The Characteristics of Dance Music:
Dance music has substantially different characteristics than many other types of music, and requires a different approach to designing and setting up medium to large scale sound systems. A comparison of several music types that illustrates some of these differences is as follows:
We have achieved clear definitions of the elements required to maximize the performance of sound systems relative to the characteristics and fundamental attributes of dance music, particularly the more “underground” (i.e. more sophisticated and innovative) varieties. This section discusses these elements and their overall role in a high-quality sound system, and the following sections address how these elements are best achieved.
In the earliest and most primitive incarnations of music, drums and percussion were the first elements utilized, and thus were the construct and foundation of what became known as “music”. The drum circle, probably the oldest form of group music making, still exists today and continues to offer its participants an experience of harmony, unity, and heightened experience. Examining the root nature of music, and the physiology of ourselves, it is obvious that dance is the most natural and explicit mechanism for interacting with music.
Perhaps the defining element of “underground” music is its attempt to incorporate these root elements, and its primary dedication to the participant. Underground dance music thus shares with the earliest incarnations of music a foundation of percussion instruments (or their electronic emulation as may be the case). This is further evidenced by examining the earlier manifestations of present day dance music, such as Chicago House in the mid 80’s, which was generally characterized by minimal percussive frameworks. Vocals and melody were important elements, but in general neither were present enough of the time to make them as obvious of defining elements as the percussive rhythms.
A natural extension to the connection of dance music to percussion has evolved of its own in the relatively recent past: bass and subbass. Again considering the physiological mechanisms dance music directs itself towards, and looking at the properties of various sound frequencies, the connection is clear. As sound frequency becomes lower, its oscillation wavelengths become more closely coupled to the physical dimensions of the body than to the relatively small dimensions of the inner ear. It is for this reason that low subbass can be felt as much as heard. Thus, a direct physical interface is available that is an excellent tool in the arsenal of music producers and DJs. The effectiveness and embracement of bass and subbass is evidenced by the surfacing of entire new genres such as Drum & Bass.
In the design and operation of sound systems, it is important to understand the intentions of an event or club, of the participants, and of those playing the music. One goal of many sound professionals frequently is simply to insure that the entire venue is supplied with high volume sound. Frequently, numerous arrays of speakers are deployed in various places in the venue to insure that there is literally nowhere to go where the sound is not loud. For certain events and styles of music, this approach closely matches the intentions of the producers, attendees, and musicians and/or DJs. Frequently this approach is entirely inappropriate however.
The modern rave, as well as many superclubs that attempt to model the idealized rave atmosphere, are in part characterized by a large diversity of available experiences from which the participants can freely choose. The attractiveness and success of events are often determined in part by the level of variety and diversity that are present in the musical styles, entertainment, venue geography, visual design, time-space utilization, and in the creativity and innovation and new concepts that are brought forth. From this it is obvious that the sound system should fit precisely into this milieu such that it is maximally effective where desired, and yet completely absent perhaps from other areas. Well planned events and clubs often have “chill” areas, or areas with ambient music, to provide quiet and relaxing places, and to add contrast to the musical landscape of the venue. Some events and clubs may also intentionally position speakers such that within areas there are places to go where the sound is quieter, and more conducive to socializing, communication, dancing, or cooling off. These approaches always leave each participant more freedom to gravitate to the place that most suits his or her desires.