Once upon a time (in 1926), a young baby boy was born in Newton Abbot, Devonshire, England, but was quickly whisked off to Buenos Aires, where his father was agent for the British and Foreign Bible Society. As the boy grew in grace and wit, he was educated at St Alban's College in Buenos Aires (undoubtedly one of the premiere engineering schools in the world!).
A precocious young Rupert Neve volunteered straight from school into the Second World War, where this thirteen year old boy designed and built audio amplifiers and radio receivers, before returning to England to serve in His Majesty's Royal Signals.
Peace time found him running a Public Address and (Disc) Recording business in England, before the days of tape recorders.
He met and married wife Evelyn, and promptly produced five children, who later gave him six grandsons and one grand-daughter. He concluded that in order to provide for a wife and family, he had better find a safer career.
He worked in London at the Rediffusion design labs, where he took charge of transformer design (which is a black art, as every engineer knows-- nobody else wanted the job!). He then went to Ferguson Radio, and eventually became Chief (and only) Engineer to a small transformer manufacturer.
But the spirit of independence was strong. He designed one of the first "bookcase" high quality loudspeakers, and was invited to lecture on it at the Royal Society of Arts in London in 1958. For four years he designed and manufactured Hi Fi equipment... using valves of course: there were virtually no reliable transistors.
The first step into the "professional" audio field came in 1961 when Leo Pollini of Recorded Sound Ltd commissioned a mixer with EQ, echo and foldback on every channel and with two output groups. This was all valve (tube) equipment and was distinguished for its sound qualtiy.
But the dreaded transistor was encroaching fast and a portable (it took four men to cary it!) sixteen channel, three group mixer was built for Philips Records Limited in 1964. This was all with germanium transistors. It was built in ignorance, fear and trembling!
Surprisingly, the sound quality was actually better than with valves. Its reputation soon spread and lead to further orders.
Rupert Neve and Company Ltd, was started in 1961 and from 1964 operated out of the coach house of The Old Rectory in a village near Cambridge, England.
The flow of custom equipment for the recording, TV, film and broadcasting industries grew rapidly until in 1969, the operation burst into a new factory at Melbourn, where the present Company continued until 1992. Manufacturing Plants and Sales depots were established in Kelso, Scotland, Bethel, Conneticut, Toronto and Hollywood.
In 1975, Rupert sold control of the Neve Companies and by 1978, had ceased active design input. With the later sale of the Neve Companies to Siemens in 1985, Rupert's involvement terminated, and he recognised that the market was ready for something fresh.
The Focusrite ISA modules were introduced and hightly accclaimed, but the pressure was on to build a new console. To resist such a challenge was not in Rupert's nature, and within a 12 month period, the first Focusrite console was designed and built. Failure to find a commerical partner led to the liquidation of Focusrite Ltd. A new company, Focusrite Audio Engineering Ltd took over the assets and now manufactures some of the old Focusrite products.
Rupert Neve is now long term design consultant to Amek Ltd, represented in Canada by Sonotechnique, whose expertise in the audio sound control and manufacturing fields is partnered by Rupert's innovative approach to the sound path.
New modules have been introduced and a new major console, 9098, has just been announced which embodies features and performance which, whilst retaining Rupert's transformer and EQ traditions, incorporates nnovative cirucitry to take account of new discoveries about the way we hear music.
Once again, the Toronto Section of the Audio Engineering Society presents its annual review of the International Convention held in New York, hosted as has become a tradition by Stanley Lipshitz and John Vanderkooy.
Professors Lipshitz and Vanderkooy will present lively reviews of the papers presentations, with special focus on the more interesting or pertinent subjects.
And as always, roving AES-type camera bugs will display slides they have taken of the cream of the Exhibition floor.
For those of us bound to our duties here in Ontario, either by logistic or economic force, this meeting is the next best thing to being there.
On September 11, 1993, over 100 members of the Toronto Section visited the new Princess of Wales Theatre, a beautiful 2000 seat facility built especially to accommodate the musical Miss Saigon. The hall's acoustician, John O'Keefe of the Toronto firm Aercoustics, described his role in an extremely time-critical fast-track design-build process.
O'Keefe stated that ever since the work of Hass concerning early reflections, early energy ratios have been important to quantify the quality of sound in an enclosed space. As musical notes or speech elements are usually separated in a large theatre by time periods much shorter than the RT60 alone, early decay time is very useful in explaining the subjective perception of reverberations. He warned against the use of RT60 alone, emphasizing that in the early 20th century a number of halls were built to achieve specific reverb times, and while successful in that effort, were nonetheless found to have unacceptable sound.
