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Sound Engineer: Bridging Musician And Audience

From (the other) Eugene's blog:

표현하고자 하는 욕구가 가득찬, 숙명처럼 아낌없이, 다 펼쳐놓는 사람들이 예술가면, 그 공감대에 젖고싶어, 공감대안에서
또 자신의 자아를 찾고자 하는 욕구의 사람들이 모여든다.

음악을 표현하고, 받아들이는 관계에 있어서.
가장 냉철하게 교두보를 만드는데,
아마도 가장 온몸 흠뻑 젖어들어야만 하는 입장에 서는걸지도 모른다

Totally agreed.

Artists, be they visual artists, dancers, or musicians, are inherently self-centered, due to their intense desire to express themselves.  Even a lone man on an uninhabited island can be an artist without anyone around to validate his work; validation is only a secondary, non-crucial issue to an artist.

Due to this, audience's appreciation of an artist's work is an opportunistic process.  This is the reason why only a select few artists of any given time are fortunate enough to be able to leave their mark through time.  It is necessary that the audience's emotional and intellectual needs match the artist's, and that means of the artist's expression be accepted by the audience with little resistance.

Sometimes the needs are really wide apart so they fail to reach a rendezvous point.  Sometimes the needs match but the means of expression is so radical that it fails to penetrate the audience's mental barrier.  The former cannot be really helped, as one can't force the audience to accept what they don't really need (that is not a matter of art, but of marketing).  However, the latter problem, although as common as the former, can be alleviated by a third person, a mediator, who understands the artist's expression and bridges it with the audience.

There exist various kinds of such mediators, who fall roughly into two categories.  The first category would be called passive mediators.  They comment on—and in certain cases, explain—the audience the artist's expression, often in laymen's term, so the audience can have a chance to appreciate what the artist truly meant.  Curators and critics all fall into this category, and this mode of mediation is quite popular in traditional genres of art such as traditional visual art and classical music.

However, such passive mediation has one limitation: It cannot bring the work of art out of the boundary set by the original means of expression.  It can draw audience closer to the expression, but not in the other direction: It cannot (and in fact is not supposed to) draw the work of art closer to the audience.  A curator at an art gallery, for example, would be fired if he tried to mend a drawing because he felt that its coloring wasn't up to the modern audience's taste.

The other mode of mediation addresses this: Active mediation.  Working with the artists at the production stage, active mediators serve as an impartial eye that judges the acceptability of an artwork, and advises upon and/or changes details of the artwork, within the boundary that does not harm the artist's original intention, under the artist's permission.

Nearly all branches of art have an associated method of active mediation, with the “feedback” being the most basic example.  However, the most prominent and important example would be sound engineers working with musicians.  Music, especially western music (including most genres of music that we all know, such as classical, jazz, and generic “popular” music), is arguably one of the most abstract branches of art.  Unlike traditional drawings that are centered around real-life objects at least, music is centered around concepts as pitch, rhythm and harmony, none of which directly correlates to any real-life sonic phenomenon by itself; they are distilled components of sonic phenomenons.  Therefore, the art of music typically carries a lot more risk than most other genres of art, in that the audience may have much more difficult time to relate to what the musician wanted to express than in other branches of art, especially in case of instrumental music without lyrics.

There lies the importance of sound engineers.  A sound engineer first must understand the musician's true intention.  At the same time, she must have knowledge of the path of least resistance into the contemporary audience's mind.  Her task is to devise and implement a suitable and effective bridge between the musician and the audience, based upon these two pieces of information.

For example, there could be a “popular” texture of sound that the audience is accustomed to at the time; if she decides that texture suits the musician's intention and expression, she employs various techniques to give the sound that texture, such as by applying equalization, filtering and effects.

Once again, this should be performed under the musician's consent; the whole process is a collaborative one.  Therefore it follows that a sound engineer is in a unique position, which makes her function as both a consumer and a secondary creator of music.  Skills required to a sound engineer do not just include technical expertise; equally required are the ability to understand a musician's intention (which implies a strong social skill and a keen emotional sensitivity) and also the ability to understand what the intended audience are looking for (which implies a strong analytical skill).  This is by no means an easy task; sound engineers deserve respect for this reason alone.



where'd this sudden appreciation of sound engineers come from??

It isn't really all that sudden; the though had long been in my mind; I was just being lazy.  XD

I admit, however, that there is a reason why the sound engineer was referred to as a she in the article.  It's got a lot to do with my being giddy these days.  XDDD