AES Section Meeting Reports

Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences - September 5, 2013

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At tonights meeting we talked about the Wall of Sound, a wall of speaker arrays designed by Owsley "Bear" Stanley used by the Grateful Dead in the 1970's. The Wall of Sound was designed as 11 separate systems that were above and behind the Grateful Dead so they could hear the music they played just as the audience was hearing it. The first prototype was unveiled at Stanford University and during there first song they blew out all the tweeters. The following year they began touring with the sound system playing there first show in California. The wall consisted of 641 speakers. 226 speakers for vocals, 20 for lead guitar, 20 Rhythm guitar, 128 piano, 36 bass, 120 drums, 64 vocal fill, and 27 for instrument fills. Being that the sound system was behind the band as they performed they would have to use 2 dynamic microphones per vocalist and had to flip the polarity on one of them to cancel out some of the background noise, this made the vocals sound muffled and higher pitched. The Wall of Sound was one of the first uses of Quadrophonic Bass, this means that each string of Phil Lesh's bass was being sent to separate speakers through 2 columns of 15 inch speakers stacked 18 ft high each, with 4 power amps. In order to power this system they needed over 26,000 WATTs of continuous audio power which was good enough to power clear sound for over 1/4mile. The sound system travelled in a 40ft semi truck, the staging and scaffolding were on 2 flat bed semi's, and the lights were on a 24ft van. All together the equipment weighed around 75 ton, being that they had 2 systems all the configurations were doubled. In order to keep this system working the band had to double there stage crew. Which was one of the first down falls of the wall of sound, on top of sounds being often lost in the mix, time consumption, and over compression of the instruments causing them to sound muffled and higher pitched. After discussing this information we watched a few short clips on the band loading in the equipment, and stage members as well as band members discussing the pros and cons of the Wall of Sound. To end the night we opened the floor to questions that were answered by Keith Morris who has first hand seen the Wall of Sound and was taught by some of the guys who helped design the wall. Overall the presentation was a success. Everyone showed great interest in how this massive array of speakers was created, and enjoyed learning about the microphone polarity from Keith Morris, who had witnessed the wall in person.

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