The reverb times of a number of halls (from the Toronto area as well as Europe) were presented in conjunction with other aspects such as clairty (early to late energy) and distinctness (early to total energy) ratios to explain the success or failure of these halls. It was noted that while the combination of these figures as found in the Princess of Wales was quite encouraging, consistent with the universal acceptance of the hall's sound for its design purpose, the measurements are still to be considered preliminary.
O'Keefe, aided by comments from the project's architect Peter Smith, described the integration of architectural features with acoustical needs. He pointed out the need for compromise (at which Canadians excel!) in a project of this nature, examples being the need to cover the back wall primitive root diffusers with fabric, as well as having to sacrifice several structural elements considered quite acoustically important, such as convex corners on the proscenium arch. There were other architectural elements that were beneficial in an unexpected way, one example being the effectiveness of the Frank Stella sculptures covering the balcony rail faces as scattering elements. In contrast, the ceiling is free of diffusing elements, as several recent studies have shown that their use in this area reduces loudness in the rear of the hall and reverberation time in detrimental ways.
O'Keefe commented on the use of computer modelling, particularly in the use of ray-tracing programs vs older scale modelling techniques. He emphasized the continuing effort to correlate models with measurements and with perceived listening quality.
For the second half of the meeting, Greg Connolly, Head of Sound from the Toronto Miss Saigon production, gave an extensive overview of his role in both setting up the audio systems for the show, and running them on a daily basis.
Greg began by outlining the role of the Sound Designer of a musical theatre show, in this case Andrew Bruce of Autograph in London, England. The designer's goal was said to be the creation of a successful "soundscape", in which the stage action is aurally conveyed in a spatially accurate way, combined of course with the full sound of the miked orchestra.
The hardware used for the system is an integral part of the making of the soundscape. Connolly pointed out the various elements of the Meyer loudspeaker systems used to provide stereo sound from the stage corners, as well as second balcony coverage from a centre cluster, and orchestral foldback from the wings to the actors on stage.
Attendees experienced in fighting acoustic feedback and spill were gratified to hear that the show's director enforced a ban on vocal foldback on stage, over the vigorous protests of many members of the primarily young cast. Another interesting aspect of the sound design was the use of delay of vocal sources to the primary reinforcement speakers, so that the Haas effect would tend to cause the audience to localize the actors' voices in their physical place, and not from the loudspeaker. Greg described the many considerations in the selection and use of wireless microphones for the show, including some revelations about how to hide a transmitter on a scantily clad actress.
The show's audio console is, as is so often found in this sort of production, a custom-made Cadac, in this case with 86 inputs. Greg described how the Autograph automation software made it possible for one man to run such a complex set of cues.
He also related how the backup computer system had saved the show several times. He demonstrated several sampler cues of the helicopter effect. These were very impressive, not only for their sonic fidelity at high SPL, but also for their spatial effect as the chopper "flew" around the theatre.
Greg concluded his presentation with some comments on the trials and tribulations of mixing for an extended run of a show. He revealed that since he operates all 8 shows every week without an assistant trained to a level where they could take over, if he could not make a performance, the show would not go on. This leads to a great deal of pressure to maintain one's health and to "tough out" various physical maladies (young would-be mixers clamouring to get into this exciting, glamourous profession, take note!).
After the formal closing of the meeting, Greg played some of his "greatest hits" through the system in response to audience requests.
In Toronto, Tom Shevlin, P. Eng.
So, if you had an experimental audio room, what would you do with it? I mean, what is experimental audio anyway? I have visions of guys in white lab coats bending over oscilloscopes, with Dieter from Saturday Night Live overseeing, producing a symphony of electronic beeps, buzzes and farts.
Well, I suppose, as visions go, it's not so far wrong, as the Sound Effects department of CBC Radio has a healthy respect for all of those kinds of noises (just listen to any given episode of The Royal Canadian Airfarce for proof), and the Experimental Audio Room is just a specialized part of SFX.
There are two principle reasons for the creation of the EAR, one of which is, essentially "Whither SFX?', as in, how can we expand our capabilities from the present level using the new technologies which are becoming available? (You mean there is something better than two coconut shells, a box of thumbtacks and a bag of cornstarch?) The other is from the programming point of view, which would like to develop productions using the new technologies, which, heretofore, would be impossible, or at least impractical to produce, such as last year's Glenn Gould-inspired The Idea of Canada, which made extensive use of MIDI gear.
This production was, in fact, both the answer to what would you do with such a room, and is also the technical model around which the EAR is formed.
The Idea of Canada was a program based on Gould's wish to meld radio documentary and musical forms together in a single production, something that he tried to achieve in programs like The Idea of North. The equipment to do this properly was not around for Gould to use, but it is becoming available now. So, using sampling gear, Pitch-to-MIDI converters, synthesis, and MIDI sequencing, The Idea of Canada took the voices and ideas of Canadians and changed them into MIDI information which was then orchestrated musically. For instance, the spoken question "Do you believe in Canada?" was turned into a fast drum lick, then bass and guitar were added, with the same rhythm, and this was merged into some Inuit throat singing. The resulting musical documentary was considered to be a great success, and has since been entered for several international radio awards.
