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You Can't Change the Laws of Physics

We are excited to introduce Bob Langlois to you in this issue. Bob has extensive experience in the world of technology, particularly as it relates to churches. We hope you’ll be inspired to send in specific questions for Bob to answer—whether you’re considering investing in new equipment, trying to solve a thorny techno-problem, or just want to discover the best way to use what you have. —JB

If you drop your keys on a dark night, you look for a flashlight and point it in the direction of where they might have fallen. That’s because you know from experience that shining a light in the dark will illuminate the object in its path.

You also know, for example, that driving a car at 60 mph into a large concrete wall would not produce a good outcome. On her fiftieth birthday, my wife wants to jump out of a perfectly good airplane 20,000 feet up and parachute to the ground. Fortunately she knows how to manipulate the air so gravity won’t slam her into the approaching earth.

We know more than we think we do about the laws of physics. So why is it that when we speak of audio technology we tend to ignore those same laws of physics? How did audio escape the bonds of what keeps the entire universe from spinning out of control?

The simple answer is, it didn’t—as much as we’d like to pretend it did so we can somehow get around those pesky little laws of nature. For example, why do we think we can put speakers wherever we want and the sound will be just fine? Why do we think speakers can carry sound around corners?

Most of the problems people have with technology arise when they attempt to defy the universal laws of how things work. These people are often disappointed when I tell them, “No, you can’t do that!” The truth hurts.

Here is a simple but important principle to keep in mind. Sound is nothing more than vibrations disturbing the air in different wavelengths. These things happen in nature and have properties associated with them. Why do low frequencies travel through walls and high frequencies do not? Physics.

I have a good friend who told me once: “Point the speaker to where the people are and turn it up. You’ll do just fine.” He was right.

I once met a pastor—a wonderful human being with a good sense of humor, fortunately—who asked me if we could put the church’s speakers up above the stage in the loft. I said, “Sure thing. All we have to do is move all the seating to the center of the room and raise everyone off the floor 30 feet.” Physics.

I have the great fortune of working with the finest minds in the world of audio today. I am surrounded by people who live, eat, and breathe this stuff. It is an atmosphere of constant learning and inspiration. So when I was asked to do a column on technology for Reformed Worship, I agreed. If I can’t answer your questions, I sure know where to get those answers.

All questions will be answered in an atmosphere of what is determined by the laws of physics and wave theory. Of course, I want to warn you up front that sometimes the only thing that will fix your problem is fire and a bulldozer. . . .

In the spirit of full disclosure, I work for Meyer Sound Laboratories Inc. in Berkeley, California. Meyer Sound manufactures professional audio equipment that is used for shows and installations around the world, including churches of many shapes, sizes, and worship styles. As part of our support to the industry, we offer comprehensive, science-based educational courses for anyone wishing to expand his or her knowledge in the world of audio physics. You are probably asking, “What will it cost me?” Meyer Sound does not charge a fee for the majority of its classes. We think that the more you know about the science of audio, the better we all sound, and the better off we are as a company.

So ask me anything you like. Remember, there are no stupid questions—only stupid answers, and I will try to avoid those. I can share some information about what other churches are doing, along with new and interesting applications of new technologies. I’m a big fan of keeping things simple, and I’ll get as basic as I need to in order to answer your questions. That way we can all understand why something works or doesn’t.