Flat Screen UIs make Fumbling Fools of us all

Did the music for a wedding using my PA today. The bride and groom were lovely, friends of ours and at was a great day. A wedding is an odd PA/DJ sort of job, It’s not the same as a party, or even running a mixtape for a party. Most of it can be scheduled up front – to the extent that there are firms that hire out a no-DJ wedding system

The job was made easier for me as the bride had made her selection of classical music, with a section for the getting seated bit and a long stretch for the after the event part. So far so good. The venue was the lovely Christchurch Mansion in the main park in Ipswich, and the weather smiled on the happy couple for the event and afterwards

So all I have to do is run the playlist. Because this is classical music the sequences are long, and you don’t have to do the DJ crossfading thing between tracks. Easy-Peasy, right?


Some parts of a wedding are a stage show. Stuff needs to happen in time. Usually there’s the entrance of the Bride, and the signing of the register. Both of these are a performance, and timing is crucial. Whatever you do as the music operator you do not want to screw this up the entrance of of bride, in short you need to know that your music is gonna start on time, every time, and you are going to fade it out at the right point. The bride selected Pachelbel for this

The registrar also has to say various things at various points, and they don’t want the music to be running while they’re talking. With classical, pulling the music is easy as a fade down – it’s a bit more of a drag if you have to fade a pop song just as they are getting into the main part, you probably have to rehearse timings, but this wasn’t a problem I had.

Making the right thing happen, on time, on cue is not easy with an i-anythingwithatouchscreen.. It might be easier with a Nano or something with an old-skool gonzo keypad and LCD, but a touchscreen is a vile UI for this job. Not only is there a little bit too much latency between the press on the screen and something happening, but it’s far too easy to screw up and then you have to pad your way through a series of menu choices to say no that isn’t what you want, you want this to happen instead.

I rehearsed this and came to the conclusion the iPod wouldn’t cut it. The touchscreen had too much of a tendency to make me into a fumbling fool. I just couldn’t guarantee that I could roll the right track at the right time, and even worse, if I rolled the wrong track the recovery time was seconds. The bride would be halfway to the front and wondering what the hell was going on. So I rolled back to some old technology – a portable CD player. Even this was slow on the uptake but by telling it to go to the track and hitting pause immediately I could cue the track right from the off. And it wouldn’t put me into multilevel menu misery if I flubbed it, I’d just hit play and kiss goodbye to a few interminable seconds while the player spun up again. Because the two time-critical parts were one after another I made a CD with the Entrance, then a 10 min silent track ad then the Signing of the register, so if I did press the forward button I’d launch into silence, not the wrong track.

There was a second time-critical part associated with signing the register – there’s a load of spoken parts and then a in-cue for the music. I got the in-cue find, and then dropped the levels when the registrar started to speak. I then switched the mixer ot the other side to run the exiting and reception tracks on the iPod when they stopped talking and I figured that the signing of the register was still going on. So I just rolled the exiting music, as it would have taken too long to rescue the CD halfway through. Nobody seemed to notice the cock-up 🙂

The moral of the story is don’t use any touchscreen device to cue up a track that has to happen at a particular time. Fractions of a second count, and the recovery from any fat finger cock-ups is so long. On the other hand they work well with the long sequences for the reception, though it helps if you can crossfade your pop tracks; again with a classical playlist this is a lot easier.

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