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N.A.B. Round Up

I was lucky enough to get to Las Vegas this spring for the annual National Association of Broadcasters conference, better known as N.A.B.  It was my second time attending the conference but with a a gap of ten years between my two appearances. I am of two minds about attending conferences like this, given the current world of total digital access that we now live in. Fifteen years ago this kind of tradeshow/conference was where you had to go to really get useful information about what was new and exciting in the audio world, but now that is not so much the case.  These days, at the same moment that a company is introducing a new product on the show floor, the company’s website is rolling out just about all the information you could need, with video tutorials and tech specs, all accessible from your comfy couch at home. You can go online and swap opinions and observations about new stuff with other audio nerds via blogs and user forums. Plus almost all software has some sort of demo available for download before purchase, so you don’t need to be on site to get a firsthand try at it.  As a sound editor, attending N.A.B. to get a handle on what's new is no longer a must.  

On the other hand, attendees with big spending budgets can get a lot accomplished on the show floor.  High-end hardware, like consoles and outboard gear, are only easily demo'ed where there's dealers - so mostly only in big cities like New York and Los Angeles. If you're from a smaller place, coming to Vegas is your big chance to get your hands on all the gear at once.  As an example, while the new Avid S6 control surface is well represented on AVID’s website, it was a different experience to see it in person and watch it get put through its paces on the show floor.

The N.A.B. show is massive and it takes a lot of seemingly endless walking to get through the whole show.  Granted, large sections of the conference are of no interest at all to the average audio pro, but I found almost all of the exhibits interesting on some level.  I try to use some of my time there to get a sense of the industry as a whole.  For the purposes of this post though, I will stick to a few audio-related discoveries that I found especially interesting.  

First up: swag! The prize for best bit of swag from the show? The Izotope RX3 hand sanitizer.  This is a clever little play on the software’s audio cleaning capabilities.  I picked up about 30 pens and a bunch of USB stick drives from other companies  - stuff that I might end up actually using more, but the Izotope freebie is the one that I really remember. 

Blastwave had a booth that was manned by Ric Viers - obviously - it's his company - as well as Colin Hart of Hart FX.  I talked a bit with both of them and they were super nice guys. Blastwave announced the third edition of its flagship product in Sonopedia 3.0.  I learned that I had been pronouncing the name of this SFX collection wrong for a long time; the proper way is so the beginning sounds like sonar.  Version 3.0 has 40,000 sounds, up from the 30,000 SFX you got with version 2.0. That basic info was readily available.  What I learned from talking to Ric in person was that version 3.0 first carved out 7000 older SFX and actually added 17,000 new sounds to get to the final 40,000.  Meaning that if you already own Sonopedia 2.0, as I do, upgrading to the latest version means you are actually ending up with 47,000 total SFX, because you would already own the sounds they carved out of 3.0.  That is a little complicated to describe in a press release (or a blog post for that matter.) It's the kind of thing you learn on the show floor by actually talking to the guy who's responsible.

Klover Products had a small booth that I stumbled across while I was wandering around lost, looking for another company.  They make parabolic microphone dishes, and seem like they really know what they are doing. The owner is a design engineer and was brought into the audio game from the science end of things. He was commissioned to make a better parabolic dish by Fox TV for their NFL coverage.  He must have been successful, because Klover now provide both MLB and NFL broadcasts with the dishes they use to capture the cracks of bats and the smashing of shoulder pads.  Klover had a brand new product  debuting at N.A.B. that is smaller and more portable. The Klover 09 is only 9 inches in diameter and is designed to be fitted with a lavalier microphone. Although it was impossible to properly test it against the wall of noise on the show floor, the manufacturer claims that a quality lav mic in this little dish compares very well with high-end shotgun mics.  Could make an interesting addition for a field recording kit for someone who already owns a lav microphone.

Finally, GlenSoundUK had a really interesting device called the Cub: a 2-channel field mixer that connects directly to an iPhone. The phone can be used as a on-board hard drive, adding recording capability to the mixer.  It also can feed the audio from the mixer directly into an iPhone's out-going phone connection. Meaning you can have your sounds being fed directly down the line for live interviews for radio or television. Again, I could not really test the preamps on the noisy show floor but it's an interesting concept. The Cub looked like it could take a beating too, as it was a sturdy little piece of gear. My only fear is that next time Apple changes the type of connection that iPhones use, the Cub could become a bit of a paper weight.


There were lots of other great new releases at NAB but these three were a bit under the radar, so I thought I would shine a little light on them here.


