As we gear up for the LDI Show, we’re profiling speakers in our Sound Tracks series of panels aimed at live sound engineers. This week we’re pleased to introduce you to Eric Larsen, who will be hosting our “Immersive Audio: From Production to Playback” panel.
A San Francisco Bay Area native, Eric Larsen combines an affinity for storytelling with a love for music and film. Hooked as a young child on early science fiction films and The Monkees’ Greatest Hits, Larsen’s destiny was forged in the summer of 1977 when he saw Star Wars’ original theatrical release and was introduced to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on 8-track. The ensuing years saw the family garage alternate between being an ad-hoc movie soundstage and garage-band rehearsal hall as hobbies evolved into a lifelong calling.
The late ’80s saw Larsen studying music at California State University Hayward, working at a local music shop, and handling guitar and vocal duties for a four-piece rock band. At a corporate gig in Silicon Valley, he worked as the primary communications conduit between Creative Labs and the emerging music and audio software development community. This role grew into a broader PR and consumer-marketing role, leading to marketing positions with tech giants such as 3D-FX, Analog Devices, and Pinnacle Systems. This immersed Larsen in the development of cutting-edge digital audio, graphics, and video technology, and drove him to communicate these complex systems and concepts in a clear, concise manner to a variety of audiences.
But old artists never die; sometimes they just get corporate jobs. As Larsen was negotiating the boardrooms and back roads of Silicon Valley, he continued to spend his nights and weekends writing and recording original music as well as filming, editing, and scoring digital video. This path led to the role of director of marketing at TASCAM, where Larsen has led the charge of reinvigorating this iconic audio brand and making it visible—and relevant—to today’s up-and-coming artists.
Sarah Jones: What was your first live sound gig?
Eric Larsen: My first live sound gig was a garage band (not the app!) singalong at my younger brother’s day care when he was about 5. The sound system was primitive but was sufficient as the band limped through a set of I-IV-Vs. The audience, however, loved the homemade shakers that were handed out and were thrilled to hear their own voices through the P.A. The power of volume cannot be underestimated.
SJ: Who or what has most influenced the way you think about sound?
EL: Ladies and gentlemen, we have a tie! In equal measure, I would say that the original theatrical release of Star Wars in 1977 and The Beatles (The White Album) have made the most significant impact in how I ponder audio. In both cases, I learned a very odd—and potentially contradictory—truism: Everything is important, but one thing is always most important. To this day, I am astounded as I watch the original Star Wars and marvel at the completely real world(s) created by sound design, Foley, and soundtrack. But while the beds are compelling, realistic, and fantastic, my focus is always directed by the filmmakers as they use an ever-changing stream of primary audio elements (and sound treatments) to guide the story and story and enhance the emotional experience. The White Album delivers that same experience. The songs are great. The arrangements are masterful. But the sometimes “spiky” production constantly grabs my ear to let me know what the most important thing is that moment. This ability to focus attention is a constant goal that I strive for in order to keep interest alive and avoid listener fatigue—or boredom!
SJ: What technology is having the biggest impact on the way live sound engineers work right now?
EL: While not a brand-new technology, I see the smartphone as having the most dramatic impact on the role of the live sound engineer. With a reach far beyond that of the Walkman, the smartphone delivers a personal (and personalized) 24/7 soundtrack for a large majority of the audience and has also embedded an expectation of content-on-demand that has never existed before. Twenty years ago, audiences came to events to watch, listen, and perhaps clap along. Today, audiences spend every day within a customized entertainment bubble and assume interaction with many more experiences than ever before; whether by actively participating or simply broadcasting. Today’s live sound engineers must either work to reset the audiences’ expectations at the door or to shock and awe with volume or spectacle. Both are fascinating approaches.
SJ: What can attendees expect to learn about in your panel?
EL: During this session, we will work to define the term “immersive audio” and discuss the conceptual possibilities, narrative challenges, and technology required to bring these varied experiences to life.
SJ: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? What’s the worst?
EL: The best advice I’ve had was the suggestion to pack and carry the Battle Bag: Gaffer tape, guitar and bass strings, spare strap, spare instrument, mic and speaker cable, a couple of mic clips, tuner, water bottle, granola bar…basically an emergency backpack. Being able to address an issue before it becomes a problem goes a long way toward bringing the collective blood pressure down at a gig. The worst piece of advice? Doesn’t this always degrade into drummer and bass player jokes? Can’t we all just get along?
SJ: What are you most excited to check out at LDI?
EL: I’ve been noticing a welcome convergence of the audio and video camps, and I’m eager to see how people are merging these with live performance to create tomorrow’s experiences.
The 30th annual LDI Show takes place October 15-21 in Las Vegas.
Sarah Jones is a writer, editor, and content producer with more than 20 years' experience in pro audio, including as editor-in-chief of three leading audio magazines: Mix, EQ, and Electronic Musician. She is a lifelong musician and committed to arts advocacy and learning, including acting as education chair of the San Francisco chapter of the Recording Academy, where she helps develop event programming that cultivates the careers of Bay Area music makers.