'N' Stuff welcomes guest contributor Mary
Alafetich (LT's no-bullshit monitor engineer) Mary breaks
down a typical day on the road with the band for aspiring industry professionals.
Rodgers AKA Analog Tara
(musician, feminist scholar, and creator of www.pinknoises.com)
presents a theoretical essay about sampling in which she discusses, among
other things, our song "Dyke March 2001."
Me, Myself and Le Tigre
by Mary Alafetich: Monitor, Engineer
here to tell you about my job. You should know that I write this sitting
on the toilet in our Holiday Inn room in Camden Town, London at 5:00 am.
Jetlag is a powerful force, and I don’t want to wake my roomie,
Ann the merch queen.
First of all, we all load gear.
This is the greasy glam of touring. We must haul that gear out of the
bus bays and get it on stage. After the show, we must return it to the
bus. All the crew take part in this; we have no white glovers. Fortunately
Le Tigre does not tour with a whole heck of a lot of gear, so this part
isn’t so bad really.
As soon as we get the gear onstage, Jonathan Kreinik (the front-of-house
engineer) and I get it set up. Once we get the mics and instruments plugged
in, my true job starts in earnest. I am
responsible for the sound on stage, what the band hears
of themselves during the show. This is delivered to the band via stage
monitors, or wedges,
which are usually arranged in front of each band member. On
a normal day, each member of Le Tigre gets their own mix that is independent
of the others and can be tailored to taste.
I use a mixing console or
desk that looks much like
the one out at front-of-house (that’s Jonathan’s kingdom).
With it, I can send each vocal or instrument
to various onstage mixes. I can also shape the sound,
mostly using equalisation, or EQ
for short. EQ’ing manipulates frequencies—it is really just
a much more complex version of adjusting the treble and bass on your stereo.
Mixing monitors can often fall into two realms: mix
maintenance and feedback
control. I start without the band and try to get the wedges
to sound good—that is natural and clear. I
then put together the rough mixes, approximating levels and balancing
the vocals and instruments. Then the band arrives and
they play a few songs to fine tune how they want to hear everything. Jo
might want more of her own vocal in her mix, and less of Kathleen’s.
Kathleen may want to hear more guitar, JD may want more or less sampler.
It’s a matter of personal taste,
really. But it often is key to be able to hear oneself and others in order
to perform well.
Which leads us to feedback control.
Now Le Tigre is not a really loud band, so this is not an overwhelming
issue, but it is always a matter to be dealt with. Feedback
occurs when you have a loop of a source sound. For instance, Kathleen
sings into her vocal mic, I make that sound come through her wedges. At
some point, if I turn it up quite loud, the vocal from the wedges comes
through the microphone again, creating that loop of feedback. The feedback
may be caused by one or many frequencies;
my job is to cut out the offending frequencies without turning the vocal
down, so that Kathleen can still hear herself well and doesn’t sound
like she’s trapped inside a crystal ball.
Of course, now that we’ve achieved all this at soundcheck, I get
to rock out and get pissed during the show. Actually sometimes
I do look pissed, but it’s the American style and not the English
one. I’m not really mad; I’m usually just concentrating. Before
the band comes onstage, I scurry around getting the instruments, mics
and wedges back in place. We then must check to make sure all our lines
and signals are good; as things get unplugged and replugged
and we don't want any sounds missing. I huff and puff into the mics and
many monkeys in the front rows imitate me. I need to make sure they work,
and that they are not going to feedback immediately. Changes
in the room temperature, humidity and body mass can change how sound behaves
dramatically on and off the stage. Once I feel things
are in approximate order, we wait for the band.
And I’m still concentrating, for since
the room and sounds in it will have changed—the
band may need their mixes retuned: vocals up, guitars down . . . etc.
after the first two three songs we usually settle down and get into the
groove. I still have maintenance matters to attend to. Since Le Tigre
constantly changes places and shares microphones all across the stage,
I make minute adjustments as we go. JD like the vocal lower at center
mix, on this song or that a backing vocal needs to come up or down, Jo
wanders across the stage and I make her voice follow her. It’s
a rather interactive job and keeps me involved the whole way through.
Once in a while I have to panic over a broken guitar string. Or two.
Did I mention that I love my job? I work as both monitor
and front-of-house engineer
for a few different artists. I travel on tour about half the year and
live in Oakland, California when I’m home. At home I work as one
of the house engineers at the Fillmore in San Francisco and at Yoshi’s
in Oakland. It’s the best of both worlds at home and away.
PREVIOUS GEAR N' STUFF:
'n' Stuff #1: Overview of Equipment, Set Up + Home Recording Techniques