Saturday, December 10, 2011

USITT SoCal section - Design Competition

The SoCal USITT section is hosting a design competition on January 21 at Pomona College. Contest entrance is free. Even if you don't have an entry, it's worth going to (size up your peers and future competition from other schools!). A job fair and master classes are also part of the day. The SoCal section is very active and worth joining, too.

Contest and Job Fair entry form:

The SoCal website:

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Hacking the Mix.

A while back, I wrote a piece for Stage Directions Magazine about a (relatively) simple way to use an iphone to control levels of sound in QLab. The piece was published in the most recent edition, and you can read it here!

I created the solution a few years ago for a UCI production of The Laramie Project, directed by Tim Brown (MFA '11).

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ultimate Ears visit!

Earlier this week, the graduate sound designers took a field trip (our third and final this quarter - I think) to Ultimate Ears. UE makes high-quality in-ear monitor modules, some models of which are custom-molded to the listener’s ears. They have their main office/studio facilities here in Irvine. Josh Fehrmann, one of our MFA students, owns a pair of their modules, and he was the one to suggest that we see if we could visit their facility. I got in touch with Ryan Sandoval at UE, and he made it happen.

Upon arriving at UE, we were ushered into the demo room, where we were able to try out all of the custom in-ear models. Soon after, Philippe DePallens, GM of UE, came out to talk to us. He explained the history of UE (starting out as a mom & pop company out of Vegas), how Logitech came to acquire UE, and how UE works to build market share and brand loyalty.

Beth listens. Philippe talks.

Then, we took a walk into the labratory studio, where the devices are actually built. Philippe took us through the entire construction process, starting with ear molds and moving all the way to tuning the electronics. We were blown away at the precision with which the artisans in the studio were able to assemble the tiny electronics to such consistant performance!

All through the visit, Philippe also talked about the marketting and branding side of UE, from a perspective of crafting the customer experience. This is a side of business that our students don’t get a lot of exposure to, and it was a real treat to hear how UE combines a high-quality product with a high-quality customer experience.

The visit marked a significant change in perspective for our students. Walking into the office, more than one of them scoffed at the idea of high-quality IEMs, but on the way out, they were thinking seriously about investing in a pair. I can’t say for sure that they will (the nicer models are pretty pricey for a grad student), but even if they don’t right now, who’s to say that they won’t in the future?

Thanks, Philippe and Ryan for a great visit!

Manager: Philippe
Producer: Vinnie
Bass: Matt
Guitar: Josh
Keyboards: Beth
Drums: Kyle
Lead Vocals: Jeff
Backing Vocals: Patricia & Stephen
Band Photographer: Ryan

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Waiting for Godot

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to use Meyer Sound’s VRAS in my design for Waiting for Godot and my system grew into a full fledged Constellation system! Meyer Sound’s Mac Johnson, Pierre Germain, and Steve Ellison came down to help me for a tuning and voicing session! It was a unique experience, so here’s a taste of what it was like!

My design concept for UCI’s production of Waiting for Godot started with the fact that it was set in the dead of winter with snow actively falling throughout the show. The scenic design enveloped the audience with telephone poles cradling either side of the seating and actors entering and exiting on a snowy road through the middle of the house. I wanted my sound design to be as equally immersive. Having spent a few winters in Chicago and the middle of Pennsylvania, I was very drawn to the idea of replicating the stillness, the quiet sound and feeling of freshly fallen snow. I was also lucky enough to have resources in the show budget to buy materials to help me achieve the dead sounding room I wanted. Reverb provides a crucial sense of how big a space is and is an aural key as to where you are in space. For this show, I wanted to create as few reflections as possible and I REALLY did have a challenge; the Robert Cohen theatre is essentially a 50’ x 50’ x 20’ concrete box. I went through various ideas of how to achieve maximum absorption such as using bass traps in the corners of the theatre and foam under the seating, but settled on using a combination of velour curtains on all four walls hung with maximum fullness and carpet covering as much bare floor as possible. Below is a groundplan of what I ended up with, showing the set with the carpet and curtains.

