Difference between revisions of "Don Pearson 5/19/93 live on KPFA"

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The following is the transcript of my interview with Don Pearson of
Ultra Sound, recorded live on KPFA May 19, 1993.

Don Pearson 5/19/93 live on KPFA
with a special appearnce by Phil Lesh

by David Gans

Gans:  With me here in the studio, live, is Don Pearson, the owner of
Ultra Sound and the guy whose hardware that is flying over the stage
with all the Grateful Dead sound coming out of it. Hi, Don.

Pearson:  Hi, David. One correction: I have a partner, Howard Danchik;
I'm not the only owner of Ultra Sound.

Gans:  You've been in the sound business for a long time, haven't you?

Pearson:  I've been in the sound business for a long time. I started as
a young teenager, of course, building kits, and when I first came to
California I started working for Hot Tuna. It was during those years
that I met Dan Healy. We were on the road with Hot Tuna with one of the
old McIntosh power amp/JBL sound systems and he had contracted to use
it after a Hot Tuna tour for Keith and Donna and Kingfish.

Gans:  What year was this?

Pearson:  This is 1974, maybe. The truck that was bringing the sound
system from one tour to the other broke down, and the people who were
driving it mistakenly just took a regular truck rather than one of the
"air ride" trucks. By the time it got to the show, all the equipment
had been torn apart. I was sitting at the airport waiting to catch a
plane back to California when I got the paging message and they said,
"Please come help us."  So my first experiences with Dan Healy were
sitting with a flashlight in my teeth, putting equipment back together
during shows in the early '70s. We became friends at that point and
audio buddies, and a little later on we started conducting audio
experiments. Most things were [speaker] crossovers and time things. We
were running experiments and they'd culminate every year on the New
Year's shows, pretty much, at Winterland and then at Oakland HJK [Henry
J. Kaiser Convention Center, originally known as the Oakland

Gans:  When did Ultra Sound, the company, come into existence?

Pearson:  Ultra Sound started about 1975 as a company when we were
still working for Hot Tuna. We actually did some very great
experiments. We had the first time-aligned sound system, I guess it was
the opening of the first show at HJK, I think it was '79...

Gans:  Yeah, August of '79, that's right.

Pearson:  We did the very first time-aligned PA system.

Gans:  Can you explain what that means?

Pearson:  That means that the sounds from each of the components in the
sound system - the bass speakers, the mid-range speakers and the
high-frequency speakers - all arrive at the listener at the time.
Typically, they're not aligned in the same place where they sit
physically on the stage, and the electronic networks that divide the
sound between each of the components also cause some [amount] of time
delay. And so we had a gentleman at a company make us some special
delays that allowed us to just dial up inches of sound, inches of time,
and being able to move all of the components around in time. When you
got it right, the image just sort of snapped into focus.

Gans:  So that made for clearer sound -

Pearson:  Dramatically improved the intelligibility.

Gans:  All over the house?

Pearson:  Yes.

Gans:  And that technology has been continually refined -

Pearson:  To now, when almost everybody incorporates it into their
system. I published an article in Recording Engineer/Producer, a 2-part
article, in late '78 and early '79. With $4 worth of parts, how to
measure and what to look for to achieve this technology. It was the
first published article on how to measure time like that.

Gans:  So you've been on this track of clarity and pure sound for quite
some time.

Pearson:  Right. Actually, time is more important than frequency. I
know most everybody is into adjusting their sound system for frequency,
but if you can adjust it for time, you can actually achieve better

Gans:  I think we have a caller on the line. Hello, you're on the air.

Phil Lesh:  Hello, David. [Phil was calling about the Rex Foundation
raffle, but we asked him about the sound system.]

Gans:  Do you have any questions for Don Pearson? He's on the air with
me here talking about sound systems.

Lesh:  I heard you talking to someone, I wasn't sure who it was.

Gans:  Yeah, that's Don. Say hello.

Lesh:  Hi, Don!

Pearson:  Good evening, Phil.

Gans:  Since you're on the line, let's talk about the onstage monitor
system. You've been seen going over to the mixer and mixing your own

Lesh:  Oh yes, this is my dream. I love to mix my own sound. It's
faster that way for me.

Gans:  So there's a console right there and you can just walk over and
turn up somebody if you want to hear them a little better, and stuff
like that?

Lesh:  Yes, exactly. Actually, I can pan and EQ and do all that other
good stuff, too.

Gans:  So each of you has a stereo mix in your earpieces?

Lesh:  Yes, that's correct.

Pearson:  Each band member has the ability to adjust 30 different
things in their ears.

Lesh:  Yeah, but we really don't have that many. Actually, some of the
instruments have three channels each. The drums, for instance, have
three channels, and so on. But the really fun part is going to be when
we have touch-screen computer control of all that.

Pearson:  And that's coming, probably in the next four or five months.
We're very close on it.

Lesh:  That's good news. You heard it here first, folks!

Gans:  Will you have like a terminal at your position there on the stage?

Lesh:  Yeah.

Pearson:  A 20-inch touch-screen monitor is the plan.

Gans:  Wow. One man, one Macintosh, huh?

Pearson:  It's actually not on the Macintosh, it's in the IBM world.

Gans:  Oh no!

Lesh:  I know, I know. 

Pearson:  But that's where the software is being written.

Gans:  You'll have to learn a whole new interface, Phil.

Lesh:  No, no, all we have to do is just learn the software.

Pearson:  All you have to do is touch it. You don't have to learn what
the computer is.

Lesh:  I'm not going to care anymore, I'm just going to make it work.

Gans:  That's great. Well, thanks for calling back.

