Invisible Sound

Invisible Sound

A decade ago, Rich Ives decided to solve a problem. He’d witnessed too many school and community stage productions where the performers couldn’t consistently be heard. So he opened up his own sound company, IDEAS Unlimited. At his first gig—a concert version of Jesus Christ Superstar in Milford—Ives “handed out six business cards and got four jobs out of it.” He’s been operating through word of mouth ever since, including with his most recent show, BKLYN the Musical at Hillhouse High School.

There, on a middle side aisle, Ives had set up his sound system, loaded with knobs, buttons and lights. Set between a wireless receiver, laptop, compressor and system controller, a new 40-channel mixing board allows him to adjust the volume on individual microphones and turn up and down the treble and bass. Before working with the performers, he scans the “frequencies” in the auditorium to “find where the noise is,” whether from air vents, elevators or refrigerators, and sets up any stationary microphones to avoid it. With the new digital system, he no longer has to deal with picking up babble from a baby monitor or the sound “dropping out” if a plane flies overhead.

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Ives usually works for the entire production week to learn the show and problem-solve. When the actors arrived during a rehearsal for BKLYN, it was clear they had an easy working relationship with Ives, who quickly attached headsets and assisted the five-person cast with belts—made out of comfortable, sweat-resistant wetsuit material—that held their transmitters. Ty Scurry, the musical’s director and leader of Hillhouse’s Academic Theatre Company, appreciates the way Ives sets up mics so they won’t get in the way. “Rich is amazing,” Scurry expands. “He’s easy to work with and down to earth. He knows what he’s talking about and how sound works.”

Ives got his start in sound at his own high school, where the theater stage crew had only one microphone for productions. So he also worked the lights. In the early 80s, he went to Carnegie Mellon University, where he continued to work on production crews. When big acts came to campus—like Santana, The Clash and Blood, Sweat and Tears—student stage techies like Ives worked with the band’s road techs “as their muscle.” Fascinated by the large sound systems they were lugging around, Ives started digging deeper into sound.

As he went into a career in mechanical engineering, sound remained a hobby—until that moment a decade ago. He realized schools needed more mics and sound equipment than they often had, so that audiences would actually hear the children onstage and the kids would know their voices could be heard. “Give a 5-year old a wireless mic and tell them that’s like Broadway, and they light up.”

Because of his day job, IDEAS was able to survive the COVID shutdown. He says he’s kept his prices affordable, since he knows schools and other community groups often have tight budgets. He enjoys hearing and seeing the results of all the rehearsing and walking into each job fresh, with a new sound challenge and the crew and cast “happy to see me.”

His goal is for everyone—cast, crew and audience—to be absorbed in the performance. “When I do my job right,” he says, “I’m supposed to be invisible.”

Rich Ives of IDEAS Unlimited, LLC
(203) 464-1614 |
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Written and photographed by Heather Jessen.

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