Friday, April 29, 2011

Two KCACTF winners are now Anteaters!

(...well, one is an Anteater and the other will be soon)

Josh Fehrmann, who will be a part of our MFA class of '14 this fall, just won the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival award for Outstanding Sound Design.

It also happens that Patricia Cardona (MFA class of '13) was also the winner of this award in 2009!

Although we can't take credit for anything related to their awards, it is nonetheless a testament to the incredible talent that Josh, Patricia and all of the current and former students bring to this program.

Congratulations, Josh!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Best New Play!

Hey everyone!

The show I designed last summer just won Best New Play by the Off-Broadway alliance!


Check it out here!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Song You All Thought You Knew

Here's another tribute to Roger Nichols.

I edited out an interesting bit from an NPR interview I caught with Steely Dan's Donald Fagen that you can listen to here:

If you want to catch the whole interview, here's the link to it on NPR's site.

Peace out

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Norio Ohga,1930-2011

Mr. Ohga, who was president of Sony during the early days of the CD (and nominally called the 'Father of the CD,' passed away. Here's a piece on him.

First Roger Nichols, then Max Matthews, then Norio Ohga! We're losing some great people.

Sound for Dance

Hey everyone!

I just finished working on a Dance show here at UCI, and thought I'd take a few moments to share my experiences so far.

The Dance department here produces four shows per year, a Faculty show, two Graduate Choreographer shows, and an Undergraduate Choreographers show. The concert I was working on is the 2nd Graduate show, Dance Escape 2011. This is my second time designing a system for this annual production.

Having designed for dance in the past, I wanted to approach this design with a new perspective. Rather than recreating my previous design, I chose to use this as an opportunity to explore new techniques and technologies. In particular I was looking to explore a stereo system, rather than a Left, Center, Right system. I also explored the impact of front fill positioning and monitor usage. In addition, I got to use our brand spanking new D'Mitri system, and our Meyer SIM 3 analyzer.

Until this point in my career, I've been taught that a strong center speaker is crucial to a powerful system. While, I agree that a center speaker does add presence and a full sound, I wanted to try something different. In the Claire (our largest performance space), adding a center speaker is typically done on the apron pipe, which has a rather high trim. To me, it creates an image that is too impersonal, and simply too high.

To combat this, I decided on using our M1D line arrays at a lower trim (the bottom of the 8 boxes at 10'-8" from the house floor), and put extra emphasis on my UP-Jr. front fills. However, once we actually had the pit lowered, I realized (i.e. Mike pointed out) that the center 6-8 seats in front would be left out of the FF pattern. Several of us kicked around ideas for a center fill. What speaker, how to hang it, and how to run cable to it, etc. What we ended up settling on was bringing the two front fills further onto the stage, and angling inward just a little bit.

For the monitors, we (and I say we because 3rd year, Tim Brown, was very active in helping me design this system) decided to hang speakers on battens rather than our typical boom positions. There are a few reasons for this, including the fact that lighting has an extra light or two on each boom, so it would have been a tight squeeze. And, since we were trying new things, why not try battens too?

Right, so we loaded in, and got D'Mitri up and running with relative ease.

So… SIM.

We gathered a small army of Sound Grads (1st year Stephen Swift, fellow 2nd year Jeff Polunas, 3rd year Tim Brown and myself) to tune the system. We were fresh out of Meyer SIM3 training and eager to put our knowledge into application. I won't bore you all with the details, but give a brief synopsis of what we found.

We ran into a few minor issues, but I'll let Tim explain that.

First off, the way the House Left array was focused, it covered a lot of the house. In fact, the off-axis point was nearly in the opposite aisle, and only down 4dB. Also, the top zone was directly focused to the top row of the house, not the handicap seats. In determining my speaker positions, I decided that covering more of the house evenly, was more important that hitting the booth level seats, which have a delay fill. So, we EQed the top zone, then the middle. Next the two zones together, then finally shading in the third.

When we moved over to EQ the HR array. SIM was telling us that our positions were off. We kept moving the mics around and eventually we found that each mic had to move down a row.

Then it hit me. Duh!

The house of the Claire isn't symmetrical to the stage. I knew that, but didn't really see the impact until looking at SIM. Mirroring our mic positions couldn't work. It became very apparent that the house right array is actually about 1' closer to the audience. So, we figured out, and EQed as best we could.

