Termination: Cutting The Crap

Cutting The Crap.


20 January 2015

Text:/ Graeme Hague

When you first start in this business, normally you get all the crap jobs. That’s because somewhere there’ll be a boss (or maybe another co-worker canny enough) to steer all the horrible stuff your way. Anyway, what do you expect? You’re a newbie and that’s how the world works. It doesn’t really matter, since you’re keen; eager to make an impression. You’ve got the black cargo pants, the black shirt, the work boots, the torch and Leatherman in a pouch on your belt… you’re an AV Ninja. 

After a while you’ll come to realise that some aspects of this job are crap and always will be. There’s nothing exciting or glamorous about running a million miles of speaker wire around a crowded arena filled with drunken Australia Day punters who refuse to budge. How about baby-sitting a single radio microphone system and listening to an expert on Utterly Boring Bureaucracy drone on for eight hours – complete with a home-grown Powerpoint presentation that refuses to change slides? 

For me, the worst job after all these years has always been retrieving the multicores after a gig. The damned things are bloody heavy, usually covered in spilt beer and food, and sticky with second-hand gaffa residue. They never coil up properly and the multi-pin connections get jammed on like the lid of an old jar of Vegemite. Yep, if you asked me, packing up the multicores is the worst AV job in the world.

Until yesterday.

I was yesterday that, for the first time, I ran a PA system with a digital console combined with a MADI stage box. What a technological marvel. Oodles of audio channels running through a piece of string. Freaking awesome. At the end of the day it’s like winding up a fishing line (okay, don’t panic, I didn’t quite do that).

Mind you, it can be a bit stressful. It’s hard for us old hands to accept you’re reliably sending truckloads of audio signal to and from the mixing console essentially through a telephone line – if you’ve ever had to call Telstra Customer Support, you’ll agree this sounds like total madness. Does the drum kit have to be put on hold, while the guitarist plays a solo? Will Peter Allan songs suddenly burst out of the PA when the MADI system shifts every audio channel one slot up the call-waiting queue?

At the same time, at least there’s still a piece of cable involved – a comforting thought. Everyone dreams of the day when absolutely everything is transmitted by wireless and we don’t have to mess around with cables at all – but not me. Right now, it’s the last thing I’d want. My faith in wireless transmission is taking a bashing. I’m battling a new modem that’s supposed to be the latest, greatest web device in the world, but as soon as my wife hits Facebook the data transfer rate turns to treacle. Well, at least, I think she’s on Facebook…

Besides, here’s a thought – remember when people were concerned that over-use of your mobile phone might give you brain tumours? So what would happen if you’re groovin’ in the mosh pit of Queens Of The Stone Age (or something) and you’re getting 96 wireless channels of heavy metal grunge going through your noggin? Forget about a mere tumour, that’s going to turn your brain to soup. The good news is that the kids of today are perfectly safe. At concerts nowadays everything is mimed to a backing track and none of the radio mics are actually turned on – phew, what a relief.

But back to the wonders of MADI and telephone cable-like multicores. The problem can be – as always with digital – that when something goes wrong then everything goes wrong, right? Analogue snakes on the other hand kind of fail incrementally, one channel at a time until the number of XLRs on the stagebox with bits of gaffa taped over them outnumber the connectors that still work and someone decides to break out the soldering iron. Yesterday, we even had one of those moments when the bass player unplugged his amplifier head and for a nanosecond the background music vanished, before coming back to life. Coincidental or not? Was the system on the verge of collapse? We didn’t have a chance to find out since everything was instantly working perfectly again, but we eyed the MADI stagebox suspiciously and began to question whether putting our faith completely in this new-fangled technology was such a good idea after all.

That is, until it came to load-out time and packing up the multicores. All you keen, young folks in your shiny new work boots can focus on the easy tasks of dismantling the PA stack, de-rigging the lights and loading the truck while I take on the worst job of all, wrapping up the dreaded multicore. Brilliant, this MADI gear. Bring it on, I reckon.


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