Circuit Bending on Designing Sound

The fantastic website recently featured an interview I was a part of on their site.  Each month they have a theme and invite the sound design community to contribute articles, essays, or anything else that pertains to the theme. For April 2014 their theme was "broken".  The podcast I co-produce on audio post production recorded an interview with the performance duo named Roth Mobot.  They use exclusively circuit bent instruments when they compose music.  In the interview they talk about the history of circuit bending, the best practices to get crazy results, and suggest references on how to find out more on the subject.  Since you have to basically break into the electronics of something to circuit bend it, we thought this would fit into the Designing Sound theme perfectly.

Take a listen and see if you might want to explore the craft of circuit bending further.



You can visit or subscibe via the iTunes podcast directory to hear other Tonebenders episodes.


Recordings I did for Noah

I just saw the film Noah at my local multiplex.  It was in one of the giant theatres with a large screen, and it was really really LOUD!  I actually found myself covering my ears during a few of the busier action sequences.  Although it was loud, it sounded great.  Some really amazing sound work was done on this film.  

One of the reasons I was so eager to see/hear Noah was that I contributed some recordings to the sound track.  Some recordings that are very close to my heart.  The screams and squawks of my infant son when he was a brand new baby.  Here is how it all came to be.
Last spring the Tonebenders podcast I co-produce and co-host about sound design, did an episode with Coll Anderson as our guest.  Coll was gracious enough to talk to us about the soundtrack he sound supervised for the great film Martha Marcy May Marlene.  After we finished recording the episode he phoned my house, to go over getting some recordings of the specific sounds we spoke about in the interview.  I was holding my newborn son who was making the odd peep while we talked. Coll inquired as to the age of my boy and when I told him the baby was brand spankin’ new he quickly asked me for a favour.  He was working on the sound edit for a film that featured babies immediately after they were born and asked if I could record my son crying and send him the audio files.  They had tried to cut in the sounds of an older baby but it just did not sound right.  The cry of a new born is dryer and has more crackle then even a 2 month old, so they were on the hunt for some new recordings of really new babies.  
Luckily for Coll, and his project, I had a son who was no stranger to crying in his early days.  I had already recorded a lot of him just losing his mind with screams and yells.  In order to let my wife get some sleep after a long, complicated labour, I was spending a lot of time hidden away in my basement studio with my son.  Since I was recording in an ideal environment, my recordings were super clean as well.  After all if you are a sound effects editor and you have a crying baby in your studio, you sure as hell better be rolling right?
So I quickly culled down my recordings to about 20 minutes of some of my son’s greatest yelps, cries and wails and sent them off to Coll.  At this point I had no idea what film Coll was working on, other then it was directed by Darren Aronofsky.  Coll Anderson had done me a solid by being on our podcast, so I was happy to do him a favour in return.  Then life rolled on and I mostly forgot about all this.
A couple months ago the PR machine started winding up for Noah, Darren Aronofsky’s new film.  This triggered my memory and I asked Coll, via email, if he had ended up using the sounds that my son and I had provided.  It turns out he did and the project was, in fact, Noah.
Not only are my son’s screams and cries in the film - but they are in the most pivotal scene of the entire film.  There are about 40 seconds in the film where there is no other dialog, only the the sound of my kid, just wailing away full tilt.  
It was pretty cool to hear my son, and by extension my recordings, blasting out of the massive sound system at the multiplex with a packed house in attendance.  Kudos to Coll and the rest of the sound team on the film because my clean studio recordings fit in perfect with the rest of the mix.  Almost as if they were recorded on a giant arc, thousands of years ago.  
Here is a quick snippet of the cries from my son, if you go see the film keep an ear out for them.



New York Times Op-Doc

Last year I mixed a 40 minute film by a local film maker named Kelly O'Brien called Softening.  It was a really powerful film about how a family learns to live with a son born with severe cerebral palsy.  The film is a roller coaster of emotion that breaks your heart at times, while also making you laugh out loud at others.  

The sound mix for the film was sometimes a challenge for me because Kelly wanted it to be a really sparse soundtrack.  Long stretches of the film were supported with only multi-layered ambiences, and music was left for only special select sequences.  My first pass at the sound edit was much busier then what we ended up with.  But after some trial and error we pulled everything way back.  In the end this approach was exactly what the film needed.  The quiet sequences allow a lot of the heavy content to settle over the audience.

The film made the rounds in the festival circut and was really well recieved where ever it played.  As a result it found its way to the editors of the New York Times Op-Docs series.  At their request Kelly re-cut parts of the film down to make a 5 minute version of the film that focues on the perspective of the 6 year sister in the family.  After remixing this new version, it is now up on the Times site for all to see.

If you have a spare 5 minutes please take the time to watch this touching short film.  I don't think you will regret it.