Lesh:  Okay, well thank you for having me. Bye.

Gans:  Hello, you're on the air.

Caller:  Hi, I have a question. The Roger Waters tour, the Radio KAOS
tour, in the Oakland Coliseum - the sound was just incredibly
phenomenal, and I've never heard that kind of sound in the Coliseum.
The acoustics have always been horrendous - the echoing, the time
delays were just horrible. And yet Roger Waters' concert had some of
the best sound I've ever heard anywhere. Are you aware of what he -

Pearson:  No, I'm not familiar with it at all. I didn't attend, and I
don't know what sound system they use.

Caller:  Okay. Because you know, he's a perfectionist and does
incredible sound. I mean, out at the Coliseum, concrete in a circle -

Gans:  Well, the Dead make the Coliseum sound pretty good, too, don't they?

Caller:  I haven't seen a Dead show in the Coliseum, so -

Pearson:  Well, what we do - I'll explain the technology that we deal
with to try and adjust the room: We use an analyzer which is called a
Fast Fourier Transform analyzer. It takes the measurement of a
microphone and it measures the sound that we're sending to the speaker
system; it performs these mathematical calculations on each of these
two inputs, and then it divides one by the other. And what you see on
the analyzer screen then is all of the reverberation in the room.
Whatever frequency wants to sustain appears on the analyzer as a peak,
and so by inhibiting the sound system from energizing the areas that
want to retain the sound for longer periods of time, you basically are
trying to remove the sound of the room from the environment.

Gans:  So, to clarify that. You're measuring things in real time and
making adjustments as you go in the environment you're in.

Pearson:  It's done in the afternoon. Dan Healy does all these
adjustments in the afternoon before the show, and then during the first
few songs it's tweaked out a little bit to compensate for the
temperature change and the absorption of the people in the room and a
few other things. These are all really narrow-type sustains. Typically,
most people are using a third-octave equalizer to adjust the sound,
which means that you have a fixed frequency and a fixed amount of width
as to how much you're using. Usually you're not on the frequency and
it's much wider than it needs to be, so when you adjust the typical
sound system with the third-octave equalizer, you're taking out much
more information than really needs to to be removed.

Gans:  So is this like trying to make a fine etching with a chisel, in
other words?

Pearson:  Yeah, that's a good analogy.

Caller:  Isn't that what parametric equalizers are for?

Pearson:  That's right, but there are numerous types of parametric
equalizers, and most equalizers work by putting things out of time -
which means they're shifting the phase, so you need to have a
phase-correct equalizer so as you make adjustments in frequency, you
also need to make adjustments in time. And most parametric equalizers
are not minimum-phase equalizers.

Gans: Now, as I understand it - correct me if I'm wrong here - the
ideal situation in sound reinforcement is to just make the sound that's
coming from the stage bigger rather than making multiple copies of it
and sending them all over the place.

Pearson:  Right. The idea is to have a true image of what's being
reproduced, and if there's distortion coming from the stage, then
there's distortion that's coming out of the sound system. But the sound
system, ideally, has no sound of its own.

Gans:  Right. So it's perfectly transparent, and one massive, spherical
wave form is coming from the stage -

Pearson:  Right.

Gans:   - and hitting everybody equally?

Pearson:  Well, it's not hitting everybody equally because of the
position in the hall. Ideally, you know, you can only work for the
majority of the people, which is the people in the center of the room.
Unfortunately, the people to the sides have to suffer somewhat. It's
still better than it could be any other way, but stereo image is really
important and I think our sound system has a great stereo image.
  One of the things we have to do is by the time you make this many
adjustments on an equalizer, with that many knobs, if you're off the
thickness of the white line on the pointer on that many controls,
then the stereo image just falls apart, so we've established a very
elaborate technique for matching the left and the right sides so that
they're within a half of a decibel of each other in accuracy.

Gans:  Wow. Interesting. Caller, are you still there?

Caller:  Yeah.

Gans:  Was it clear?

Caller:  Yeah, well, the parts I understood. All right, thanks.

Gans:  Something that has happened in the last year is this earpiece
monitor system, and the number of speakers onstage has gone down to
zero. Is that correct?

Pearson:  Well, there is one Leslie cabinet which is an attachment for
an organ which has some rotating speakers in it to give vibrato and
another sound, and there's nothing that duplicates that sound. So we
have a Leslie speaker encased in a box, sort of a chamber, and it's
permanently miked and it sits offstage, and it's hooked up to the
keyboard system. Its mikes come back into the system. Those are the
only speakers - instruments or monitor speakers - that are onstage.

Gans:  So in the old days there would be Bobby's speaker stack, Jerry's
speakers, Phil's speakers, the keyboardist's speakers, and there'd be
vocal monitors on the floor in front of each guy. So there'd be copies
of various mixes of sound shooting all over the stage and leaking in to
all the microphones, right?

Pearson:  Right. One of the things that you first notice when you go to
the ear monitors and remove all the speakers is the general background
roar has disappeared, and there's a certain amount of clarity that
comes up that's never been there before. Mostly it's the leakage from
all these different speakers coming into the microphones. Here again,
it's a time problem because there are many different microphones and
they're hearing the same speaker or different speakers all at different
times, and that causes a smear. In order for intelligibility to really
work, your brain has to identify where it's coming from before it can
identify what it is; if it hears it multiple times and from multiple
sources, it reduces the intelligibility.

Gans:  And so we have everything going directly into the PA system and
coming out - it seems to me that with the sound on the stage, then, the
stage is probably the quietest place in the building.

