Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Friend, Indeed

I've been putting this off for an unreasonable time. A friend, Mark Amundson, died in early September. He was 49. It's still hard to imagine that he's not on the other end of the phone or email, waiting to explain some complicate problem in simple terms that even I can understand. I'm getting used to people older than me dying, but I will never get used the deaths of people I once considered to be "kids." Mark was a dozen years younger than me and while he was infinitely wiser, kinder, more educated, and smarter than me, I still think of him as a kid.

Mark and I met while we both worked for Guidant, a medical device company. We hit it off immediately, in spite of disagreeing about almost everything outside of musical equipment design. We ate lunch often and he gave me an incredible collection of insights into the audio equipment industry and big time pro live sound.

Bill Evans did a much better job of writing about Mark Amundson's life, personality, and contributions than I can hope to accomplish. Bill's obituary, Music and Order, described Mark as "both liked and respected by both the industry and the [FOH] readers." I can vouch for that. Mark was an extraordinary engineer and technician. He was a generous, insightful friend. He loved music, musicians, and was practically compulsive in his desire to share what he knew (or wanted to know) about music, audio equipment design, and live music reinforcement. He sometimes introduced me to his friends as "the guy I hire to run sound when I'm on stage," which was an incredible compliment and an overwhelming endorsement considering that I ran sound one time for a band he was in and my end of the show was unremarkable. He was being typically generous and I will always appreciate his generosity.

Once, when I was beating him up for reviews in FOH that were uniformly positive and uninformative, he told me I needed to "read between the lines" for his real opinion of those products he was less than impressed with. I replied, "what's between the lines is white space." His answer was a long explanation of how modern publishing works. He explained that readers provide absolutely none of the money required to publish a magazine and that manufacturers and, worse, publicity agents have long, long memories and are particularly brutal on writers who tell the truth. Not long after that discussion, Mark tailed back his product reviews. He told me, about a year later, that he'd lost his ability to believe in readers' capacity to read "between the lines."

In person, Mark didn't talk between the lines. He was opinionated and exceptionally well-informed, but he was always hopeful that even the worst companies would do better if he just tried to help them see the error in their ways. He exhibited that patience with me, too; for the same reasons. I abused our friendship several times when I asked him to talk to my live sound classes at the school where I work. He not only put together a terrific presentation, every time, but he gave me PowerPoint slides of his presentation so that I could use that data in future classes. He never wanted to repeat himself, so he expected not just my students to "get" what he talked about, he expected me to take advantage of his gratis work and to benefit from it.

His ability to explain complicated, often mathematical, audio problems was beyond anything I've experienced in my formal education. I use his work, his explanations, every semester in my classes and it always provides breakthrough insights in my students' understanding of our subjects. It will be impossible to replace Mark as a resource for questions I will always have about audio design, component design, and music reinforcement.

More important, it will be impossible to replace Mark's friendship. I've never known anyone like him.

Here are a few of his articles and insights:
Live Sound: Theory & Practice
Poor Man's Power Distribution
Speaker Cables — You Get What You Pay For
Turn It Up! No, Down! No, Up! No. . .
Mic Selection and Placement

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I remember you calling on Mark, and him responding, when I was trying to decide which route to take with speakers and amps as I first started. Line arrays were enticing because it seemed like the future, but Mark was adamant that they were not the solution for everything. He was very generous with his time and knowledge in our interaction also.

I am sorry that he is gone.


Wirebender Audio Rants

Over the dozen years I taught audio engineering at Musictech College and McNally Smith College of Music, I accumulated a lot of material that might be useful to all sorts of budding audio techs and musicians. This site will include comments and questions about professional audio standards, practices, and equipment. I will add occasional product reviews with as many objective and irrational opinions as possible.