In contrast to this very still environment, the second act of the play takes place in spring. With the change in season I also wanted an aural shift. How to achieve this without tearing out all the carpet and curtains?! With Meyer Sound’s VRAS (Variable Room Acoustic System) of course! I used the dampened space to my advantage to create a variety of unrealistically large environments with VRAS that were incongruous with the actual size of the theatre. These moments were meant to both delicately foreshadow events and place aural weight on highly unrealistic situations. I also wanted to use it subtly to bring back the bright vocal quality of a spring day.

Major sound design and VRAS moments included the falling of night / moon rising in both acts and Lucky’s speech. Night falling followed the boy’s entrance, which I made highly abstract and dream-like using a very unrealistic reverb with multiple reflections. This VRAS continued through the night to keep the actors in a spell where there is little certainty of what is real or not. Lucky’s speech is the only time in the play where the character talks and he ends up having a mental breakdown. This scene had a similar effect in which VRAS signified where the breaking point was and, in addition to this large soundscape, I created all of his past experiences rushing back in the shape of a nightmare that engulfs the audience in sound.

Because I knew early in the design process that I wanted to use VRAS, I tried to do as much research as I could on past Meyer designed Constellation systems. I found a few examples online and noticed that they mostly consisted of Stella, MM4, UP-4XP, and UMS-1P speakers. The microphones were in rows with parallel rows of Stellas or MM4s on either side, all equal distances apart. With this information, I created a draft of my VRAS system using eight Stellas, six MM4s, and two UP4s (to be used half for VRAS and half for effects playback). I also emailed Mac Johnson (Meyer’s Constellation Project Manager) for advice, whom I had met earlier in the year for SIM3 class. When I heard back, he gave me suggestions about moving the placement of a few speakers and also offered to have Meyer come tune my VRAS system! Uh what? Yes please! We had used VRAS before in shows here at UCI, but could never really get an optimum performance from it because a lot of the information regarding it is proprietary so I was very glad to accept the assistance.

After much planning and a lot of paperwork, I began to e-mail a lot of documents to Pierre Germain at Meyer Sound who was going to be doing the actual tuning. He wanted a system config LCS project file, groundplan, section, and a spreadsheet of XYZ coordinates of the speakers and microphones in the space in order to calculate delay times.

Later in the process, he wanted to know the bus assignments in my matrix. He specifically wanted one per output. “No problem!” I thought, “Of course!” And I sent him my bus assignments. The day before Pierre flew in for the voicing session (to do the heavy lifting on tuning my system), I received an email asking if the busses I specified for VRAS speakers is where I wanted VRAS to be routed? Er, what? Of course! What else? I mean it’s LCS, how do you want to do it? Confused, I carried on and it wasn’t until tech that I understood what he meant… along with a lot of other things. When Stephen (my programmer) and I sat down to put audio through my Stellas and MM4s (the busses specifically for VRAS), we found the problem: I couldn’t have my sound effects be all VRAS-ed up when I didn’t want them to! So we re-did the bus assignments for VRAS and left the ones I had set up with Pierre for sound effects use. Doh!

This document shows my speaker plot for the show. One thing I would have done differently is to move the two Stellas over the stage to the back of the house. Under the initial advice of Meyer, I left them in the configuration shown. However, when we got into the space for the voicing session with Steve Ellison, it was confirmed that it would have been best for them to have shifted to the back of the house. I did not miss having them in the back during VRAS effects, but I definitely did for playback. I found myself constantly using a matrix we created for just the back Stellas and pumping a lot of audio in there because I missed having a grounding aural presence from the rear. I would have also added two more UP-4XPs in the rear corners of the house. This was also my first time making a SpaceMap and I had one cue where a storm circled the perimeter of the space. I found that the transition from one side of the house to the other was weak and two more UP-4XPs would have been ideal to help the storm’s movement.

Overall, this was an extremely positive experience; we all had the opportunity to listen and learn a lot firsthand about VRAS during the voicing session. I am extremely grateful to Meyer Sound, Mac Johnson, Pierre Germain, and Steve Ellison for all of their support!