Pearson:  The stage is very quiet. I mean, you can hear the PA, and you
can hear the acoustic sound of the drums, but that's all you can hear

Gans:  And it makes things coming out of the PA a lot cleaner, too - 

Pearson:  And you're able to choose the equipment with a different
perspective - being able to choose microphones that sound good rather
than microphones that don't feed back very easily. That's a good

Gans:  So there's been a general improvement in the sound to the
audience and in the musicians' ability to hear clearly.

Pearson:  Right. I think that's pretty obvious - especially in the
vocals, because the vocals have just become just so much better, so
wonderful. The harmonies. I mean - a good example was the ear monitors
at the Giants game, where [Jerry, Bob and Vince sang] an a capella
national anthem, which they probably could not have done without the
ear monitors.

Gans:  Oh really?  They had the monitors in there too, huh?

Pearson:  Because you can hear and the delay factor was removed, or the
repeats from the giant, cavernous environment, and so the ear monitors
really helped that. Harry Popick went along and did that with them.

Gans:  Harry being the guy who stands at the side of the stage, mixing -

Pearson:  Harry is the band's monitor engineer.

Gans:  Yeah, boy, the echoes in the stadium would be the thing that
tends to throw people off the most.

Pearson:  At a certain point you almost want to stop talking because it
becomes so confusing, those long time delays of echoes.

Gans:  We have another caller here. Hello, you're on the air.

Caller:  Hi, David. I've got a couple of questions. One is about the
ear monitors and how the crowd is processed into the ear pieces. I
heard something that sounded pretty far-fetched, which was that a
virtual crowd is created, like if one of the performers turns their
head, they'll actually hear that side in their ear or something. That
sounded pretty far-fetched.

Pearson:  That's not the way it is at all. The ear monitors are pretty
much sealed into the ears. There are a couple of different varieties
that we've tried, and the actual ear monitors have little plastic plugs
that go into the side. There's five different-size holes in the little
plastic plugs and the size of the hole determines how much of the
ambient sound comes into the, just leaks into the system.
  There are some other approaches that we and other people have taken,
one of which is to have a little electronic system, that, as the band
level goes down below a certain threshold, it turns up some microphones
so they can hear the audience, but we haven't found that necessary.

Caller:  So do you mean the crowd actually leaks in?

Pearson:  The crowd actually leaks in, and different band members have
different-size holes in their ear monitors, these little plugs that
just snap in. It goes from completely shut off to a very big hole. And
the trade-off is the low frequency response. The smaller the hole, the
worse the low-frequency response, but the less of the audience there
is. So it's a trade-off.

Caller:  I'm also curious about an instrument coming back into an
earpiece. Like when you play an electric instrument, I guess it only
goes out electrically; there isn't much -

Pearson:  Well, actually a gentleman named Tom Paddock, who does
electronics for the Grateful Dead, has built these devices that we call
emulators. It emulates a speaker. It gives the effect to a power
amplifier P the power amplifier thinks there's a speaker on it and it
has all the reaction of a speaker and then it electronically comes off
this emulator and that's the signal that we're feeding into the ear
monitors and the PA.

Caller:  So it's kind of imitating an electric sound that has been
broadcast into a room.

Pearson:  Um, no it's just more emulating the effect of a speaker.

Caller:  Okay.

Gans:  So there are power amplifiers in there?

Pearson:  There are power amplifiers - 

Gans:   - acting as if there were speakers.

Pearson:  Right, but there's no speakers. They're driving these
emulators instead.

Gans:  Wow. That's fascinating. There must be a lot of brain power at
work on this -

Pearson:  Well, there's a lot of brain power in all parts of the
organization. Every part of it is really well thought out.

Gans:  Caller, do you have another question?

Caller:  One more question, yes. If you were at a show, say, in the
Oakland Coliseum and you're sitting in one place and, for example, you
can't hear Phil, it's like really low, how do you get a message to
someone who can deal with that?

Pearson:  Well, it's really a subjective thing. There's some people who
would say he's too loud and there's some people who would say he's too
low and there's some people who would say he's just right. Especially
the low frequencies, because the low frequencies are very
omni-directional, whereas the higher the frequency the more directivity
it has. Low frequency has a tendency to just rumble around and, you
know, its hard to say. There's so many different people who have
different opinions. For some people it's never loud enough and for some
people it's always too loud.

Caller:  Let's say you're in a certain position and there's a general
consensus in your area that you can't hear Jerry hardly, let's say. Is
there any way to get a message to the sound board?

Pearson:  Not really. 

Gans:  You could go up to the sound board -

Pearson:  They don't take that very well.

Caller:  Okay, thanks very much.

Gans:  The speaker system is arranged to give optimal coverage, so that
everybody around the side -

Pearson:  But it is in stereo so, you know, sort of just try to give
the image as if you were looking at the stage.

Gans:  I have experienced - the Deadheads tend to call it the Phil zone
and the Jerry side, but I think the real decision is between Mickey and
Billy, because the drums are panned hard, right?

Pearson:  The drums are panned hard, that's correct.

Gans:  So if you're over on Jerry's side, you're hearing Mickey play
the drums and you're not hearing so much of Billy.

Pearson:  Well, it's not panned that hard. Especially the low frequency
- the kick drums and those things, they're pretty much a little more to
the center.

Gans:  I definitely get a different sense of -

Pearson:  Yeah, but it's part of the image, and the image is part of
what makes it thrilling. If you stick it all in the center and just
make it mono, a lot of the thrill will go away.

Gans:  That's interesting. I wonder if everybody in the audience concurs.
  Hello, you're on the air.

Caller:  Yes, hi. I was just wondering along the same lines, if you
have a big mass of sound, that that doesn't really do much and that you
probably want a nice stereo spread that has a coherent center, but
actually the question I more or less had was, what kind of equipment do
you use and how has that evolved over the time since '74 to presently?

