Sunday 21st August 2011
SM58: a cardioid dynamic microphone, used in live vocal applications, the industry standard with an enviable reputation among musicians; first available commercially 1966; the SM stands for Studio Microphone.
“We were there when Elvis stepped into Sun Studios and when JFK vowed to put a man on the moon,” proudly states the Facebook page of manufacturers, Shure.
It is the violinist’s Stradivarius, the walker’s Doc Martens, the motorcyclist’s Harley-Davidson. As pieces of kit go, the SM58 is up there with my radio and bicycle: recreational drugs of choice.
I was useless at Physics: mechanics fixed things; wavelengths were those gorgeous curves girls did with their hair; magnetic fields where you’d take her on a picnic hoping the attraction was mutual. I failed O-level.
Then, studying drama, I met the Ferrograph. Wow! this was a reel-to-reel tape recorder with knobs on. You could cut the tape with a razor blade, remove a coughing fit, and splice it together again; or, as we did for Shelley’s The Cenci, record the discordant twanging of the wires of a bare-chested piano, play it backwards at a slower speed, and thus create an eerie sound track befitting the macabre stage production.
I’ve still no idea about resonances, can’t play any instruments, and don’t sing all that well, but I do recognise a great chord when I hear one. And working with musicians and stage technicians has at least taught me the language of sync, patch and foldback.
Sound engineers tend to shun praise – not something they can balance, cue or coil. Output is what they do best, unnoticed, up in tree-houses, where they can withdraw into the private carapace of the cans, there to harmonise the sweet music of the Hertz Sisters and the band Width.
I’d like to become a closer friend to these skilled craftsmen and women, but they no doubt think me too loud. Give me an SM58 on a stick, however, and I might make a small connection when humming the 1-2-1-2 overture or relishing the tango of the live feed.