Thursday, November 10, 2011

Meyer Studio grand opening

Last night was the grand opening of the Contemporary Arts Center here at UCI. The CAC (or 'cack,' as it's now affectionately known) houses lots of new lab space, including The Meyer Sound Design Studio, the home of the Sound Design program here at UCI. It's a beautiful space (you can see photos in earlier posts on this blog), and we were lucky to have some folks from Meyer down to join us for the celebration.

We'll post pretty photos here soon, but as a teaser, here's a shot of Todd Meier, a Digital Products Manager at Meyer Sound AND a 1992 alumnus of UCI. He was part of the Meyer delegation, and we were delighted to have them down. Here's Todd with Patricia Cardona MFA2, talking to Beth Lake MFA3 (off camera) yesterday afternoon.

And Jodi Hughes and Todd Meier in front of the dedication plaque...

More pics coming soon...

Monday, November 7, 2011

fresh pics of the Meyer Studio

Today I shot some wide-angle photos of the Meyer Studio complex. The architectural lighting is terrible throughout, but the pics came out fairly good despite this

Control Room


Vocal Booth

Edit Suite

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Field Trip to Harman!

It's a week full of field trips for my Trends in Modern Sound Design class! We did Sony Games on Monday, and today we drove up to Northridge to check out the Harman/JBL facility. Our call time at the plant was 8.30, and because they had to drive all the way through LA, the students left plenty of time for traffic. Of course, because they did that, traffic was light, and they got to Northridge with plenty of time to spare. So, we found a diner:

Matt, Patricia, Beth, Josh, and Stephen (Jeff couldn't make it and Kyle was ill)

When we got to Harman, Dr. Sean Olive took us around. Dr. Olive designs all of the listening and testing facilities and tests that Harman uses to measure subjective response to the products. Here he is showing Matt and Josh one of the test cars that Harman uses to evaluate automotive sound systems:

How many bodies can you fit in here?

After the tour, Dr. Olive sat us down for a few tests. The first was to see how well we connected 'good' sound to 'lossless' sound. It was a double-blind test to see whether we could identify mp3 or pcm audio (we all did well, thankyouverymuch).

The second test was much more subjective, and it involved evaluating loudspeakers in a double-blind listening environment. Both experiments were interesting, and we're glad that we could provide additional information to Dr. Olive and his research.

Another great field trip! Next week: back to the classroom!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Field Trip to Sony Games!

My Drama 255: Trends in Modern Sound Design class recently took a trip down to Sony Games in San Diego to tour the facility and meet with Kurt Kellenberger, one of the sound designers who works at the studios there. We met at 7am (in the morning!) to carpool down in morning traffic, and Kurt met us there. He started with a tour, showing us his private studio space, the foley room, and a large library of foley props before sitting us down in one of the mixing suites for a talk:
(Kurt pauses. Students smile. Loudspeakers loom.)

Kurt came to Sony from a theatre career, so he was able to talk about the specifics of making the transition from theatre to games. A lot of the thought process is similar, but there were some key (and surprising) differences about the game world. The students had lots of questions, especially Jeff, who is a gamer himself could ask specific questions.

Everyone had a great time, and we're looking forward to the possibility of having Kurt come up to UCI to talk more and check out our world of sound!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sinan Zafar: Honors in Sound Design

Mike and I (and the Design program in general) are pleased to announced that we have a new Honors in Sound Design student: Sinan Zafar:

Sinan comes to UCI from Cupertino, CA, and has a background in performance (specifically musical theatre). Since coming to UCI, he's advanced so far as a designer that he regularly takes graduate level coursework and is designing on the mainstage this season at UCI (you can hear his work coming up in The Misanthrope and in Hello, Again). We're proud of him, not only for his own accomplishments, but that he is our first Honors in Sound Design student EVER!

Congratulations Sinan!

Meyer Constellation Tuning

Intrepid MFA student Patricia Cardona wanted, for her design for Waiting for Godot, to use the Meyer Constellation system that we own here at UCI. The Constellation system uses VRAS (Variable Room Acoustic Simulation) technology to alter the acoustic properties of a room. UCI owns a portable system, and it gets used in a few shows per year. The last time we had any Constellation/VRAS training, however, was before any of our current students were here at UCI, so it was time to ask Meyer to provide some training. Fortunately, Mac Johnson at Meyer was excited to come down with some colleagues to help us learn how to take advantage of the Constellation system.

