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Sound Design: Matilda

ARTc3
Broadway Star
joined:8/5/13
Sound Design: Matilda
Posted: 1/9/14 at 12:53pm
First, I would like to express my appreciation to all those sound designers out there who have created aural experiences that are clear and dynamic. Sound designers, and their significance in our overall enjoyment of a performance is so important and often overlooked.

Recently, I started a thread about how horrible my sound experience was at Big Fish sitting first row center mezzanine. It turned out that that thread was very educational for me with comments explaining many of the logistical issues designers face. I am sadden to write that I again I had a rather inadequate sound experience, this time at Matilda.

My seats were row J103 and J104 in the orchestra - excellent seats by anybody's standard. With Big Fish, we had the problem of not being able to hear (volume) the performers throughout the evening. With Matilda, the volume was fine - often loud. The issue was clarity. I was really disappointed to be able to make out only about 70% of the lyrics and spoken word. Yes, many of the performers are young children and the clarity issues were often centered around those performers, but there was a sort of muddiness in sound (not sure what is the industry vocabulary) that was pervasive throughout.

I often wonder when experiencing frustrating sound, if it's my hearing. (I have recently had my hearing tested with excellent results.) So, whenever I have this experience, I use intermission to ask those around me if they are experiencing a similar issue. All were. My partner agreed and his hearing recently tested near perfect. The couple to our right were less kind. They said they understood only about half of what was being spoken or sung - again, not volume, but clarity. The people behind us, the same thing.

If possible, I try and catch the sound engineer at intermission to either compliment or comment on my experience. As is usual, they often aren't by the sound board during intermission and leave their post immediately following the performance.

Producers! I am hoping that some of you read this board and will see this thread. Please, please make the necessary investments in good - excellent sound design. It is so important in the overall enjoyment of a show. I am so disappointed by two of my recent experiences. AND, Matilda no less!





ARTc3 formerly ARTc. Actually been a poster since 2004. My name isn't Art. Drop the "3" and say the signature and you'll understand.
Updated On: 1/9/14 at 12:53 PM
broadwayguy2
Broadway Legend
joined:5/18/03
Sound Design: Matilda
Posted: 1/9/14 at 01:29pm
Sorry about the experience.
I will try to comment further later, but I just really need to reiterate, it is not a great ide to try to catch the sound engineer. Intermission is a break for you, but the crew is still working and that 15 minute intermission is usually pretty well packed for a crew member with duties, things to check on and do, problems to tend to, and in the case of a sound engineer, focus. They are performing just much as any actor. Operating a sound board is a very taxing job. After the show, again, you are simply leaving, but the crew is still working, bringing down the show and have tasks that absolutely must be done in a timely manner as everyone is trying to get out of the building.
ARTc3
Broadway Star
joined:8/5/13
Sound Design: Matilda
Posted: 1/9/14 at 01:34pm
I think your post is an excellent one and I will consider your words... I started wanting to talk with the Sound Engineer years ago when I had a series of excellent experiences and wanted to compliment them. I thought they must have one of the most thankless jobs. So, most of my conversations with Sound Engineers has been to compliment the work.

So, what do you do, when you've sat through the first act of a show and found yourself so frustrated by the inability to hear, or in this case, understand the performers? I want to be respectful, but I also am very uncomfortable spending hundreds of dollars on excellent tickets to a show and finding that my seat might provide excellent sight lines, but a horrible aural experience. (I get the acoustics are very different from different seats.)

Why is this still an issue? Why hasn't the technology evolved to the point where this is no longer an issue?



ARTc3 formerly ARTc. Actually been a poster since 2004. My name isn't Art. Drop the "3" and say the signature and you'll understand.
Updated On: 1/9/14 at 01:34 PM
bwayphreak234 Profile Photo
bwayphreak234
Broadway Legend
joined:7/4/10
Sound Design: Matilda
Posted: 1/9/14 at 01:44pm
Matilda was one of the most wondrous things I have ever seen onstage. That being said, the sound for the show was absolutely atrocious. I was on the mezzanine. While I could hear everything, everything sounded very muffled, and the orchestra was barely audible about 80% of the show which drove me crazy.
"Thereís nothing quite like the power and the passion of Broadway music. "
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morosco
Broadway Legend
joined:7/10/04
Sound Design: Matilda
Posted: 1/9/14 at 01:51pm
"...We chucked out many of the rules regarding the orchestra being in the pit, the sound being mostly acoustic, and the vocal sitting on top of that. The band builds and builds and gets wider and wider, and more into surround, as the narrative progresses to its most epic moment when the villain, Trunchbull, is revealed. Weíre seeing how much we can get away with." -Simon Baker, Sound Designer
Matilda The Musical Sound Design
ARTc3
Broadway Star
joined:8/5/13
Sound Design: Matilda
Posted: 1/9/14 at 01:58pm
morosco, thanks for the article. I read the article and agree that there were an enormous amount of sound effect and that the orchestra did sound like a 5.1 movie. (Having just rigged my home with such a system, I am very familiar with 5.1.)

