Ever notice those television shows that so obviously draw their plots from recent newspaper headlines? Seems I'm drawing my inspiration from current events as well lately.
A recent story involved the tragic death of a pastor submerged while performing a baptism in front of a crowded church. Apparently, he was standing in water up to his shoulders. My guess is that he was handed a hardwired microphone by someone in need of a new profession. In order to prevent such horrible accidents, I've always had some hard and fast commandments for people regarding audio systems that get broken more often than they should.
Audio Commandment 1: No guest shall be injured from the public address system. This includes bass guitarists, guests near speaker towers, and, of course, performing celebrities. Ideally, none of thy crew shall be injured either. Whilst mounting equipment above, thou shall hire a professional structural engineer and do as thee are told.
Audio Commandment 2: No audience member shall go home with permanent hearing damage, regardless of how much headroom thou hast available. Thy crew could also potentially benefit from the said commandment.
Audio Commandment 3: All systems shall be completely intelligible at all locations. Those unable to perform to such a standard shall be culled from the profession.
Audio Commandment 4: Thou shall not design nor implement any audio system prior to a proper sorting of the acoustics. Let it be known henceforth that an 8-inch ceiling speaker in a quality acoustic space shall triumph the performance of a triamplified line array in an oversized restroom.
Audio Commandment 5: Whatever thee have thought of is not new. Thou shall not embarrass thyself by claiming otherwise.
Audio Commandment 6: Thou shall ask the client what they want to accomplish with the system prior to commencement of thy design.
Audio Commandment 7: There shall no longer be hum, buzz or feedback.
Audio Commandment 8: Thou shall train one's good employees to perfection and cull the unworthy with dispatch.
Audio Commandment 9: Thou shall not buy equipment from a defunct sound company and then halve thine rate to gain market share, else ye shall join your predecessor.
Audio Commandment 10: Whilst thee read such nonsense, ye shall garner no coin.
There are, of course, further corollaries, edicts, proclamations, articles of faith and the like which shall augment the aforementioned list which may follow based upon the whim, good humor and patience of the publisher.
Upon rereading the list, my first reaction is how many systems come to mind that do not meet all of the commandments. I think some facilities deliberately violate each of them purposefully.
I think my single greatest audio peeve involves hard-surfaced restaurants. There's nothing quite like an expensive meal served in a fancy restaurant with your closest friends where you can't understand a word! It does seem that the more expensive the restaurant, the less likely you'll find any trace acoustical absorption outside their restrooms these days.
Often one will find any remaining vestige of oral communication at the table completely destroyed by some sort of reflective pyramid, dome or hard-surface polygon dangling directly above one's table as well. Yet each of these acoustical absorption-free restaurants seems to include a high-end foreground music system, which is generally a pretty good indicator that someone from our profession has been inside the facility prior to opening its doors.
Taking a few minutes away from writing this article to read the premier issue of Acoustics Today, I see Marshall Long covered the subject more succinctly in his article, "Dinner Conversation (An Oxymoron)." He effectively points out that in a 20-table restaurant with minimal absorption the reverberant noise can easily exceed normal conversational levels by 6 dB or more, making conversation very difficult, if not impossible. Perhaps more importantly, Long states the amount of absorption necessary to maintain a conversation must be at a minimum the same surface area as the ceiling. Long points out that the architectural business is currently driven by pictures of their work in architectural magazines and current design fashion dictates hard-edged materials. Imagine that!
Yet, I can't help but wonder whether our brethren are too quick to install the wire and too slow to install the absorptive panel. Now that I think of it, are there any firms out there that carry absorption in their installation trucks?