I am recalling the events of the last 36 hours as the plane takes off from Keflavík airport heading back to San Francisco. Yesterday turned out to be quite the farewell event to this incredible trip.
I am still recovering.
Let’s begin yesterday morning. It was the last day of the conference, which would culminate in a keynote by Bob McCarthy, one of my idols known for his impact on the sound engineering and system tech world. As I biked down Hrimstedrej to Apollon in the morning, I tried to drink in the smell of the wet air and the rural houses since soon they would be gone from my world. The sessions at Apollon had been held in the auditorium of the movie theater where we had watched “The Dark Tower” on Wednesday evening. The first presentation this morning was by Diego and Franz, with whom I had dinner with on the first night of the conference. They presented research on a project using loudspeakers all around a venue or concert area that tried to use cancellation outside of the target zone to control noise bleed and focus the sound in a particular space. I found this very interesting since it seems That the current methods of dealing with noise complaints are either through acoustical treatment or directivity adjustments depending on the problematic frequencies. I thought their research provided a unique approach that is worth further experimentation.
Etienne presented a paper by him, Scott, and François from L-Acoustics on air absorption in extreme environments like the Hollywood Bowl and Coachella Music Festival. In the same way I have wanted to learn more about ArrayProcessing, I have also wondered about what the air absorption feature in Network Manager actually does. They collected data that illustrated how air absorption rises or decreases over distance as humidity and temperature change. This can be compensated for by using the air absorption filter where the values represent the magnitude of a function of these variables starting at 8kHz. Yet there reaches a point where the filter cannot compensate for the loss anymore due to distance and/or conditions. I’m looking forward to reading the technical bulletin for more information.
During one of the refreshment breaks in between paper sessions, I talked to François, who I learned is an expert in subwoofer arrays, about my experience with a weird null point at FOH at an outdoor festival I work at. In a previous presentation by Adam Hill (I finally remember the name of the man from Chicago/Essexx!) he had discovered one of his variables was that the added delay plus the delay created by the physical distance between the speakers totaled to create a greater total delay on the system. I wonder if because we had to move three subs outside of the camera riser if the added delay of the sub arc plus the physical distance between the speakers totaled more than 1/4 a wavelength, thus putting the array in the combing zone. François suggested I mock it up in Soundvision, but also mentioned that they area working on fixing an issue with the sub arc feature because if you have a lot of subs and you want to do a wide arc, you start getting a null in the middle.
John calls it the “dreaded butterfly.”
I guess they are working to fix the math so that will no longer happen. I asked François to explain to me what frequency is under scrutiny when you are calculating this ¼ wavelength for sub placement. He noted that the answer is dependent on the subwoofer preset that you use.
I’m so glad I came to this conference.
When Bob McCarthy finally arrived for the panel on noise mitigation, he wore a psychedelic shirt and amber-rimmed glasses. He flew in from Copenhagen where he designed the system for the Metallica tour that my buddy Tommy is currently working on. Tommy texted me to tell me that he told Bob about me, and I should tell him that Tom says hi. Bob is quite a charismatic guy with a great sense of humor. I really appreciated a man of his prestige commenting during the panel on the importance of infra bass now that there are subs whose sole duty is to recreate 11-35 Hz and how that adds another level to a bass or a kick drum. Usually you hear guys complaining about bass demands or one person commented that it isn’t really necessary. As an engineer who loves the impact of low frequency energy, I was stoked that he emphasized the value of low end.
I’m pretty sure my eyes were peeled open during the entire keynote. It was sort of a history of system optimization from the tuning fork to SMAART. He talked about the system challenges we faced then as opposed to now and into the future. I laughed when he said, “Design Factor 1800, Design Factor 1960, and Design Factor 2525” referring to the challenges we face as technology progresses in the industry. We fight the acoustics of a room built in 1800, then a speaker (or did he say acoustic treatment?) that we started caring about in 1960, and now we have to think of the challenges we will face in the future perhaps with everything just being on a network from source to loudspeaker or ear. It was cool to see how the first computer-driven devices used to measure transfer functions were these huge chunky things that cost thousands and thousands of dollars. When Bob designed the first SIM machine and told Hewellett-Packard the kind of computer he needed, they wanted a separate computer for every octave range at $25,000 each. We sure have come a long way.
His keynote marked the end of the program. Some people left quickly because they had planes and trains to catch, but I wanted to talk with Bob. I waited my turn after most people had left. I was talking to DJ, who knows him from SIM training, and noted that in one of his slides there was a pic of Bob wearing a Juan’s Place Mexican Restaurant shirt from back in my neck of the woods. Bob overheard this:
“Hey! You know my shirt!” he smiled. “You must be Arica.”
“Yes. I am friends with Tom Lyon, he says hello by the way.”
“Yeah, I’m working with Tommy at the Metallica show. He’s a good guy.”
I gushed a little bit about how I enjoyed his speech and am reading his book. I also picked his brain about microphone placement for system measurements. I told him that I had recently taken the Rational Acoustics training class with Jamie Anderson.
“Oh Jamie? I haven’t talked to him in days!” he joked. I take it they were good friends.
