Sound Architecture: The Spaces That Speak

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Science broadcaster Professor Trevor Cox explores the science of aural architecture – the relationship between sound, design and human experience.

Building design and city planning is dominated by the visual. But a new science has emerged which explores the relationship between design, acoustics and the human experience, called aural architecture. Every space has its own unique soundscape, created by a combination of the overall design, the materials used in construction and the way that space is used by humans.

Until very recently, few architects ever gave much thought to what affect that soundscape might have on the people inhabiting the space, be they office workers, school pupils, teachers or shoppers. This has resulted in railways stations where train announcements are unintelligible, restaurants where you have to shout to be heard and open-plan schools in which teaching is all but impossible. More recently, research has shown that a poor aural experience can have a considerable negative effect on how we feel and behave, even at a subconscious level.

Professor Cox hears for himself how some spaces ‘speak’ and meets architects, designers and researchers hoping to transform our aural experience for the better.

Steve Bernard – 2013 Alumnus

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I’m Steve Bernard, a BA (Hons) Audio Production alumnus from the Class of ’13. Since I graduated, I’ve been employed at Cooz’s Recording Studio, in Oxford. My relationship with the studio actually began almost three years ago, after my first summer at the University of Lincoln, when I did a week long work experience there to enhance my CV. This led to an internship which I maintained around my degree, and I was offered a job at the studio after I finished my third year.

Working at the studio has been a great experience and I’ve recently found the most success as a Hip Hop producer – we were fortunate to have a break with a South African rapper called Rowan Groom, and his contacts and reputation in the emerging local Hip Hop scene has meant that business in this genre has skyrocketed. In the last 6 months, I’ve worked with a wide array of talent, producing mixtapes and EPs local rappers and singers such as Apt Ochiela, Carby, Manny O, Ellie Robbins and Rifle.

Getting business for my work relies heavily on word of mouth and networking. Whilst I have had success in building my reputation in the Hip Hop genre, Oxford’s music scene is much better known for the rock outfits it has produced over the years – most notably bands like Radiohead and Supergrass, and more recently Foals and Stornoway – who all had humble beginnings in the live music circuit around the city. Because of this, I started an initiative at the studio called Cooz’s Live, which offers bands the opportunity to have their live shows around the city recorded with our mobile rig. We’ve built up strong working relationships with a number of venues and promoters in the city, and eventually led to us working at the o2 Academy, recording touring bands such as My Life Story and Stiff Little Fingers.

Working at the studio has placed me right at the heart of the Oxford music scene, and allowed me to network closely with a number of bands and artists. On top of working on their recent recordings, I am now the live sound engineer for two up and coming Oxford bands, One Wing Left and Fracture, and I’ve started putting on my own gigs to support the continued success of local artists. I’ve also given workshops and lectures on music production at Oxford Cherwell Valley College.

Outside of music, I continue to work in sound for other media; I mixed the sound for two documentaries recently, one of which was picked up by the BBC. The Lincoln School of Media prepared me exceptionally well for life after university. As a student, you get a broad range of in depth training in a variety of media, from experts who have been out and done it themselves, on industry standard equipment. Studying there was such a rewarding experience, but it’s only the beginning and I’m very excited by what I’ve been able to do since then!

Picture – Steve with the director Kevin Cousineau mixing the Bad Company documentary.

All You Need Is Lab: How Technology Inspired Innovation in Music

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Musician and songwriter Midge Ure looks at the many ways scientific and technological innovation have stimulated creativity in pop music.

From the invention of the steel guitar string, through the tape recorder and the synthesiser, to the drum machine and Autotune, musicians have always embraced the latest ideas and adapted or distorted them to produce new sounds.

Musicians Anne Dudley (Art of Noise) and Thomas Dolby join music journalist David Hepworth and blues researcher Tom Attah, exploring how the laboratory has informed and inspired the studio.

Midge demonstrates what you can achieve with just a laptop these days – but laments the passing of an age of invention in popular music.

