Tuesday 25 January 2011

Struggling with Words and Struggling with Sound

At the YUU Bill Darlison quipped that Unitarians aren't really that free, because they are hidebound by what he called materialism and what I call rationalism - later some said materialism means commercialism and that's not right. He has written, published 2007 by Duckworth Overlook in London, The Gospel and the Zodiac: the Secret Truth about Jesus. On the principle of reading anything and despite my poverty I made a rash there and then decision to buy the thing and have a go, but I said at the time there is a reason why Unitarians are rational and perhaps that is no bad thing for definition.

However we are aware of the non-rational element in Unitarianism, either from Romanticism in Britain or from the Transcendentalist movement in the United States, and that now as well as the Liberal Christian versus Religious Humanist debate there is also the non-rationalist neo-Pagan and Eastern spiritualists versus the rationalists (though I suspect that Unitarian neo-Pagans are more rationalist than their Pagan religion neighbours, just as Transcendentalism and Romanticism were literary in basis, and also Buddhism lends itself to logical process).

I must admit I am really struggling with this book, including trying to read it with any persistence. The idea that the Gospel of Mark parallels Aries to Pisces seems to me to rest upon conjecture and make believe. There are claims being made for astrological matters that are just pure invention and even nonsense, as far as I can see, and that therefore parallels are neither here nor there. A question is this, I suppose: did the writer/s of Mark, genius writing as may have been, and indeed way beyond just collating Jesus traditions, pay attention to astrological matters in terms of the structure of the gospel. I just don't think this is the case. The book is more than just Mark and Astrology, and freely goes into the five main gospels (as I think they should be treated - there are five main ones not four) and across world faiths. And all that is useful, but it is just then an extended excursion into parallels. However, running through the book is the notion of spiritual awareness, practice and personal transformation, and that Mark's gospel is about you and me. Indeed this is a classic liberal and subjective view of the gospels: that they come alive when they are about your own life compared with the four gospels' biography-like narratives or about the wisdom of the sayings in Thomas related to your own philosophy. On that basis I will try harder. I have said that this is the sort of book you'd find in what Waterstones calls the Mind, Body and Spirit section as opposed to the Religion section (in which they keep many fewer books).

If I was a fully functioning postmodernist I suppose I could go along with paralleling one gospel with a made up myth system. But I am not such a postmodernist across the board, because I value the importance of research. We should look for regularity and validity, with careful research using long thought out rules. I'm with Patrick Moore that all astrology proves is that there is one born every minute, even if some can use its myth for personal reflection.

It's like today I went back to our sound system supplier because suddenly, like never before, people want voices amplified out of the speakers of the new sound system and simply do not consider the complexities of sound and feedback. It is a subtle area, based on knowledge and not assumption: how sound divides up and how feedback happens, and why female voices are far tougher to handle than male voices, especially females who speak quickly.

I sat in the congregation on Sunday except for both ends of the service, with the male speaker and a lower toned female, and I could hear microphone sound coming through the speakers, and it made a critical difference but only critical - and it would have fed the loop system with the proper peaking (which in itself is 'closed' - its slider can go up and down at will). Much still came from the front and actual person speaking, and as dominant people think nothing comes through the speakers! But suddenly, now, with a new system, people want it out of the speakers as if with the television or hi fi.

Well there are several solutions to try to gain satisfaction, but they are all based on knowledge and not what people think happens. So I can start with a different cable and plug in position to change the sound match and, another means is to add an existing microphone, and then later change the purchased microphone to deaden and heighten some characteristics (I want to leave the music sound alone: there are no separate settings for the microphone on the mixer). If that is no good then a further solution is another pair of speakers mid-way. People forget that broadcasters use either closed systems or sophisticated and even computer controlled open systems that can detect the onset of feedback and prevent it.

The other point is that even the best microphone cannot overcome the limitations of a lousy untrained speaker. Before I learnt about these issues in my previous (Anglican) church there was a chap who gave a sermon prior to starting training and when few could understand him they said they'd make the microphone closer to his mouth. It wouldn't make any difference! However, when I take my service I shall use the microphone so that there will be no ambiguity about sound and feedback, because rather than 'ignore' the microphone where it makes just a critical difference, you can use it actively to make it amplify.


My previous (Anglican) church has just installed a new sound system. When one person preaches, who was always audible, the congregation can jump out of their seats, and when another speaks, who wasn't understood, people still cannot understand.


Gary Paul Gilbert said...

Thank you, Adrian, I agree drawing parallels between one myth and another seems pointless. The deconstructionists I read would never endorse this sort of thing.

I enjoyed your discussion of the sound system. An acolyte at Saint Mary the Virgin in Times Square, Manhattan, told me once that a microphone will make a poor speaker even poorer. The poor speaker will often assume that the mike works like magic and one need not project.

One time when the church was under reconstruction and the sound system was off, I was able to read a scripture so everyone could hear me. The nave can seat about 600 people, though we had far far fewer than that. But we still had the same space to deal with. The visiting preacher from England also was able to project. I had to struggle to do it but he seemed trained in a technique which made it look easy. He later told me it wasn't easy for him either.

Slowing down is one trick everybody can do but when people get nervous they tend to speed up.

Reading aloud a few minutes every day can also help develop the voice. Cicely Berry, the famous voice coach, says singing the words is a technique one can try at home. By the time the person has to speak, speaking will seem much easier than singing.

Gary Paul Gilbert

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Thanks for those many wise words. The music improves so much, and you get comparative disappointment that is all the greater.