I told him that he had said when you are taking measurements you only need to choose from one place of coverage and just move the mic to new locations within a foot-ish to randomize room reflections when you are doing averages. Another engineer was telling me that when he does gigs he has a bunch of microphones that he distributes throughout the coverage area, so what’s the best way to go about it?
He said you want to do averages, but only within the same coverage area because you don’t want to average in areas that have big differences. For example, if one measurement is 0dB at a given frequency and the other is -12dB, then it averages to -6dB and, in effect, “covers up” that drastic difference, at least partially. So you take averages of places you expect to be doing the same thing.
We took a picture in the foyer of Apollon before Bob was escorted to the airport to go back to Copenhagen. As I sat down to lunch with DJ, I wondered to myself if I could change my train ticket to take an early ride back to Copenhagen and maybe try to go to the Metallica show to see Tommy and the 360 degree sound system design that Bob had described. I called up the DSB hot line and, sure enough, my ticket was valid for any train that day and they said there was a train leaving at 3:08pm and 4:30pm. I decided to go for it. I did want to see the Struer Museum that I missed out on, but the idea of spending one more evening in Copenhagen and dealing with the train transfers during the day rather than the middle of the night seemed like a much better idea. I had an hour and a half t0 pack my bags and get to the station so I said my good-byes, hopped on the bike, and jetted back to the rental apartment.
Unfortunately, the Run The Beat marathon was happening literally right in front of the house. One of the AES activities was the ability to go to the after party for the marathon, but I was far more interested in the Metallica system and seeing my friends since I knew Malle, Rune, and Cristian were definitely going. I sent Connie a message to let her know I was leaving early, threw all my stuff in my bags, and walked as fast as I could against the crowd of marathon runners to the train station. Would you believe I made it with 2 minutes to spare?
On the train I searched for a ticket to the show. The show sold out, but I managed to find a ticket on a UK website called Via-a-Go-Go. $150! I took a minute to decide, is this really worth it? I figured I had saved some money at the rental apartment and this is one of those situations where you just say fuck it. Never thought I would pay that kind of money to see Metallica.
I transferred trains at Copenhagen Central Station to a train bound for Ørestad. When I arrived at the destination, I followed the crowd of Metallica shirts, denim vests covered in patches, and purses carrying cans of beer toward the brand new arena. I finally met up with Tommy and I can always tell when he has got his nose to the grind because he starts getting a 5 o’clock shadow when normally he is a pretty clean shaven dude. We embraced as two old friends who hadn’t seen each other in a long time.
The arena opened up to a massive behemoth hanging from the ceiling. Bob McCarthy had called it “Lightzilla” during his presentation and could not even show us photos. Imagine a two-tiered square compromised of black boxes each with a moving light hanging inside of it. Bob had said that it was so heavy that they had to design the PA outside of it in order to not hang too much weight on the roof. Around the lighting rig hung a Meyer Sound system of 4 arrays of Leo, 4 arrays of Lyon, 8 arrays of 6 Leopard facing straight down as down fill, 4 arrays of 3 rows of flown subs in an end-fire configuration, as well as 6 subs per corner of the stage with 8 small fill speakers on the stage for imaging, and last, but not least, the VCLF subs in the corners of the arena that only did 11-35Hz for certain moments in the show. Bob and Tommy took me for a quick walk around on the floor so I could see the design. It was crazy how they even had to break up the hangs of Lyon throwing the long way due to the weight on the roof. They had all the same angles on the Lyon around Lightzilla, but then another set of arrays of Lyon out covering only the balcony. Bob said, “I wish we would stop calling them delay speakers because then production thinks, ‘Oh, why do we need delays for this show?’”
“When really they are an extension of the main hang,” I said.
“Exactly,” he said.
After the mini-tour, we went back to FOH where I met up with Malle, Rune, one of the Genelec reps Morten, and Cristian! It was like the after party for the AES conference. Rune and Morten kept buying us beers. Malle, Rune, and Morten had gotten VIP tickets from DPA Microphones since Metallica uses their mics on the drum kit.
When Metallica finally came on after the opener, the black boxes surrounding the lights lit up with images of sreaming faces. The boxes all turned out to be high quality video screens. Tommy had asked if I brought ear plugs because it was going to be 100dB at FOH. He was not kidding. The low end rippled through my chest. Bob and I had exchanged phone numbers so he promised to text me when the infra subs came on. I turned to him during the intro with “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” video sequence, but he just smiled to say, “Not yet.” When they finally hit during one song, it felt like the bass was changing the rhythm of my heart.
Suddenly the video screen boxes from Lightzilla dropped out of the air, moving to different heights to create an astounding 3-D image. Top that with the drones that had single LEDs that looked like synchronized fireflies that rose from the stage to dance in perfect patterns in the sky. Now I understood the reasoning behind the ticket price. The production was quite impressive.