Featured music includes The Beatles, Chopin, Thomas Dolby, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Charlie Christian, Les Paul and Mary Ford, The Tornados, The Small Faces, Queen, The Sweet, Stevie Wonder, Band Aid, Art of Noise, Donna Summer, Fat Boy Slim, Cher, Daft Punk and Nick Clegg.

Producer: Trevor Dann
A Trevor Dann production for BBC Radio 4

Career Update – Simon Ross – 2012 Alumnus

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Blog post by Simon Ross:

Last time I wrote a post for the Audio Production blog I had pretty much just started life with the BBC. Almost 2 years down the line, I am now typing from a brand new studio desk at BBC Radio Lincolnshire at the end of what has been a very busy few months.

My regular duties are working as a Broadcast Assistant at weekends, covering the on-air broadcast of programmes on both Saturday and Sunday mornings. I will also find myself covering other programmes during the week, including Mid Morning, Afternoon and Drivetime.

So what has changed? First of all, BBC Radio Lincolnshire no longer has its own dedicated BBC Introducing programme. This is what gave me my “foot in the door” in my final year as an Audio Production student. It was a real shame to see that go; however, this developed a new opportunity for me to spend time at BBC Radio Nottingham working on their Introducing East Midlands programme.

What has been particularly pleasant is I now find myself taking my work out of the studios on a more regular basis. During the summer months I have been fortunate enough to work at various music festivals on BBC Introducing stages as a Floor Manager. I have also been representing BBC Radio Lincolnshire at major events around the county. We often have live performances from local musicians when we travel to these events, so my Audio Production degree gets put to fantastic use when I’m setting up a stage in a town market place or on the beach.

The highlight of my career so far is when I visited the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight based at RAF Coningsby. It began as a leisurely trip, but word quickly spread that “somebody from the BBC” was visiting after I had posted a tweet earlier in the day. I was invited to return to the BBMF in the latter months of 2013 for an exclusive look behind the scenes during the winter service period. This when the iconic Lancaster Bomber (the treasured aircraft we regularly see fly over Buckingham Palace, and one of only two airborne Lancasters in the world) is grounded from the skies for maintenance and repairs.

I spent a day speaking to engineers, pilots, ground crew and veterans, and produced a 5 part series which was broadcast on BBC Radio Lincolnshire over the new year. This is quite easily my proudest achievement to date, and the enormity of what I was fortunate enough to be a part of hasn’t entirely sunk in yet.

My connections with the University of Lincoln have remained very close. I have participated in a number of guest lectures and networking events, and I am always happy to speak to students and graduates seeking advice about their own careers. Contact me via email: simon.ross1@bbc.co.uk or via Twitter @simonross46

Cheers!

Simon Ross
BA (Hons) Audio Production
BBC Lincolnshire Broadcast Assistant

Producing The C-FaB Album

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Blog post by level 1 AP student Rory Hunter.

Recently, myself and a team of Audio Production students at the University of Lincoln, recorded some tracks for the upcoming C-FaB Festival’s compilation album. As the music is country, folk and blues, the brief for the album was for it to sound as live as possible.

My first idea of capturing a ‘live sound’ in the studio was getting the artist/band to come in and rather than record the separate parts of the song, record a full complete performance of the song. This method brought a variety of advantages to recording along with some pitfalls to carefully think about.

The main advantage that came from this method of recording was how natural the recordings sounded. They flowed better, had more feeling in them and felt more of a real representation of the artist and their music. Performance are rarely perfect, it was the small imperfections in these performances that made it work.

The recordings came out well due to how comfortable the artists felt when performing. A studio environment can be quite alienating to some musicians, especially when they are more used to playing live. So when asked to just perform a song as they would at a gig, it felt a lot more familiar and comfortable for them. This is certainly beneficial for bands as they are more used to performing with each other rather than separately.

