WASHINGTON–At noon on Jan. 21, 2013, the 57th
Presidential Inauguration will be held on the West Front
of the U.S. Capitol. Sound design consultant Patrick
Baltzell has been tasked with ensuring the assembled
audience will hear President Barack Obama when he
swears to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution
of the United States.”
|Patrick Baltzell at the U.S. Capitol.
Baltzell is a consultant who operates a small firm,
Baltzell Audio Design, based in Sherman Oaks, Calif. This
is the fourth presidential inauguration for which Baltzell
has designed the sound system; he also supported
Obama’s first inauguration as well as both of President
George W. Bush’s swearing-in ceremonies.
Baltzell has been in the audio business for more than
three decades. He started as a sound engineer mixing
shows at the Tropicana Casino in Atlantic City. After five
years he moved to Los Angeles where he began working
in television as, again, a sound engineer.
Five years later Baltzell started his consultancy, which
he has operated for 22 years, overseeing the sound
design for 1,100 television specials including the opening
and closing ceremonies of the Olympics in Atlanta and
Salt Lake City, all the Democratic National Conventions
since 1988, all the Republican National Conventions since
1992, and the last 16 Super Bowl halftime shows.
Being a veteran of big events helped Baltzell gain
the attention of the Joint Congressional Committee on
Inaugural Ceremonies. At the inauguration ceremonies
prior to 2001, three sound professionals were hired
to oversee three different jobs, he said. That included
designing the system, measuring the area where the system
is placed and operating the mixing board, he said. “I
made my niche as the guy who does all of it.”
Because the size and location of the stage structure, as
well as the audience, are unusual, the design is “a real
hodge-podge collection” of small speakers located under
the seats of various audience members to 16 speaker
towers—ranging in height from 25 to 35 feet—placed at
various spots on the Capitol’s west grounds and on the
National Mall, Baltzell said.
The sound coverage is for 280,000 people, and there
are a large number of VIP dignitaries on the same stage
as well as in the audience, Baltzell said. The stage will
hold more than 1,600 people including members of
the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, cabinet
members and nominees, justices of the Supreme Court,
former presidents, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, governors,
the diplomatic corps and the president, vice president
and their families, according to the inaugural committee.
“There’s a lot of measuring that integrates all that and
which involves equalization; I do all of that,” he said. “I
walked around and listened. I know what it sounds like
all over this audience area. I know the areas where it’s
not perfect because of the trees or the buildings,” he
said. Those areas were compensated for when the system
was designed, he added.
IN THE ‘HOT SEAT’
Then there is the actual mixing of the show, which
requires tracking “the back and forth” between Supreme
Court Chief Justice John Roberts—who is administering
the oath of office—and Obama, said Baltzell. “Maybe
it’s because I’m a micromanager, or because I don’t trust
anyone, but I’d rather it be me in the hot seat controlling
the microphone when that happens,” he said.