Pearson:  Well, after '74 the band went through the normal PA companies
that are generally out there in public, and in the late '70s we worked
with John Meyer and we developed something called Ultra Monitor. It
worked so well for the band instead of the old monitors, and we just
tried to get the other sound companies to try and move to this
technology. John got eight international patents on the speaker as a
motor, and these were the first patents issued in thirty years on a
speaker. We couldn't really get anybody interested, because most of the
major manufacturers have 50 years of money and technology tied up and
weren't ready to say, "Well, that was that and now we're starting over
again." And John's been struggling through. So in the early '80s we
started with the Meyer MSL 3 speakers.

Gans:  I remember John complaining about going to one major speaker
manufacturer and checking the speakers coming off the line and seeing
that there was no consistency from one piece to the next and that was
one of the things that in his speaker company he began to really
tighten up on that, so that every speaker cabinet -

Pearson:  All the speakers that John makes are within 1% of each other. 

Gans:  And we have [Meyer Sound] HD-1s here in the KPFA studio, and
I've got them in my production studio -

Pearson:  I have them in my living room, and so do a lot of people.

Gans:  It made a gigantic difference in the clarity of this -

Pearson:  The problem with them are is that something that wasn't mixed
on them, if it was mixed on other speakers, sometimes it makes things
sound really bad that would sound not so bad on other speakers. It
really sort of pulls the pants down on a lot of things.

Gans:  Anyway, getting back to the evolution of speaker systems, in '74
the Grateful Dead had that gigantic towering PA system where every
instrument had its own separate channel and separate speaker system.
And it sounded unbelievably good.

Pearson:  That's true, but it wasn't very practical.

Caller:  Were they using McIntoshes at that time?

Pearson:  They were using McIntosh power amps at that time, that's correct.

Gans:  I remember hearing various people talk about they had to have so
many spares on the road with them, and of course that was - Healy told
me that was the year of the gas crisis, and it became so expensive to
truck that stuff around -

Pearson:  Right, and it took quite a number of people many days to put
it together, and certain parts of it just couldn't keep working. There
were some five-inch speakers that just a couple of seconds of
distortion would take out banks of. I wasn't on any of those tours. I
only saw it once or twice myself, so I can't really speak from

Gans:  It seems to me that at any given moment in the show in 1974
there was somebody on the scaffolding hauling a speaker out and putting
a new one in, so I can definitely see that.

Caller:  I haven't gone to any of their shows, but I have some friends
who go, and they're music enthusiasts, and they tell me some of the
best sound has come out of there. As a music enthusiast but from a home
perspective, I spend a lot of time just kind of watching and seeing
what they do.
  Someone told me - and I don't know, this is probably a rumor or
something - that at one time Mark Levinson was vaguely attached to some
work being done for them?

Pearson:  Not that I know about.

Caller:  Okay. Well, then, that's a rumor.

Pearson:  There was someone in the past, John Curl, who worked in that
period, in the '70s period, who designed some of the actual devices
inside the Mark Levinson preamps at one point. I don't think he has any
connection any longer, but a few years ago there were John Curl preamps
inside the Mark Levinson devices.

Caller:  Ah, okay. That's probably the connection.

Pearson:  Maybe that will clarify that rumor a little bit.

Gans:  We've got another caller on the line. You have a question for
Don Pearson?

Caller:  Hi, yeah, I do. Actually a couple. One, Bobby seems to have
trouble with his ear monitors. I was wondering about that.

Pearson:  Bobby's been trying different versions of it. Although some
of them sound better than others, comfort seems to be a real important
thing. Lately he's sort of settled into one particular kind that pretty
much all of us are using.

Caller:  Like a physical thing in the ear.

Pearson:  As well as sounding good, it's got to be able to stay in the
ear and be comfortable and not keep falling out and not blowing up.
We've tried everything from the little cheap Sony ear butts to some
real expensive ones, and there's ones that you pretty much you see all
of the performers using, which is the ones we're using now.

Gans:  Now these are all custom molded -

Pearson:  They come and they inject silicone in and they make a wax
impression of your ear, and then they go off and they custom make these
ear monitors.

Gans:  Let's focus in on this sound level question. Because I mentioned
on the WELL, on my computer network, that you were going to be coming
on and I solicited some questions from people. One of the biggest
questions that came in the most often from people was, "Can you get 'em
to turn it up a little bit at the show?" You said a few minutes ago
it's often a matter of taste and stuff -

Pearson:  We have something that we call our speedometer, which is a
sound-level meter which sits on the board and pretty much it's the same
almost all the time. You know, it may vary a few db, and so its
position - and also the room, it's how hard, how much edge is there,
and how much can we remove during our equalization process? One of the
things that we really strive for is low distortion, and low distortion
to the average listener sounds like it's not as loud. But when you sit
there with the speedometer and measure it, it's actually louder. And so
a lot of people, when they use the Meyer sound system for the first
time, don't really have an idea as to how loud it is and when you show
them the meter it's a lot louder than they think it is. We don't want
to have OSHA coming down on us and we don't want to have these limits
put on the industry in general, and I think we're right there at the
threshold of what's safe.

Gans:  I sometimes at a Dead concert will think it's not quite loud
enough and somewhere in the middle of the first set it'll sort of - all
of a sudden seems to get dialed in and everything is just right.

Pearson:  Well, you also have to remember every night it has to sort of
get into the groove - the first couple of songs they have to get the
feeling for where they are, and when they hit what note what happens,
and how how loud everything can be. It does get turned up during the
course of the night, but it sort of has to get into a groove first.