At some point during the show Bob asked if I had a chance to walk around to hear the system. I told him I had not because of my ticket, to which he then borrowed an all access pass from his colleague and motioned me to follow him. The man moves quick and I ditched the rest of my beer to follow him up into the balcony. He gave me a personal tour listening to the coverage areas explaining things to me like how the Lyon arrays had Lyon-W on the bottom which had a 110 degree dispersion for wider coverage on the floor while the top were Lyon-M, which were 90 degrees. He took me to the worst seat in the house where the overhang of the upper tier put you in a shadow if you were standing, but sounded fine if you sat. It all felt so surreal: to be taken on a personal tour by one of your idols.
At the end of the show, Rune, Malle, and Morten were hanging out talking with Big Mick amongst a crowd of fans. I could not help but feel that we were in the way because they were loading out right after the show. I kept telling them we should move, but they insisted that Mick and Bob would tell us if we were in the way. Meanwhile Tommy had already put his hardhat and yellow safety vest on and was taking his rig apart. Eventually I followed them back stage to the VIP Lounge where we continued drinking. There Malle introduced me to Flemming, the engineer from Metallica’s first few albums. I felt so awkward carrying my luggage through the crowds of people, but I made myself feel better by imagining people thought I had an important flight to catch or something.
It was very strange standing in a crowded room where nearly everyone was speaking Danish and I could not understand anything. We drank until they closed one lounge area, then moved to another lounge where a man in a purple suit with a radio asked if we were having a good time. At some point, Lars came in and the whole room obviously turned their heads. I also met Rune and Malle’s friend Sylvester who I chatted with for quite a while about consoles. We all drank in the tiny room until even the man in the purple suit started packing the booze into a giant road case full of alcohol. At this point it was three in the morning and Rune offered to move our party to his recording studio where he offered to let me crash that night since I had nowhere to go.
Rune hailed a cab, and Malle, Rune, Morten, and I drove to the 7-11 to pick up more beer and some semblance of dinner that included taquitos and chicken nuggets. Rune was completely beside himself because before we had left Malle had gotten a chance to talk to Lars who had said, “Hey, do you know we use Danish microphones on the drum kit?” Obviously referring to the DPA mics. Rune could not wait to tell the sales people on Monday. To him that one sentence had made all their efforts worth it.
We picked up three six packs of beer and a four pack of pigs-in-a-blanket before the cab took us further into Amager Island. Rune’s studio sat amongst a bus lot and other artist-studio-looking buildings. We walked to the second floor and I realized that all artist spaces around the world share a universal dingy atmosphere that is conducive to creating. Inside the room guitars sat in stands next to guitar pedals, and in the control room stood a SSL analog console. We kept drinking and Rune played some music for us, but in my usual form I started fading not too much after Morten had fallen asleep as well. So we hugged and said our good-byes, and they left me in the studio where sleep overcame me completely.
I woke up to the sudden agonizing pain of a Charley Horse in my left leg. One hell of an alarm clock. It was eight in the morning. I never though I would wake up in a recording studio in Copenhagen, but there I was. Rune had told me to just make sure the door was locked when I left, so I grabbed my luggage and began the hungover walk to the metro station.
I got to the airport so early that I couldn’t even tell what terminal I needed to go to. European airports are so efficient that the two hour grace period you leave yourself to get to your gate in America does not apply there. I bought breakfast and sat seething in my own misery for a few hours. I wrote some postcards to the family to kill time. Once on the plane, I slept the whole ride to Keflavík airport.
I felt my heart was ripping open when I returned to Iceland, but could not go anywhere. I thought about leaving the airport to get dinner at Kaffe Duus by the water, but I only had three hours and I did not want to risk it. Instead, I stayed in the airport, did some shopping, and tried to eat the hangover away. I wrote one last postcard to my buddy Eric in New York before heading to my flight.
Despite my efforts to stay awake to readjust my internal clock, I fell asleep on the plane. I had a nightmare in the middle of the ride that the plane dived straight into the sea. It felt so real that when I woke up I had to breathe deeply to keep from screaming like a maniac. Flying never used to bother me, but for some reason in the last few years it has. I wonder if it is the lack of control; the fact that you are at the mercy of the pilot and there isn’t really much you can do if anything were to happen. The rest of the ride I was either asleep or reading to keep my mind off the nightmare’s visions.
I woke up to the captain announcing our arrival in forty minutes to San Francisco first in Icelandic, then in English. Going through customs in the USA was more of an ordeal than in any other country I had been to on the trip. Arriving in Iceland from the US, they merely checked my passport. In San Francisco, it was a three step process of sorting, checking in at a kiosk, and then going to a customs booth. Only after making it through that vetting process could you pick up your luggage at baggage claim, and still you had to present your approval slip before exiting.
Danielle picked me up from the airport. She asked me what were the best parts of the trip. It was like trying to retell another life. I felt so different, yet the funny thing is when I got home, everything was just as I left it. It was comforting, in a way, to know that you can leave and the world does not just fall apart because you are gone. A good cure for narcissism and a good reality check that the world does not revolve around you and your problems.
I honestly cannot believe it is over, but I am happy that I achieved what I needed to with this trip. I felt a sense of calming knowing how vast the world is. I look forward to returning to Iceland and Denmark one day. There is still so much to see. In this whole big world, in all respects, there is still so much to learn and so much to see…