What I'd like to suggest to Mr. Baker is that his job is as much about the sound effects as the ability to hear AND comprehend the performers. Sound effects, check. Ability to hear, check. Comprehend the performers, D+.
ARTc3 formerly ARTc. Actually been a poster since 2004. My name isn't Art. Drop the "3" and say the signature and you'll understand.
Tag Profile Photo
Tag
Broadway Legend
joined:11/19/05
Sound Design: Matilda
Posted: 1/9/14 at 01:59pm
This seems to have been a problem since the show opened. It's a shame that the producers have not taken steps to remedy the situation.
dreaming Profile Photo
dreaming
Broadway Legend
joined:4/24/09
Sound Design: Matilda
Posted: 1/9/14 at 02:03pm
The night I was there, the sound was really uneven-some voices were very muffled and others were really loud. I, too, had a lot of trouble understanding the lyrics. (The group numbers were a mess. I really couldn't make out the lyrics at all-it was a mishmash of words to me.)
Quasi
Stand-by
joined:11/11/04
Sound Design: Matilda
Posted: 1/9/14 at 02:17pm
Not on Broadway but I had more or less a same bad sound experience in the London version. As I am not a native English speaker its always more difficult for me to understand everything but in London it was just a sound mess, very loud and I couldn't get a lot of text. Its a shame as the show is really wonderful.
trpguyy
Broadway Star
joined:2/25/05
Sound Design: Matilda
Posted: 1/9/14 at 02:24pm
To reiterate, don't try to talk to the engineer during intermission (they won't be there anyway) or after the show, unless it's a thumbs up or a "nice job" - they're still mixing the exit music... Additionally, they engineer might be completely aware of the problem but can't really do much about it, as his/her career depends on doing what the designer wants.

Any complaints should go through house management. They record all of these complaints and pass them along to the appropriate people.

EDIT: Also, EVERYONE: don't try to talk to the engineer during the damn show. This should go without saying, but it happens more often than you'd think.

Updated On: 1/9/14 at 02:24 PM
ARTc3
Broadway Star
joined:8/5/13
Sound Design: Matilda
Posted: 1/9/14 at 02:25pm
Wow! I didn't realize this was such a universal issue...

Producers if you're reading this, please understand this really does impact the quality of your show and ultimately, ticket sales.
ARTc3 formerly ARTc. Actually been a poster since 2004. My name isn't Art. Drop the "3" and say the signature and you'll understand.
morosco Profile Photo
morosco
Broadway Legend
joined:7/10/04
Sound Design: Matilda
Posted: 1/9/14 at 02:29pm
I recall reading complaints about MATILDA's sound since previews.

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morosco
Broadway Legend
joined:7/10/04
Sound Design: Matilda
Posted: 1/9/14 at 02:43pm
"...the scoreís transmitted, in performance, through Simon Bakerís sound design, which I think may be the sloppiest and most brutally over-miked sound design in Broadway history. At that decibel level, itís hard to make out individual notes, let alone discern the shape of entire melodies, while Minchinís lyrics, especially when yowled at you in childrenís voices, get turned into a complete wash." -from Michael Feingold's Village Voice review
The Loud New Musical Matilda Turns Dahl Into Dull
VotePeron Profile Photo
VotePeron
Leading Actor
joined:5/2/13
Sound Design: Matilda
Posted: 1/9/14 at 02:48pm
I guess I can't really comment because I know the show almost by heart, so when I see it I don't really judge the sound of voices, etc. However, the only thing I have had a problem with are the voiceovers. I believe there is at least 1, maybe 2 times in the show where a monologue or something is voiced over, and sometimes the pre recorded track doesn't seamlessly intertwine with the miked actor.
NotTheComfyChair Profile Photo
NotTheComfyChair
Chorus Member
joined:3/19/13
Sound Design: Matilda
Posted: 1/9/14 at 03:47pm
Good and thoughtful discussion here. I've seen Matilda a few times - I know people working on the show - and the sound was very poor apart from the one time I was lucky enough to be moved into what I believe was a house seat. That time, the sound was clear but extremely loud. The other couple of times - side orchestra and rear mezz - the sound was muddy and extremely loud. For me, it isn't a clarity or accent issue but sound. If the sound was better, we might be able to follow Tim Minchin's clever but challenging lyrics.

