The indicator of a well-run festival—whether large or small—is good sound. But each stage, each venue, each performing artist comes with their own set of requirements and challenges, and maintaining sound that is both pristine and huge is one of the most pivotal endeavors of a festival enterprise. Having good layout, stage design, mixers, and sound engineers is always important, but when it comes to sound at a festival, all eyes and ears are on the sound system. JBL? Mackie? Void? In the world of electronic music, there is one brand that outranks them all: Funktion One.
The ominous angular speaker stacks have become ubiquitous in the electronic music scene over the last decade, powering some of the world’s most renowned clubs and festivals. The company has an almost mythical status for being punchy yet smooth, immersive but never overwhelming or deafening. Funktion One founder Tony Andrew’s is a serious speaker head, and considered an industry luminary on large scale, high powered audio rigs. We reached out to him to find out how festivals can work around their restrictions and with the elements to get the most out of their sound system.
What is the most common problem that you find with sound at festivals?
The current paradigm is line array—[loudspeaker system that is made up of a number of usually identical loudspeaker elements mounted in a line and fed in phase]—, the average of which lacks coherency to the point that sound engineers are not able to appreciate the substandard sound of many digital desks.
The lack of coherency is further evidenced by all the phasing that occurs even in a light wind outside. Furthermore most of these systems lack body in vocals and meat in drums; in other words there’s a big chunk of the audio spectrum missing between sub bass and hi-mid. This makes for a harsh and tinny sound. The overall solution is for the industry in general to place more emphasis on sound quality for what is, after all, a music festival, and a look at the percentage of festival budget apportioned to audio should give pause for thought.
Should festivals with diverse programming be looking to source their speakers from a variety of places, or is better to search for a company that can service all needs?
This question arises from the false premise that you need different sound systems for different genres of music. It would be fair to say that dance music requires more ability at low frequencies, but otherwise, that premise is just another audio myth. All music uses the same spectrum of audio frequencies, therefore so long as all frequencies are delivered evenly—as they are in Funktion One systems—it will deal with any kind of music.
How much do noise ordinances play into festival sound design?
@edc_lasvegas took place at the weekend and debuted an all-new art car called: Parliament (by Trip Nation). Featuring a 55-foot mobile dancefloor, four RGB lasers, four flame cannons, and a massive Funktion-One sound system (from @funkworks23), Parliament quickly built a dedicated following throughout the weekend. Night one saw Brownies & Lemonade take over the stage, while Bonnie X Clyde, Alan Walker, Autograf, and a handful of surprise guests threw down massive sets. The interactive, headbanging 16-foot owl guardian, housed in a 360-degree LED ‘nest’, instantly became the unofficial festival mascot for the whole art car crew. From: http://lasvegas.electricdaisycarnival.com/2017/06/20/best-edc-las-vegas/
It is a big problem. Draconian noise regulations in the UK have deprived generations of festival goers of a full and involving audio experience with their favorite artists. To mitigate the effects of these regulations, the first consideration—depending on the lay of the land—is to point the system away from habitation. If the system and its configuration exhibit good coverage control, then careful positioning and aiming can be helpful. Delays can lift the energy at the back of an arena without having to thrash the main system which can sometimes be helpful although it adds complexity, expense, and spoilt sight lines.
It’s always the bass! Can you explain why lower frequencies are the ones that get people in trouble?
As the wavelength of low frequencies such as a kick drum are nearly 1000 times longer than cymbal frequencies it is much harder to control them. There are various configurations such as cardioid and end fire arrays, which reduce the amount of bass energy going rearwards. As these methods work by controlled cancellation, they tend to have a detrimental effect on the sound that reaches the audience.
Funktion One have these methods but we far prefer to configure our bass arrays so that the individual cabinets form a block large enough to successfully control the large wavelengths without the smearing introduced by other methods.
For you, which festival has the best sound in the world?
Without a doubt: The Carl Cox Arena at Ultra Miami. We have been refining and perfecting our Vero touring arena system, which includes a new approach to bass delivery. I experienced the successful integration of our most recent discoveries into the overall sound during the last week of March this year and had moments of pure audio bliss.
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