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Episode One: The Electric Church

Jan 7, 2010 4:06 PM, By George Petersen


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Welcome to the Sounding Board, where every month we’ll delve into audio—and sometimes video—issues of interest to the systems contractor. In addition to my past contributions to SVC, I’ve worked as a sound contractor (back in the days when there were just “sound” contractors), installer, bench tech, FOH mixer, audio (and video) producer, theater projectionist, touring musician, college instructor, IATSE journeyman, recording studio owner, and have been an editor with Mix magazine since 1981. Communication needs to be a two-way process, so drop me a line with your comments and feel free to suggest some avenues/topics to explore. So much for the present, now let’s go back. Way back.

In the 1960s, the Electric Church was a movement (popularized by Jimi Hendrix and others) wherein electric music emphasized feelings and emotions in the listeners as a means of encouraging spiritualism. Indeed, there may be a lot of truth in that concept.

If you substitute the phrase “electric” with “high sound pressure level,” you can understand why huge pipe organs were popular in gothic cathedrals throughout history. Anyone that’s truly experienced the majestic sound—particularly of low fundamental frequencies—emanating from a pipe organ will attest that a large volume of airflow can do much to contribute to a moving, spiritual experience.

This is not to infer that audio levels exceeding 115dB equates to an increased sense of spirituality. In fact, one of the more spiritual moments I’ve experienced was at a simple creekside service with few acoustic instruments, surrounded by the gentle sounds of nature. However, music remains—and will continue to be—a major part of worship. For almost the past 35 years, recording services has been a standard practice in many houses of worship. This harkens to the days of “cassette ministries,” where recordings easily could be made and duplicated, simply as a way of staying in touch with shut-ins or members that missed a service, or as a means of active outreach to a larger community.

Today, in terms of production and distribution, the rules have changed. Digital technologies in audio and video have brought costs down significantly, while ease of use continues to rise and Internet outlets make it possible for any worship organizations to reach audiences that outside the physical confines of their sanctuary. Traditionalists may shy away from such modern outreach, often quoting objections that “It’s too expensive” or “It’s too complicated.” For the contractor spec’ing a system to the HOW market, this provides an excellent opportunity to approach their clients’ fears while opening them to the possibilities of spreading their message to wide regional—if not global audiences.

Sermons can become podcasts, and entire services can become live or on-demand video streams. And what better way to introduce prospective new members in the community to your ministry than with an online tour and click-to-view services?

This all sounds great, but where can a local ministry find the expertise to handle this difficult (not!), complicated (not!), and expensive (not!) technology? One of the most underused resources in HOW is the youth group. More often that not, these kids already know more about media production than their parents and are genuinely interested in the technology. Add a little supervision, a modicum of training, and you might discover a powerful force within the organization—ready, motivated, and anxious to do something they like while contributing to the whole.

With a savvy contractor that’s willing to look out for a client’s best interests, a youth workforce that’s willing and enthusiastic about creating media, and a wide-open, accessible distribution pathway, you have a formula for success where everyone wins. Bring on the revolution!



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