Thursday, December 17, 2015

Meyer Workshop: Richard Bugg and Tony Meola

Wrapping up the Fall quarter could not have been more exciting than hosting Meyer Sound masters Richard Bugg and Tony Meola for two workshops.  It goes without saying, learning tips in CueStation (and seeing some of the promising AVB improvements in CueStation 6) from Richard and mixing tips from Tony were invaluable and lifelong-memorable experiences.  I was especially grateful for the time in and out of the theater that we were able to spend with Tony, Richard, and Gavin. They all three have incredible insight into different facets of the sound design business, and their advice and thoughts are brilliant. It was such a gift getting to spend time with them.  I am so grateful to Helen Meyer, Gavin Canaan, and of course Richard and Tony for your time and passion. It is so inspiring! And of course thank you to BC, and Mike and Vinnie for helping to put this opportunity together for us!
--Matt Eckstein

Last week was one for the books, as we had a three-day intensive with Richard Bugg learning about DMITRI and LCS, followed by the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to mix Defying Gravity from Wicked for Tony Meola. I’m still reeling from this experience. The first day was all about DMITRI, how to program it, the specifics within Wild Tracks and how to make a cue. The next two days were all about Tony. Not only did he give each of us mixing pointers, we spent a great deal of time simply talking about his life in the theatre, an experience unfathomable in most other programs. Both Tony and Meyer Sound genuinely care about the future of sound design. Thank you so much, Gavin Canaan, Helen Meyer, Richard Bugg, Tony Meola and the rest of Meyer Sound for donating your time and resources to our program.  
--Kelsi Halverson

Wow. Well, this was unreal. I remember when I first started looking at graduate programs, I saw the blog entry here from the last time Tony Meola did a masterclass and I remember thinking “That. I want that.” I am so grateful to have had the chance to take part in this. Tony was so generous with his time and experience, and it was really thrilling to talk with him. I was so happy with how much time we spent discussing, first and foremost, storytelling, then musical theater, then mixing. Tony’s approach of putting as little between the performer and the audience as possible is very much what I look for when I go to see musicals. It is such a delicate and simple through line, and hearing how Tony approaches scaling that up to something as large as an average Broadway musical was fascinating.
I was also really excited to get to learn from Richard Bugg! I had the opportunity to use D-Mitri for my design for Boeing Boeing last year, so I had a ton of questions and Richard was game for all of them. I’m looking forward to bothering him some more at USITT!
-- Ben Scheff

The Meyer Seminars we had last week were a special opportunity that most sound people could only dream of.  Day one we were taught by Richard Bugg on how to program LCS and he walked us through some of the new additions to the program.  The rest of the week was spent receiving mixing tips from the legendary designer Tony Meola.  Tony gave great mixing advice and very specific individualized notes.  Not only did he give fantastic artistic and technical advice he more importantly took the time to learn about each student in the program and answered any and every question we could come up with.  I have no doubt that I will use his advice for years to come.  
--Andrea Allmond

What a way to wrap up my first quarter here at UCI: an intense 3-day seminar with Meyer Sound!
LCS had been a program notorious for the headaches it’s caused in our class projects frustrated when something wasn’t working the way we thought it would or accidentally overwriting someone else’s captured cues in realtime. Richard Bugg helped de-mystify some of the inner workings of LCS and what makes it tick! Though a bit confusing at times (because it’s LCS - how do you want to want to do it?), Richard helped make the process much clearer and provided some great tips on shortcuts and layouts to create a cleaner workflow. Getting everyone connected onto the server was great and with some more tweaking (i.e. bringing our ethernet adapters instead of using WiFi), the ability for all of us to work on a similar project live would be phenomenal. Kudos to Richard and his highly informative lecture!
The mixing seminar with Tony Meola was out of this world. I had never been so nervous and excited at the same time. We broke down Wicked’s Defying Gravity and all took turns at the console to mix with challenge mode turned on as pink noise rang throughout the system if we were not careful with pickups. This added element of error response was amazing and absolutely brilliant! Definitely something I will implement when I practice mixing for Evita this coming spring. Tony is a great mentor and is a wonderful conversationalist with great insight on sound design and mixing. 
Thank you to the Meyer team: Richard, Gavin, and Tony, as well as Mike, Vinnie, and BC for this wonderful opportunity!
--Jordan Tani