Gans:  Hello, you're on the air.

Caller:  I have a couple of questions, mostly about the Oakland
[Coliseum] Arena. I noticed especially during the drums that a couple
of times when there's been it appears to be speakers overhead towards
the back of the auditorium and then there's like a stereo type of
effect that takes place, and that only is taking place during the
drums. Is that something that you're doing or that Healy is doing or -

Pearson:  Healy is doing that. The Gamble console that we have, we've
added some joy sticks into it, and we can take any channel anywhere and
send it into the joy sticks and move it around. There are, subtly,
other times when it's on which you may or may not notice, but it's
really an effect. It's something that's used as an effect, and it's
best used that about the time that you're noticing it's on, it's off.

Caller:  Okay... It's really enjoyable.

Pearson:  So you're asking for more of it?

Caller:  Yeah, definitely. And actually when you sit in the back, too,
you can hear it. It would be nice to hear it actually during some of
the songs, but I understand you don't want to overdose on it -

Pearson:  Yeah, a little goes a long way.

Caller:  Right. And the other question - you know, a lot of times Bobby
is up there, I don't know what's going on, but he kind of goes back to
his amp panel there and kind of is futzing around with that. What is he
doing and why does he go back there and do that?

Pearson:  Well, different songs and different parts of songs have
different effects that he wants to call up, and some of them he can
call up with his foot pedals and some of them he needs to go over and
actually physically touch the devices. Sometimes you go and you see him
look like he was beating on his rack? Well, that was actually tapping
in a delay time. Rather than trying to come up with a number, he's just
like a drummer clicking it off with his sticks. He's just tapping this
little pedal and counting in a delay time. It now sits in front of him
on a little stand. It looks like a mouse. When he goes to that, he's
setting a delay time so that there will be an echo that's at the proper
time for the song that he's going to play.

Caller:  I thought Healy used to do that.

Pearson:  That's for the vocals and the other effects in the house.
This is for actually the guitar itself.

Gans:  Each musician controls his own stack of stuff.

Caller:  It just seems sometimes that Bobby just gets preoccupied with
that and he just keeps going over there, futzing around with that.

Gans:  Well, he has a lot of gear.

Pearson:  He does have a lot of things.

Gans:  Sometimes some of it is new. I know this as a musician myself:
you're in a hurry to get something out there so you can play with it.

Pearson:  And sometimes the lights are blinding or it's dark and
you've hit the wrong button, and suddenly you've lost track of where
some things are set.

Caller:  Right, yeah. Okay. Thanks a lot.

Gans:  Hello, you're on the air with Don Pearson.

Caller:  Yeah, I had a question about the earphone monitors. I
understand that some of the band members are wired for sound, but you
broadcast a signal to other ones?

Pearson:  That's correct. We have this product called the Radio
Station, which comes from England, which is in the 500 megahertz range.
It's stereo, and ... each one has two channels, so if we get to the
city - mostly the frequencies that we're using are primarily links for
TV stations where they want to do remote broadcasting. They're really
low power. They're only good for about 50 feet. But it's not an FM band
that everybody could pick up.

Caller:  So it wouldn't be possible if you had some type of shortwave radio?

Pearson:  Even if you did, you wouldn't be able to get it in stereo
unless you had some way of decoding the stereo.

Gans:  So you're sending the monitor signal to certain musicians?

Pearson:  The drummers and Bobby are wireless right now. 

Gans:  So they're getting their monitor signal -

Pearson:  Their monitor gets fed to a transmitter, and they wear a
little receiver on them.  But like I said, it's not in any band that
you could easily come up with a receiver for.

Caller:  Could somebody theoretically broadcast onto that frequency?

Pearson:  Could somebody else broadcast onto that frequency?

Caller:  Do you ever have the problem of getting some kind of stuff on
that frequency?

Pearson:  Each system has two channels on it. You can just push the
button and switch from one channel to the next.

Gans:  I guess he's wondering if some prankster could send messages,
like "Jerry, play Row Jimmy again!"

Pearson:  I guess if Jerry were to be into it, sure.  But like I said,
you'd have to be in the building, because it needs to be fairly close.
It would have to be strong enough to swamp out the transmitters that we

Caller:  All right. Thanks a lot.

Gans:  Sure, thank you.
  Another thing about this earpiece monitor system is that the
musicians now step up to the microphone and they talk, and occasionally
a little bit of it leaks out to the PA. Are they talking to Harry, or
are they talking to each other?

Pearson:  They're doing both. A bunch of years ago Dan Healy came up
with a little footpad which are basically burglar alarm pads that you
normally stick under carpets, and they detect someone walking. What
we've done is we've activated a little muting system in the console, so
when they walk up to sing they have to step on this pad, and that turns
on the gate in the consoles, in both the monitor console and the house
console. And at the head of each pad now we've added a little button, a
little switch and they can step on that switch and it turns it off in
the house - leaves it off in the house and leaves it on in the
monitors. They can talk to each other and decide what song they're
going to sing, or tell a joke, or they can talk to Harry or myself and
say "I want to have more vocal," or turn somebody up or turn somebody

Gans:  I remember Dan telling the story about that. The idea there was
that they wanted to be able to shut off the microphone when the person
wasn't singing just to get that bit of leakage out of -

Pearson:  Even though there's no monitors, just the PA leakage is
pretty dramatic. In fact, it's even more obvious now that there's no
speakers. When the mics come and go it really becomes loud in the
monitors. There's times when Vince will complain because he's over
there by the PA. He'll say, "Turn the drums off in my mix," and they're
not there. He's just hearing it leak from the PA.

