EVENTS 2000  Back to Ref: Events 2000  Page
  October - November 2000
eEd - tobagojo@trinidad.net

  ICSTS 2000

  Journalist TERRY JOSEPH presents his interpretation of the proceedings of the:

International Conference on the Science and Technology of the Steelpan - October 2000

Crowne Plaza, Port of Spain, TRINIDAD, WI

From the point of view of what ideas held by our local pan fraternity, and thus now held to be traditional, may need to be re-examined in the light of new information returning from the scientific and engineering communities, as research and development of the steel drum instruments continues apace world-wide.

A 4 Part Series
Carried by the DAILY EXPRESS
      October 31st to November 3rd - 2000

 Hiding pan facts
 under canopies

© EXPRESS - Tuesday 31st October, 2000 - Page 10
Hiding pan facts under canopies
Miking solo instruments
Squabbles over standardisation
Unite for the common pan

BERTIE MARSHALL has historically enjoyed ultimate respect from the pan fraternity for his every innovation or endorsement, not the least of which was the concept of sheltering delicate pans and dedicated players under canopies.

There are those who confer this dubious credit on Tony Williams of the Pan Am North Stars Steel Orchestra. However, scientific opinion coming to light recently, indicates that whoever was initially responsible for the installation of canopies might have inadvertently overstated their usefulness.

More than 36 years after the first canopies appeared over pan racks, not just the actual construction but the largely useless concept seems extraordinarily difficult to dismantle.

Today, no self-respecting steel orchestra goes to the annual Panorama competition without these frightfully expensive sheet-metal constructions, even in the absence of any evidence that canopies help their music.

Frankly Ollivieri, a leading player with Marshall's Hilanders in the 1960s, last Wednesday spoke between chuckles about how the famous Laventille band came to have its first set of canopies and the rationale behind that development.

University of the West Indies (UWI) lecturers/pan researchers Dr Derek Gay and Dr Clemont Imbert also spoke to the Daily Express of their findings on the same subject.

And Jit Samaroo, musical director of BP AmoCo Renegades Steel Orchestra, remembered the flak he received for that one occasion on which he removed the band's precious canopies for a Panorama final.

According to Ollivieri, Marshall's idea was designed to thwart the effects of Carnival-day sun, coupled with stick impact on the notes of his delicate instruments; a combination that often threw them off pitch.
  "At first, Bertie used to have us pour water on the pans when the sun got them hot," Ollivieri said. "In fact, it was Bertie who started dulling holes in the grooves between the notes, to get the water to run off. It was not called a bore-pan then and had nothing to do with sound."

Nor, as Ollivieri points out, did the canopies.

  "It was all about the sun and the problem of finding water when we were in the middle of Port of Spain," he said. "It was in 1964 that Hilanders first used canopies. We tied broomsticks to the pan racks and stretched tablecloths on top to keep the sun off the pan and the player. My mother's red and white chequered tablecloth was actually the first canopy."

Other steelbands, mistaking Marshall's expediency for another technological advancement, hurried to not only replicate the canopy, but 'improve' upon the original idea, eventually arriving at sheet-metal versions, which they continue to parade proudly, as one would the results of careful study.

But scientific research indicates otherwise.

Dr Gay and Dr Imbert, who have spent many years studying the acoustic behaviour of the steelpan, remain bemused by the enthusiasm with which otherwise astute steelband managers rush to construct metal canopies for their pans.

Speaking to the Daily Express at the end of the International Conference on the Science and Technology of the Steelpan earlier this month, Gay said: "Canopies do nothing for the sweetness of the music and certainly make no sense in terms of the distribution of sound. It is one of the myths of the steelband movement for which we can find no basis in science."

Imbert was equally dismissive of the canopy concept, although emphasising that his research into the dispersal and radiation of pan sounds continues.
  "What I have so far discovered is that canopies do nothing special for the bands," he said. "I am currently involved in a project with Sanch Electronics to further explore how sound radiates from the pan, but there is no evidence anywhere at this time to suggest that canopies provide any kind of advantage."

Samaroo, recognising that canopies had never impacted positively on his band's chances, took the bold step of removing them for the Panorama final of 1991, when the Renegades Steel Orchestra was on a hat-trick.

Quite unfortunately, the band ran second to the WITCO Desperadoes, its rendition of Chris Tambu Herbert's Rant and Rave scoring 466 points, a mere 3.5 less than the Despers' version of Robert Greenidge's Musical Volcano.

