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Gear '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.

And coming soon.....Tara 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

I’m 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.

 


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