April 2, 2011

The Road to Surround – Part 2: A sweet-potato-vine-style study method - to keep expanding questions in your workplace

By. Mick Sawaguchi

Documents of control room design by Tom Hidley and Don David that I studied in 80’s

In Part 1, I discussed the hint about how to raise the ability of presentation that was necessary for a technical expert. This time, I will talk about my approach to consider the ways for solution to "how should I study?" that is one of the most frequently asked questions by the new faces in the workplace. If you can cause a chain reaction as I explain here, you will be accompanied by nature and force afterward consequently, and the world spreads out steadily!

1. What is the routine of thinking?
(1) At first, it is to have doubt in the imminent work and workplace.
The most important viewpoint with regard to "doubt" is to value your sense of wonder naturally instead of being preoccupied by the tradition to accept and consider that it was always in this way, so it must be right, and it would be the only way after all.
Even if you come to the same conclusion in the end, your process to investigate and the study will become your solid soil.
Such topics you encounter in your workplace as; "it is difficult to manage", "this way, that tool can be tamed" or "it only serves to take more time and our waiting time increases" are good sources to understand the existing hardship and troubles in your workplace, if you try to be alert enough.
The fact that people in the workplace accomplish duties while carrying such a difficulty is because it is very likely that there are potential problems in hardware and/or software that are not well managed.

(2) Once you push a question, then you can carry out the investigation activity to see "how others handle it". It is important that you bring competitors and the foreign as well as domestic situations into your picture. At this stage, you must utilize the channels and the acquaintances of your senior staff in the workplace as much as possible.

(3) Study possible improvements and solutions with the tools, technologies, and workflows in your hand.

(4) If a certain prospect appears, you propose it to the workplace and secure the budget for development and repair if necessary, and proceed through the realization.

(5) If you can achieve a result here whether it is large or small, the expectation degree from the neighbors and your own motivation for further steps rise.

It is interesting to see that one can positively confront with higher challenges when he has achieved a certain result in a smaller challenge. Once you are in the mode to proceed in this way, you cannot go back to lower level downstream. You put yourself, so to speak, in a kind of technical toxicosis, in which you keep asking to yourself about the next challenge and routinely live with such a viewpoint. It may be said that your body is accompanied by consciousness to scent out some kind of meanings, not taking it vaguely even seeing the same phenomenon there.
Furthermore, you find the opportunity and present it in and out of the workplace.
This will give you an opportunity to compile your past efforts and summarize your theory.
Like anything, the know-how will not pile up if you only finish things.
Step-up is programmed by putting the results and the next themes in order for you to look back on what you have carried out.
By dealing with this routine in a spiral process, a wide knowledge, know-how and acquaintances will be established unconsciously afterward. Now as a practice, let us apply an example of my early days in late 70's into the previously-mentioned thought process of 1 through 5. It may be in the primitive level if compared to today's situation where innovations are so rapid, but I think the basic approach of thinking would remain the same.