Gans:  Wow.

Caller:  All speaker technology right now basically moves something to
emulate the original point source by moving columns of air with a
surface. What about exciting the air itself? Are you doing any research
with that?

Pearson: Are you talking about flames or gas plasma?

Caller: Yeah, something like that.

Pearson:  No. The Meyer technology is based on something totally
different from the standard speaker - that's why it got the patents.
Rather than based on a speaker than can give you flat response, meaning
equal levels at all frequencies, it's based on linear excursion. How
good a motor, how much air can it move? Since you have to run it
through networks to make it be a crossover and to get the time delay
and to do all the other things, you can fix the frequency response of a
speaker. But you can never fix how linear, how well it moves the air.
The best commercial speakers that everybody uses really only have about
a tenth of an inch of linear excursion.  A Meyer speaker has a half of
an inch of linear excursion.  And there again the net result of that is
low distortion.

Caller:  Well, thank you very much.

Gans:  You're listening to the Grateful Dead Hour. My guest is Don
Pearson, co-owner of Ultrasound, the man responsible for all of that
hardware that makes the sound at Grateful Dead concerts so good.

Pearson:  I should say that Dan Healy has been our inspiration through
all the years of this, the driving force in keeping us going forward. A
lot of this wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for Dan pushing all the

Gans:  You also work very closely with Dan in the studio.  I'm holding
in my hand Two From the Vault, which was an 8-track recording from 1968
that you guys did some pretty interesting wizardry on to make it sound
beautiful.  Can you talk about that a little bit?

Pearson:  When we first listened to the tape, it had a very muddy
sound. That was the early point of multi-track recording and we -
although it was a great moment, the sound was pretty muddy, so we
decided to take the technology that we had - the B&K [Bruel and Kjaer]
FFT analyzer - and see what we could do.
  The bass had leaked into most of the other microphones, and since 
there were many microphones on the drums mixed together, they were
hearing this bass guitar at different times and so that, of course, was
smearing the sound. The more times you hear it and the more it's spread
over time, the less intelligible it is. So we came up with the idea of
using the B&K analyzer to try and find where in time the bass was with
respect to the drums. We found a point in the drums where there were
some quiet parts and we could actually find the time difference between
the bass guitar and the drum mics.  And so using digital delays, we
corrected for that time problem.  And the result is a tape that was
recorded in the '60s sounding more like it was recorded in the '80s.
  One of the other little things, just a little side thing to that:
During those shows, the roadies had taken down the band gear and put it
away, and then brought it back for the next show, and they hadn't
marked the stage. Well, when we went back and started to mix the second
night, the time was off. They didn't set it back in exactly the same
spot so here, 25 years later, we found that they had missed setting the
band gear up by over a foot.  The wrong spot.  We busted them 25 years

Gans:  And some of those guys are still around to take the heat.

Pearson:  Most of them are still around.

Gans:  Hello, you're on the air.

Caller:  I've got a question about the ear monitors. I've been really
curious as to what sort of protection there is for the band members,
[to keep them from] getting their ears blown out from all the power and
sound and the stuff going through.

Pearson:  Well, they actually have very small power amplifiers driving
them, but there is a limiter in front of the power amp so if someone
were to unplug a cord or something were to sneak through, it's pretty
much set to be like a brick wall, where it gets so loud and then no
matter what happens, it just stops.

Caller:  So like if there was a power surge or something, they'd still
be protected?

Pearson:  They're protected, right.

Gans:  Hello, you're on the air.

Caller:  Is this Dr. Don, the timemaster?

Pearson:  That's me.

Caller:  Hey. Do you put speakers in front of the stage? I've been
noticing some.

Pearson:  There are six speakers that are centered under the stage.
Sometimes you can't see them because they're hidden behind some scrim,
but there are six speakers that Healy has control over, for filling the
very center. A lot of people used to like to be really there and have
it really loud, and now that the guitar speakers aren't there sawing
everybody's head off, we put some speakers there to fill that. We can't
quite turn the PA all the way in to get the very first row in the
center because it would feed back.

Caller:  Yeah, that's really cool. Also, off the stage you have your
power amps and stuff, and you can see the lights go up and down to the
different frequencies, right, of what's going on with the speakers?

Pearson:  Right.

Caller:  But there's this other piece of equipment that's off to the
right and the lights are flashing very randomly and it doesn't go with
the sound at all.

Pearson:  It's probably some of the lighting equipment.

Gans:  Hello, you're on the air with Don Pearson.

Caller:  Yeah, I've got a question about when you guys have guests, you
know, people sitting with the band, frequently you can't hear them very
well and sometimes you can't even hear them at all. I'm wondering what
sort of accommodations do you make for musical guests?

Pearson:  [We'll take them to the monitor] position and give them a mix
for a few songs, or a half a set, so they can sort of feel where the
groove is and get an idea of what it's going to be like.

Gans:  Do they adjust their own mix there, too?

Pearson:  No. Depending on who they are, I give them one of the band
member's mixes.

Caller:  Do they sit in on sound check and whatnot?

Pearson:  Usually not.

Gans:  I think the question has to do with the fact that sometimes
we're out in the audience and we can't hear that musician play.

Pearson:  I don't have an answer to that.

Gans:  Sorry about that, caller.

Caller:  [laughs] Okay.

Gans:  Hello, you're on the air with Don Pearson.

Caller:  Hi.  I want to ask Don a question. Don, I wanted to expand on
something that you talked about briefly earlier: both the difference in
sound quality and volume level between the first set and the second
set.  It seems like, especially this past weekend in Vegas, the sound
quality in the second set was so drastically better and louder than the
first set. I'm basing that on indoor and outdoor shows.  Does there
really need to be that much difference?

