Not only is this the first of two shows at the Los Angeles Forum and no question about it, we are surrounded by friends and the feeling of festivities abound but it is also the centennial day since tour started! One hundred days of pure road joy and even roadie Bill Rahmy has joined the occasion and helped spread much cheeriness.:
Though no one but me actually realizes that we have hit the 100 mark and the balloons are totally unrelated, it still makes for a party like feel and speaking of feel, how about that mixing the show with an outdoorsy feel:
And an awesome ending to a great show:
**** Begin Sound Nerd Speak ****
Back in 1974 the Grateful Dead put together what was easily the most unique, experimental and possibly most complex sound system ever configured for live sound reinforcement in that era. This system was named the "Wall of Sound" and was a complete divergence from conventional sound reinforcement thinking. There were two key concepts combined together resulting in a very interesting outcome:
1) Because PA systems of the day were stacked on either side of the stage and often blocked audience sight lines, they designed a sound system that was placed behind the band and acted as both the PA system, their instrument amps and as their monitor system (way for the band to hear themselves).
2) They found that when all the various instruments and vocals were mixed together into the PA speakers the sound was less clear than when each instrument was amplified separately. To deal with this, they actually designed and used a separate sound system for each instrument and another sound system for the vocals totaling six PA systems!
While a giant step in forward thinking was made, it was not without issues. Having the sound system directly behind that band meant the speakers are pointed straight into the mics. Also, the sheer complexity and magnitude of the setup greatly limited the venues that it could be implemented and the fact that the sound system became the entire stage backdrop relegated it to become a niche concept that possibly could only be used by its creators and equally unique Grateful Dead.
And as you can see, it did not make for the cleanest stage set:
Just to provide some contrast, here is a cool old picture of The Rolling Stone stage setup with the PA located behind the lips scrim:
Even with it's awkwardness, the concept of the Wall of Sound was so intriguing that I had to try it and understand it. I finally got that opportunity in 1986 while touring with Black Flag when, after some persuading, Davo and I talked the band into letting us set up the Rat PA in a mini Wall of Sound configuration:
Since I had designed and Rat Sound had built Black Flag's guitar and bass cabinets exactly the same dimensions as the Rat PA, the system fit together really well. On the upside, the system was incredibly clear sounding while on the downside, it sounded a bit distant and the sound bleeding into the mics was cumbersome enough not to continue with that setup. The most important thing is that I learned enough to set my sights on someday resolving the issues.
Twenty years later, through a round about way I have come full circle. My testing in designing the MicroWedge series has clarified my understanding and goals. The evolution of sound systems from giant globs of speakers to finesse full narrow line-arrays created the opportunity to cover large venues with multiple systems utilizing minimal space. The entire Wall of Sound was 26,000 watts, current systems run at ten times that power and are a fraction of the size. Plus we now have the capability of effectively predicting the sonic coverage in a venue based on room dimensions. What this means is that with today's sound system technology, multiple sound systems can be hung conventionally to either side of the band rather than stacked behind them without blocking sight lines creating an inconspicuous yet effective implementation of the concept:
Initially I considered proposing a triple system rather than the dual system Peppers are currently touring with. The triple would have been three separate stereo sound systems, one for guitar, one for bass and one for vocals with drums interspersed into the three. To test the concept, I purchased three small home Hi-Fi systems and roadie Ethan and I built a small simulator in my living room. With a pro tools system and live Peppers multi track recordings from last tour, I was able to try out different combinations and test the effectiveness of the setup. I found that the most noticeable improvement occurred when going from one system to two and adding the third was more subtle.
So here we are today, at a home town gig and amidst all the excitement, my heart secretly pounds and I smile as long ago dreams become real. Here in the place where I saw my first rock concert ever, hanging from the ceiling in front of my eyes is the first touring and practical application of multiple systems on a arena scale. A refined and usable version of what the Grateful Dead had started, a grand scale application of what I learned from so many years and this is the PA that Rat built.