The Wall of Sound
The hearing aid tech industry may owe the Grateful Dead a long overdue thank you. In the 1960s and 1970s, live music performances were limited due to the PA systems of the time. Pumping all feeds from mics to amps in a stereo-like manner muddied sound that couldn’t travel far and led to a disconnect between performers and audience. Enter Augustus Owsely “Bear” Stanley III, an audio visionary who is given credit, among other things, as the primary architect and designer of The Wall of Sound. His thoughts on multiple speaker arrays dedicated to individual inputs positioned behind each band member and noise canceling microphones gave the Dead an auditory advantage over other bands of the time.
Look closely and you will see two microphones separated by three inches on each of the members stands. They would sing into the top mic and any other noise from the speakers picked up from the bottom mic would be inverted and canceled out, eliminating feedback. Sound familiar? While prototypes of the Wall began appearing in the early 1970s, the credit of the first “complete” Wall show was on March 23, 1974, at The Cow Palace, near San Francisco. Ultimately, the expense and sheer manpower it took to construct, deconstruct, and transport led to The Walls’ retirement.
Anderson B. (2015) The Wall of Sound. Motherboard. July 5.