The Wall of Sound
J Thoendell stashed this in Music
Three-fifths of the Dead’s original lineup were holed up in Novato, California, at the band’s practice space in a Pepto-Bismol colored warehouse located behind a pizza shop. Bob Weir, Jerry Garcia, and Phil Lesh, then just in their twenties, were joined by a small circle of gear heads, audiophiles, and psychonauts who’d become instrumental to the band’s growing popularity. It’s unclear who called the meeting, why it was even arranged, or what, if anything, was supposed to come of it.
They brainstormed over “the technical, the musical, and the exploratory,” remembered Rick Turner, an instrument and amplifier designer among the Dead kin gathered that day in Novato. “There were no constraints.”
It was a signal moment in the history of sound that set in motion a years-long work in progress that would culminate in what’s arguably the largest and technologically innovative public address system ever built, and it started not with a bang, but with something of a casual, stoned proposition. This singular work of engineering would come to weigh over 70 tons, comprise dozens and then hundreds of amps, speakers, subwoofers, and tweeters, stand over three-stories tall and stretch nearly 100 feet wide. Its name could only be the Wall of Sound.
The Wall of Sound, or simply the Wall, would occupy only a blip on the long horizon of the Dead’s history, though it remains a touchstone for sound systems of all shapes and sizes, from boutique disco PAs to the massive PAs deployed at any of today’s mega festivals and at 61,500-seat stadiums like Soldier Field in Chicago, where the four surviving members of the Dead, including Weir and Lesh, wrapped up a string of farewell shows this weekend to commemorate the band’s 50th anniversary.
Back at the pink warehouse, they were about to revolutionize sound engineering, acoustic theory, and the way people experienced live music for decades to come, and they likely didn’t even know it. Someone lit a joint.