25th Trillium Award

Microphone Lessons for Poets: Part 3

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If you thought we were done with the microphone lessons, I am afraid you were incorrect. There are more types of microphones, even, than types of detachable shirt front. You will never, in your short career, master them all. But, at any rate, onwards.

Thus far we have discussed the use of the dynamic cardioid microphone and the lectern microphone.

These are the most common types of microphones at poetry readings. But if you were, for example, at the Mansfield Press poetry launch in Toronto last Monday, you would have noticed a third kind of microphone standing ominously between the readers and the audience.

Often identifiable by a spiderweb-like net around the handle, the condenser microphone is a poet's worst nightmare:

More sensitive than other microphones, the condenser mic is more likely to cause feedback. It is also more likely to be large, hanging upside-down, and inhabited by actual spiders. It runs on phantom power, meaning that someone, usually the sound person, must flick a switch for the microphone to work.

Worst of all, many condenser mics, especially the ones that look long, flattish, or squareish, have a front and a back. If you would like to be heard when speaking into a condenser, you must find and speak into the front part. Often, the front has some sort of logo on it. But you may need to resort to trial and error. Good thing you know that Willie Nelson joke.

A word on feedback. Feedback is the sound of your soul being caught offguard by a condenser microphone (or a dynamic cardioid or lectern microphone), peeled, strained back through the sound system like apple sauce, and eaten by a tiny griffin which then goes shrieking over the audience. Once started, the process continues in a never-ending loop:

You really want to avoid creating this loop. As a poet, your powers over modern sound technology are admittedly limited, but here are a few things you can try:

  • Get the speakers into a safe place. Using your best rhetoric, persuade the powers that be to position the speakers in front of the stage, well away from the mic, facing the audience, and not aimed at any walls. (Sound; i.e. your soul, can easily bounce off walls and go back into the mic, beginning the loop.)
  • Stay as close to the microphone as is possible without putting yourself at risk of oral herpes. Speak directly into it. If you are too loud, ask the sound person to turn the volume down. Under no circumstances should the volume be turned way up just because you are irrationally afraid of oral herpes. All poets get it eventually anyway
  • If you are thinking of taking an impromptu stroll around the stage with your microphone mid-reading, rethink this plan. You are a poet, not a motivational speaker

Finally, a little-known fact. Condenser mics love to be stroked gently on the abdomen, especially by lyricists.

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