2. A practical example: Why is the fader stroke 100mm?
This question brought me in 1975 to request my position to be moved to the mixing engineer in the production field of radio dramas. Working as an assistant engineer here, I heard from seniors in after-the-session party "A sticky fade-out is probably the most difficult to achieve in the expression of the drama. In fading out as it gets below a certain level, you hold the fader rather slowly, even letting it goes up and down in a zigzag style, otherwise it would not be possible to achieve truly diminishing fade-out, and your fingers will feel really exhausted." So I observed the fading action of my senior staff in the studio with this concern, the finger movement becomes slow suddenly around -20dB, and the fader falls down only gently as if it stops there.
My question was then about the structure of a fader and how its stroke was realized.
The fader used in Shibuya Broadcast Center was 40mm wide and 100mm long stroke, using a round-shape attenuator made by Tokyo Kouon and a belt was linked to the linear fading mechanism. (Before the time of this type of fader was the round shape with a large knob, and whether linear or round to choose was a serious argument at that time.)
Then I examined this stroke characteristic from brochures, and made a graphical presentation. Indeed, the attenuation characteristic declined steeply from about -24dB down to infinity. Well then, how long will the stroke be if truly linear to infinity? How about the other faders? More investigations started through the assistance by my seniors to introduce me to new people. In mixing consoles exclusively for mix-down in music studios, the fader by a British manufacturer called P&G was used.
When I examined its characteristics, around OdB reference, the stroke was rather relaxed in the range of +/-6dB, and was steep adversely below -20dB. In addition, there was the fader with a long stroke of 180 ㎜ to infinity in final dubbing stages for movies.
My conclusion was that there are faders of various characteristics depending on the purpose to use with where to emphasize.
The reason why all Shibuya faders were 100 ㎜ is because it was originally targeted for the live broadcasting and the same type was brought in post-production. For example in the live music broadcast, it means that there is a distortion in the preceding head amplifier stage if you have to employ -40dB or -50dB level, and such a range itself to use was a taboo.
However, the mixing in the post-production treats the pre-recorded material.
You can use all levels as variety of expressions in this environment as you can see with the final mix of movies and the music mix-down.
I then experimentally designed a fader with the stroke of 120㎜ with expanded linearity to -40dB, and tested to evaluate it in a studio. The opinions resulted to be able to "fade the sound comfortably".
Because those who planned the facility in those days had a principle to employ the same standard anywhere for facility maintenance purposes, you must have a persuasive explanation regarding "why 120㎜ fader was necessary". It turns out in reality to your own situation that a presentation skill is important. I utterly think that the study is greatly distilled in such practical lessons. I think that it served as a trigger to bring a new viewpoint to the workplace that the broadcasting production system in my appeal needs the tools suited in the field of the post-production to shift from live-only principle.

While I was examined it, the inside mechanism called CP fader used for P&G fader and its material were also instructive. I was moved with the slider fluency and its excellent touch.
Its difference from the method to couple the belt drive with the round attenuator was clear, and it was a bolt from the blue for me, like "this was the world-class professional tool".

I would like to introduce another one: The acoustic feature of the control room?
It was when I had a question about the acoustic characteristics while all the sub-control rooms in Shibuya had exactly the same shape.
There were such data as acoustic characteristics of sub-control rooms when complete and empty, or those of bare unit monitor speakers from the distance of 1m according to JIS standard, but not much attention was paid to what kind of characteristics it represented at the mixing engineer's position at work with actual processor units fully equipped. I was interested in what kind of transmission characteristics the room represented when various processor units were installed. (In 70's, the console only contained the fader function, therefore the pile of equalizers prevented the front view during the mixing session.)
To measure the transmission characteristic from a monitor speaker, it is easy to look straight with a spectrum analyzer today, but in those days we had to generate a pink noise and bring the recorded data to the Research Center for preparing the graphic output by slicing them with band pass filters. When I borrowed a corner in the Research Center, the people in the Labs stopped by to talk to me for acquaintance and some bosses of the Center introduced me to the researcher in my generation.
As I got interested in an invisible thing like room acoustics, I wanted to find what kind of people do the sound design of the studios here and there with what kind of philosophy.
Then I gathered the data by visiting studios in Tokyo my seniors introduced me to, getting brochures from agencies importing consoles, and by reading trade papers in the library of Research Center.
I was moved by the fact that there was an occupation called specialized designer who designed the specific space acoustically into a studio, and the total concept to complete the monitor sound uniting monitoring speakers and the room to suit the client's expectation.
The advanced designs in those days promoted to bury monitor speakers invisibly in the wall using built-in type units, and I really wanted to make such a studio sometime.
There were rumors in those days in my workplace that said "this guy was totally infected by foreign goods and everything was good if it was from foreign countries", but I could not deny that the reality then was more experience in such products as I examined it.

Investigating "the fader" was an opportunity to begin the study regarding the structure of domestic and foreign mixing consoles as another step. In addition, it was this time for me to realize that there existed so-called "studio acoustic design", and to experience very different acoustic tuning of studios from that in Shibuya. The more I investigated in various ways, the larger my interest spread into monitor speakers and the effectors installed in the studio. In addition, I understood that there was a method called multitrack recording and that the companion mixing consoles were designed with a different philosophy. All these things, the very first experience! Such an excitement is a vital factor to raise yourself to a higher level in my experience.
While you carry your assignment tapping the keyboard with intelligence and calmness, please discover some doubts on your footsteps that may lead you to exciting and heart-beating encounters. I believe that a chain reaction explodes from there.

2006.2 Broadcast technology

Part 3: The relationship of a workplace and self-polishing "An extraordinary nail will not be hammered" >>>

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