After tuning the arrays alone, we added in each of the subs. We EQed the subs, and delayed them until the low end was phase aligned with the rest of the array. Tim wrote a post about this a few weeks ago, you can read that for more detail in what we did. Anyway, aligning subs was perhaps the best bit of information that I learned in our seminar.

On to the front fills!

I wanted to place particular emphasis on my front fills. To me, this was the best way to create a lower image and to direct focus. I turned a the UP-Jr.s on their sides, with the horns rotated to 80˚ horizontal. They blend in with the arrays beautifully. There is a slight timing issue, but I'll get to that later. After all the hubbub about adding a center front fill, we ended up not doing so. Two on their sides covered the front row quite well. The Jrs. have a low profile so placing them further onstage wasn't an issue.

I was slightly concerned that the monitors, when hung on battens, would bleed into the front row. I have had downstage monitors act as front fills, but in the Claire this really isn't possible. I actually wanted to isolate the monitors from the main system. Sitting in the front row, they do add a little presence, but no direct sound. But our main problem was comb filtering.

Comb filtering everywhere!

It was pretty bad. My mistake! I should have seen it coming. We did the best we could with EQ, but we had to change the angle of the speakers in the end. The monitors aren't perfect, but they can be heard, and aren't comb filtering all over the place.

Moving on to timing. Typically I would delay my main system to the upstage monitors, so as to avoid timing issues coming from the stage. The Claire has unique acoustics, so sound coming from the stage into the house actually isn't a problem (unless you're doing a musical!). For this concert, I timed my main system to match the downstage monitors. However, while I solved one issue, I created another.

Let me explain my mistake. When determining a time for the front fills, I used a mic that was center of the front row. This is great, and the front fills disappear, but only when you are sitting center. If you are sitting directly in front of the fill speaker, sounds arrive later than the arrays. Really,I don't know which is the correct choice. I decided to stick with the center timing, because it is correct for more of the audience.

There were two pieces in the concert that had live music. One was a piano and a cello, the other just a piano. To mic the piano I used two of our Neumann km-184s. I had them mounted on a short, stereo(sort-of) bar, and placed inside the piano. Tim and Jeff wired them up beautifully. For our cellist I used one of our AKG 414 on a short boom. Mike came in to help me EQ them, but really there was very little to do. All the mics sounded beautiful, if I do say so myself.

That's the system that we used to run the show. It was a powerful system, and I never once had anyone ask for the music to be turned up : )

A discussion after the first dress rehearsal started me thinking about dance as a process, and how it differs from theater. Our artistic director was giving notes, and she fixated on one piece for a few minutes. Basically she said that she had never seen the story being told until that night. She had created an entire narrative about relationships, loss, and growth after seeing the piece that night. I have been watching the dance every night and gotten a completely different story from it. I saw the piece again, and could completely see that narrative in the dance. However, I could see how the conversation renewed the dancers sense of place and their personal interactions with the choreography.

One of the many reasons that I love theatre is because it is based on communication. The spoken word is what delivers the story being told. There are many interpretations of those words, but when it comes down to it, what is spoken is given importance. Within the world of a play, our knowledge is limited to what we are told, and what we witness. If there is a back story to characters, we are often given that information through dialogue. Communication between characters is where most of our emotions, as an audience member, are based.

Rather than a verbal communication, dance relies on physical communication that change and evolve on a dime. There are no words. Every action must stand completely on its own. Each viewer must interpret for themselves what they are seeing. Each gesture, expression and movement becomes tantamount to the whole. While physicality is important to theater, it is imperative to dance. Because so much visual weight is given to movement, emotions tied to those motions seem greater and more powerful.

Dancers are artists unlike any other. They are strong, fierce and extreme perfectionists.I love watching how a dance grows with each rehearsal. Each performance is a new experience.

I look forward to every dance show I get to see, and even more to each that I am a part of.

Hopefully I'll get some pictures of the final product to post soon.

Thanks for reading!


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Max Mathews

The second-year MFA students are currently taking 'Creating Sounds from Scratch' with me. Right now, we're knee-deep in a program called MaxMSP, an object-oriented data manipulation application. The 'Max' of MaxMSP is named for Max Mathews, a pioneer in computer music and digital synthesis. Max passed away this week, so I want to take a moment to link you to a piece on him.

And here's another.

Thanks, Max, for all of your contributions!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ironic, no?