My first eleven weeks of grad school at UCI were packed with new experiences from beginning to end. Sitting in on two very different Meyer seminars was a perfect way to wrap up a very productive quarter. Starting off the week watching Richard Bugg program D-MITRI was an inspiring look into the mind of the master himself (and actually made LCS seem like much less of an intimidating beast). Having never seen or worked with an LCS show control system before coming to UCI, I feel lucky to both have access to such a powerful system, and to have been able to see Richard at work. The second seminar let us all try our hand at mixing ‘Defying Gravity’ for Tony Meola, which was a totally stress-free experience (all kidding aside, many thanks to Tony for not looming over our shoulders as we sweat at the console). Though the mixing talk was valuable, my favorite parts of the second seminar were our conversations with Tony. I know the talks we had about making a career in theater gave me a lot of hope for the future, which is exactly what I needed at the end of my first quarter of grad school! Thank you so much to Richard, Tony, Gavin, and everyone else at Meyer Sound who donated time, effort, and resources to make this happen for us in the UCI Sound Design program!
--Garrett Hood

Monday, December 7, 2015

Track and Field

In my Trends in Modern Sound Design class, we've started doing an annual project, inspired by alumnus Steven Swift, called 'Track and Field.' Track and Field is an exercise in both creativity and efficiency, and it's played over the course of the entire quarter with a series of due dates.

On the first due date, each player creates 30 seconds of sound, completely self-driven. They can spend no more than 60 minutes creating the piece, and once they're done creating, they create both a rendered mix and a series of stems. As a class, we listen to the mix. After the class, a different player takes the stems and uses them to create something entirely new, also spending no more than 60 minutes on the project. At each due date, we listen to the most recent batch of mixes, and then a new student takes the stems to create a new version.

In addition to being a highly-creative project, the requirement that the player not spend more than 60 minutes on their version motivates each player to work as efficiently as possible.

There were seven students in the class this quarter, so there are seven threads in this year's iteration. I set up a transfer matrix so that each student got to touch each version.  At the end of the quarter, instead of listening just to this week's versions, we listened to each thread, all the way through. It's interesting to hear which elements come and go over the course of the project, and which elements work as throughlines throughout the entire project.

Here are each thread, with each version in sequence.  I hope you enjoy the oddity that is this year's Track & Field!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Audio-for-Video Projects

Classes for the quarter is over, and final projects are being turned in. There are a couple that I want to share with you.  The first is a sound-for-picture project. I divided the students into pairs & trios, and each group got two sixty-second clips of film. Their task was to completely strip and replace the audio in the video, including re-recording all the dialogue, replacing all the sound effects, and layering in music.  The students had to work as recordists, directors, and producers. On the last day of class, we watched each video and engaged in a conversation about the team's process in recreating the sound.

Andrea & Jordan:

Annie Hall, UCI Sound Design exercise from Vincent Olivieri on Vimeo.

Monsters Inc., UCI Sound Design exercise from Vincent Olivieri on Vimeo.

Kelsi, Garrett, & Jacques:

Empire Strikes Back, UCI Sound Design exercise from Vincent Olivieri on Vimeo.
Maltese Falcon, UCI Sound Design exercise from Vincent Olivieri on Vimeo.

Matt & Ben:

True Romance, UCI Sound Design exercise from Vincent Olivieri on Vimeo.

Requiem for a Dream, UCI Sound Design exercise from Vincent Olivieri on Vimeo.

We had lots of help creating these videos, mostly from friends of the program lending their time and voices in the studio. Thanks especially to Sam Arnold, Sera Bourgeau, Amy Bolton, Martha Carter, David Hernandez, Kelsey Jackson, Kelsey Jenison, Nick Manfredi, Kevin Shewey, and Jessica Van Kempen!

