BETWEEN 40,000 TO 20,000 FEET, U.S. AIRSPACE: Engineer Gary Baldassari has traveled the world to capture, record, and translate high-quality audio for a variety of projects. There is no doubt that he has worked in some interesting and unique situations, but few of those can compare to a recent job where he was required to be quick and precise while floating in mid-air.
To promote the X Prize Foundation, a non-profit educational foundation that encourages growth and innovation in space travel technologies, Zero Gravity Corporation and sponsor Diet Rite Cola staged the six-city 'Go For Zero' tour. Zero Gravity Corp., the self-described "first and only company approved by the FAA to conduct weightless flights for the general public," welcomed a variety of guests, along with television and radio personalities, to take their turn at being weightless, which is a feeling normally only possible to astronauts and other NASA-types. Flying on a modified Boeing 727-200 aircraft dubbed G-Force One, Baldassari and a camera crew were there to capture the action - time, after time, after time.
Being that his job was to record production audio for a wide variety of broadcast purposes, the pressure was on to get it right, to work fast, and finally, to keep his lunch down while doing so. While good equipment choices don't exactly cure motion sickness, they can often prevent it, especially when the wrong gear for the job means insufficient audio. Knowing this, Baldassari and team took to the air prior to the event for equipment testing. The microphone system that came out on top was none other than Lectrosonics' 200 Series Wideband UHF Wireless System.
"Inside the plane, there is a lot of bouncing around and a lot of other equipment for the plane itself," Baldassari recalls. "Nobody had the time to do a frequency sweep for us. We just went in there with four brands of wireless systems with the result that the Lectrosonics' 200 Series transmitters and receivers came out on top. They were the most stable so that's what we used. It was a very simple system because it had to be simple."
With so many media outlets on-board and so little time to record a zero gravity TV or radio report, fidgeting with a complex audio system was simply not an option. "We had everybody - from the "Jimmy Kimmel Show" to the "Dennis Miller Show" and the networks ABC, NBC, and CNN - doing 30-second stand-ups," Baldassari says. "So things not working well was a real fear of ours. First of all, the FAA didn't really want us to do any of this, so we hid all the transmitters and receivers in our socks and clothing. Once the plane got to 10,000 feet, it was then that we could record something. So we had a total of ten minutes to pull all this gear out, mic the people, and be ready for our first zero G dive."
Depending on the needs of the particular media personalities, Baldassari rotated between using DPA 4088 and 4066 headsets. "If they wanted a private interview, then we would use the DPA 4088 cardioid headset because its isolation is so extreme," he explains. "Then if they wanted to hear the fun that was going on around them, we used the DPA 4066 omni headset microphone. That would bring in the hooting and hollering going on."
Once G-Force One was at the optimum position, Baldassari had to work even faster. "In its lunge, the plane goes zero G," he describes. "Of course, the engines aren't running, so you fall 20,000 feet in about a minute at an angle of 60 degrees downward. In that time, I had to take two Lectrosonics systems and a DPA headset off the ABC people and put it on the CNN people; it had to be that fast. I essentially had one minute to de-mic and re-mic somebody, load them up, and get them to talk intelligently. Plus, while all that is happening, you're in a two or three-G state - if I normally weigh 175 lbs., then I then weigh 350. Needless to say, moving around was a big deal!"
For more information about the X Prize Foundation and the G-Force One flights, visit their website at www.xprize.org.
Since its formation in 1971, Lectrosonics has grown to become a premier firm specializing in the design and creation of professional audio technologies. Alongside creating audio processing gear such as the DM Series, Lectrosonics is a leading innovator of wireless audio technology with many professionals as ardent fans within the broadcasting, motion picture, and television industries.