Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Condenser Mic Hypothesis


A buddy and I had a great laugh one time based on one of our silly hypotheses.  We went to see John Entwistle, the bassist for The Who, who was doing a solo concert tour around the country with his own band, the aptly named, “John Entwistle Band.”  They were playing at the Reseda Country Club, which used to sit on Sherman Way, just East of Reseda Blvd. in the city of Reseda, CA.

I must describe what a condenser microphone is for anyone who is not familiar.  A condenser mic is a microphone built into many smaller, inexpensive recording devices, which acts as a gate that opens and closes the amount of sound coming into the recorder in order to try to keep an average recording level. 

If you’ve ever been working with a small tape recorder, and you accidentally hit it or drop it while somebody is speaking, no doubt you heard the condenser mic reduce the recording level instantaneously, and the person’s voice who was speaking suddenly goes to nil for a second, and then slowly re-inflates back up to regular output level.  It is meant to prevent the sounds being recorded from getting too “hot” and static-filled, which if excessive, can lead to inaudible white noise.

So my buddy, also named John, and I were standing there in front of the stage, excitedly waiting for the show to begin.  We had our eyes trained on all of the roadies moving stuff about and checking the instruments, when a roadie picked up one of Entwistle’s many basses to check the sound system.  It was a beautiful teal blue eight-string Warwick Buzzard.

The roadie purposely plucked a note on the bass, and the sound was like nothing anyone in the room had ever heard.  It was so physically loud from the harmonics of the bass, which emulated as the simple note was fed through Entwistle's channel splitters, chorus hardware, and finally, God only knows how many amplified watts, that a huge, diesel-shimmering, electric-blue, seismic sound filled the now tiny room.  I could feel my chest vibrate with the struck note.

John and I looked at each other, laughing from being startled.  When the sound finally decayed enough, I shouted to him trying to overcome what was left of my eardrums, “What if one of us had been holding up a mini tape-recorder when he struck that note?”  John knew exactly what I meant and came back with, “Yeah, the condenser mic would have kicked in, going from an instant of white noise to nothing.”  We both laughed and laughed from the idea of how overwhelming this single note would have been for such a simple device, almost feeling sympathy for it should that have happened.  We were such nerds.  "Oooh and my ears are still ringing!"