Inside One Montreal Music Festival (Unfortunately Rare) Dedication To Sound: The Record: NPR


Kara-Lis Coverdale will perform “VoxU”, which required a unique space and special acoustic consideration at MUTEK.

Courtesy of Kara-Lis Coverdale

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Courtesy of Kara-Lis Coverdale

Kara-Lis Coverdale will perform “VoxU”, which required a unique space and special acoustic consideration at MUTEK.

Courtesy of Kara-Lis Coverdale

Generally speaking, music festivals are not intended for audiophiles, or even those looking for a true sound experience intended for an artist. At a typical festival, the stages are often so close to each other that there is sound bleeding from the headliner on the main stage to the less established acts on the smaller stages. Musicians have very little or no time to balance. Uncontrollable weather conditions dramatically affect noise levels. Then there’s the logistics of keeping what amounts to a small town of revelers running. At the top of this hierarchy of needs is their ultimate goal: to maximize the participant experience. People in the audience often don’t pay attention to the sound, other than noting whether it’s good or bad – often, it seems, not even that.

This is not the case with Montreal’s MUTEK festival, which takes place this weekend in various venues across the city. “Our audience is not a transient EDM crowd or whatever. There are people who are producers and artists and who are invested in a certain type of aesthetic life,” says curator Patti Schmidt. “They really care, and they complain,” more often than not that the sound system is too loud.

Schmidt and festival founder Alain Mongeau – who both experienced the altering potential of full-frequency tones as ravers on Montreal’s electronic music scene in the early to mid-1990s – devote a large portion of their annual resources to perfecting the way people hear music. In the event of a tight budget, the sound system is the last to feel the effects.

One year, however, it was inevitable that they would cut corners (literally, as the theater has four corners, all of which are usually fully utilized) for the installation of MUTEK’s main venue, Metrópolis. “We were all like, ‘Oh my God, it looks like there was an amputation,'” Schmidt recalls.

For the abrasive meticulous electronic experimenter and sound arranger Ben Frost – exactly the kind of artist the festival is aimed at – that’s right. After successfully performing the whistle returns, midrange explosions and distorted ghost vocals from his 2014 album DAWN, Frost canceled a later show at a punk rock club, because the sound system was so suboptimal than MUTEK’s. When he then tried that same performance at the TodaysArts festival in The Hague, he blew up the speakers.

“It just couldn’t handle his music,” Schmidt says. “It’s really about putting that particular kind of music in a giant sound system, and doing it for the event. The sound system is really the hero here.”

The same goes for lighter performance in the low end. Last year, Flanger – the veteran electronic songwriting duo Burnt Friedman and Uwe Schmidt – made their quadraphonic jazz glitch excursions to Montreal. Such a setup requires that a different signal be sent to each of the four dual stereo speakers (the Flaming Lips’ Zaireka is a perhaps better known example), which involves a special junction box.

This year MUTEK commissioned a piece, “VoxU,” from classic-trend electronics futurist Kara-Lis Coverdale. In it, she traces how voice emulation and synthesis – automated voices in banks, airports and just about everywhere else – can be traced back to the 15th century pipe organs, which she uses in performance. Because spatial acoustics are so important to the presentation, Coverdale will support the Stratosphere Dome 360 ​​degree sound system.

Like Frost, one of Coverdale’s most important instruments is this sound system. The music she extracts from her computer and synthesizers oscillates between subtle, whispering textures and dense returns that rise up like a typhoon. She has performed several times at MUTEK, as well as other specialty events like Unsound in Toronto, Nachdigital in Germany and the all new No Bounds in the UK this fall. “Usually, festival sound systems are pretty good,” she says, before admitting, “I always continue to count and trust whoever welcomes me, in the sense that often I still have no idea of ​​what I’m going to finish until I get there. “

This is where the spirit of a smaller festival and its sound system goes beyond strictly technical aspects to satisfy its artists and audience. Ahead of the premiere of his bespoke program on August 27, Coverdale was concerned that the Stratosphere’s configuration might not give it the depth of sound it needed. “I wrote to Patti,” she recalls, asking her if she could “add a little boost to the sound system with the scenery because the built-in system” isn’t quite enough, ” fearing that he was “too far away.” Schmidt was already in. His team brought into the room 35 additional speakers and subwoofers – several subwoofers enclosed in a pavilion cabinet that produce levels of sound. higher sound pressure, more commonly known as decibels, at a lower frequency, which translates to higher overall efficiency. Coverdale laughs as she recounts this, as if she was incredulous that she had ever doubted her host.

“They know what they’re doing.

To achieve full-body sound immersion, from the bass rearranging the gut of dubstep to the liveliest sizzle of a top hat, engineer Pat LaForce uses L’Acoustic speakers. The founder of the French loudspeaker maker, Christian Heil, is credited with inventing a setup known as a ‘modern line array’, which you have most likely seen on outdoor stages or live concerts. arena – these are the columns of linked speakers that you see swaying from either side of a stage.

L’Acoustics’ line arrays are used at festivals in large part thanks to the patented waveguide technology of Heil and his engineers, developed in 1992, which regulates the dispersion of sound over a wide area, while their Precise phase alignment – the synchronization of multiple waveforms, in this case sound waves – maximizes sound projection. At Metrópolis, LaForce is beefing up its line arrays of nine speakers on either side of the stage with subwoofers in the center and back of the room, controlled by highly efficient processing systems directing sound from the cabinet of the amplifier and console.

“It might sound cliché,” LaForce wrote in an email, “but I really want to make sure we’re not listening to the music, that we feel it.”

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