Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Finally: Studio 3!

The first 4 weeks are over and the more time I spend here at the SAE Institute in Zurich the more I like it and the more I am convinced that I'm doing the right thing now. Whereas back in Innsbruck I never really felt at home or at ease or 100% comfortable in the lecture halls. Here in Zurich it's such a lot of fun that I don't mind working on the weekends till late at night, especially if I get to work with in one of our recording studios, learn new stuff or simply meet talented, interesting and nice people working as audio engineers or musicians. The people I'm working with every day are so relaxed and friendly that I feel like an idiot not having studied at SAE years ago. But as Daniel, one of the supervisors, said: "Everthing that happens to us or that we live through has a reason." and I reckon that I wouldn't have met all those incredible people I have met until now if I had changed studies a couple of years back.

So what happened this week? Quite a lot, some of it expected, some unexpected.

On Monday we had the much longed-for workshop for Studio 3. Much longed-for because after this workshop we were allowed to book and use Studio 3 for any audio engineering-related purposes. It might be the smallest of our 4 recording studios, but it is the first one we students are allowed to use on our own! Michael Feller lead the workshop and he told us about the equipment, the signal flow, what we should be wary of and what we should keep in mind and what we shouldn't do. Well, actually, we started talking about the equipment in Studio 3 the week before in class, with handouts and long explanations.

After the workshop I booked Studio 3 from 3pm to 6pm to practise what we've been taught so far. Equipment-wise I got 2 mics, a radio, headphones and some XLR cables to record a signal (some Swiss radio station in this case). It took me a bit of time to set up the mics and to doublecheck that I didn't do anything wrong, like switching on 48V phantom power before plugging in the condenser mics. I rather check important things like phantom power twice, because the worst thing that could happen is that equipment could be damaged and I don't want that. No, sir, I don't want that at all.
But all seemed to work out quite nicely. The signals came in where they were supposed to. No mic exploded into bit and pieces. The headphones mix ("HP mix" from now on) was good and I even found out how to add some reverb (or any other effect) to the HP mix. Well, it's not that difficult. You *just* have to comprehend how the signal flows and then apply logic. What you get as a result is a small but important revelation.

The fabled Studio 3
Our lecturer on Tuesday was Christian Almer, the audio head instructor and the one responsible for all students of audio engineering at SAE Zurich. Christian talked about it at the very beginning of our studies a month ago and it seemed that everybody forgot about it, but it was time to elect a class representative, because every class needs one and we've known each other for about a month now - a good time to get over and done with it. Upon asking for volunteers only one of my classmates raised his hand. But it didn't seem quite right to me, since an election/a vote consists of at least two candidates. So I raise my hand too after some moments of thinking hard about what I'm about to do. What took place in the next few minutes was wholly unexpected, really. The vote tally was pretty obvious, to say the least: 10 to 1 votes - for me. Honestly, even if my classmates said I was predestined for the job, I didn't anticipate this outcome at all. I thought I might get half the votes, but such an overwhelming number, I was a little bit shocked to be honest.

After this administrative matter was settled we could return to our normal class and the next topic: Entry in Professional Career and everything related, especially the letter of application and how to write it correctly, what to mention in the letter, which documents to add and what to avoid. A very informative couple of hours were to be had and Christian offered that the SAE Institute would check any application if it is correct. 
This is a waveform. Gaze at it in awe!
We've done so much theory the last few weeks and it was time to get into Pro Tools some more. But before we could go in medias res, Michael Feller taught us about waveforms and what they express on Wednesday. And let me tell you, you can read a lot out of a wave's form. For those of you who don't know what a "waveform" is, it is the graphical representation of a digitalised signal. Amplitude, frequency, dynamic, noise, crosstalk, clipping, wrong bits and errors in the waveform - all of those thing can be seen just by analysing the waveform. When talking about a waveform in a software or rather a recording software like ProTools - other software is available - you're not able to avoid two further topcis: sampling rate and bit depth.

The sampling rate (Abtastrate) translates to the time axis and describes the resolution of said axis. The higher the sampling rate the shorter the intervalls between each sampling and the higher the resolution. The bit depth on the other hand describes the resolution y- or value-axis. Most common are bit depths of 16bit (2 to the power of 16 possible value), 24bit (2^24 values) or 32bit (2^32 values). Seems legit, doesn't it?

