April 4, 2011

The Road to Surround – Part 4: Efforts to tell the genuineness - A flog out of pond

By. Mick Sawaguchi

If you stay in your workplace for 10 years or so, the colleagues will regard you as a veteran consciously or unconsciously. One thing necessary in this second step is to measure the level of your skill and knowledge that you have accumulated in your experience when compared to the world class standard. If you are lazy about this, you may remain as a flog in the well. How should you act? Simply go out! Once you put yourself in the outer environment, even what you recongnize as a “town” will grow from a small neighborhood to the ultimate world where you can see and experience the genuine class of work. There may not be so many occasions like this in your life. Therefore such properties as sense of timing, inspiration, determination and execution are so vital in order to grab your “once-for-all” opportunity.

When Self-satisfaction collapses
I will write about my own experience. In 1987, I joined a program production of “Travel of Shuna” in FM broadcast which was actually the first attempt in the world of broadcast with Dolby Surround, then followed by another program “A Story of Wonder in Forrest” in 1989 in which I used battery-driven portable DAT for location recording. I was very content with my work of spacious surround sound particularly wrapping-around sound design of the forrest noise and also the main character wandering in the forrest.

I had a chance to visit Dolby Labs in San Francisco in the same year, and I demonstrated “my masterpiece” to Roger Dressler in charge of surround technology and Ed Schummer in charge of CE product license in their listening room. In my mind, I had a proud in this rare achievement in Japan, but what I heard afterward from them was a simple advice that it could be further refined if I studied the sound design in Hollywood. They brought numbers of video movies and played variety of scenes of actual examples explaining “here it works this way” and so on. They also added that the sound design was done by xxx and it was always good to carefully watch the end credit, and left the room. I really had a sense of very high ceiling above me…

In Dolby Laboratories was a library where they had audio-related references and documents. I ask to a librarian staff telling her, “I am from Japan and interested in sound design. Do you have any recommended reference books?” She brought to me a few books and papers regarding film-making such as “Music in Movies”, “Art of Sound Effect”, “What does the music composer do in movies?” and “Post-productions”. I was astounding to see that the production was structured in several fields.
In 1991 in AES Conference in Detroit under the theme of “the future of TV sound”, when I presented a paper regarding surround productions in Japanese broadcast and played a demo of Sumo broadcast program, I could receive a warm compliment from Ioan Allen, Dolby’s cinema VP, saying “it was really excellent to recreate the atmosphere with 3-1 matrix mixing with a mono rear channel!” (By the way, Ioan’s son also works in movie sound business in THX.) I always try to look up throgh the ceiling to find the levels achieved of genuineness when I felt I did something quite compelling.

A dubbing stage that Doug of Dolby Burbank guided me for a visit in 1988. The re-recording mixing engineer in the middle is Don Bossman himself who was working on the first movie of “Die Hard” series.

A Snap-shot of a studio dedicated in pre-mix that I visited in 1988. They had Synclavia DAW at that time, a Protools equivalent of today. A true genuineness here.

Another Personal Story
In 1995, I was involved in the HD-TV production of an excellent script “The Last Bullet” as sound engineer. At that time the format was still 3-1 normally, but I wanted to take account for the future archival delivery and decided the parallel 3-2, 3-1 and 2-channel stereo mixings that eventually lead us to receive several HD-related awarads. I was fairly proud of my work to have established a practical surround sound related to large-screen video production. But the pride quickly collapsed when I watched other productions with the similar theme or in the same genre. I felt “my sound design was merely a miniature”. The state of art in the genuine works was really high, and it does not regard with the type of media, their budget, production schedule, and number of staff. If you always look up the ceiling for genuineness, you can feel where exactly you are, and you won’t go arrogant in your attitude to keep refining yourself humbly.

How should we handle it? – The same colors gather.
The first step to recognize the genuineness is probably to start watching as many masterpieces as possible in your available time which is a totally ongoing effort. If you find a production that you highly admire, you should take a note of the name of staff involved and look for an opportunity to speak to them. Fortunately enough, you have several ways to collect information through Internet and others today, and you only have be active to take advantages. They may be found in seminars, symposia, conventions or conferences. Act efficiently and join such occasions.
As I already discussed in the previous “sweet potato root” section, once you find the gate to enter, the rest is almost automatic expansion. Magazine articles and interviews are fountains of hints and suggestions. If you read them carefully, as deep as between the lines, you may discover the background theory. You may be interested in the equipment details and mixing techniques, but as you get closer to genuineness, you will skip such superficial factors and be more interested in the philosophy such as why a particular expression was chosen. Know-hows and techniques like how you finish the mix are the subject to be broken as a rule. If you choose your expression beyond a given formula or a rule, it may be an evidence of having reached the genuineness yourself.

2006.4 Broadcast technology

Part 5: Generalizing Your Routines >>>

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