The Meyer visit lasted over three days. On Sunday, Mac and Pierre Germain came in to do some secret math to make the room sound natural. Patricia, Stephen, BC, and I were on-hand to help them out, but due to the proprietary nature of the techniques, we weren't allowed to be in the room to watch the magic happen.

On Monday, we took a break from work on Waiting for Godot, but Mac visited my Trends in Modern Sound Design class to talk about his life before and after his being hired by Meyer. Mac regaled us with tales of the road and more than a few words of wisdom about high standards, interpersonal communication, and professional flexibility/adaptability. On Monday night, we met for libation and mirth.

Tuesday morning, bright and early, we met back at the Robert Cohen Theater to get cracking on giving the Constellation System some personality. Pierre had done a terrific job of making the room sound natural, and now we welcomed Steve Ellison, who gave a primer in the parameters and power of the Constellation System. Steve walked us through the interface and helped Patricia create a few presets to get her started as she heads into tech this weekend.

Here's Steve and Mac on the set of Waiting for Godot:
And Steve with some of our MFA students, probably rapt with attention as Mac activated the room with his mellifluous baritone voice.

It was an exceptional session! I've used VRAS a few times in my work over the past few years, but I feel like I understand it now at a level that I had not been able to understand before. I can't wait to try using it again soon, and I know that many of the students feel the same way!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Monday Margaritas (and special guests!)

You've probably read about it already on this blog, but every Monday we all get together to celebrate anything and everything. This week we were honored to have Mac Johnson (Education Program Coordinator for Meyer Sound) join us! And... alum Joe Wilbur also dropped by. This picture was taken before things disintegrated... but we won't discuss that here ;)

In face order from left to right: Josh Fehrmann (MFA1), Sinan Zafar (BFA4), Joe Wilbur (alum), Vinnie Olivieri (legendary), Mac Johnson (Meyer), Matt Glenn (MFA1), Beth Lake (MFA3), Jeff Polunas (MFA3), Stephen Swift (MFA2), Patricia Cardona (MFA2), BC Keller (sound supervisor)

Darron West drops by

Last week, Broadway sound designer Darron West came by to talk to Vinnie's Trends in Modern Sound Design class. Darron is back on Broadway this week in tech for David Henry Hwang's Chinglish - opening soon at the Longacre Theatre.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Thank you science!

A 29-year old woman hears her own voice for the first time:

A baby hears his mother's voice for the first time (thanks to cochlear implants):

The world keeps getting cooler.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

T.E.D. on Sound

Hey folks,
A couple short videos from the folks at T.E.D. on sound:
Four Ways that Sound affects us
Shh! Sound health in 8 steps

Some interesting things to think about that might help you somewhere down the road.

(here are the links, in case the embedded ones above don't work)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Prop Phone!

(crossposted from my personal blog)

(I don't usually post twice in one day, but this is a bit of a big deal.)

It's tough to fake a mobile phone on stage.

In the old days of wired phones, there were some great options. Tele-Q boxes worked well, as did specials/recordings and hiding bells in secret places. Mobile phones, on the other hand, are much trickier. The tele-q option doesn't work, because there is no base station. Hiding specials doesn't work very well either, because people carry their phones with them, making the sourcing very tough. Plus, if you want get picky, the sound of a phone ringing varies dramatically as you pull the phone out of your pocket, purse, etc. That's a complex change that is tough to replicate.

I'm happy to announce that a friend (and former student) of mine has written an iPhone/iPad/iPod app called PropPhone that lets you use one iDevice to control the play/pause of audio on another iDevice. You can use the 'controller' device to send those triggers to the 'prop' device, and as you do it, the 'prop' device will change screen images to replicate an incoming phone.

Not only can you use it for phone rings, but if you attach it to a battery-powered loudspeaker, you have a very cheap wireless special (not including the cost of the iDevice, of course).

