25th Trillium Award

Microphone Lessons for Poets: Part 2

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I received a lot of—forgive me—feedback about that last post on microphones.

Several readers demanded diagrams. These are forthcoming. Poet Gary Barwin wanted me to add that one should not worry about sounding too loud. Too loud, he emphasized, is in fact just the right volume.

(If you are genuinely too loud, it is the sound person?s job to turn down the volume, and/or the audience?s job to cower. Why else have they come to your poetry reading?)

A member of the Willie Nelson cover band Heavy on the Willie (performing this Sunday at the Hard Luck Bar) wanted me to clarify that, although you should keep your mouth close to the mic, you should never actually make lip contact, unless you are okay with the fact that Heavy on the Willie and bands like it are in the habit of regularly salivating on microphones throughout Ontario, in which case, go ahead.

(Perhaps, poets, you will want to invest in your own personal dynamic cardioid mics.)

He also wanted me to share the following joke, suitable for onstage banter and sound checks:

Q: What?s the worst thing to hear after sleeping with Willie Nelson?
A: ?I?m not actually Willie Nelson.?

Anyway, today?s lesson is about the second-most common type of microphone seen at poetry readings—the lectern mic.

Lectern mics are usually either cardioid mics (they pick up sound in an upside-down heart-shaped pattern) or shotgun mics (they pick up sound in a straight line, as the silver bullet flies, from the head of the mic to your mouth and vice versa). Frederick Seidel?s poem ?Homage to Pessoa? contains an obvious allusion to this latter kind of mic.

Fundamentally lazy, unwilling to move from the hunk of endangered hardwood on which it is sunning itself, the lectern mic has evolved a longer range than the dynamic cardioid mic.

Treat it as you would an exotic, semi-vicious stick insect. You are curious about the lectern mic. You would like to look it more or less in its eye. But you worry about its leaping abilities, and therefore keep your face at a reasonable distance. No need to be any more of a hunchback than you naturally are.

Above all, you would like to elevate this insect through poetry. Approach the lectern mic calmly—do not let it sense your nervousness. With a swift movement of the wrist, grasp it tightly behind its mandible and perform a chiropractic adjustment. There. Now the mic is looking straight at you.

Lecture it to your heart?s content. Bear in mind that, if it is indeed the cardioid kind of mic, its range includes the podium itself. No slamming down your water glass, fist, nipples, notes, breath mints, etc. unless these sound effects are part of your poem.

According to a marvellously helpful church website:

The ideal placement of a lectern microphone is 8 to 16 inches away from the mouth, and aimed toward the mouth. This will guarantee good pickup of the voice and maximum rejection of unwanted sources. Locate the microphone a few inches off-center and below the mouth level. This will greatly reduce breath noise that occurs directly in front of the mouth but will still provide good coverage throughout the pickup angle of the microphone.

Whether you are ultimately hoping to reduce or increase breath noise, such advice is surely useful.

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