perhaps that’s just not possible in the Barbican – I’d be surprised if that were the case, but I do think the sound levels need to be dropped by 50% or more to achieve that.

    I spoke to one of the people on the mixing desk in one of the breaks but he was only there for the Double Sextet and couldn’t comment on the other pieces. He did say that the artists had brought their own mixing staff so I should really blame them for the poor mixing but the Barbican must take responsibility for the overall sound levels. There MUST be limits – or clear warnings about amplified performances. I had my fingers in my ears at some points it was so loud. This is not a good musical experience and your reputation is at stake when this happens (quite apart from any damages that might be awarded to anyone harmed by such noise levels). It seems to me that the capability of amplifying music means that people want to use as much power as is available regardless of the needs of the music or the audience. It’s a technology trap and people need to be educated out of it.

  2. admin says:

    Well – not much of a response from the Barbican … If I ever get the opportunity I’d like to ask Steve Reich about it.

    Dear Mr Skea,

    Thank-you for taking the time to get in touch with your comments about amplification and sound quality at Reverberations. It’s gratifying that our audience members listen with such close attention; we do strive to deliver a high quality experience at every concert and we regret that you were not satisfied by some aspects of this particular performance.

    As I’m sure you are aware, sound mixing, amplification and acoustics are a subjective matter. Tastes differ, and individuals often react to the same experience in contrasting ways.

    It’s worth noting that in the cases of “You Are Variations”, “Double Sextet” and “Cruel Sister” the composers of the pieces were in the Hall for the performances. The pieces were performed in line with their requirements and they were delighted by what they heard, both musically and technically speaking.

    Owen Pallett is a slightly different case – his band shows are generally amplified and we had to find a way to integrate that sound with the sound of the orchestra for this one-off collaborative performance. I am sorry that you felt that the end result was too loud; however, I can assure you that we do indeed have very strict limits in the Barbican Hall and the overall volume level on this occasion was a long way from being dangerous. I do of course accept that you found the experience uncomfortable and I would like to apologise for that.

    We do hope this doesn’t dissuade you from attending future events at the Barbican and hope to welcome you again soon.

    With kind regards,

    Robert van Leer
    Head of Music & Arts Projects

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