The fact that each of the top three bands were awarded equal prize money (TT$23,000) and the uncovered band tied with Fonclaire and beat Exodus's Get Something and Wave didn't matter to Renegades players. They blamed the band's loss squarely on Samaroo's decision to remove the canopies.

Pan researcher Gideon Maxime shares the players view in his book, Pan Through The Years (1952 to 1996).
  "What was notable about the final night of Panorama (1991)," Maxime opined, "was that Renegades came on stage without their canopies, which gave the band a soft sound and may have contributed to the band not being properly heard."

This is not borne out in the judges' comments, as Samaroo noted.

  "It had nothing to do with canopies. I prefer to see and hear the orchestra without these canopies. With them, the band looks like a shanty town and spectators cannot see the players movements - which is part of the beauty of any band," he said.
  "There might be a point to them on Carnival days or if the band is playing before sunset at the North Panorama preliminaries, but look how nobody uses canopies at the Music Festival or for any other kind of performance. They said I gave away that Panorama competition because I took them off but I stand by my opinion. They also cost the band a lot of money," Samaroo said.

In fact, they cost the National Carnival Commission - NCC, even more.

Pan Trinbago invariably insists on maximum stage lighting for the first Panorama playoff, when all the light does is shine on the metal hats of this convention of douens that presents itself for media photography and spectator appreciation.

Perhaps now that scientists have declared them irrelevant to most pan applications, we may be spared the sight and cost of canopies which, given the new information, have nothing to do with sound and only hide the players and the truth.

Photo: [Not shown here: 'Sailor man' playing high 4-bass in canopied stand.]
A MEMBER of Neal & Massy Trinidad All Stars performs under a canopy at this year's Panorama finals at the Queen's Park Savannah.
PHOTO By [Unattributed]

 Miking solo instruments

© EXPRESS - Wednesday 1st November, 2000 - Page ?
Hiding pan facts under canopies
Miking solo instruments
Squabbles over standardisation
Unite for the common pan

THERE are those who prefer electronic pick-up systems of a particular design when it comes time to amplify a lead pan with microphones that collect ambient noise – using science without any investigation of precisely how it works.

More often than not, the microphone favours certain frequency ranges at the expense of others, dependent on its positioning in relation to the instrument.

Seldom are errors corrected from the engineering console during performance, for fear that the fixing of one problem might cause another and worsen the overall sound.

The miking of bands is an even more complex matter, given that the behaviour of the steel differs with the length of the drum skirt, thickness of the playing surface, size of rubber on the pan sticks, and several other variables.

The most popular styles of miking the lead pan seems to be the placing of the pick-up either well above the playing surface or directly below it, and several soloists swear by their individual choices.

But at last month's International Conference on the Science and Technology of the Steelpan - ICSTS, Fasil Muddeen and Brian Copeland, of the University of the West Indies Department of Computer and Electronic Engineering, came up with findings distinctly different from the popular placement theories.

Muddeen, who presented the findings of experiments carried out using a fourths and fifths style of single-tenor pan, concluded that the best place for optimum response to the microphone is neither above or below the playing surface, but may well be at the side of the skirt. Speaking on The Polar Response of a Tenor Steelpan, Muddeen explained that: "Knowledge of the acoustical radiation pattern (aka the polar response) of a tenor pan is essential for determining the correct position of equipment used to record the instrument."

Even such fundamental knowledge is certainly not widespread, although pans are being miked at every opportunity and by people who certainly appear to the layman as having the required expertise.

You see the engineers, stage-hands and sometimes the virtuosos themselves adjusting the boom or pick-up sphere, as if to satisfy some predetermined calibration.

Nor is there an agreed brand or value of microphone for such applications.

Muddeen and Copeland, however, went to a lot of trouble constructing a rig to reduce variation in stick impact and vibration and striking the notes through mechanical means to ensure even touch for their study.

  "We do not have an anechoic chamber (an environment that allows no echo whatsoever) at the University," Muddeen explained, "so we had to use the next best thing, spectrum analysis for echo detection and removal."

That in itself is useful information, given that the two young Americans who run Panyard Inc in Akron, Ohio, who once bought pans here after Carnival and shipped them to the United States for re-sale, are now fine-tuning their instruments in an anechoic chamber.

Even more interesting is the evidence of co-operation by senior scientific authorities.

