There is a very tiny room above the Grier School auditorium, visible only through an open archway overlooking the performance space. This room is known as the Crow’s Nest, and it is accessed through a suitably tiny door nestled beside a dormitory staircase. Not just anybody is allowed in the Crow’s Nest, but students in Recording Technology Class are among the few, privileged souls allowed entry.
This small room provides a sightline to the auditorium stage where Grier’s Fall Play Production The Bad Seed will take place November 16th and 17th. Juniors Hannah D. and Rachel L., both students in Mr. Don Neumuller’s Recording Technology class, are working in the Crow’s Nest to set up the mixing console for the performance. This is command central for all the audio during the play; that which is amplified, recorded, and transmitted. The sound technicians work with several different audio inputs from the actors' individual microphones and overhead microphones that capture ambient sound.
On the floor of the auditorium, freshmen Olga L. and Chantelle H. work with sophomore Abby T. to set up and label audio cables for the production. Some cables will be connected to speakers to amplify the actors’ voices during the play. Other cables will provide music and sound effects for the performance.
The Recording Technology students map the audio feeds for all these microphones to the mixing console where each microphone’s settings can be fine-tuned and managed during the live performances. Sound technicians will also trigger sound effects for the play from this console, which is why it is critical they have a clear sightline to the stage so that the timing of the effect is perfect. The sound technicians accomplish this initial setup weeks ahead of the play performances to make sure things are ready to go for rehearsals and the real deal: the live performances.
After the play is over and the students complete the monumental task of inventorying and packing up all the cables and microphones, the Rec Tech students will partner with the Video Production students to produce a clean, enhanced version of the audio and video recording of The Bad Seed. This production occurs in another small room with a view: Mr. Neumuller’s Rec Tech classroom in the Music Building.
Mr. Neumuller’s Rec Tech classroom is adjacent to the large orchestra room, which is equipped with microphones. Like in a recording studio, the technology students can observe the musicians through a glass window and provide them with feedback via intercom about the quality of the audio track. The sound technicians learn to engage in critical listening to detect subtle amplitude changes and other differences within the audible frequency spectrum and learn how enhancing certain frequencies (equalizing) and positioning certain instruments within a mix can affect the overall sound of a recording.
With this arrangement of spaces and the development of skills in the Recording Technology classes, musicians and recording technicians can work together to produce high quality audio tracks. Student musicians may sometimes submit these final products in auditions or applications to colleges and summer programs.
In the coming weeks, as the students wrap up the audio set-up for the play, they will strengthen their editing skills. Using the AVID software ProTools 12, the students will try to precisely remove performers’ mistakes and enhance audio tracks captured during a Rock Band rehearsal with the goal of producing a perfect track.
Mr. Neumuller offered to explain a bit how the magic happens. Setting up the microphones and recording live audio, such as a performance in Grier’s orchestra room, is called a tracking session. Although some professionals will mix during the tracking session, Mr. Neumuller encourages his students to approach this by collecting an unmixed, “flat” recording so that all mixing is done after the initial recording.
When mixing a track, Mr. Neumuller suggests placing the instruments where they actually were when the recording was made. Students may enhance a specific instrument's track to make it sound larger than it really was by adding some reverb and other effects.
While it’s possible to mix the sounds on a computer using a mouse, the modern control surface is the preferred method. Grier Recording Technology uses an AVID S3 control surface. Each student has a mini version of this S3 control surface at their workstation; they have access to the same tools as a sound technician in a New York City recording studio!
It really is amazing what the students can accomplish and how skillful they become in Recording Technology classes. We certainly look forward to hearing their work in the near future.
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.By R. Woolfrey | Photo credit: R. Woolfrey