"With high-quality sound, musicians don't play as loud. They feel more relaxed, and they play better music. This allows them and the audience to feed off one another."
- Reggie Watts, Musician and Comedian
Reggie Watts is an innovative, multi-talented musician and comedian whose performances are an eclectic blend of vocal improvisations, beatbox rhythms, and outside-the-box observations combined with mesmerizing looping effects. Though perhaps best known as the bandleader for "The Late Late Show with James Corden" on CBS, Watts is also a headliner of sold-out club tours and has made numerous appearances on the Comedy Central and IFC networks.
The following conversation took place at the El Cid nightclub in Los Angeles, where Watts performs in a weekly residency with his band Karen. Watts took an active role in the club's recent acquisition of a new Meyer Sound reinforcement system of UPQ-1P loudspeakers, 1100-LFC low-frequency control elements, and MJF-210 stage monitors. In this Q&A, Watts provides an insightful artist's perspective into the importance of sound, his growing relationship with Meyer Sound technology, and his ongoing quest to create the perfect audience experience.
Watts: Sound is a huge factor that plays into how I feel connected to what I'm doing. If the sound is difficult, or just barely acceptable, I still try to do my best. But I'm not as relaxed; I'm working a lot harder.
The one thing you want in your sound for any performance is transparency, to use an over-used term. You want to be immediately connected to what you're doing. You want to feel connected to the room, to sense how the room is reacting, and also have a feel for how the people in the room are reacting. But if there are technical problems with the sound, suddenly your focus switches over to the sound system. And then you have to deal with it; you have to compensate for it. That can take you out of the moment.
Watts: Yes, it's evolved over the years. I've had the good fortune to run into some pretty amazing situations—often in controlled environments like radio interviews—where what I heard sounded exceptionally good.
And I've also had the good fortune of playing at some really great live venues—places where I would almost forget that there was a sound system. I would immediately get fully involved in my performance, and halfway through, realize that I hadn't had to complain inside my head about problems with the sound. Once you've had a taste of that feeling it's hard to go back.
Watts: I did some special events at The Exploratorium in San Francisco. That's when I learned about the Constellation acoustic system, and I went over and heard it at Meyer Sound's headquarters in Berkeley [at the Pearson Theater]. I also learned about SpaceMap multichannel surround panning technology. An engineer had set up a program of loops, and what he did with them was amazing.
My dream had been to move my voice around the room, creating these counter-rotating fields of loops. I could assign a loop to something that, visually, might look like a ball on a billiard table and push it, and then have digital physics that would bounce it around, and then do another loop-ball and have it take a different trajectory. What I heard with SpaceMap was close to that vision.
Watts: Hearing it in reality as opposed to hearing it in my imagination was quite a surprise, and it presented me with a whole host of new possibilities. The idea of changing a performance space with active acoustics is fascinating to me. It's a powerful illusion, a really physical experience. The ability to create the impression that the size of the room is changing is so unnatural to our ears that it can become an effect unto itself.
All musicians play the environment that they're in. Constellation really made me rethink what I can do with the room itself as an instrument—new ways of performing with different modes of producing sound from the stage and presenting it to an audience. It got me excited—I was imagining crazy scenarios where I could instantaneously change the room in real time as an effect. For example, I could switch back and forth from the Taj Mahal to a dead space, and effectively play the room with my voice. Or I could do a song where the walls slowly expand, moving 300 feet away from the audience over the course of a minute as I'm singing.
Watts: I left with the impression that the company is driven by highly creative scientists and engineers. It's more forward leaning than most other companies, where they just say, "Here's our product line and this is what it does." In contrast, it's obvious that there's a lot of cutting-edge development going on at Meyer.
Watts: This place has a wonderful atmosphere, a unique feel to it. I wanted to bring in something that complements that vibe sound-wise, to marry everything together so the experience is excellent and nothing is lacking.
There's no question that getting the new Meyer system in here has been a night and day situation. They had old monitors in here, so we couldn't hear that well, and they were physically very large. We really appreciate having smaller profile monitors with a tighter sound. The first time we played using the MJF-210 monitors I was looking around at everybody, and from their expressions it was like we'd all gotten rid of a 100-pound backpack. We could hear everything, and that gave the performance a whole new feel—it was now a high-end gig with high-end sound.
because I love good sound. I like going to shows when the sound is full
and present, with a lot of emotion coming through, but it's not
shattering my ears. That should be the standard, the default for
audiences everywhere. It's a shame that so many audiences have to put up
with a lot less. But it's great for younger acts to come into El Cid
and hear it, and know what it feels like to play through a great system.
If audiences hear great sound, and they get emotionally invested in the performance, it sets a standard that benefits everybody. I want them to have a good time and I don't want them leaving with a ringing in their ears and their eardrums tickling.