Hearty applause for the much-deserved accolades for sound engineer Mark Grey ("Sound reasoning?" March 9). In the past 10 years, I've had the great privilege of being behind the mixing consoles for concerts and productions ranging from Dr. Dre's hip-hop to Fred Hammond's gospel. My approach has always been to be as invisible to the audience I mix for as Grey is with Kronos Quartet or "El Nino." The measure of my success has always been when the audience doesn't even notice I'm there except when passing the mixing console on the way in or out of the theater. Audiences should not even notice that sound reinforcement systems are doing what they're intended to do.
I have heard Mark Grey's work in sound enhancement, and have always found it dedicated and sensitive to the venue and the music. However, if the composer does not explicitly call for sound enhancement, the practice should be banished from the concert hall and opera house. Amplification destroys what I find to be some of the most vital aspects of these concerts. The vocal cords or instruments produce natural sound waves transmitted to the listener without interference, as opposed to electronically generated sound waves produced by amplification that first capture the sound before presenting it to the listener.
Amplified music is subject not only to mixers' manipulations, but also to the quality of the microphones, cables, connections and speakers. All of which can, and do, at some time, malfunction to distort the music.
Amplification ignores the years of practice musicians go through to produce the sounds they desire. A sound mixer can obliterate any carefully conceived interpretation or nuance, and in essence reinterpret the performance. In amplifying concerts and operas, the sound may be "enhanced" but the musical event, and the spiritual effect that comes from music, is flattened out, and what was once vital, colorful and reflective of the variances of musical life merely becomes average and everyday.