Here are some other things to note:
  • The audio does NOT stream from one device to another. The audio files themselves live on the 'prop' device. This cuts way down on lag.
  • Currently, you can only choose the sound file from the 'prop' phone, not from the 'controller' phone.
  • This is the very first version of the app, so expect big changes to happen as the developer gets feedback.
This is a great thing for our industry - something that we've been trying to solve for a long long time. I'm looking forward to using it soon in production! $2.99 well-spent!

The Whole World Blind: recording session

Yesterday, I spent much of the day at an un-named art museum in LA, recording sound for The Whole World Blind, a sound-art piece I'm working on with Roxanne Varzi, an anthropologist here at UCI. The piece is about removing the visual stimulation of war photography. Instead of viewing a photograph and hearing a curator talk about it, we've removed the photograph entirely. Instead, the audience will be blindfolded and just hear the curation. No visuals - only audio.

Of course, this creates a great opportunity for sound design, but neither Roxanne nor I wanted to get super heavy-handed. Instead, we're taking a fairly restrained approach. For each of the ten photographs the curator describes, we've created a design that uses the sounds typical to a museum to create a psychologically-underscoring design. Maybe a cellphone interrupts the curator's speech about focus. Footsteps on an outdoor path echo the cobblestones in another photograph. Nothing big and dramatic, but lots of small elements designed to support the images (which we never see).

To make these recordings, we set up a binaural microphone system at the museum and staged the events of each photograph individually. A number of current and former students (including first-year sound designer Matt Glenn and second-year sound designer Stephen Swift) came out to help us with the session. Each scene was precisely planned out, with performers walking, dialing, photographing, talking, sniffling, coughing, etc. all on cue. Here's a shot of me talking everyone through the staging of the next scene.

Towards the end of the day, Roxanne and I sit down to talk through the last few scenes. Matt hangs out nearby, with his bag of shoes just out of camera shot.

The Whole World Blind will premiere at SoundWalk on 1 October 2011. If you're in the socal area, come check it out. It will also be presented in Berlin in mid-December.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

IATSE local USA-829 to represent sound designers on B'way

After a long series of discussions between Local-1, USA 829 and the Broadway League, an agreement has just been reached where 829 is now officially recognized as the sound design representative on Broadway. Having recently been through a Broadway show without representation by my union (as has Vinnie, too) I can tell you that this is long overdue. The next steps involve creating and ratifying a contract in writing. We are one huge step closer!


how hummingbirds got their name

Given that I am dive-bombed weekly when changing the feeder in my yard, I am thoroughly convinced that hummingbirds are the most bad-ass bird, ounce-for-ounce, on the planet. It now turns out that they also have a sound design skill using their tail feathers as reeds. Apparently their name comes from this skill and not the humming of their wings. Check this out:

Maybe it's a tiny avian crush that I experience each week and not a death threat!


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Opening night!

Hey guys,

I am currently assisting on a show at the Geffen Playhouse which opens tomorrow night. It's an awesome show with a great design team, and a fantastic cast! If you get a chance, I highly recommend seeing it!

Here is a link!

Come see it!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

seven habits of highly effective sound people

Here is a link to an article in ProSoundWeb that I thought interesting, and some real good, basic advice.

Short answers are:
1. Excellent Organization
2. Continuous Learning
3. Good Attitude
4. Mentoring
5. People Skills
6. Technical Skills
7. Listening

But the details are what makes it a good article. Go read for yourself!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Push The Button @ SoundWalk

Push The Button, one of my projects (this one with Davin Huston (of Purdue U.) and Brad Berridge (of Williams College)) has a piece of sound art in this year's SoundWalk, a sound-art-festival in Long Beach, CA. Huston, Berridge, and I are going to install a piece called City Park, which had its premiere at the Prague Quadrennial in June.

I'm sure that ALL of the sound designers at UCI are looking forward to the event!

There's a bunch of great artists participating this year, and FLOOD, the organizers, made this promo video. Check it out!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The UK Association of Sound Designers

Our peers across the pond have just created a brilliant collective. The Association of Sound Designers is a new professional association that represents the combined interests of sound designers - professional and student - from across the UK.

It's not a union and not the technical standards police... rather it looks like a group of people who care and wish to connect. I wish them the best of luck... and I hope something like this will brew soon in our great land, too.

