Whole classes of high-end products, usually those marketed to men, sell because of the long-held perception that being financially well-endowed somehow relates to genital wealth. Hummers. Rolexes. While very few Hummer owners will ever drive their military one-offs in sub-Saharan civil war conditions, a Hummer gets better mileage out of implying that the driver has a big hog than, say, the neutered-pet vibe of a man tooling around in a Civic. A $40 Timex might keep better time than a Rolex but only one promises that the wearer is naturally equipped with a large sundial.
Local sound expert, former ballet dancer and sometimes yoga drummer Mark Simon takes the opposite approach to life. With longish, thin hair, a beret to cover his bald spot and all the upright formality of preschool recess, the 49-year-old Idaho native looks like someone who’s been into music forever.
“I got my start in 1982,” he says. “I was working as the sound technician at a local country and western nightclub. It made me appreciate the beauty of authentic talent versus that which is manufactured by machines.”
These days, his presence in the Northern Nevada sound scene is practically ubiquitous. His work can be heard at venues as diverse as Wingfield Park, the Green Room or even Fallon’s Oats Park Art Center. Of average height and rail thin, Simon stays away from impressing the kids and annoying the locals with over-produced bombast. Simon prefers to use a minimum of equipment to give show-goers a pure, acoustic experience. He says good music is understated, not cerebellum-cracking, 130-decibel romps.
“With my equipment I want to do remarkable things,” he says. “I think that sensationalism really takes the art away … that (artistic) quality comes from a small place. I want to translate that into sound.”
A big part of good sound-engineering is coverage. Simon says he usually wants people in all parts of an audience to get close to the same levels of volume and fidelity. Most speakers, like the ones in an average stereo system, spread their sounds out and then start to dissipate almost immediately. In larger shows, where Simon can’t just array his conventional speakers around the room to get good coverage, he brings in vertical line-array speakers.
“They work just like lasers,” he says. “They focus the sound so it goes farther and doesn’t dissipate.”
Another important aspect to quality coverage is making sure the people who want to hear the performance hear it, and the people who live a block away and would really like nothing more than to go to sleep, don’t.
“You’ve gotta be a good neighbor to get more freedom,” Simon says. “You can have (200 decibel) Satan worship if you don’t blast the locals.”
He achieves this by focusing the sound downward so that it hits the ground right at the far edges of a venue. It works, too. Those who live next to the Wingfield outdoor amphitheater can sleep in peace.
Simon, who specializes in smaller shows, stresses humility as a good quality in both musicians and sound guys. Humility and his willingness to bring nice equipment have made Simon a popular figure around town.
“I find that it’s useful for me to be in the background,” Simon says. “I’m not a glory seeker.”
Nor is Simon in the market for a new Hummer.