From caves to cathedrals
Nobody notices sound unless it is not there is a common phrase used in the audio industry.
Sound comes with movies you shoot on your phone, it is just there and taken for granted. If however it is missing then you notice it. Imagine you are watching a film on whatever sized screen and the picture vanishes but sound continues, 99% of the time you would still be able to follow the plot till the pictures return. If it was the other way around, pictures but no sound, it is not so easy to keep up with events now. If you have been to a show at the cinema or theatre, the chances are that what you will remember are costumes, scenery, locations, visual effects, the acting and if you could hear everything ok, well then sound was just there. If however you could not hear the dialogue clearly then what you come away thinking is ‘the music was too loud, the speech seemed muffled/unclear/not right’ and all the good points of the production are overlooked.
I have been ‘doing sound’ mainly in the broadcasting industry for 46 years and in that time I have ‘been there, done that’ and in many cases still got the T-shirt. I have recorded sound in radio and TV studios, in stately homes, in prisons, theatres and cinemas, in planes, helicopters and micro lights, in the cabs of steam, diesel and electric railway locos, in liners, gondolas, speedboats, trawlers and submarines, on top of mountains, skyscrapers and tall masts, down in caves, sewers and the Channel Tunnel, just about every type of sports venue, in demonstrations, marches and parades, in police cars going over 100mph, taxis, lorries and coaches and churches and cathedrals.
Each environment creates its own unique challenge to be able to capture useable sound. In a cathedral just about all the problems encountered in the list above plus just about everything else is put together in one enormous building! Cathedrals were never designed for theatrical performances; the acoustics just do not lend themselves to the spoken word. Music and singing as long as they are all acoustic without amplification are fantastic and relatively easy to capture with microphones. Audiences are used to having plays delivered on the radio, TV, cinema or stage and being able to hear every word clearly. This is where the fun begins with the Chester Mystery Plays. There are more than 100 cast members and in an ideal world every single one of them would have their own radio microphone. That is technically achievable but financially impossible. Equally to enable every member of the audience to hear dialogue clearly, the technical solution would be to provide everybody with a pair of headphones, again doable but financially ruinous.
My challenge is to ‘think out of the box’ and if it all works you will be going home commenting on how good the acting was, how good the scenery and lighting were and well, the sound was just there.