NEW YORK, NEW YORK – APRIL 2010: Longtime FOH engineer and production manager Terry Friedman (Village People, Grace Jones) has, in recent years, stepped off the tour bus to offer schools, houses of worship, and other establishments in New York City his no-nonsense approach to audio under the ironic name Noise and Distortion.
Reacting against industry dogma that sets digital equipment apart from its analog forbears, Friedman rightly points out that we only hear in analog and so a unit’s analog representation is ultimately all that matters. But Friedman is no Luddite and frequently relies on SymNet open-architecture digital signal processing equipment to convey analog warmth with digital logic, flexibility, and power, safe from tinkering fingers.
Two recent jobs highlight Friedman’s approach and philosophy. First, the all-girls private Brearly School on the Upper East Side of Manhattan required a functional sound system for its 800-seat theater. For years, they had suffered with a convoluted hodge-podge that was easy to mess up and difficult – even for the theater director – to operate. As a result, sound was perennially terrible and the only technical lesson that the students learned was that “sound systems are hopelessly incomprehensible, so don’t even try to understand them, let alone enjoy mastering them.”
Friedman gutted the existing system and replaced it with a choice selection of TOA and EV loudspeakers powered by Crown amps. On the front end, a 24-channel Yamaha mixer now provides the student techies with straightforward volume, EQ, and routing control. That part of it makes the system usable and enjoyable. To deliver great sound, Friedman installed a SymNet Express 8×8 Cobra DSP at the interface between the mixer and speakers, including the stage monitors. Unlike in the previous system, the students have no access to the SymNet unit, nor do they need it. The DSP handles all of the dynamics, filtering, delays, and EQ for consistent, wonderful sound – transparently and from behind the scenes.
The second job was again in the Upper East Side, this time at Temple Shaaray Tefila, where an ancient dinosaur of a digital signal processor was holding things back. Friedman repurposed an EV steerable line array that had previously only given the temple fair to middling sound. He introduced a rack-mountable Crest XR-20; again, a clean, easy-to-operate analog board. The users interface solely with the XR-20. A SymNet Express 8×8 Cobra DSP hides in the background and, with all of the steerable line array’s DSP disabled, provides transparent dynamics, delays, EQs, and filters.
“They thought I put in new speakers, too,” laughed Friedman. “The line arrays sounded vastly more articulate and controlled than they had been in the previous configuration. And now with all of the processing, that makes them sound so wonderful, completely inaccessible, no one can go in to make any ‘improvements.'” The same is true at Brearly. Friedman has gone back to teach new groups of students how to use the system he installed, and every time, the integrity of his previous work remains intact. He asks them if they need any changes, and the answer is always no.
When asked why he so frequently turns to Symetrix, Friedman is characteristically blunt. “Because Symetrix sounds SO good! It’s easy to program. The company supports the product with abundant resources. And the same characters who have been with the company for decades continue to work there. But the sound is the most important part, and I think Symetrix’ analog origins back in the 1970s have made the transition to digital much more musical than it has been for companies that don’t have that tradition,” he concluded.
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