A Conversation with Sound Concern

L to R: Perry Brandston, Bryan Keller, and Ursula with half of the Sound Concern system at Planeta Space in NYC

Last week we sat down with Bryan and Perry of Sound Concern, the team behind the incredible sound system installed at Planeta Space, and learned quite a bit about their history, inspiration, and goals for their project. If you’re an audiophile, music geek, or an East Village and NYC party scene enthusiast you’ll want to check out the full interview on Sound Cloud. Below you’ll find just a few (heavily edited) highlights from our conversation.

Reminder if you’re in NYC: Come experience the sound system installed at Planeta Space. We’ve been hosting listening parties every Wednesday in March, check out our event calendar for details.

Excerpts from our conversation with Perry Brandston and Bryan Keller of Sound Concern

Joe Saavedra: Let’s start broadly — what is Sound Concern, how did it begin, and what is your background that brought you to this project?

Bryan Keller: The official line is Sound Concern is a collaboration between myself and Perry Brandston, which explores the intersection of Art, Science, and Party Culture. It’s really trying to get to a kind of creative artistic and scientific way of providing the best listening experience for the most amount of people at an affordable price.

Perry Brandston: I really kind of resent the idea that somebody is investing a million dollars on a stereo that only works if you’re sitting in one chair. That’s such a solitary experience. What we really need to do is celebrate together as a community. Different kinds of program material will bring different kinds of communities together, but if it’s happening all by yourself it’s not really a celebration, and that’s a human function that has to be addressed.

Bryan: I would add that it’s a reaction to a lot of audiophile thinking in which you have to spend half a million dollars — there’s literally these audiophile cafes in London and elsewhere where they brag about the equipment and how much money they’ve spent — and you can spend all this money on equipment but if it’s not positioned correctly in a room, then it doesn’t matter.

Perry: It’s ironic, obviously, these large visually imposing things, but clearly they are cheap. I haven’t dressed up the fact that there’s all these patches; it’s not a fetish thing, it’s about the results.

Perry Brandston. photo: Ryan Segedi

Bryan: Perry and I both come from a background of New York City nightclubs from a certain different era in which there was much more of a focus placed on sound quality and the listening experience, including David Mancuso’s Loft which still continues despite his passing, whereby we learned a lot. For me it’s always been about this idea of creation of joy and ecstasy as a feeling.

Nick Dangerfield: The price aspect is an interesting one as you tie it into the fact that it has to be a part of the community because it is true that the high end audio market is ridiculous. When you go to Sound Exchange in SoHo there they have cable that is $30,000 a yard.

Perry: That’s the thing. Think of all the music education that could be endowed with these moron’s budgets spent on their, basically, masturbation.

Bryan: No cable should cost $30k.

Perry: It’s just nonsense. My beginning was […] a succession of apprenticeships, starting as a teenager. First I was apprentice to a clockmaker. You can see one of the clock’s I worked on at Fanelli’s on Prince Street. […] After that I was I was an apprentice cabinet maker. […] And then I had an extreme stroke of luck and I wound up working with the front of house mixer from the Fillmore East and learned live sound from one of the people who invented the discipline. The Fillmore East was peopled with a whole bunch recruited out of NYU film school […] and they invented a lot of the technology that was used for live sound. The Fillmore closed and we started an itinerant sound public address sound [production] business and we worked in really prestigious rooms because we had the technology. I worked in Carnegie Hall, and the Beacon Theater, and eventually I worked in hundreds of rooms.

Bryan: I first encountered Perry in the early 90s and the sound system that really changed my life I’d say is the one at Save The Robots, here on Avenue B between 2nd and 3rd St. […] The sound was like something I’d never heard before the bass and the way that the treble was so clear but so un-assaulting you know what I mean? And the bass just got into your body. This is a new sound. This is not rock and roll, this something totally different. It wasn’t aggressive like 80s synth disco. […] Later I learned that Perry had actually designed or worked on that system, and I was really impressed by that. I went on and [produced] a lot of house music, and then after a while I just got tired of making music no one pays for and no one cares about and I started up with Perry to make a hardware project. Which was new and different, […] for me it’s more rewarding making a whole system.

Joe: So let’s talk about these [monstrous] things. When I talk about them, I know that this is not your first iteration, and so I call them prototypes. Coming from a design and development background, prototypes are how we iterate and evaluate —

Perry: A “test bed” might be a more accurate description.

Joe: I mean, they are about the size of beds, so that works. What are these [speaker designs] based on in terms of physics, or inspiration.

Perry: A friend inspired me to think about how to do something out of nothing. That was one of the threads. Another thing was the Loft, especially the iteration on 3rd street between Ave B and C, next door to the Nuyorican. That was such an ear opening experience for me. […] I set out to think of a kind of speaker that would work that would achieve the same ends in rooms that were not amenable to [very expensive] Klipschorns.

Joe: And so, this particular design that’s [installed at Planeta] right now, how did this come about?

Perry Brandston. photo: Ryan Segedi

Perry: There was a closeout of Pioneer 4-inch drivers, and they were going for […] about $1 each. So we bought oodles of them because the underlying theory is that if you can touch both boundaries and have a line of drivers with the centers close enough together, that they work as though it’s one continuous filament of sound source. And if you can touch the ceiling and the floor that it sounds like an infinitely long line of emanating sound. And the properties of that are very different than a point source, which is what everything else is. With point source, the sound falls off inversely as the square of the distance from that point, which means the closer you get the louder it gets and if you get twice as close it gets 4 times as loud. But when you have an infinitely long line, it’s like the source is infinitely far away and the sound falls off inversely as the distance, instead of inversely as the square. So, the volume is a lot more uniform in the space. That was the germ I started with…

Hear more about these sick speaker stacks and the NYC party scene that conceived them on Sound Cloud