Cheers to all of you in the UK!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Theaterworks: The Understudy

I'm wrapping up a week-and-a-half residency in Hartford CT, where I've been working on TheaterWorks's production of Theresa Rebeck's The Understudy. The play is a terrific piece about a put-in rehearsal for an understudy on a Broadway production of a long lost Kafka play. The piece takes place in real time, and there are only three characters (the understudy, the stage manager, and the movie star). Theresa Rebeck is a talented writer (I've designed the premiere of a couple of her shows), and I find her work to be smart, slick, and terrifically funny. This play is certainly all of those things.

As the understudy rehearsal progresses, the characters move back and forth between rehearsing scenes from the Kafka play and conversations about the play (and each other - there's no shortage of interpersonal drama). As we move in and out of the scenes, there are lighting and sound cues to help guide us. Additionally, there is a fourth character, an unseen woman named Laura who controls lights, sound, and deck automation. She's having a bad day and can't seem to keep up with what scene she should be in. As such, she is continually triggering the wrong cues, leaving the actors to rehearse out of order, on incomplete sets, etc.

The biggest challenge of the play for me was to use the 'sound design' of the Kafka play to help support Rebeck's play. When we play a sound cue, it needs to not only fit the world of Kafka (which can be indelicately summarized as dark and brooding), but it also needs to fit this quirky comedy that Rebeck wrote. The design, in effect, needs to be both dark, brooding, and comedic.

I approached this challenge in a few ways. The first was to seek out music for the design that was 'Kafka' in tone but 'Rebeck' in rhythm. For example, one big sound moment features a huge string orchestra piece. The orchestra plays a four-phrase piece, and each phrase has a pregnant pause between it. The music itself is dark and huge, but the gaps between the gesture allow the actors to try to speak over the music. Each time a music gesture ends, the characters start talking. Then, they get interrupted by another music gesture. We create the idea that the characters are trying their best to work, but are overwhelmed by the unstoppable machinery of the technology.

Another way we addressed this challenge was to give the automation a personality. Much of the automation of the 'Kafka' play is actually executed manually by the theater staff, and on the first day of tech rehearsals, we discovered that the manual machinery was actually too quiet. There's something about the sound of automated machinery (a low drone/hum) that helps to underscore the ceaselessness of the world, so on the first day of tech, we decided to try adding in a bit of automation hum whenever the machinery moved. It worked really well - the machinery ended up having a more threatening personality, which worked really well in the play. As the play progressed, the sound of the machinery increases slightly, to underscore the characters' exasperation with Laura and her poor performance.

(as a side note, I should point out that the machinery sound idea wasn't mine - it initially came from the set designer, Luke Hegel-Cantarella, who heads the scenic design program here at UCI. Go go go collaboration!)

There were a couple of other interesting details of this production that I enjoyed. There's a section where the stage manager goes backstage and talks to the cast over a voice-of-god mic. The woman playing the stage manager is a trained singer with a lot of microphone experience, but we asked her to act as if she had very poor experience. She moved towards and far from the mic, making her volume fluctuate. She sighed deeply into the mic, causing a 'whoosh' of air to rush over the diaphragm, which sounds nasty. On the technical end, I boosted her low end (har har har) to make her sound more boomy, and I kept her volume pretty loud to be a bit overwhelming. It made for a great moment in the play.

If you're in Hartford, check this play out! It runs until mid-September.

Last night, after the Sunday preview, I drove down to New London and the O'Neill Festival to see a friend, fellow sound designer Brad Berridge. Brad is currently in residence at the O'Neill for their Cabaret Series, and last night he mixed an incredible event featuring a number of stunning performers: Joel Silberman, Euan Morton, Allan Harris, Amanda McBroom, Andre DeShields, Gretchen Reinhagen, and Lillian Montevecchi. As any of our students will gladly tell you, I am not a huge music theatre fan, but this was a truly special night. All of the performances were terrific (Amanda McBroom's 'Baby' was a stunner, Euan Morton's Whitney Houston cover brought the house down and Joel Silberman's musicianship was masterful), but for me, the highlight was Andre DeShields. That. Man. Can. Sing.