Pearson:  Well, you know, I'm on stage now so I don't really hear that
difference, but I'll tell you from my experience of 12 years being in
the house, pretty much Healy gets it into the groove and then leaves
it. And any changes that are made - I mean, he never really turns the
master up and down.  So any changes that are going on are being caused
by the dynamics of the band, or their feelings, and being more or less
into the groove.

Caller:  Uh-huh.

Pearson:  Healy is not really changing it very much during the course
of the night.  I mean, he'll be changing and adding some echo and some
reverb and some other effects, but the overall levels really don't
change very much during the course of the night.

Caller:  Boy. You know I can count a dozen times where people around my
area will just say man, the sound really has improved the second set.
Why don't they have it this way in the first set? And Vegas was a
perfect example.

Pearson:  Well, you know, nothing is changed from the first set to the
second set.

Caller:  Huh.  Okay.  My second question is, who picks the music that
is played before and during the breaks?

Pearson:  Everybody.

Caller:  Everybody in the band?

Gans:  Hey, even I've gotten to pick the music some times.

Pearson:  Everybody who's around the sound board at the time.

Gans:  It's not the guys in the band. It's whoever's out there at the board.

Pearson:  Yeah.

Caller:  Well, whoever picked the Elvis between the first and second
set over Vegas, it  was a great selection.

Pearson:  Ah, we all liked that.

Caller:  Yeah. All right, thanks.

Gans:  Last year's Las Vegas - I wasn't there, but I did get hold of
the tapes and there was some amazingly fun stuff during the second set
space jam. There were slot machine sounds and stuff. Somebody said you
guys had a slot machine out there?

Pearson:  We did have a slot machine out there, and what we did was
earlier in the day we sampled the slot machine paying off. Then during
the show we had a microphone sitting in the slot machine and someone
putting quarters in, so you could hear the ka-chunka ka-chunka
ka-chunka. And then any time Healy wanted to pay off, he could just
trigger the sample.

Gans:  I wonder if he pays better than the regular Vegas does?

Pearson:  Well, it sure went off a bunch of times.

Gans:  You guys also had Sinatra in there.

Pearson:  We were emulating, maybe, somebody's worst experience of
being trapped inside a slot machine in some lounge with Frank Sinatra
playing all the time in the background.

Gans:  That's great.  So that's Healy's and your doing?

Pearson:  Yeah, for fun. For fun for everybody. I think everybody got
off on it.  It was good fun.

Gans:  Bob Bralove is up there with sampled sounds that he's feeding to
the drummers and stuff. So for example, when there's like the sound
track from War Games and machine guns and stuff happening, is that
likely to be coming from you guys, too?

Pearson:  No, that's pretty much all coming - it's very rare that we do
something like that. Bob does it almost every show. We do it once every
one or two years.  It's unique.

Gans:  Great.  Cool.  Fun stuff.
  Hello, you're on the air with Don Pearson.

Caller:  Hi there.  I've got a question about the Oakland Coliseum.You
were talking before about trying to find a good spot, and the center
was always going to be the best sound there is, but is there ever more
than one center? In other words, you can have a center kind of stage
front, there's a center behind the stage. When you're up in the
periphery there seem to be fairly evenly spaced monitors back there.

Pearson:  The ones that are in the back up on top are pretty much not
running stereo.

Gans:  So everyone gets everything in the back.

Pearson:  Yeah, because there's no way to really make that work.

Gans:  If you're sitting exactly at the edge, like directly offstage,
looking, you know, even with the musicians and looking on, are you
getting the whole sound?

Pearson:  No.

Gans:  You're getting stereo?

Pearson:  You're getting stereo.

Gans:  So you're seriously in the Mickey zone if you're on stage left.

Pearson:  Yes, yes. It's to try to get the majority. There's no way to
make it 100% for everyone all the time. All we can do is shoot for the
best for everybody.

Caller:  Right.  So I guess what you're saying is the center is the place to be.

Pearson:  Yeah. Not necessarily the center but, yeah, somewhere between
the speaker stacks.

Caller:  Right. Okay, thanks a lot.

Gans:  Thanks for calling.
  Hello, you're on the air with Don Pearson.

Caller:  Hi.  My question to Don is, do you think there is a certain
class of songs, like fast rock'n'roll songs, that suffer as a result of
the clean ear monitor set up?

Pearson:  I don't know if I understand what you're asking.

Caller:  Well, something I first noticed at CalExpo last year was [in]
the fast rock'n'roll songs they were having trouble adjusting to the
tempo.  I thought it might have something to do with that. They have a
clean echo that's -

Gans:  Oh, I suspect that has more to do with just - still getting used
to hearing that way.

Pearson:  Right. One of the things that we do is we have a reverb going
on so that it's not real dry in their ears. You have to have the
feeling that you're in a reverberant environment or it's just too dry
and it doesn't work.  So one of the things that we do is when we come
in is try and get a feeling for what the room sounds like if we can and
then sort of emulate something close to that with a reverb.

Caller:  Okay.  Thank you.

Gans:  Hello, you're on the air with Don Pearson.

Caller:  Hi. I was wondering, with that radio broadcasting that you're
doing, is there any way you could fix it so that those of us in the
audience could record it?

Pearson:  Like I said, it's in a band that you can't easily receive.

Caller:  But could such receivers be made?

Pearson:  You could buy the ones that we get, but they're real
expensive, you know.  Many thousands of dollars.

Caller:  Okay.  My second question: With the new system are the band
members still able to sing backwards?

Gans:  Backwards?