If you complain to the house manager, I would suggest being as specific as you can. If you say merely you are finding it hard to hear/understand, the message to the producers becomes "the audience don't understand" and the actors, the diction or the accent get blamed and Sound gets a pass. It happened on a tour I was on. The actors were blamed for being unclear when it was really the cheap sound package the producers used.

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morosco
Broadway Legend
joined:7/10/04
Sound Design: Matilda
Posted: 1/9/14 at 03:58pm
^^^which makes me wonder if the theatre has a sweet spot due to the fact that the designer wanted to replicate a 5.1 sound for the orchestra? 5.1 surround sound always has a sweet spot and usually only there is the sound perfectly balanced.

All in all though there is NEVER any excuse for bad sound on Broadway.
ARTc3
Broadway Star
joined:8/5/13
Sound Design: Matilda
Posted: 1/9/14 at 04:01pm
NotTheComfyChair... It seems you might have an opportunity to bring this to the attention of the Matilda company, although from reading some of the posts here and the links, this is a well known and documented issue. I am thinking of writing a letter to the producers c/o The Shubert Theatre.

It is a shame that something so magical is marred by a production issue that perhaps could be solved. I am baffled why such an expensive production would scrimp on sound design. Or, if it isn't an issue of resources that someone hasn't insisted that Mr. Baker rethink his designs.

From all I've read since posting this thread, this isn't just me. I wonder what percentage of the house can actually make out the lyrics and if the producers have only sat in those seats. Remember I was in J103 and J104, ninth or tenth row center orchestra!
ARTc3 formerly ARTc. Actually been a poster since 2004. My name isn't Art. Drop the "3" and say the signature and you'll understand.
ARTc3
Broadway Star
joined:8/5/13
Sound Design: Matilda
Posted: 1/9/14 at 04:05pm
morosco, I agree with you. The ability to hear and comprehend, I would think, would be paramount. Years ago this was a fairly regular issue, but recently I have thought that most of my theatre going was acoustically well designed. That is until I sat through a barely audible Big Fish and now, a barely comprehendible, Matilda.
ARTc3 formerly ARTc. Actually been a poster since 2004. My name isn't Art. Drop the "3" and say the signature and you'll understand.
morosco Profile Photo
morosco
Broadway Legend
joined:7/10/04
Sound Design: Matilda
Posted: 1/9/14 at 04:13pm
For anyone interested in learning more about sound here's a great book I would recommend. Some of the info is highly technical but you get to understand the process and the intense complexities of the sound department of a Broadway musical. Being a board mixer is bound to be one of the most stressful jobs on a Broadway musical. (The board mixer is never at liberty to make any changes from the designer's original design without consent.) Still... no excuse for bad sound on Broadway. Especially bad sound on a consistent basis.
Mixing a Musical: Broadway Theatrical Sound Techniques
kennewman
Swing
joined:1/9/14
Sound Design: Matilda
Posted: 1/9/14 at 04:13pm
This is a very interesting thread, and it brings to mind my often-asked question, "What do you consider GOOD SOUND?"
I'm no Broadway sound guy, but I do sound for pop music shows and one of them happened to end up on Broadway last year about this time, so I guess I could say I've done sound on Broadway. But I'm far from one of the artists that are considered "sound designers."
That being said, these comments I'm reading remind me of the discussions we sound guys had about the audio mix for the VMA's not long ago. Many of the lead vocals on that show were somewhat "buried" in that broadcast mix, and in some circles that's considered fantastic. Again, it's a question of what you consider "Good Sound."
Remember, everyone has a different idea of that definition, but *I* like to think that most people will agree that when it's a vocal performance we're talking about, the lead vocal MUST be well on top of the music. Not so much so that it sounds like there's no musical accompaniment, mind you, but on top enough that there's no question what the lyrics are.
But I typically work for performers who are composers, so they're very tuned in to the fact that the lead vocal must be well on top. And that's been drilled into me over the years!
So it can be a matter of taste as to how much "on top" of the music the vocals/lead vocal are....
If you ask me, if customers are saying the vocals are muffled or unclear, the sound isn't "right." But that's just me.
All you should have to do is tell the house manager at the theatre, and he'll tell the appropriate people on the technical side of things, and hopefully it will make a difference.
ARTc3
Broadway Star
joined:8/5/13
Sound Design: Matilda
Posted: 1/9/14 at 04:21pm
I just google Mr. Baker (Sound Designer) and found that he has a website and contact information. I wrote him a very polite email with a link to this discussion. Perhaps, he'll come here and comment. I would greatly appreciate his thoughts and perhaps some clarity regarding the sound issues inherent in Matilda at The Shubert Theatre.
ARTc3 formerly ARTc. Actually been a poster since 2004. My name isn't Art. Drop the "3" and say the signature and you'll understand.
ARTc3
Broadway Star
joined:8/5/13
Sound Design: Matilda
Posted: 1/9/14 at 04:26pm
kennewman... I would agree with your assessment of good design. I think that there are many issues and I not being a sound designer / engineer, wouldn't profess to knowing all or even many of them. I would just say, I think in the case of a Broadway musical, sufficient volume, well mixed with the musical accompaniment, with the ability to comprehend the vast majority of the lyrics / dialogue would be a good place to start.

