The god of music dwelleth outdoors...
~Edith Matilda Thomas
Sound Never Looked This Good
There are those in life who exhibit leadership qualities which inspire the masses to go on and do greater things within their field. These are the curious pioneers who have sacrificed a lifetime, helping clear a path for his/hers predecessors to accomplish what lay ahead. Historically, these inventors churn the proverbial waters which lubricate the gears of future billion dollar industries. Sadly though, they are often forgotten about, buried in our history books… only if they are lucky.
Although rather unknown to most people outside of his trade, pioneer sound engineer Bill Hanley’s contributions to what we now know as the mammoth industry of sound reinforcement are insurmountable. My documentary “The Last Seat in the House” will explore the life of this innovative leader of sound. The content of Bill’s unique story will engage audiences via his cultural upbringing through modern day. I will also examine what the sound industry looked, and sounded like before/after his contributions.
Amongst the several field study interviews I have already conducted for this film, collectively many have agreed that Bill’s approach to sound reinforcement should be synonymous with words like inventor, pioneer, visionary, innovator and mad scientist! Bill’s reputation has followed him overtime ( known as “The Father of Festival Sound”) as he provided sound for several highly significant cultural events in American music history like: Newport Folk & Jazz Festivals (including the Dylan goes electric concert), Bill Graham’s Fillmore East venue, The 1969 Woodstock Festival, The Festival Express Train Tour of 1970, The Beach Boys tour and The Beatles tour of 1966, the Lyndon B. Johnson Inauguration of 1965, and several major Washington D.C. anti-war protests…to name a few.
As I see it, there are a several primary conflicts pertaining to the lack of success within the world of Hanley Sound...particularly when we move out of the golden age of music festivals. Bill’s lack of recognition as being one of the firsts in the business is especially a detriment for those who choose sound as a field of study. One should remember that before Hanley’s innovations much of our society was listening to music channeled through the ill-equipped technology of public address systems.
Another set-back in this story is that Bill never did monetarily re-coup his efforts of such influence, only to watch a developing festival industry slip through his hands. Although Bill was not a money driven inventor, this lack of having a business sense during those years has been attributed to a probable (undiagnosed) case of Autism/Aspergers …another avenue of analysis that Bill has asked me to tackle. Ironically though, Bill’s fixation on sound clarity could be a direct result of this plausible diagnosis.
So far I can accurately pin point Hanley Sound as being one of the pioneers (on the East Coast) in an industry not yet born. I can also show new insight into how the unique leadership style of Bill Hanley (and those who worked at Hanley Sound of 430 Salem St in Medford, MA) had a direct innovative influence on specific sound applications like: strategic microphone placement, stage monitoring methods and front of house sound mixing techniques which are now widely used and mostly taken for granted. Bill's love of music and sound allowed him to passionately change (and rearrange) failing sound technology which happened to (coincidentally) occur when popular music transitioned into an important conveyor of political message.
Historical components of this story have been approached on several interdisciplinary levels as well. Here I plan to uncover the significance of specific cultural, historical, social, political and psychological occasions in Bills life that were imperative in his ongoing development. Action sequences like: talking head interviews (friends, family and colleague professionals), historical archival footage/ photos, and music ephemera will help uncover this qualitative ethnographic analysis of Bill’s cultural upbringing. For example, onsite action sequences at Bill’s childhood home, audio conventions, the Newport, and Woodstock festival sites will help lead the audience into a world of sound development they never realized. Reflective, intimate interviews with Bill will also reveal the charismatic/innovative leadership style which had a direct influence on those who worked for him.
In order to accurately tell the compelling story of Bill Hanley’s life, I will need proper funding to continue on with my research. Since May 2011 I have filmed over fifty hours of raw footage. Moving forward, I have a dozen or more interviews scheduled for the film. Over the next year I expect to move into some crucial phases of this project like: post-production, editing, audio, and promotion campaigns. I also wish to schedule future screenings in and around the Boston area, so it is imperative to raise additional funds to finish this project. With appropriate amount of backing I hope to negotiate the best editors, production and audio specialists, and screen the film as much as possible
The conclusiveness of this film will enlighten (and inform) new and existing audiences. In an era when concert promoters, musicians or even audiophiles did not think about sound reinforcement, Bill revolutionized it with extremely limited means…as a side note, he also had to convince them to use these new ideas! Bill’s story is not just about innovation, invention, and expertise …it’s about selflessness and sacrifice. This is man who has overcome psychological struggles, financial adversities, and has felt the shortcomings of an industry that he defined …yet ran away from him. The compelling story of Bill Hanley is about dedication to an idea that sound clarity can actually empower and give voice to the people. I want the audience of this film to walk away with new knowledge about the mysterious industry of sound reinforcement and a man who gave his life to its success. For without Bill Hanley, sound would have never looked as good as it does now.
All my best,
John Kane, M.Ed.