In the past year, music programming at the Doris Duke Theatre has enjoyed a phenomenal reboot. As discussed in our recent article on Brandon Apeles, a new wave of stellar performers is eager to take the stage. And with great programming, comes great responsibility—which falls squarely on the shoulders of AV Manager Eric Kelekolio.
Hailing from Kalihi, Eric joined the museum just over one year ago, bringing with him a broad range of expertise. “My background involves education in audio tech, some experience in live sound and artist relations, knowledge and understanding of theatre equipment, and a welcoming attitude to new challenges,” Eric says.
This past weekend, famed bassist Benny Rietveld returned to the theatre, as part of the Last Saturday Roots in Jazz series. As he always does, Eric arrived early on Saturday to go through the detailed checklist he uses to stave off his worst nightmare: “The equipment failing before the show! Or better yet, during the show!” Major talents like Rietveld have a lot of specifications and often bring in their own special equipment. When calibrating sound for concerts, especially for these high-profile talents, Eric moves up and down the theatre’s aisles, making sure that what sounds good to the front row, sounds good in the back-right corner too. As he roams, his hands and eyes are looking at his iPad—a major change from the old days. “Acoustically, the theatre space is amazing,” Eric explains, “so there wasn’t much that I had to change there. However, I wasn’t excited about working with the original analog console that was there, so I upgraded to a digital, iPad-controlled mixer that allows me to make mix decisions from anywhere in the theatre.”
With all the speakers set, wires run, and mics checked, Eric moves on to sound mixing and balancing. Using highly sensitive software, Eric raises and lowers the digital bars on the iPad screen. To the untrained ear, the subtle differences are hard to pick up, but Eric knows when it’s perfect. Though he doesn’t identify as a musician, Eric says “I’ve enjoyed playing music since I was a child, but have never performed professionally. I developed my ears over time by listening critically and comparing my work to other engineers who I admire. I don’t have favorite songs, I have favorite mixes,” meaning ideal balances of sound levels.
At a perfect show, nobody should ever think about the nuances of the sound production. If they can simply feel it, they should have a viscerally satisfying experience. In order to guarantee that experience, Eric often has to rely on his trusty team in the theatre. Building that trust has meant holding sound workshops for the theatre staff members, guiding them through the fundamentals of monitoring acoustic frequencies and decibels, avoiding feedback loops, sound mixing levels of bass and treble, running XLR cables to quarter inch adapters, and so on.
Eric is fluent in this almost foreign language. Using that language as a tool, Eric can interact with technology and improvise to best fulfill his job description: “to provide tech support to theatre staff and guests while ensuring the successful delivery of events and shows,” as he sums it up. Sometimes that delivery is easier said than done. For example, during the last show of the Secret Sound Showcase series, one band didn’t arrive until the very moment they were slated to play, which meant Eric had to perform on-the-spot realtime mixing. As a perfectionist, Eric wished he had had more time, but nonetheless the show went on and the crowd was happy. “Like most people, I partially base the success of a show on ticket sales, performance quality, and audience satisfaction, but there’s more to it for me,” Eric says. “I want to see the artists and performers happy, and know that their music was delivered with quality. Success, to me, means that both the audience and artists left with the intent and excitement of someday coming back.”
With a handful of new musicians slated for the ongoing Out of the Box series, Eric will have his hands—and ears—full. Eric admits that there is always room for improvement. “As technology evolves and ascends to new heights, we have to go with it. I’m always looking for more effective ways of doing things, and if the new piece of technology will get me there, then I’ll definitely look into it,” he says. With Eric on the job, the rest of us can just sit back and enjoy the show.