Life is funny sometimes. But, here at UCI, we take safety seriously! But the irony, that the one guy who can't get in a genie, and has a minor fear of heights, has a training certificate as an Aerial Operator (Genie/Scissor lifts). Cool, no?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Roger Nichols

The music industry lost a recording legend last week. Roger Nichols was a Grammy award-winning engineer and producer who worked on some of the best sounding albums of all time. Among my favorites are his recordings for Steely Dan and Donald Fagen. Those who have taken the Critical Listening class at UCI know how good these recordings really are. Roger was also a digital recording pioneer - arguably one of the first to use direct-to-disk non-linear editing systems and an early adopter of the pioneering 3M digital recorders. He was also a pioneer in helping usher out crappy "comp" monitors off the meter bridge - replacing them with ultra-linear near-field speakers.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Recording Session: Audience Sounds!

Here's a dirty little secret: unless you need only the most basic sounds, audience sounds on sound effects libraries stink. So, if you're an intrepid sound designer out to craft a dynamic audience in a period play, what do you do? Well, Stephen Swift, MFA1 at UCI, figured it out: you record your own audience!

Stephen is currently designing Playhouse Creatures at UCI, a play in which a fictional audience plays a large role at times. The audience shifts, often very quickly, from cheers to jeers to applause to stomping feet, and Stephen will have to create all of that in a dynamic fashion (so that he can adjust his cue timing to match the actors slight inconsistencies from night to night). Stephen first sat down and made a list of every aural element he needed to record. He then assembled a small crew of 'audience members' that he could direct. Earlier tonight, the team assembled in Winifred Smith Hall to make the recording.

Here's Stephen focusing his mics. He used a pair of Shure SM-81s for a near-coincident pair and a pair of AKG 414s for a spaced omni pair. During testing, he found that the spaced omni gave him too much room sound, so he changed the polar pattern of the 414s to cardioid. That reduced the amount of room, but still gave him a very wide image. He recorded all four tracks so that he could listen to both tracks later and make a more informed decision.

Here, Stephen, Dr. Keith Fowler (director), and Solia Martinez-Jacobs (Stage Manager) converse about how to direct the talent.

Dr. Fowler directs the 'audience.'

Dr. Fowler & Solia hold up cue cards as Stephen cues the performers.

Dr. Fowler and one of the cast take a break from recording 'You filthy whore!' to hold up an appropriate cue card.

Come see Playhouse Creatures at UCI to hear this terrific audience in action!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The C64 Returns!

I cannot tell you just how excited I am right now! The Commodore 64 computer is coming back! I got mine in 1983 then MIDI came out and I was sequencing with Dr. T's KCS (Keyboard Controlled Sequencer), daisy-chaining (yep, that's how we did it back then) my Yamaha DX-7, RX-11 drum machine, and Prophet-600 synth. I thought I was hot sh*t back then. I will try and dig up pictures later. Here's the link to the New York Times article:

Two years later I had my first Mac and then my life really changed. How cool would it be if Apple re-released a Mac Plus? I'm not sure I can sleep tonight!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Poor Davey the Dumpster

Every action has a consequence. Sometimes you are the windshield, sometimes you are the bug. Sometimes you're the louisville slugger, sometimes you're the ball.

Sure, that ball went over the wall for us, with several palettes of Meyer Audio gear arriving on campus in the past month or so. But the action of receiving all that wonderful gear has a negative reaction. Let us all take a moment and show some sympathy to poor little Davey the Dumpster. Not only was he filled to the point of overflowing, he was surrounded! Foam, boxes, and palettes, oh my!

Many thanks for the hard work from Patricia, Stephen, and 101 students Sam and Dominic for getting all the items unpacked, and hauling the packaging down to the dumpster.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

D-Mitri !

It is with great pleasure that I announce a new addition to the family! UCI is the proud owner of a bouncing new baby D-mitri system!

Well, hopefully not BOUNCING, as that probably isn't good for the equipment. But it does have SSD hard drives, so at least the audio wouldn't skip.

I digress.

With much help from Tom C. at Meyer Sound, and lots of iChat screenshare, we have the AVB switch on line. We have tested all the inputs, all the outputs, file transferred audio to the WildTracks hard drives, and recorded audio to the WildTracks hard drive from the analog inputs! All seems to be working.

And, to keep Mike happy, the first file uploaded is Universe Of One!

(now we just need a pretty road case for it).

Friday, April 1, 2011

A time lapse series of the new building construction

UCI set up a security webcam to keep an eye on the new Contemporary Arts Center during construction. I did a screen capture about once per month and assembled them here. Click on the photo for a large version.