Inevitably the pitfalls we had to be aware of were technical ones. The first thing was microphone placement. Although this is important in all studio situations, there were more things to consider than usual. Avoiding spill between microphones was something we were always checking and thinking about. We knew it would be impossible to completely eliminate this from happening but we tried our best to reduce it. This was obviously easier to do with the solo artists, (although the acoustic guitars had a tendency to pop up on the vocal mic). However, with bands, we had to think about where each instrument would be in the live room and how we could isolate it. We used methods such as foam boards and grouping certain instruments together and giving them their own place in the room.

Our main incentive for making sure we did a good job on microphone placement was to make the tracks easier to mix. It was in the mixing stage we would truly find out how good a job we had done with our microphone placement. For example, there was one track that needed the vocal level increasing and the acoustic guitar level decreasing. However, due to the acoustic guitar spilling in to the vocal mic, a relatively simple task became more complex and required some clever mixing.

Sticking to our brief of recreating a ‘live sound’, we avoided as much we could in altering the sound with any plug-ins as such. It felt more like polishing a performance rather than mixing individual performances in to one track. However, panning was hugely important to the mixing of the tracks. Particularly with the tracks with more parts, it was key to making the tracks feel fuller and richer and give each instrument its own place in the mix.

Overall, I feel that going for a ‘live sound’ was extremely beneficial to the album. It really suits the genre of music and represents the festival well – an event that is all about live music. Although it wouldn’t be suited to every genre of music, I would definitely experiment with this recording style again as I feel it has a lot of potential benefits.

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C-Fab album tracks recorded and mixed by Rory Hunter, Vashti Hayes, Anthony Belcher, Matt Jones, Adrian Rayworth, Jack Martin and Gaz Bailey.

Nightingale & Violin Duet – 90 Years Since 1st Outside Broadcast

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90 years ago today (19th May), the BBC transmitted its very first outside broadcast and the stars of the show were cellist Beatrice Harrison accompanied by a very tuneful nightingale. To celebrate the anniversary, Senior Lecturer in radio Dylan Roys and I accepted the challenge from Reverend Mark Holden (Wragby parishes) to recreate the historic event in Lincolnshire.

Violinist Janet Welsh kindly agreed to join us in this quest and we headed off to Whisby Nature Reserve to recruit a willing nightingale to our band. As dusk fell, Graham Hopwood, our expert guide and one of Whisby’s wardens, attuned our ears to the song of the nightingale amongst the many other voices of blackcap, whitethroat and robin.

With our avian talent spotted and in full song, Janet began to play the tune Londonderry Air, just as Beatrice Harrison had done 90 years earlier. Dylan and I captured the beautiful duet with our modern hand-held recorders as trains whizzed by and jumbo jets cruised overhead.

The recordings reflect the massive changes in our sonic landscape since 1924. Graham chatted to us about the dwindling numbers of nightingales visiting Britain due to changes in their landscape and habitat too. However, the nightingale’s song remains as beautiful now as it did then.

Dylan Roys’s radio piece documenting the recording will be broadcast on May 19th on Siren FM. Listen here:

Listen to a clip of the recording here.

The piece was broadcast on William Wright’s BBC Radio Lincolnshire show on the 19th May 2014. Exactly 90 years after the original broadcast. Hear it here:

Huge thanks to Janet and Graham for helping to make this happen.

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HEADSPACE

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Blog post by Senior Lecturer Zara Healy.

Over 100 Audio and Media Production students gathered for HEADSPACE, a unique industry social event at Lincoln University on Weds 30th April. The gathering was organised by Senior Lecturer in Radio, Zara Healy.

16 industry professionals, including 6 graduates from the radio, audio and music industries attended the event. They included Tim Johns, who produces Jeremy Vine’s show on BBC Radio 2, Chris North, a Talent Manager who has represented Greg James and Scott Mills, Sound Artist Amie Slavin, and presenters from the BBC and Commercial Radio.

Four Q and A sessions allowed students to set the agenda and ask any question about careers, getting a foot in the door or setting up their own companies. The aim of the day was to get students mixing with industry contacts and gain honest, helpful advice. The result was a packed and really useful day, which ended in the Shed Pub for a drink and more discussion.