The Akron chamber was designed and constructed by audio engineers from the National Aeronautic and Space Administration - NASA, facility in Florida.

But back to the fledgling research facility at UWI, St Augustine. The Muddeen/Copeland experiments set parameters of the tenor pan's frequency range at 260 Hertz at the low end and 2800 Hertz at the highest note. The notes sampled were C4, F4, F#4, C5, D5 and F5.

  "The results indicate that positions close to a horizontal plane through the instrument are richer in frequency components," Muddeen said, explaining that the second strongest radiation from a struck note comes from one exactly across the instrument.
  "The results also provide enough evidence to support the argument that an alternative method of recording the sound emissions of this instrument is required," he said.

"WE have been positioning microphones for live performance at random. Placing mikes above and below and all this trial and error has its value as a learning experience, but from our experiments, placing the microphone closer to the rim may represent the best positioning, rather than above or below."

 Squabbles over

© EXPRESS -Thursday 2nd November, 2000 - Page ?
Hiding pan facts under canopies
Miking solo instruments
Squabbles over standardisation
Unite for the common pan

THE importation of entire steel orchestras for the recently-concluded World Steelband Music Festival triggered a long and highly participatory discussion about the standardisation of instruments, at the final session of the International Conference on Science and Technology of the Steelpan.

The issue was not listed on the programme, but somehow sprung from the topic, What Constitutes a Good Pan?, and dominated the available time, as people representing special interests leapt to the microphone to sing the praises of their preferred styles, while the scientists examined some more complex considerations.

Many of the foreign orchestras that came for the festival brought all their instruments. Sponsored by BWIA, England's Ebony Steelband was spared much of the problem, but for those who attempted to ship bass pans and other bulky instruments, it was clear that standardisation would have helped reduce both cost and worry.

But bands have their pan styles and will incur great expense to change the instruments to satisfy some new standard, not to mention the retraining of scores of pannists, who will have to learn the orchestra's repertoire afresh, if different pans were put before them.

WITCO Desperadoes is a case in point, with its tenor pan note spread laid out in unique fashion and opposite to that of many of the other orchestras.

  "Pan is not yet ready for standardisation," said UWI lecturer/pan researcher Dr Derek Gay. "Its life so far, a mere 60 years, is a dot in the history of music. In addition, today's materials are not the same as those used at the time of inception or even 25 years ago. Perhaps we should be looking at finding the precise mix of the metal for the various voices in the orchestra, before we attempt to ensure that all the notes are in the same place on each pan.
  "Standardisation will mean not just the placement of the notes, but a predictable consistency in the metal from which the instruments are made, as is the case with piano wire, so that wherever a note of the same value is struck, the actual similarity of sound can be guaranteed," Gay said.
  "Bear in mind, though, that the smallest quantity of steel you can order from a serious mill is about ten tons. You are then left with the problems of economies of scale, which will inform the cost of each instrument. When you look at all that, standardisation seems to be less of a priority than previously agreed."

But John Schmidt, presented the business perspective, which turned out to be a popular view.
  "It costs a fortune to ship background pans to New York," he said.
  "If the pans were standardised, a band could travel with only its front-line instruments and rent basses and cellos and guitar pans in the countries where they are required to play. The same would have been true for bands coming to the music festival."

Dr Uwe Hansen, professor emeritus at Indiana State University's Department of Physics, endorsed Gay's position. "Pan is a beautiful and powerful instrument," he said, "but it is too young to start regimenting style and attempting to confine evolution. Scientifically, it is also very complex, with all its notes located on a single surface. When you play one note, you really play all. I think there are a number of things to be more properly understood about the various styles before we seek to narrow design and tuning techniques."

Felix Rohner, the Swiss pan innovator, argued that greater collaboration was needed between the various people involved with pan experimentation. "The need for continuing dialogue seems more pressing right now than standardisation," Rohner said. "Pan is not just a Trini novelty anymore. It is an instrument that has been given to the world and several people have ideas about what should happen to it next. We need to hear all those ideas before taking any steps that might slow its progress."

Pan manufacturer Michael Cooper was practical. "Technology and science can only be relevant to panmakers if it is affordable," he said, "or the whole body of knowledge will come to nought. The matter of standardisation may well require scientists of different disciplines to examine it thoroughly."