The Peculiarities of Audio Shop Talk

This world of professional audio requires us to have a handle on of a lot of different makes and model numbers for all the many items of gear we use to make great sounds.  Most manufacturers will have different versions of the same basic product, so with each new release announcement, you have one more little detail to file away in your brain - often it's something like the difference between the 6032 and the 6042 or some other seemingly random sequence of numbers.  Recalling specific model numbers is not one of my strengths - I can rhyme off the differences between different models fairly easily, but I'm not so good at keeping the numbers straight. And you might think proper names would be better, but anyone who's needed to consult Google to remind themselves which species of cat they are currently running as an OS will know that it's not really a more intuitive solution.  

This whole make and model thing can be problematic because this is a business where normal educational milestones are sometimes not as important as one's fluency in shop-talk.  I imagine that a job interview in the standard business world might involve at least an acknowledgment of one's degrees and diplomas and some school name-dropping.  Not in this game though.  I have never been asked what degree I have or where I went to college - it's just not nearly as important as what projects I have worked on and who I know.  A familiar job interview scenario involves a studio owner throwing gear names around to see if the prospective hire can follow along or, better yet, has their own opinions on which model/version of "widget X" they prefer.  This is something I have been tripped up by in the past, getting confused over which version is which during a conversation.  Given a minute or two, I usually manage to prove that it is my memory for names that's a bit weak and not my overall knowledge of the gear in question. The industry seems to thrive on building up it's own language that outsiders don't really understand and that distinguishes the old pros from the newbies.

I'm sure everyone's experienced this embarrassing moment before: the mispronounced product name. There are a number of audio brands that are pronounced differently in different countries.  For instance: when I was in college we recorded all the sync sound for our student films on Nagra reel-to-reel recorders.  I loved those wonderful workhorses and had great fun learning to use them.  They are built like tanks and can be relied on to get the job done.  The malfunctions came later when I graduated and started interacting with the international audio community.  Here in Toronto we pronounce it "NA-gra" with an "a" like "apple" - but in other cities and countries, particularly in the US, it is pronounced "NAW-gruh".  Not different enough to cause confusion, but evidently different enough to raise some eyebrows.  Same goes for the "mogue" vs "mooo-g" pronounciation of the synth manufacturer Moog.  I've been pronouncing it wrong since the 80s.  I found out that I was incorrect because I heard straight from Bob Moog himself how it should be pronounced:

My excuse? When I was a kid, I was an avid fan of the Edmonton Oilers hockey team and they had a goalie named Andy Moog; the play by play announcers always called him out as "Mooo-g" and I'm sure that's why I latched on to saying the name that way as well. I later learned that Andy also prefers the "mogue" way of saying it.  

I also suspect that living in close proximity to Niagara Falls has influenced people in this area to say Nagra in a similar way, with a "na" instead of "naw". How they pronounce it at the Kudelski HQ in Switzerland? No idea, but I'm almost positive it's neither of the above.

Another name that's tripped up almost every North American english-speaking audio pro is Schoeps.  This German microphone manufacturer's handle is unusual enough that I'm not sure anyone on this side of the Atlantic is really getting it right, though a lot of audio geek one-upmanship has pivoted on this one little word. I'd been very familiar with the brand and its products for many years before I ever actually said the name out loud.  In my head that whole time I had been saying "show-ps" but I have since learned that the consensus seems to be "sheps". To settle the argument, I have confirmed this by snooping around the videos on the brand's website.  Although the employees who say it onscreen have thick German accents, I think "sheps" is close enough to pass muster. 

To complicate matters, I went and picked a name for my own company, Azimuth, that is is pronounced very differently from how it looks.  Those unfamiliar with the word might say it: "as-eye-mooth" but it's actually "as-a-myth". Old habits die hard though, and many people in my family still regularly mispronounce my company's name, even after eleven years in business!

At least my first name is phonetically no fuss, no muss.  It's pretty hard to say "Tim" incorrectly, right?  

Beyond the confusion caused by pronunciation, audio companies also like naming things with acronyms, often confoundingly missing key letters.  For instance Protools' first de-noising plugin was called DINR.  I have heard it pronouced "diner", "dinner" or simply spelled out as "dee-eye-en-are".  I actually still don't know what the proper way is, but luckily I use newer, much better, and more straightforwardly-named plugins, like RX* , and don't give much thought anymore to DINR. One less thing to remember! 

(Although I have heard RX's manufacturer pronounced as both Eye-zo-tope and ice-i-tope)

I am sure as I get older I will have more and more trouble with all the model and version numbers out there.  For now at least I have "play," "record" and "save" all figured out, and really how much more do you need?!

Have I missed any obvious pronunciation trip-ups that you've fallen victim to?  Please pass them along in the comments or through Twitter.  Catch me @azimuthaudio.