Monday
Aug072006

« Better Late Than Never »

My church has been around for 40 years but it never had a sound system of any real value. I've only ever known it to be nothing more than the Radio Shack stuff and some homemade speaker boxes mounted in a not-very-complete way. A long time ago, when I was a kid, part of the fun used to be in messing with the tiny underpowered amp and the lavalier mic and making it feed back on itself. More recently, in the church I am known as the sound man, but none of what I have done has ever really been too like the professional stuff I did for years. I've most consistently recorded services now for nearly four years. But even that is a glorified version of the days of sticking a mic into a field recorder and pressing "record." I just did it with a quality small diaphragm condenser mic and a CD recorder with its own preamp and limiter. Sometimes, I was asked to bring my "system" which was nothing but my bookshelf CD player and a subwoofer to give it balls. It's just a tiny thing. As complicated as it ever got was on my wedding when I borrowed a small powered mixer, some JBL EON speakers, a mic or two, and plugged my computer in and jammed iTunes playlists all night till the cops came (and they really did come right after we left for our hotel, no shit!).

But now, after a major benefactor decided it was time to fix all this, we are on our way. I just spent the last week doing long days installing the system, ostensibly as the assistant to the contractor, but ultimately, it was sort of the other way around at least as hours are concerned. This system is like going from a wooden go-cart to at least a nice Japanese sedan. Lame metaphor aside, it is really a major thing.

We (I am on the board of trustees) got this request  back in November or so. I had long been anticipating how in the world we'd do the project, with it being basically an expense that would be something of a hard sell to folks who shrug and say "what's wrong with what we have now?" Our church has two contracts with cell phone companies for their mounting of towers on our lot, and that has been partially designated to go to major improvements. One time or another, it might have been done, but in this case, it came from frustration that a memorial service for a dear member was hard to hear. Projects like these always take on a life of their own as things get thought out more, and more scenarios are conceived, which mostly snowballs into something notable. We committed to this bid in July, and got started on the 1st of August.

This is the first system I've installed this comprehensively, though the installation was not very deep—not a lot of fishing through walls and stuff. Actually, we will build molding cases to hide wires since the internal work would have been too intrusive in places and impossible in others. There are some clever runs along light soffits and the right angles of steps, under carpet and certain altar features, and so forth. We have eight channels of mic lines from the chancel, and if we go with the 16 channel mixer I am now inclined toward, then we will have other channels available if needed. We have plenty of amp power to get Godlike with the thunder. The mains are Bose Panaray line array style speakers, and there are some fill speakers of conventional trapezoidal design that flank the far reaches of the left and right sides. I'm using my own mics to get ballpark ideas on what sort will do the trick in each setting before we commit to purchases. I just tested four mics on the lectern for general use and recording. That was a problem to get right because there is one of the Bose speakers right behind the pulpit. Since it is a line array style, it does minimize feedback, but still, it's pretty close, and that is a little unconventional. Some EQ tuned out the most ready feedback range. I still have the piano and choir to mic in a serious manner. There will be two wireless units that will be available. The handheld that I tried out was so good at rejecting feedback, it didn't even take off when stuck an inch from the speaker itself! Apparently the line array design means that any one speaker is not actually doing very much, but the collection of 12 speakers can pack a wallop, even at a distance. Distance is not an issue for us but the reflectivity of our room is. We have hard walls, very smooth, lots of glass and wooden ceiling that is sort of like the inside of a Mexican sombrero hat. Pews and people are our primary diffusers.

We considered how to do some outdoors and portable things too, and that is pretty simple. We just need to get things wired for that.

So, this is the single greatest thing I have done for this church, unless you count the countless hours spent on the website and recording and keeping that archive. I really am the only one in this church with an audio background. I am actually rather concerned about making sure there is someone who can deputize for me. This is a quantum leap in complexity overall. Most of it will be mostly set-and-forget, but the snob in me will develop little mixing habits that mostly are geared toward recording details, and none of that will make any sense to a layman who has to be able to turn the rig on and make a few mics work. I don't mind being the leading one doing this, but it means I can't miss too often. As it is my attendence is mostly perfect. I maybe miss two weeks a year. But now it might become such that more people might come up with more reasons to use this room and system, and I might be more in demand. I anticipate that we can do better stereo recordings now, and that too will make more people interested in doing things that get captured to CD. We have two CD recorders now that I plan to feed different stuff—one is geared toward doing the podium-always-on thing, and the other can be whatever I mix specifically for it. On the first day out (yesterday), I nabbed a great recording on the fly—just two mics for vocal and piano, and later on I sweetened it some. It was played by our fill-in pianist/vocalist at the end of her six week relief for our music director/pianist on maternity leave. It made me a little sore that the timing was such that she was there for the last five weeks of the old regime, and that none of the great stuff played then was recorded worth a shit. Oh well. We waited 40 years. What's a few more weeks of missed recording opportunities?

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