Zara Healy said “We have great contacts with the industry and HEADSPACE was a chance for people to get together, socialise and celebrate this. I hope this event is the start of more social gatherings in the future”.

Thank you to Brayford Radio for helping host the guests and Dr Sarah Barrow, Head of the School of Media for funding it.

Free Thinking – BBC Radiophonic Workshop

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The BBC Radiophonic workshop was founded in 1958 by Desmond Briscoe and Daphne Oram. This group of experimental composers, sound engineers and musical innovators provided music for programmes including The Body in Question, Horizon, Quatermass, Newsround, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Chronicle and Delia Derbyshire’s iconic Doctor Who Theme before being shut down by Director General John Birt in 1998.

In an edition recorded just as the Workshop prepare to release a new album, and tour the UK, Matthew Sweet brings together Radiophonic Workshop members Dick Mills, Paddy Kingsland, Roger Limb, Peter Howells, and Mark Ayres to reflect on the days and nights they spent in the workshop, coaxing ageing machines into otherworldly life, and pioneering electronic music. Also in the programme, The Prodigy’s Kieron Pepper and Vile Electrodes on the influence the Radiophonic Workshop had on them.

Listen to the BBC Radio 3 programme here:

Taking part in the programme:
Dick Mills
Mark Ayres
Roger Limb
Peter Howell
Paddy Kingsland
Matthew Howden
Kieron Pepper
Vile Electrodes
Steven Price

The 45 @ 65

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Sixty-five years ago RCA Victor launched a small, round, plastic green disc on to the listening public. Journalist David Quantick charts people’s love affair with the 45 rpm single and examines one of the most important revolutions in the modern music business.

The single was always aimed at the younger generation, while the LP originally catered for a middle-aged, middle-class, well-heeled audience. The cheaper 45 took on the poorer, cooler youth market and spun with it. The vinyl single launched rock and roll, pop and the teenager on the world and provided a lynchpin for Western popular culture. It has defined the popular music of last 60 years and shows no signs of dying.

In the first programme, David looks at the war of the speeds and the early, glory days of the vinyl single, which pitted stars like Judy Garland up against Frank Sinatra and then brought audiences Elvis and Bill Haley. All this, set against a brave new world of cheap ‘portable’ record players, exotic new vinyl jukeboxes and the birth of the singles charts.

David also examines the early days of the charts, the effect the single had on that new phenomenon, the teenager, the power the TV Music shows had on the single and the cultural power of the 45, from the revolution of rock and roll to teeny and weeny boppers and glam rock’s children of the revolution.

The series features contributions from Tom Jones, actor Martin Freeman, Myleene Klass, songwriter Diane Warren, musician Soweto Kinch, Bob Stanley from Saint Etienne, Michael Bradley from The Undertones, the Reverend Run, DJ Cosmo, Pete Shelley from The Buzzcocks, Pete Waterman, as well as DJs including Mike Read, David Jensen, Johnnie Walker, Bob Harris, and Bill Brewster Neil Fox amongst others.

Presenter/ David Quantick, Producer/ Anna Harrison and Frank Stirling for Unique Broadcasting

Episode 1

Episode 2

Career Update – Matt North – 2012 Alumnus

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Blog post by Matt North who will be joining us for the Headspace event on April 30th.

After graduating from Audio Production in 2012, I started work as a Technical Operator for Ideal Shopping Direct, across their range of shopping TV channels including Ideal World and Create & Craft. I was then promoted to Audio Operator, where I mixed over 500 hours of broadcast audio across the company’s network until last June when I was fortunate enough to land a job as a Location Sound Recordist for a small kit & crew company called Videoheads, based in White City in London.

Since then, I have been recording location sound for a wide range of TV programming, commercials, corporate and legal films with credits including Crimewatch, iTunes Festival 2013, The Gadget Show and have recently come back from shooting in the Philippines in conjunction with BBC’s The One Show & Sport Relief. I also work on audio post-production at home in whatever spare time I have for both short and feature films.