Procol Harum

the Pale

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Hollywood Bowl, 21 September 1973

David Pelletier: The Sound-man's Tale

I get a kick out of reading the Hollywood Bowl review. It was a funny show. Chip Monck of Rolling Stones fame did the lighting and I was supposed to be in charge of the 'live' sound.

We had just come back from Australia and the one-sided sound system was a suggestion of Bruce Jackson, then Elvis's engineer and later of Springsteen fame. We had used this technique in New Zealand and Australia and it actually worked beautifully during the Hollywood Bowl rehearsals. All that bass coupling filled the Bowl effortlessly. Only those on the very far house left needed a little vocal fill and that was provided.

This is not much different than those speaker systems you see today with the bass cabinet under your couch and two tiny speakers on the wall. All the mikes etc. were the highest quality. Unfortunately, the string players couldn't abide by 'close miking' techniques. Whereas they co-operated during the rehearsal on the night before, and the sound was stunning (full strings amidst the full pounding of Procol). It seemed like there wouldn't be any problems.

When it came to the showtime we set everything just as it was the night before. Everyone waited. Then, when the lights went down, out of the darkness came the sickening sound of one string player after another standing up and raising the microphones to where they were used to seeing them for a standard symphony recording. We know right then and there that we were cooked.

Physics dictates that a microphone trying to pick up a soft string sound amidst the din of a rock and roll band is going to pick up very little string and maximum band spillover. To compound matters, at the moment the concert started, the Hollywood Bowl Union Sound Engineer arrived and dictated under no uncertain terms, to Chris Thomas and me, that he was going to operate the sound board that would mix the orchestra and feed it to the mixers carrying the band sound.

Well, you can imagine how it went. Poor Chris was trying to replicate his Edmonton success, I was leaning on the Bowl guy to lighten up and not reach for the sky with volume (skreech) and in the end after a two-hour struggle, it ended with everyone blaming it on a 'one-sided sound system'.

To be quite honest, we used this technique all over Europe in the following weeks to astonished audio buffs, and managed to convert every one of them to its validity. It sounded great, because we didn't have some guy show up and try to mix someone he had never seen and probably never heard of before. When you mix in Mono and pump it out of two locations you get twice the muck.

Remember, stereo systems were quite rare back then. You can go into any guitar store today and buy the most inexpensive equipment that would still be far superior to the custom-built stuff we had to use in back then.

So, as Paul Harvey says, now you know the rest of the story.

Many thanks, David Pelletier.

In March 1999 David added: [Chris] Thomas and I reminisced about the Bowl gig and his memory jives with mine. There were quite a few brilliant people working on that show including the legendary Jim Gamble. Everyone concurred that we did the right thing. But that damned orchestra engineer, hmm!  

An illustrated account of the concert to which this article alludes: more of Mick Grabham's images here: Chris Michie's account here

The Hollywood Bowl feedback problem elucidated by means of an epistolary dialogue

A website dedicated to the late Frank Supak, orchestral sound-engineer at this concert

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