Caller:  Yeah, it seems to me I've heard them sing backwards before.

Gans:  I've heard David Nelson sing backwards, but he rehearses
carefully to get that.

Caller:  I wasn't sure whether the sound system or perhaps the
environment I was in -

Gans:  Perhaps it was your subjective state.

Caller:  Could be. Thank you.

Gans:  Each musician must have a pretty different mix.  Each guy wants
to hear himself a little better and probably wants to hear one drummer
more than the other -

Pearson:  Yeah, depending - you need to know where the beat is.
Different people want to hear different things louder than others.
Especially the vocalists: they want to hear everybody else's harmonies
the same, and they want to hear their vocal a little bit ahead of it.

Gans:  Right. So zeroing in on one guy's mix, you're going to get sort
of a lopsided -

Pearson:  Definitely.

Gans:  It's not going to be a clean, clear stereo mix like you get out front.

Pearson:  Right.

Gans:  Okay, just wanted to clarify that.
  Hello, you're on the air with Don Pearson.

Caller:  Yeah, I was listening to these questions during the last hour
and a lot of them have been answered for me already with the different
things with the ear monitors. One thing I was kind of wondering to
myself with the last few shows I've seen at the Coliseum... I think the
sound is drastically improved to the point of being really, really
sharp and clear there. But seeing a couple of times having problems -
one guy was talking about Bob having some problems - if they have a
situation, like now if you have a situation where somebody throws off
the line of a song, say, during Uncle John's, if you say "where does
the time go" instead of whatever else it would be, do they have
problems where you'd throw the rest of the band off, because now you're
hearing the voice more in your head than you were in the past?

Gans:  No, I don't think that situation has changed much between the
old system and the new. It requires a lot of trust between the
musicians to know how to recover from a mistake.

Caller:  But now they're hearing--

Gans:  Now they hear the mistakes better.  Yeah, that's true.

Pearson:  That's what's causing all the playing and the singing to
become so much improved.

Gans:  That's what improvisation is all about, man.

Caller:  Right, exactly.  And I don't have any complaints and get down
on them because it's all part of the fun and the enjoyment of seeing
the band.
  There's times when this new sound has been coming around and improving
dramatically, that I think there's still times when all of a sudden it
will just seem like something just really kicks in. Like you don't even
notice that it's not super-clear, but all of a sudden it will become
like, you know, just like go up a notch. Is that something that's
consciously being done by anybody, or is there just times when the
system itself may be something causes it to -

Pearson:  No, it's just, again, the groove.

Gans:  Well, Dan is playing with things sometimes. I notice it on the
board tapes when I'm putting shows together. Once in a while you'll
hear - he'll throw the vocals into a different kind of a delay or
something like that.  Some things will change.

Pearson:  The only way to find out if something works is to try it. And
if it's bad it's bad for a few measures, then you turn it off.  And if
it's good, then you turn it on and leave it on. Finding the right delay
or finding the right reverb or finding the right pitch change is
really, you know, hard things to do. And when you try it - what sounds
good in the headphone doesn't mean anything when you try and put it
into the giant environment. A little bit in the headphones and it
sounds like it's a lot. When you're turning on the PA you wouldn't hear
it at all. And if you listen to the amount that it takes for you to
hear it in the concert hall, you would never listen to it in the
headphones that way.
  And remember the older board tapes, that was the difference between
what was coming live off the stage plus what it took to add on to it to
make it be right to the audience. So the board tapes aren't necessarily
the best thing that you want to have.

Caller:  Is this new - coming along with this new sound, is this
something when you start improving on it, do you want to be turning on
a lot of other musicians and other bands to this?

Pearson:  We were fairly late in the development of this ear monitor
situation.  There are many, many, many other bands who have been doing
it for a long time.

Caller:  I saw the Stones on their last giant tour and I was really
disappointed in the general muddiness of their sound.

Pearson:  But they like that.  They go for that.  They want that.
That's what they go for. There are bands who like that garage sound and
that muddy sound. There are a lot of people - I think Todd Rundgren and
Steve Miller were some of the first people to be using the ear
monitors.  And there's a lot of acts, a lot of country acts, Tuck and
Patti, and a lot of major acts--Madonna, U2, Phil Collins, are all
using the system.

Caller:  I read an article about the Stones and one of the comments is
that - I don't know how accurate this is--but they claim they don't
even hear each other.  They just go by a feel.

Gans:  Maybe I think that means they're not listening to each other.

Caller:  All right.  Well, I say keep up the good work and hopefully -
I don't know if this is - all of this technology and the way that it
improves, that has to be partially helping the band to decide that this
is staying fun and let's keep it going.

Pearson:  Well it is staying fun. It's also saving their hearing. At
the end of the night they can come off and it's not the ear-splitting
sound all night and the headaches.  And the ability - you know, it's
really hard to describe what pan should be or EQ should be, so having
the ability to walk over and adjust the equalizers and adjust the
stereoness of the mix - I mean, you can't really describe that to
someone else.  And so this - and normally in the monitor system each
channel has one equalizer and everybody has to take the one EQ that
everybody else has like it or not, and with this system, each person
can have their own EQ and every part of it is separate.

Caller:  And then one final comment.  One of my buddies is one of the
guys that was too close to that lightning strike on Friday night and
was given tickets and backstage passes for the weekend, and I think
people should maybe realize that the band does things like this
occasionally that are really thoughtful. Mickey was pretty interested
in what it was like to have that much electricity go through you. But
keep up the good work.

Pearson:  Well, thanks a lot.

Gans:  Thanks for calling.
  Thanks for calling, everybody. We are out of time. Don, it's really
been a pleasure to have you here.