ARTc3 formerly ARTc. Actually been a poster since 2004. My name isn't Art. Drop the "3" and say the signature and you'll understand.
Updated On: 1/9/14 at 04:26 PM
rosscoe(au) Profile Photo
rosscoe(au)
Broadway Legend
joined:8/20/05
Sound Design: Matilda
Posted: 1/9/14 at 04:34pm
Saw this in London in 2012 just after opening, and the same sound issues where happening than. It is such a pity that they have never fixed it.
Well I didn't want to get into it, but he's a Satanist. Every full moon he sacrifices 4 puppies to the Dark Lord and smears their blood on his paino. This should help you understand the score for Wicked a little bit more. Tazber's: Reply to Is Stephen Schwartz a Practicing Christian
ravnquest1 Profile Photo
ravnquest1
Stand-by
joined:7/8/09
Sound Design: Matilda
Posted: 1/9/14 at 04:57pm
I do sound for Broadway shows on the road. You generally get two complaints as a sound mixer from the audience 1) I can't understand the words and/or 2) the show is too loud. That's it, and the same is true on Broadway I would venture. That's all the audience wants- to hear the show clearly at a comfortable volume. In my opinion that is the chief responsibility of the sound design and the people operating the system- achieve those two goals for the people buying the tickets. To fail at either of these is inexcusable and at the end of the day nothing much else should take priority.

Unfortunately though politics, egos, opinions and a whole lot of wants and needs from others (actors, creatives, producers, musicians, management etc) all take priority over the aforementioned 2 important goals, and the audience gets left out. I also happen to think sound reinforcement has become too much about computers and what computer programs tell the technician about how the show sounds. The people who craft these designs, mix and tour the shows have stopped asking the basic question- does the show sound good? Am I achieving the 2 main goals? The minutia of this or that frequency/zone/effect etc has become the focus and the big picture is lost. It's really easy to take something that sounds good and fiddle with it little by little until it doesn't anymore. There is so much technology in theatrical sound design now that it's almost overwhelming the limitless possibilities available to sculpt what the audience hears. And yes, with this many options and this many millions of dollars of equipment- there is no excuse for poor sound.

For Matilda specifically, I saw the show in London a few years ago, and yes the sound was bad. I remember thinking at the time that the scrabble-letter proscenium was neat, but it obstructed any hanging point for any speakers, and most of the PA had to be behind it, which probably didn't help. I could be wrong completely about this, but it was my only thought without any real inside knowledge of any sort. Reading that article linked above...The sound designer doesn't get it. He was too busy with his surround-sound orchestra mix he forgot to ask himself if he could hear the actors.
Tag Profile Photo
Tag
Broadway Legend
joined:11/19/05
Sound Design: Matilda
Posted: 1/9/14 at 05:12pm
It's telling that the show didn't even receive a sound design Tony nomination.
morosco Profile Photo
morosco
Broadway Legend
joined:7/10/04
Sound Design: Matilda
Posted: 1/9/14 at 05:17pm
ravnquest1, do you think that some designers or a board operators get so used to the show's lyrics and dialogue that they don't really "hear" either of them anymore? Does the designer ever think to themselves, "did I hear that lyric clearly or did I "hear" that clearly only because I already know the lyric"? I would imagine it would be hard to listen objectively when you already know the words. But still no excuse. Does that make any sense?

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