(watch that last clip about 2 minutes in - The Viper's been in my head all day long)

Well, it LOOKS finished...

Some progress pics of the new studio. Nothing is wired up yet but it's starting to look like a studio...

And the edit suite...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Studio Update: wiring at a snail's pace

The wiring installer is now 2 months past the June 1 completion date -- but -- cables are actually being terminated and dressed (some of them, at least).

Friday, July 29, 2011

Plant echolocatability as an evolutionarily-selectable trait

This article in the LA Times talks about how certain plant have leaves that have developed to allow bat to locate them faster using echolocation. It's the same idea as using bright colors or plumage... just with SOUND!


(I am the batman.)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sleeping Beauty Wakes at La Jolla Playhouse

This past month, I was the Assistant Sound Designer of Sleeping Beauty Wakes, a new rock musical at La Jolla Playhouse, a Tony-Award Winning Theater. While there I had the privilege of working with Tony-Nominated Sound Designer, Leon Rothenberg. The sound system featured equipment we use here at UCI; Meyer UPQs and UPJs for the Main Left and Right, Meyer M1Ds for a line array center cluster. There was also a full range delay system of UPJs and M1D-Subs. Front Fills were also M1Ds.

While being in residence at La Jolla Playhouse, I had the opportunity to run SIM3 for two days as Leon, Associate Sound Designer, Dave Corsello (UCSD Sound Design Graduate) and myself tuned the sound system. When the actors came onstage for soundcheck they noticed how great things sounded. The Musical Director James Sampliner (of Broadway's Wedding Singer and Legally Blonde) noticed how clean the sound was too.

The show runs through August 21st, I've included the website to check out videos and music from the production.

Monday, July 11, 2011

New Freesound Recordings are up!

I finally finished the edit/upload/tag process for the recordings I made during my recent trip to Europe. There's not as much as I would have liked to post, but there's a bunch of unusual bits of Paris, Prague, and Rome for your enjoyment! Check it out here.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

what's that ringing?

It's tough to fake a mobile phone on stage.

Well, I should say that it's easy to do a passable job, hard to do a great job.

In the old days of wired phones, there were some great options. Tele-Q boxes (a box that generates the right voltage to ring the phone - just plug the cable into the box and ring away!) worked well, as did specials/recordings and hiding bells in secret places. Even with cordless phones, there were plenty of ways to get a truly great effect - tele-q boxes (attached to the base station) and specials both worked well.

Mobile phones, on the other hand, are much trickier. The tele-q option doesn't work, because there is no base station. Hiding specials doesn't work very well either, because people carry their phones with them, making the sourcing very tough. A couple of recent productions I know of used an iphone app called Airfoil, which streams audio directly to your phone, but in my experiments with it, there's a variable lag of 1-3 seconds between when I tell the sound to play and when it actually plays. That lag is unacceptable in a theatre environment.

Plus, if you want get picky, the sound of a phone ringing varies dramatically as you pull the phone out of your pocket, purse, etc. That's a complex change that is tough to replicate.

So, sound designers have been poking around this issue for years, and each designer has a couple of solutions that work well enough for them. I tend to use specials, and if the situation exists, I'll build two rings, an in-pocket ring and an out-pocket ring. It's good, but not great.

But that may soon change. We may soon have something awesome that will change our lives! This part of our lives, anyhow... stay posted!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Dial up, slowed down

For those of us who remember connecting to the net via dial up. Here is a tasty treat.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Progress in the new shops

Hi Folks,

Hope all your summers are going well. Just a quick blog post to update the progress that is going on here.

With the help of Stephen, Marshal, and 101 Rachael, we got the new workshop (3036) BLUE! It's very pretty! And getting real close to time to move the shop from the basement up to 3036.

We have also made some progress in the storage room (3026). The cable hook wall was installed last week.
Here is a picture of Joe pulling a "Palmer" trying to find the studs. Seems they aren't evenly spaced in that room.

The bottom row is up! Jeff collapses in the corner as Joe gets ready to hang the next one.

Jeff investigates the gizmos hiding above the drop ceiling. Oh, and look at that, the second row is up!

Here the third row is in! The wall is complete!

