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.