(a note on copyright: as these projects were designed as classroom exercises, we did not secure any rights to these films. If you are the rightsholder of any copyrighted material contained herein and would like us to remove these clips, please let us know and we'll be happy to.)

Friday, December 4, 2015

These(is) Shining Lives

My thesis show, These Shining Lives, by Melanie Marnich, was a whirlwind process, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of telling this story! I had the incredible opportunity to work with third-year graduate director Sarah Butts (her thesis show too!), telling a story that is simultaneously hard-hitting, historical, poetic, and resonant.  

These Shining Lives highlights the strength of women considered expendable in their day, exploring their true story and its continued resonance. Catherine Donohue and her friends have loving families and good jobs painting glow-in-the-dark watch faces at Chicago’s Radium Dial Company, and the 1920s seem full of promise. Tragedy comes when Catherine and her colleagues begin falling ill, one by one, with mystifying ailments. When the cause of their symptoms finally becomes clear, Catherine and her friends find a way to deal with their own truth: that the job they love, that has gifted them with independence, has betrayed them and will slowly kill them. This is a story of survival in its most transcendent sense, as these women refuse to allow the company that stole their health to kill their spirits or endanger the lives of those who come after them.

The play is poetic, theatrical, and, like a memory, ephemeral.  In other moments, it is factual, hard hitting, and tragic.  The women are not victims, they are stronger than that.  The music follows Catherine's journey -- her life made of time, and the release she can finally experience at the end.

Period music was sourced to the radio, and the motif of time associated with the clock on the header on stage.  To more closely align the melodic part of the music with Catherine's journey, a wireless microphone allowed the actor to interact with the music.  Tempo, pitch, and harmonies change based on her delivery of the text.  Together with my assistant Adam W. (one of our talented undergrad sound students who is graduating this quarter), we programmed a Max/MSP patch to trigger samples in QLab based on audio input from the microphone.

This was also my first adventure composing music. It was a challenging experience, but I learned a lot about songwriting, voice leading, harmony and music direction. In particular, I want to thank our incredible department chair, Dr. Gary Busby, for his music direction mentorship and guidance.

I also want to say a huge thank you to my family, girlfriend, and colleagues for their support in and out of the theater, and to Sarah and the incredible design team and cast I had the honor of working with to make this show happen. Thank you to Vinnie for your mentorship throughout the process, and to Martin Carrillo for your thoughts and words at the end.  This was an incredible process and one I'll continue to treasure and reflect upon for a long time.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Field Trip to Sony Game Studios!

Waking up at the break of dawn to traverse the icy cold winter morning, we ventured down south to find, not warmer weather, but the Sony Games studio in San Diego. Located deep within the unmarked corporate buildings of Mira Mesa, Sony Games sits hidden from the random pedestrian. Although from the outside the building is nothing to gawk at, once you enter the front door of the reception desk everything changes. Greeted by their friendly receptionist and a display of their various game systems all summed up to one golden PS3 placed behind bulletproof glass on a pedestal, the hype was definitely real.

After a signing of an NDA, a verification of our identification cards, and a official looking man having a brief private conversation with Vinnie, we were prepared to look behind the veil of Sony. A big thank you to sound designer Kurt Kellenberger, our official guide for this excursion. Leading the way into the bowels of the development team, we were briefly shown the various cubicles occupied by each of their production teams, including coders, graphic designers, and in house game testers all sporting decorations of various sports teams from around the country.

Once we wrapped up in that first building, we headed into a different building across the street. Here, we got a sneak peak into one of the studios, a padded room with all sorts of consumer speakers ready for testing. Next we were shown the studio in which Sony produces some of their sound effects with a clutter of miscellaneous materials, all scattered in and around a foley pit located in the center of the room (a studio any sound designer would dream of having access to). The next room we entered was a show room of sorts and had the all too familiar Protools session open. Here Kurt gave us a view into the next step of their sound implementation, we were then shown a video with 100% of the sound effects were produced in the  aforementioned studio, and were informed of their in-depth sound effects library (a section of which is dedicated to the diverse sound of the human fart, a must have in any sound effects library!). With the clock ticking, the last visit on our tour we were given a sneak peak into the program which Kurt used to implement the sounds in a video game. Replaying a scene over and over and showing all the possible outcomes that could occur in the video game world, we got to learn how a sound designer battles with a gamer's free will,  attempting to predict all the actions a player could possibly make, and using this to maintain the games immersiveness. Running behind on time, we wrapped up the tour, with an open invitation for us to apply for their internship program, and Kurt guiding us back to our vehicles. With a big thank you and a sorrowful farewell to Kurt and Sony Games, we began the return back to campus, leaving with a whole new appreciation and understanding of what it takes to design a video game, leaving all of us thinking about this other possible career path.

- Jacques

Sony Games Sound Design Kurt Kellenberger speaks. Garrett Hood, Andrea Allmond, and Jordan Tani listen.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Man of La Mancha: Kelsi's Thesis Show

Time flies, huh?
It feels like yesterday that I was a first year, assisting my third year cohorts on their thesis shows. The day we strive for for three years came and went in a flash, and now I look back and reflect: Last Sunday, I closed my thesis show, Man of La Mancha, (affectionately abbreviated as MOM), in the Irvine Barclay Theatre. For those who don’t know, MOM follows Don Miguel de Cervantes and his manservant as they await their trial in a prison vault during the Spanish Inquisition. To pass the time, and keep from getting harassed and robbed, they perform a play Cervantes has written. Before the audiences’ eyes, we see the duo transform into the adventurers Don Quixote and Sancho. My amazing team was comprised of Ben Scheff (2nd year MFA, Associate Des.), Jordan Tani (1st year MFA, Assistant Des.), Garrett Hood (1st year MFA, Mixer) and Jacques Zweilich (senior undergrad and prospective honors candidate, Lead Deck Audio). The show was directed by Don Hill, our Drama co-producer/Head of Stage Management/multi-tasker extraordinaire and stage managed by Amber Julian (3rd year MFA).

Man of La Mancha was handed to me with incredibly high stakes, as this was the first show in the Barclay since 2009. With a hyper-compressed tech schedule, we knew our biggest enemy would be time (we didn’t have any 10/12’s, only evening techs, and two runs with the orchestra). To combat the time constraint, the team decided to do all rehearsals for MOM in the Claire Trevor Theatre, our typical proscenium space, whose stage dimensions are the same as the Barclay’s. The set was loaded into the theatre and rehearsed on for six weeks before load into the Barclay. Team Sound also took advantage of this by having the console used in the show, the Avid Venue Profile, and the show’s wireless set up in the Claire and utilized in rehearsal. We also used the Venue’s ability to record a virtual sound check, so Garrett was able to practice mixing outside of rehearsal. Additionally, we mocked up all speakers’ rigging in the Claire prior to load in, so each piece was assembled and ready to go.

Don’s vision for MOM was to keep it dark and not so “musical theatre”. Our buzz phrase was “not your grandma’s Man of La Mancha”. The costumes and props would come from the world of the prison and not be paraded on awkwardly from the wings. There would be no flashy musical numbers or distracting dance breaks. Sound-wise, we would have a stark difference between the feel of the prison and La Mancha. The prison had a constant ambience of dripping water, rodent sounds and drone-y creaks and moans. We hid two speakers behind the back wall of the set that these ambiences played from, as well as a reverb send of the actors on stage, changing the feeling in the room, creating a faux VRAS experience. We also mic’d and affected the large gate the Inquisitors entered through, enhancing the overpowering class discrepencies. When we enter La Mancha, all ambience goes away and the diegetic sounds are created foley-style by the actors from those found prison props.
Excitedly, this is the first venue I’ve ever designed in that has a balcony. No other theatre on campus poses these design challenges, so I was able to learn how to design for and implement fill speakers. System-wise, I chose d&b Q7’s and Q10’s as my main orchestra system, the Meyer M1D line array for the center, and d&b QSub’s for the subwoofers. Underbalconies were Meyer MM4-XP’s, front fills were Meyer M1D’s, and balcony fills were Meyer UPM’s. I had 3 onstage specials, 2 Meyer UP-JR’s that contained prison ambience and vocal reverb, and 1 Meyer M1D hidden within a scenic piece for diegetic effects.

Overall, Man of La Mancha was an incredibly challenging, overwhelming and fulfilling experience. My design team was so supportive and encouraging of exploration. My mentor, Mike, taught me more than I could imagine. Putting up a fully produced musical in the time we were given was a great challenge and preparation for the real world. 
Shoutouts to Mike Hooker, Ben Scheff, Jordan Tani, Garrett Hood, Andrea Allmond, Matt Eckstein, Vinnie Olivieri and BC Keller, my amazing UCI support system. Julie Ferrin, my thesis critic. Phil Allen and Ian Burch, my long-time LA mentors. Eric McFall, the one who started me on this amazing aural journey. Jon Weston and Josh Millican, my NY friends and mentors. My puppies Albi and Remy for their emotional support, and my mom and dad for their love.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

LA Ovation Awards

Last night were the LA Ovation Awards, the annual presentation of awards for theatre in the greater LA area.  The Design Awards are divided into awards for Intimate Theatres and Large Theatres.  Last night, was a great night for UCI Sound as alumnus Noelle Hoffman and lecturer Drew Dalzell won the award for Outstanding Sound Design for a Large Theatre!

Congratulations Drew and Noelle!

And, not for nothing, but John Zalewski, who won the Outstanding Sound Design for an Intimate Theatre, has been a guest artist and critic at UCI for a number of years now.

Congratulations John!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Does this building sound good to you? Sound Consulting in 255 with Davin Huston

Sound Consulting. Is that what happens when a professional tells you what sounds to use or what constitutes a “bad” design? These may be some of the questions that we think of when it comes to Sound Consulting. Consulting can be seen as system design and the collaborative process between architects and project managers among others to create a good-sounding, clear, and user-friendly sound system capable of doing whatever the client desires. And very few clients will have a comprehensive knowledge of sound. If there’s a problem, they want it to be fixed. End of story.

To kickstart our own endeavors into this unique world of sound we had Davin Huston, Clinical Assistant Professor of Purdue University and former consultant for the Kirkegaard Associates architectural firm show us the world of sound consulting for both large and small projects. Ranging from getting a church PA system to have intelligible vocals during services or an installation of complicated audio/visual networks and systems within a brand-new company building, the process and end goal for an sound system that just works is one and the same. 

In the overview of what it means to be a consultant we learned a few do’s and don’ts in the process:

“Explain this to me like I’m five” 
“Throw your tech speak out the window”

It does the consultant no good to try to understand what the system ‘kinda has to do’ and nor does it help the client by spouting data and technical jargon to justify the level of importance or knowledge. It’s confusing and can make headaches an unnecessary strain on the whole process. 

“empathy never goes away, no matter the budget.” 

No matter how savvy the client may(not) be nor if they have the fanciest equipment at hand, we must find a balance that will bring out the best their budget can afford while allowing us as the consultants to do the highest quality work we can. There are those who will depend on the system day in and day out and it falls on us to make to make that a reality.

“Make the magic”

Turn on the TV, plug in computer, attach HDMI/VGA adapter, press a few buttons, get webcam to work, press more buttons, have video conference with powerful and important person across the country. Or alternatively, turn on the system and hear a pastor sing and allow his voice to warmly fill the space for everyone to hear. The system works without a hitch. No need to call tech support. A world of headaches and stress gone. That’s magic.

Consulting boils down to the fundamental level of communication and doing whatever we can to make sure everyone is on the same page is the greatest thing to strive for.

Huston went on to break the process down into 5 Steps which I’ve  copy and pasted below.

The 5 Steps:

Step 1: Programming. What do you want the building to do? No Makes/Models or paperwork.

Step 2: Schematic Design. Take drawings from napkins and go to AutoCAD.  Quick decision making back and forth with the architects.

Step 3: Design Development: CAD drawings become more permanent, and at the end it gets bid out to contractors. Start roughing in budget.

Step 4: Construction Document: Finish the drawings, spec things.  What shows up might be different: “Good. We can solve this with code,” or “we’re gonna need some more EQ.”  Don’t expect the best things to happen and account for unforeseen events (“I didn’t even have appendicitis when I came in; why are you taking my appendix out?”)

Step 5: Construction Administration: Build the building. Make sure the conduit is in the right place. The moment things are built, they become pretty permanent. NEVER MARRY YOUR SOUND SYSTEM. 

These phases can vary in length depending on the project. Some a matter of months and others years in just the second and third phases alone.

Davin Huston’s talk was incredibly informative and this speaks not only to the realm of consulting but has many applications in theatre. Our fellow designers on a production will most likely not have the same technical understanding we do (that’s why we have the job!) and to best communicate our ideas to create a spectacular piece we have to find the best ways to interact and get our points across. Tech weeks are tough and can be hellish nightmares when we have so many things to work on, it can only get worse if our systems don't work! It is during this time that we must get everything working perfectly and prepare for the worst: what if our operator has never even touched a piece of sound software before? We need to make the system work under any circumstances. 

And when we're at wit's end, everything comes together in the final moments and it truly is magic.

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For more information on Davin Huston and his work you can go here

Other memorable quotes:

"The difference between a good consultant and a great one is the usability step. Your job is to make sure when they use their sound system, it just works."

“The SPL meter does not tell you the happiness level of people in the space.”

Regarding German software developers: “You must have all the buttons!”

Another software: “I live in Sweden, live in a cabin, write software, and kill *moose*”

Doing line array calculation by hand: “What is math anymore.”

Line arrays: “They are large and in charge, and ya know what they are *not* appropriate. Think about your damn decisions.”

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Sennheiser Seminar… Sennheiserminar?

Last week, we had the pleasure of hosting Daryl Nishymiya and Brian Walker of Sennheiser for a presentation on some audio and RF principals. We were joined by Jeff Polonus (Sound Design alum 2012) and team sound from Cal Sate Fullerton as well as a few others. A fun and enlightening time was had by all. Thanks to BC, our sound supervisor, for setting up the presentation, and thanks to Brian for hanging out with us and answering questions after. We haven’t forgotten your offer to bring by a few racks full of wireless equipment and do a full scale tuning with us ;)


Sunday, October 18, 2015

New Facebook Home

We were recently encouraged to start a Facebook "fan" page for the UCI Sound Design program. We will certainly still be updating this blog (and we're working on posting some new photos to the website), but if you're interested in following our happenings, give us a like!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Further Adventures of 255 2015: TechMDi

After our trip to JBL/Harman, we switch gears completely for our next class adventure. We again braved the 405 North at rush hour, but this time to Burbank; A land that is covered in sprawling studios of every discipline, full of artists and technicians at the top of their respective games, none of whom can talk very much about their current projects because they are up to their eyeballs in non-disclosure agreements.

Fortunately, it turns out we know a guy!

Joe Wilbur, a 2010 graduate of our program was nice enough to take us around the digs at TechMDi. They are a company that designed, builds, and installs audio, video, and show control systems and wrappers for many applications, but they work primarily in themes entertainment. Among many other clients, they are one of Walt Disney Imagineering’s go-to houses when they need someone to make all the pieces fit and end-user operable! Find out more about them at their website.

Joe brought us in through the “Design Bullpen;” and we were met warmly by Dave Revel, the President of TechMDi, and Kei, the shop dog and mascot, who went from skepticism to bringing us tennis balls in just moments. We passed a number of offices (including that of Tim Brown, UCI Sound Design MFA 2011, who was out of the country at a job site) on our way back to their shop spaces, the larger of which is an open floor where they lay out and build racks, and the smaller of which is where they produce UL compliant faceplates for all of their operator panels. It was cool to see some of the system diagrams and how they compare to how we tend to think of line diagrams in theater. Line diagrams make sense for us because our systems generally only need to move signal in one direction, but a non-linear approach needs to be taken when coordinating multiple playback types across multiple zones.

Joe does a great deal of system programming for TMDi, and one of the major platforms that they currently use is one that we don’t have our hands on at UCI: QSys. Joe took us through some really basic steps in QSys designer as we sat around the big conference table. He stepped us through the way that TMDi goes about organizing multi-zone systems, in order to help parse through the tremendous number of control points throughout the varying programs that they use. He also set up a simple system from scratch in order to demonstrate some of the more straightforward functions available. He also gave us doughnuts, which is of equal importance.

So thank you Joe, Dave, and the rest of the team at TMDi for hosting us! I’m sure you’ll see some of us again in the future.

- Ben

Friday, October 9, 2015

Field Trip to Harman/JBL

One of the best parts about coming back to school is our first quarter Trends in Modern Sound Design class.  This class (apart from being home to some of our favorite recurring projects... stay tuned) is often a great time for us to visit some really awesome places where sound trends are being made! In the past, we've visited Warner Brothers, L'Acoustics, QSC, and more!  This week, we woke up early and headed to Harman for a tour of their engineering and testing facilities.

We learned about compression driver technology, and JBL's take on how to make the drivers more efficient, with lower distortion.  Then we took a look at the testing facilities, where JBL was going through their notorious, rigorous 100-hour power test.  The room (behind 3 doors) required ear protection, because the SPL from their power test was incredible (it clipped the microphone on the crude SPL meters on our phones)!

The photo below is us in the power test room with Henry Goldansky, Director of Engineering for JBL.

After a peek in the anechoic chambers (they have 4 of them!), we heard a great lecture from Dr. Sean Olive about subjective listening research.  We were honored to be featured on his slides as the "most trained" student ears. (Thanks Mike for your critical listening class!)  The slide below was one of my favorites -- it shows a correlation between training and cynicism.

Chart from Harman Innovation Hub

Following the lecture, we were invited into the subjective listening room, where a hydraulic speaker mover hides behind a black grill cloth, and Harman's proprietary iPad app allowed us to choose our speaker preferences.  The speaker mover was a brilliant solution to ensure that each speaker was placed in the exact same place.  Interestingly, our preferences were all pretty similar to each other, and we were surprised with how accurately we could distinguish between the different bookshelf speakers in a blind test.  It became apparent that each of the speakers really did have a character of its own.

Photo from Dr. Sean Olive on Twitter

Thank you very much to our hosts at Harman/JBL: Paul Chavez, Ken Freeman, Henry Goldansky, and Dr. Sean Olive. We had a great time and learned a lot about subjective and objective testing!

My fellow students also wrote a quick note on their experience, after the jump.

--Matt Eckstein

Thursday, September 24, 2015

UCI Sound will (probably) NOT be at the 2016 URTA Reviews

When prospective theatre design students start researching grad schools, they often very quickly find their way to URTA.  URTA plays a number of important roles in the American Theater, and one of the most visible is that they host a series of audition & interview sessions where actors, directors, designers, and stage managers can see and be seen by a large number of MFA training programs.

UCI participates in the URTA review program, typically sending faculty of all areas out to meet potential students.  But, this year, for a couple of reasons, the Sound Design program will probably not be attending the URTA review.

If you are interested in the Sound Design program at UCI, please do not expect to meet us at URTA. Instead, please reach out directly to either Head of Sound Design Mike Hooker or Head of Design Vincent Olivieri. Both of us are happy to correspond with you as you work to determine which schools are most appropriate for your application this winter.

Good luck in your search this year! We'll miss seeing you at URTAs, but we look forward to your emails and correspondence!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Two Neat Sound Things on NPR today

On my drive into work this morning, there were two (yes, TWO!) interesting articles on NPR about sound. The first was from 'The Loh Down on Science:' a piece about how the frequency of amplitude oscillation of a shout is what makes it so grating to our ears. Sandra Tsing Loh is on the faculty at UCI, so this piece is extra special because of that.

The second piece was on Morning Edition and was a piece about biologist/soundnerd Katy Payne's discover of how elephants communicate subsonically.  I often discuss Payne's research in my Introduction to Sound Design class, and I was delighted to learn more about her work this morning (and correct some misconceptions that I had).

Check them out!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015



The USITT Sound Commission is excited to announce the 2016 SoundLab Student Project.  Building on previous success, the 2016 SoundLab will focus on sound design content and creation for multi-channel theatrical playback. The SoundLab Student Project is a six-month long sound design project that culminates in opportunities for students to design in the 2016 SoundLab.

Beginning in summer 2015, USITT will take applications from student sound designers from high school, college, and graduate school programs. Each student will work with a mentor to analyze a play and develop a sound design concept. In December, students will submit their research and concept to the SoundLab Student Project organizers. The organizers will review all of the student submissions and invite selected students to move on to the second phase of the project.

In the second phase of the project, students will work with their mentors to turn their sound design concept into a realized piece of sound design. Again, students will submit their work to the SoundLab Student Project organizers, who will review the submissions. From the submissions, a small group of students will be invited to install their design in the 2016 SoundLab at the USITT Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah.

In Salt Lake City, each student will have a reserved time slot to work with their mentor and USITT SoundLab staff to implement their design in the custom-built multi-channel SoundLab. Each design will then become a permanent part of the 2016 SoundLab, accessible by any attendee at the conference and possibly archived on the web.

Mentors can be current teachers or professors of the student, but if a student needs a mentor, USITT will help match students with mentors.

SoundLab 2016 Director of Programming Vincent Olivieri says that “the Student Project in Salt Lake City will be an exceptional opportunity for students from a wide range of backgrounds to work on a challenging project and make connections with sound designers from across the country.” Student Project Coordinator Drew Dalzell adds that students who participate “will have a unique opportunity to see a project through from conception, through research, and finally to its execution.”

Registration information can be found here.

Additional support for this project comes from Figure 53 and Samuel French.

For more information, email Olivieri at

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Happy Birthday Pierre Schaeffer!

It's Pierre Schaeffer's 105th birthday today!  He was a pioneer in the use of samples, so if you use samples in your work at all (and that includes 99.9% of sound designers), you owe him a debt of gratitude.

Check out a longer post on him over at Create Digital Music.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Sweet Smell of Success

This weekend will be the final performances for the final show of our 2014-2015 "Love, Lust, and Greed" season -- Sweet Smell of Success.
This show was a huge undertaking from a sound design perspective, both technically and artistically.  With 16 instrumentalists and 7 singers in the pit, and 18 cast members on stage, there was no shortage of energy coming from the stage.  It was a pleasure as sound designer to get to help create and shape this music, in a way that only sound design really can, and I was very proud of my work.

The musical follows JJ Hunsecker (a dramatization of Walter Winchell - WW) and Sidney Falcone on a journey of political and social corruption.  In bringing the show to life, I had the pleasure of meeting Wes Dooley, the owner of Audio Engineering Association, Inc. (AEA), a local company that makes ribbon microphones by hand, to the exact specification of the old RCA ribbon microphones.  The microphone that Mr. Dooley and AEA so generously allowed us to borrow for the show was their museum-quality reproduction of the RCA 44 - the same mic that sat on WW's desk.  It has a captivating sound that brought a different character to the "broadcasted" moments.  A huge thank you to AEA and Mr. Dooley for your generosity and support.

In addition to live mics on stage, the show came with a significant playback undertaking.  With such a vast stage and gestural set pieces, a lot of the responsibility for establishing period, location, and time of day landed with lighting and sound.  There were some wonderful moments that the lighting designer Darrin and I had an opportunity to track Sidney's journey, which made for some uniquely well-integrated moments in the show.

It was such a pleasure to design this show with such a wonderful team.  If you haven't gotten to see the show, it's running until June 6.  Tickets are available from the Arts Box Office.

"Today's gossip is tomorrow's headline."