As the Grateful Dead's sound wizard and engineer for the past decade, Dan Healey has been forced with scores of intriguing challenges in bizarre times and places. Nothing he has done, though , quite equalled the monumental task of trying to get sophisticated sound and light equipment functioning at the foot of the Pyramids. Healy and his crew scoured England until they came up with the right types of hardware for the Egypt gigs. Much of which was borrowed from The Who. Once the rented P.A. lights and recording equipment had been cleared through customs (an agonisingly slow process) Healy coordinated the entire technical end of the show.
But perhaps the most interesting aspect of Healy's experience in Egypt was his attempt to turn the King's Chamber of the Great Pyramid into a huge echo chamber for the band during the concerts. Below, Healy tells how this remarkable feat was attempted and why it ultimately failed.
I had always been intrigued by the acoustical properties of the King's Chamber because of its size and shape, and because it doesn't conform to the physics formulas Western science has developed for determining the sound qualities of a given room. The King's Chamber in the Great Pyramid is essentially just a rectangular box. It's about 5O or 60 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 40 feet high. It's all polished stone, with completely perfect seams and edges. No building could be built that perfectly today. It's in the heart of the Great Pyramid, and its location in this mass of stone gives it a rigidity and resilience that is almost unfathomable. It seems as far away from people as you can get. Notes resonate in ways that defy the laws of physics.
The way we got in there originally was that David Freiberg, Garcia,
John Cutler, Mountain Girl [Garcia's wife], and I befriended the guard
at the Great Pyramid and told him we were deeply interested is the musical
qualities of the sound in the King's Chamber. He saw our sincerity and
kindly decided to let us in after it had been closed to the tourists
at 5 pm.
first night we went in there, we spent the whole evening singing in
the room. We made up little choral groups and divided up into different
vocal parts and just sang. The sound was incredibly rich And full. Also,
the King's Chamber has a giant sarcophagus in it -a rectangular coffin
about 7 X 4 X 4 feet -and it, too, had a particular resonance, so each
of us took turns lying down inside of it and humming notes. When you
found the resonant note, the softest you could hum would reverberate
so much in that frequency that it would massage your whole body. And
if you hummed at the level of a reasonable talking voice or louder,
it actually hurt your ears.
It was about one-quarter mile from the stage to the Great Pyramid,
and we had high-quality FM radio transmitters and tuners to span that
distance. So, we put a transmitter down at the stage with a little antenna
and sent the signal from there up to the outside of the Great Pyramid,
where we had a receiver. We couldn't put the receiver directly in the
King's Chamber because it is deeply embedded in the stone structure,
so from the outside we ran wires from a receiver into the Pyramid, down
the Grand Gallery, through the Queen's Chamber, and into the King's
Chamber, where we hooked the wires to a speaker. We a!so put a microphone
in there, ran the wires back the same way, hooked it up to a transmitter
on the side of the pyramid and sent the signal down to a receiver onstage
which was plugged into our recording console in the form of an echo
return. The object, of course, was to send voices and instruments up
through the radio link to the King's Chamber where it would play through
the speaker there, be picked up by the microphone, and sent back down
to the stage.
Unfortunately, we hadn't brought enough cable with us, so we
ended up buying some Italian cable from a local telephone company. But
it was inferior cable. Our other problem was that we had to run it through
the walkway of the Grand Gallery, and we believed that the cables would
be damaged by being stomped on by the tour groups that tramp through
during the day.
After our hook-up in the King's Chamber was unsuccessful, some
suggested that perhaps, cosmically, it wasn't meant to happen and that's
why it did not work. I don't buy that. I think it didn't work because
from a technical end, we didn't quite have it all together. We were
at peace with the gods and the authorities. There was no conflict or
friction. None of us felt that we were transgressing any sacred rights
or privacy. The Egyptians understood what we were doing and saw what
our motives were. They knew this was the dream of our life. They saw
the adventure in it, and it was exciting for them, too. It was like
the cultural exchanges you read about in books, only this one was for