The speaker rack is started! The wall anchors are in, the uprights are up! All that is left is to fill those last cheeseboro's with the last pipe.

The pipe is in! Jeff is checking that it's level, as Joe tightens the nuts.

And it's up! Jeff gives a last twist, as Joe checks out the handy work. Now, all we need to do is hang some speakers on it! It will be jam packed!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

from Germany with Love!

Our Neumann M149 microphone arrived today! It is love (well, at least I am in love with it). It came on a very slow boat from Germany - 2 months in the waiting. Joy!!!

Speaker Shootout

We were very fortunate to have Scott Esterson (the Western Sales Manager for Genelec) bring down a set of Genelec 8250 and 8240 monitors for a demo. He was also very kind to let us do a critical listening shootout against our existing arsenal of near-fields.

The 8250s are tricked out! They come with self-analysis software and a measurement mic. Their system is much like like the JBL one but much better implemented and offering multiple bands of EQ.

How do they sound, you ask? Well... they have the classic Genelec sound profile - very pleasing top-end, really wide soundstage, and a clean low-mid range. Very nice monitors. The subwoofer offers some serious LF extension and couples about as well as I have ever heard (their control software phase-aligns the LF as well).

Who won the shootout? Lets just say that if I put that much DSP on the HD-1s that they would sound similar. Out of the box - and flat - well... that's not really fair for me to say! Go to your local dealer and listen for yourself ;)

Scott is a super nice guy, very generous with his time and truly believes in the product. Many thanks!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Spelling Bee

Congratulations to Jeff Polunas (MFA-2) on his sound design for "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee". Jeff also received a positive mention in the Stage Scene LA review:

Hopefully Jeff will be willing to share his design here on the blog(?)...

Saturday, May 28, 2011

An interesting question about Intellectual Property

Sound Designers have a very complex relationship with Intellectual Property (IP). On one hand, we're creators of IP. Our designs are (usually) our property, which we license to theatre companies for the runs of shows. We trust large parts of our IP (sound files we build, computer files we create, etc.) to business colleagues to use in ethical ways: in licensed productions only. We trust these companies and individuals not to steal or illegally use our work.

On the other hand, sound designers are also consumers of IP. We regularly use copyrighted music and sound effects in our designs, and when we do, we engage in a complex dance of ethical responsibility, legal responsibility, and creative accountability. How do you secure the right to use someone else's IP? Whose job is it to secure that right? What is a fair compensation for a specific piece of IP? How do I as a sound designer balance the needs of my client (a good design, on budget, on time), the needs of the owners of the IP I use (financial and/or psychological renumeration for the use of their IP), and my needs (a good level of efficiency, maintaining good personal and professional relationships, money in the bank, and work I can be proud of)?

Sound Designers have these conversations all the time. Different designers answer the question in different ways, but it's something we think about and talk about a lot.

Then, this morning, I read an interesting blog post, about a similar question from the photography world... what do you think?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The first wires have been run...

It is almost two years overdue - but the first of thousands of wires have been pulled in the Meyer Studio!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Margarita Monday Reunion

We have a long-standing tradition here called MMM (Margarita Mondays with Mike). The whole dept. (on a good Monday) or at least part of the sound area (typical) gets together for some food, drink and good cheer. This one, however, was special... the stars lined up and we had a reunion! All of the past and present grads showed up -- along with BC, Vinnie and I.

Here's a peek...

6:30PM - not yet completely out of control... the alums are on their best behavior (as seen by the birdies).

7:30PM - Cory, Joe and Palmer. Up until this moment, we really missed them. It's been much more quiet this year... hmmm.

8:30PM - Everyone except Mike.

10:00PM - Nevermind that the camera was leaning from being propped up on two chairs.... everybody was leaning a bit for other reasons

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The new studio gear starts arriving...

The new studio equipment has started arriving! Here's the first two truckloads:

Todd and Jeff assembling the mixer stand. It's like Ikea that's too big to fit in a Volvo:

The finished mixer stand with the Avid console inside:

F*#@ng instruction manuals! ProTools consoles are just as hard to put together as the software is to use. The Yamaha is just being used as a table right now: