Termination: Immersive Experientialization
Text: Graeme Hague
The 2019 AFL footy season has started, and at grounds all around Australia the crowds greeted the first bounce with an almighty roar… apparently. In fact, even when the punters are blatantly a bit thin in numbers on the bleachers — as can happen in the AFL backwaters— the amount of noise heard over the telly from the great pie-chewing, beer-swilling ‘Unwashed’ seems rather loud when you consider the corresponding visual bums-on-seats evidence.
Is it being augmented by sound effects to increase the excitement and hype? Or have the technical crew judiciously placed the wild microphones to focus on the bar area?
It makes me wonder, do we honestly need the reality boosted to keep us engaged? (Gold Coast Suns fans need not answer that, if you like.)
REAL TIME BEEF
Enhancing the audio through a television broadcast is one thing, but beefing up the biffo in real time, live at the arena, seems a little odd to me. I mean, if the genuine thing isn’t exciting enough, it’s hard to believe a bit of Foley work behind a black curtain is going to help much.
However, thinking about this, it occurred to me that some sports and events might attract a much bigger audience if you injected some Dream Factory-like additions to the audiovisual presentation. We’re talking top-of-the-wozzer technology here. Not Monty Python clopping together a pair of coconut shells.
Take lawn bowls – an almost-sedentary game at best – what if you added an immersive PA sound, line array PA around the green and cued up huge crackling, popping sound FX whenever a player bent one of their knees, or stooped to measure the jack? You could have kind of ‘rolling thunder’ noises with each delivery, building to a crescendo and an explosion of lightning when the bowls collide. Enormous screens at either end of the bowling green could replay all the action in slow motion – not too slow obviously, since nothing’s happening very quickly in the first place — but maybe some colour filtering and a bit of fake lens flare will make up the difference there?
Now, suddenly, lawn bowls is on a par with the Big Bash League. Not difficult, I realise, but still an achievement.
A LITTLE BIT COUNTRY
I recently had to do some sound engineering at a well-established County Music Festival. Here, really, it seriously needed some immersive audio to get things happening, but to be fair, the demographic this festival attracts is, well… suffice it to say that any overly-enthusiastic boot-scooting would have thrown out myriad hip and knee joints, and the closest thing to a good ol’ fashioned country bar-brawl was some determined jostling of camp chairs under the shadiest tree and glares of contempt at Thermos flasks that didn’t have a tartan pattern. On a technical level, our production folks provided, free of charge as a kindness, an LED wall to replace the drop-down screen used since 1954 (okay, not that long really) and the local video producers complained that “everybody can see everything now”. A big problem, it seems.
So is there a danger that enhancing live events through audiovisual systems only serves to confirm that what’s happening on the arena is otherwise a bit (ahem) boring? Left to its own devices, I mean.
DVD: HELL FREEZES OVER
Don’t get me started on DVD concert videos … okay, you have.
About a hundred years ago my brother introduced me to Yes. I’m not the No.1 fan, but they’re on my list of prog rock favourites and a concert DVD of Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman (calling themselves ‘ARW’) performing at the Apollo Theatre in 2018 attracted my credit card. As you do, when the disk arrived, it was a case of grabbing the bag of popcorn, making a strong cup of tea, and donning the headphones.
A few minutes in, I’m thinking, “What the hell is that weird noise?”
It was dubbed-in crowd noise, not only at the end of songs, but in-between verse and chorus changes, or significant moments in each arrangement – when backstage camera shots showed the audience were far from the sort who might rapturously applaud every chord change. A bit of toe-tapping perhaps, maybe some finger-drumming on the arm rests, but full-on mosh pit mayhem was reserved for the occasional ‘big’ moments only. Apparently somebody mixing the DVD audio decided that adding some audience appreciation noises would add excitement and a vibe.
Constantly, all the time.
Wrong. It’s really bloody annoying. And like all other really bloody annoying things, when you become aware of them, you hear nothing else.
IMMERSED IN HURT
I reckon that ‘immersive’ can maybe too easily become ‘intrusive’, but at the same time punters these days expect to see, hear and smell everything in 5D, surround sound, olfactory, excellence or they want their money back. They demand to experience live entertainment exactly as if they’re there… oh, wait.
What the hell, I give in. Pass the coconut shells will you? The rodeo needs extra horse’s hooves.
Graeme Hague likes his AFLX on an obscure cable channel he stands no chance of accidentally viewing. He realises experientialization isn’t a word.