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Baker Lee • FOH at LargeMay 2020 • May 7, 2020

Illustration by Andy Au

Hopefully, by the time this is published, we are all back at work with the nightmare of this pandemic behind us. So far, other than dog walking and grocery shopping, I have spent six weeks in my home with my wife and four-legged best friend. My dog is thrilled; my wife, not so much. I confess that I, too, am getting restless, but getting restless is better than getting sick. Therefore, I involve myself with various home projects, as well as reading pandemic literature and the news while trying to figure out what’s next in our world of audio and events. It seems that the world has been radically altered, and the new “norm” is yet to be revealed; at least in our business of large-scale gatherings. In my most optimistic moments, I see us all back to work quickly, but the concert and event world is a large vehicle to move quickly, and it might be more realistic to expect it to start up in small increments rather than all at once.

This may be old news, but at the time of this writing, The Jerusalem Post reported that a placenta-based cell-therapy had been successfully used to treat six critically ill coronavirus patients in Israel. This cure is sure to stir up controversy, but in other hopeful news, the Israeli paper also reported that The Galilee Research Institute is hoping to have a vaccine on the market by July. In an ironic turn of events, the Wall Street Journal reported that British American Tobacco is developing a potential vaccine for the coronavirus grown from tobacco plants. This is all positive news in regard to a curing and preventing the virus and will hopefully set the stage for a return of the workforce.

Unfortunately, it probably won’t happen soon enough — it’s never soon enough — and this means that we may not be able to fully return to work until June or July if providence is upheld. Even if a miracle cure is discovered, there are more than a few obstacles to overcome (and barriers to maneuver around) before we can assume a state of normalcy.

‡‡         The Audio Side

In my last column, I suggested a few of the points regarding how the “new normal” will appear and what our business may look like in the near future. Just to take it a bit further, we now have the advent of immersive audio for home and concerts in which listeners are beginning to enjoy the technology of 3D audio. 3D mixing systems for in-ear monitors from Klang technologies are also enhancing the aural experience of musicians while they are performing. In the same way that Zoom conferencing has changed business meetings, perhaps this immersive audio technology will be a game-changer regarding streaming or some other form of delivery to a clientele that cannot or will not be able to leave the confines of their home. This is not simply postulation on my part, as the technology is already available; witness The Rotterdam Philharmonic playing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony together, from the social distance of their own homes. Tweak the technology a little bit, break out the in-home holographic players, and just like that, it’s a brave new world for performers as well as the listener.

Again, these are not visionary prophecies, just musings on what the new protocols might be in a post-pandemic world. When we return to work, will we be required to sterilize all the gear we send out? If so, how will we accomplish the task? It’s hard to imagine wiping down each piece of equipment with sanitizer, so will we be required to build UV light rooms? Will gear or technicians need to pass a litany of safety requirements before going out to their next event? Will social distancing affect and determine the size of any given crowd at a restaurant or show? Will we return to the world we knew before we retreated into our homes, or will there be new normal that requires us to adapt and conform to a changed industry?

‡‡         Good Comes from Bad?

As of this writing, the pandemic has not run its course or even reached its zenith, but already, the changes are being felt around the world. The obvious change is the shuttering of economies with a good portion of the workforce sheltered at home. The upside to this almost complete withdrawal is that the earth is starting to breathe again. Around the globe, seismologists have pointed out that, with the lack of cars, trains, buses and everyday bustle, they are observing less ambient noise, thereby enabling them to monitor smaller seismic events. Since the shutdown, NASA images have shown significant decrease in nitrogen pollution over China. New York City is experiencing a decrease in carbon monoxide levels due to lack of automobile activity. Pictures from Italy show clearer waters in the Venetian canals, and there are news reports of returning fish and swans.

Of course, a cleaner environment is at odds with such big business as the auto and oil industries, both of whom have been granted increased powers to pollute due to the coronavirus. Plastic bag bans, restrictions on auto emissions and dumping regulations have been lifted in many countries, thereby angering those who feel that such reduced restrictions reeks of opportunism; but then, what’s a good story without tension, release and juxtaposing forces fighting for world domination? By the end of the story, there will have to be either redemption or denunciation since, as we all know, transformation is at the heart of any good novel.

Not that we need another book about a pandemic, but my own pandemic novel is going to be about a world that becomes increasingly xenophobic and intolerant, with many countries erecting both physical and legal barriers to keep out so-called undesirables. A world where avarice, hate and nationalism reach a critical mass that manifests into the perfect physical virus to reflect the state of affairs. This virus truly separates everyone by the use of physical and mental barriers, thereby keeping them secluded at home, taking away their earning power and instilling a fear of social interaction and physical intimacy with other people. At the same time that individuals are isolating and retreating from each other, the Earth starts to breathe again and quickly begins to rejuvenate. The irony of this revitalization is that the population cannot go outside to enjoy the rebirth.

‡‡         A Novel Approach

Of course, this will set the scene for the pressure between those who want to return to the status quo and those who desire a change. As no story is complete without a romantic back-story, there will be a love interest between the scientist protagonist who is out to save the world and the doctor who nurses him back from the disease he caught during the time they were both working in a hidden biotech lab. The disease becomes known as the “Barriervirus” for its unique way of blocking T cells from doing their job protecting the immune system. As they frantically search for the cure, they face ethical, spiritual and physical blockades of their own, which they need to overcome before the remedy can be found and redemption secured. As they attempt to save the world with a race against time, it is the breaking down of their own internal barriers that becomes an allegory for the ravaging virus and world in which they live. This is a work in progress, and while it’s not an overly unique story, there will probably be a brilliant surprise ending. Stay tuned and stay safe.


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