Photo: [Not shown here: Face portrate of Michael Cooper.]
PHOTO By [Unattributed]

 Unite for the common pan

© EXPRESS - Friday 3rd November, 2000 - Page 14
Hiding pan facts under canopies
Miking solo instruments
Squabbles over standardisation
Unite for the common pan

EVERY stage of pan research and development requires close collaboration between tuners, scientists and scholars attached to other disciplines.

In the many instances where the language of any one group is alien to another, the process is slowed.

It was expressed as anxiety by veteran pannists at last months International Conference on the Science and Technology of the Steelpan.

Conference chairman Dr Anthony Achong of the University of the West Indies (UWI) and Professor Thomas Rossing of Northern Illinois University's (NIU) Department of Physics both sought to explain that they were only interpreting in a scientific way what the tuners had long discovered.

Pan pioneer Oscar Pyle said he feared that pan tuners would not get enough out of the discussions, because so much of it would 'fly' over their heads.

Former Pan Trinbago public relations officer Selwyn Tarradath's concern was that Trinidad and Tobago does not have the technology to follow-up on the information provided by exchanges at the conference.

El Dorado Senior Comprehensive School steelband manager, Fazal Moosh Mohammed, took quite another view.
  "I feel that we must start the collaboration from the level of the school's music teacher and physics teacher, so that a better understanding of the instrument could come from both sides, with the physics teacher getting the scientific information and breaking it down for the music students," he said.

The Mohammed position is easily the best option here. Even when the proceedings of the conference become available, there is a good chance that no pan tuner will be able to grasp the complexities of quadratic equations, or would feel that he has to, just so he could tune the next instrument.

Felix Rohner's experiments with gas nitriding provides us with a handy example of the gaps that must be bridged, if the conference is to mean anything to the very artisans whose work the scientists are studying.

Rohner, a Swiss pan researcher, has adapted a process known in his country's culture for the past 80 years for improving the tolerance of steel.

Gas nitriding – exposing the drum to sub-zero blasts of liquid nitrogen, rather than heating it over an open flame, has produced measurable results no different from the rustic procedure.

The nitriding process gives the pan better wear resistance, increased resistance to metal fatigue and corrosion and produces instruments with good note stability, due to the high tensile strength and yield point of the steel.

The process is hardly a secret, since it is used in Switzerland to make things as basic as cowbells, but transfer of the technology could prove prohibitive in cost and a major intellectual challenge for the basic Trini tuner. Rohner's set of pans cost US$10,000.

To be able to study the behaviour of notes and improve their shapes and resonance, your neighbourhood tuner must understand linear, quadratic and cubic forces and read the results of holographic interferometery, if he is to appreciate what the scientists were saying to him at the three-day talks.

But a lot of that information may not be necessary to the tuner, if the kind of collaboration suggested by the various presenters at the conference comes to pass.

Professor Rossing repeatedly called for pans at various stages of the tuning process to be sent to his laboratories at NIU for testing at every sequence. Exactly which tuner is going to take up a TT$4,000 instrument and donate it to science is unclear, but it is the only way these processes can be tested or improved.

At present, research at UWI is largely funded by the determination of those scientists who care to invest personal funds and time into their projects.

Achong, Derek Gay, Clemont Imbert, Brian Copeland, Fasil Muddeen – to name a few – are undertaking studies on various aspects of the preparation of a steel pan and the behaviour of its notes under impact.

For the conference, they were joined by Professor Rossing; Uwe J Hansen, professor emeritus, Dept of Physics, Indiana State University; Rohner and others, all of whom share a commonality of language and perspective.

That afternoon, talks included findings from studies on finite element modelling of pan acoustics, holographic imaging, sand patterns, and microphone scanning, modes of vibration, polar response, sound spectra of bass pans, the dynamical equivalent of the steel instrument, and an electronic "score sheet" for pan.

The real work that remains, therefore, probably lies with UWI's professors of language, who will now demystify the science as a way of replacing well-entrenched myths about pan.

Photo: [Not shown here: Face portrate of Oscar Pyle.]
PHOTO By [Unattributed]

Hiding pan facts under canopies
Miking solo instruments
Squabbles over standardisation
Unite for the common pan

The Steelbands (Pan) of Trinidad & Tobago   

  © 2000: tobagojo@trinidad.net - 20001103
Last Update: 05 November 2000 00:00:00
Processed by: Jeremy G de Barry
EVENTS 2000  Back to Ref: Events 2000  Page