To capitalize on this progress, the EAR was created, with a view to developing these concepts further. So now, instead of lab coats and oscilloscopes, we have a full blown MIDI studio with a mission to "get weird".
The hub around which the EAR revolves is its sampler, a Kurzweill K2000, (in actual fact a sampling synthesizer), which takes real world sounds, be they musical or the sound of a telephone, a voice, a wave or a jackhammer, and transforms them for playback in a MIDI sequence. The computing system in the K2000 goes by the name Variable Architecture Synthesis Technology or VAST. (Having lived with this puppy for some months now, I have to say that they are not kidding. Program it right, and it will make your coffee, and wash the dishes). This K2000 has onboard some 32 meg of sample RAM, i.e. just more than three minutes of full-bandwidth, stereo sampling,with the potential of adding another 32 meg when we can afford it. (When dealing with broadcast audio and sound effects, you use up sample RAM in a real hurry).
The K2000, and indeed, all of the gear in the EAR, is controlled by MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) via a Macintosh IIci. The control conduit device is a MOTU MIDI Timepiece 8 in-8 out MIDI patchbay, with full SMPTE timecode implementation, and with it, the Mac runs several pieces of sequencing software, principally the new E-Magic program, Notator Logic 1.6. This software gives full MIDI data recording, storage, editing, musical notation and playback very much in the manner that a word processor deals with text.
There are two other sound generating sound sources in the EAR, aside from the K2000. The first is the Roland JD 800, which is purely a synthesizer in the traditional sense, generating its own sounds and manipulating them with the many faders and knobs which adorn the front panel. Its attraction is the easy, intuitive accessability that its hardware gives to changing a sound's parameters.
The second device is a Korg Wavestation A/D, which is a rack mounted unit, and is also a relatively conventional synthesizer in its operation. Its singular qualities are its mode of synthesis, a process called vector synthesis, which gives its sound a great deal of variability and life, and its built in vocoder, which allows the envelope shaping of its internal sounds by external sources.
These samplers and synthesizers are mixed through two Yamaha DMP7D digital mixers, which also have full MIDI automation from the MIDI sequencer. They contain two full-range effects busses with time-based processing, i.e. reverb, delay flange, etc. The DMP7D also has a single external send/return buss, to which is attached a Sony M7 pitch-based effects processor i.e. harmonization, etc.
In the studio, there are also two Panasonic 3900 DAT recorders, from which we can load the sampler digitally, and to which we are able to mix without leaving the digital domain. There also is a Tascam CD player for loading the sampler, and a Roland CP 40 Pitch-to-MIDI converter, which takes the pitch, duration, and volume of real world sounds and converts them into MIDI form to be stored in the sequencer and played back by the synthesizers.
Well, indeed, what have we done with all this fancy gear now that we have it? The Idea of Canada, of course, was the inspiration for the concept, and this is now available as a cassette from CBC Radio Music. This was swiftly followed by an in-house year-end review piece called The Vintage Year, which was equally bold (we hope) in its blending and melding of sound and speech.
The true public unveiling of the efforts of the EAR was broadcast in a two hour-long "IDEAS" series called The Secret House, which sought to demonstrate all the things that happen in a household on the microscopic level. The form was essentially straight script and background ambience, but with the resources of the EAR, such cues as "salmonella floating in stew", "electric rain", and, of course, "a fly supercharges its muscles with glucose, launches itself into the air, circles the room, and lands, upside-down, on the ceiling", all become (relatively) easy to effect.
Since then, Jay Ingram's popular show on the current state of linguistics, The Talk Show has benefited from some aural enhancement, and sound signatures (themes?) have been put together for the Glenn Gould studio, for CBC Radio News, for use in their forthcoming election specials, and a "Media File" theme for As It Happens. We even put together some "Rap" music for the kids attending Radio Summer Camp.
So far, our thoughts on experimental audio have been directed towards using "musical" techniques on standard radio audio: further down the line, we would like to look into applying Dolby surround techniques to Radio Drama. BUT, we are still very much in the process of setting up this facility, with all of the equipment shakedown that this entails (and you should see the mountain of manuals).
So, for all you folks out there who love to monkey with sound, all suggestions will be gratefully received, andwill be acted on, (as soon as I learn these three new software updates... and reconfigure this wiring... and chase down this hum... and...)
If you can imagine something, stick it in the EAR!!!!
In Toronto, Somewhere Deep Within the CBC Broadcast Centre, Laurence Stevenson
Forward to November 1993
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