Thursday was reserved for Pro Tools, especially shortcuts and a basic Pro Tools introduction. Not much to report here. If you have any question, well, you know what to do: write me. =)
Besides the lecture on midmorning I decided to have a look at the next practical exercise: harddisk multitrack editing, or "HD MTK Edit" for short. So, what was this exercise all about? Exactly what the  title says: editing of more than one track. In this case the exercise consisted of a reference track (a complete drum track), a bass guitar track to check the drum tracks and a lot of individual tracks (overheads, kick, snare, toms, floor tom, ...).
I was sitting at one of the workstations in the edit area for quite some time, not because I was fooling around - well, ok, maybe a bit fooling around was involved - but because the exercise just took up a lot of time doing it for the first time. I had to listen to the shorter reference track and the longer individual tracks several times and set a lot of markers which were helping me out a lot, when I started cutting the individual tracks into clips to recreate the reference track. Setting markers and comparing different parts of the individual tracks and the reference track was the most time-consuming part of the whole exercise. The editing itself, cutting and placing the clips in the right order, wasn't that bad and once I had set all the relevant markers and found each part I needed, it was a piece of cake. Mmmhhh, cake, delicious.
Digidesign ICON D-Control - Las Vegas Mode! (Studio 1)

And then there was Friday. As you might know we don't have any classes on Friday. It's more or less the day we use to do exercises or other school-related stuff, if we don't have enough time on the other days. But sometimes there are interesting events or, in this case, workshops. So, on Friday Giulio Wehrli, one of our lecturers, came to SAE from Canada where he is working for a film production company doing, who would have thought, the audio part for different movies. The workshop was a master class about automation and how to use it efficiently. He kicked off the workshop with a short history lesson. The first automation systems were so-called "flying faders" on an analogue mixer. An external computer was connected to this mixer who was just working for the motorised faders via "time coe" (ETC). Later MTC or "MIDI time code" was introduced and after that a system called "Total Recall", which saved potentiometer, EQ, fader and other settings was used.
Today bigger consoles and mixers have their own automation section for each track with all the useful functions, like write (WR), touch (TC), latch (LT), trim (TM) and read (RD).
1. Write (WR)
This mode writes an automation while in playback mode. It is the most basic of all the automation writing modes.

2. Latch (LT)
Latch mode is a bit like WR, but the automation is in RD (read) mode, when the faders are untouched. As soon as a fader is touched, it switches to WR.

3. Touch (TC)
While playback RD mode is active, but as soon as a fader is touched, it switchs to WR mode. If you let go of the fader, it switches back to RD mode and the faders move according to the automation recorded before. This mode is good for correcting a previously recorded automation.

4. Trim (TM)
TM works only in conjunction with LT, TC or WR. While playback RD mode is active. When a fader is touched it switches to TM mode. A new automation curve is written and blended with previously recorded automation. And one thing is also noteworthy: faders don't move while in playback mode.

Besides from having a lot of fun and learning so much at SAE, I found a room to stay in until the room in my future shared flat will be available. Good times!

Well, that's all for today! Cheers!

1 comment:

  1. Hey Franz,
    ich hab mir heute die SAE in Zürich angeschaut und war sehr beeindruckt und überzeugt von dem Angebot. Audio Engeniering wäre auch genau das richtige für mich, da ich selber mich viel mit Musik auseinander setze und auch gerne mal auflege als Dj. Jetzt ist meine Frage aber an dich, wie du mit den Physik Teil des Studiums zurecht kommst und ob du davor schon viel über Wellen, Frequenzen usw. wusstest? Ich kenne mich da garnicht aus, bin aber sehr daran interessiert zu lernen. Denkst du ich komme gut mit und kann mit dem Lernstoff mithalten?
    PS: habt ihr bei euch in der WG im laufe der nächsten 12 Monate wieder ein Platz frei ? Ich bringe auch Bier mit :P ( für dich Gazoza )

    Vielen Dank im voraus
    MfG Simon