Students’ audio series is quality material for BBC Radio 4

University of Lincoln students who created an audio series about one of the world’s greatest scientists have had their work featured on Radio 4’s Material World.

Students and a recent graduate from the University’s Audio Production course were originally asked to produce an audio tour for The Gravity Fields Festival, which aims to celebrate the legacy of Grantham’s most famous son Sir Isaac Newton.

But the quality of the work is such the science programme Material World used extracts from it to introduce a 15-minute segment on the eight-day festival which took place at the end of September.

The audio, which was also serialised on BBC Radio Lincolnshire, features amateur actors and local schoolchildren and was all recorded on location – including Newton’s birth in the very same room at Woolsthorpe Manor.

Bryan Peter Rudd, the University’s Audio Production programme leader, put the team together following a request from the festival organisers and the BBC.

Bryan said: “This was a fantastic partnership for the University to be involved with. The quality of work produced by the students is absolutely tremendous and they achieved this while working under enormous pressure to very tight deadlines. I am extremely proud of them as they have shown the amazing quality of work our students are capable of.”

Luke Pickering, who recently graduated from the University with a first-class honours degree in audio production, led the student team which consisted of Jake Walker, James Drake and Stephen Bernard.

Luke, 22, who also spent the summer recording live bands, said: “Recording on location was something I hadn’t had much experience in so that aspect was really interesting. Between the four of us it worked smoothly and I’m really pleased with the finished product.”

Jake, 20, added: “It was a fantastic experience. When I told my mum the audio had been played on Radio 4 she was delighted, if I ever got to work on The Archers she’d probably cry. I was a bit scared as we only had a week to put it together but I learned so much which I can apply to future projects.”

Charlie Partridge, Managing Editor of BBC Radio Lincolnshire, involved the University after he was initially approached to produce an audio tour for the festival.

He said: “It soon became clear that it would also be suitable for radio drama. The University has amazing facilities and a great bunch of talented people, which is why I immediately contacted the media department. The students worked fantastically well from our point of view and it was great they had the opportunity to have their work broadcast, not only on local radio but also on Radio 4. I applied a real quality test to the finished product, so it was a real challenge for them. That kind of site specific drama is really difficult to get right but they did. It is in every way a professional recording and is testament to the very talented people both studying and working at the University of Lincoln.”

To listen to the episode of Material World which features excerpts from the radio drama go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01mwzwj from 16 minutes in.

Story by Marie Daniels – PR Officer

First Career Steps – Matt North

Blog Post by Audio Production alumnus Matt North:

Having finished my degree in Audio Production, I am currently working for Ideal Shopping Direct as a Technical Operator. The company broadcasts over four channels and its main channel, Ideal World, is live 17 hours a day. My main responsibilities within my role are varied and alongside operating audio for the shows, I am learning new skills in different roles such as Floor Technician, Video Controller and Camera Operation. The Floor Technician role is especially interesting as I am learning new skills in lighting television sets, testing audio and visual feeds and dealing first-hand with presenters and guests alike.

The audio role within the company is very enjoyable, consisting of running the desk and ensuring all audio is to a suitable level for broadcast, as well as playing out sound effects and VT.

Whilst I am very much enjoying my work, I intend to gain as many skills and as much experience as possible within this role and then potentially move to a full-time Audio Operator role. Although I am doing some audio operation as a Technical Operator, I feel it would be beneficial for my CV and career to possess the official title of Audio Operator for future endeavours.

Ultimately, I intend to pursue my passion for film & TV sound that I developed whilst studying Audio Production. Since finishing my degree, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work as a Sound Recordist, as well as complete audio post-production on a short film with a former graduate from Lincoln, Michael Beddoes. I spoke to him after his guest lecture for R&D and he invited me to assist him on his project entitled ‘Breaking’, which has been entered into the Virgin Media Shorts competition and has received great attention. It was an invaluable experience, teaching me more about the location recording process and I am extremely proud of the finished product.

Through working on ‘Breaking’, I was asked by the film’s producer (Adam Spinks) to be in charge of sound on his upcoming feature film ‘Survivors’, which is being shot over 11 days in September in Surrey. The film has been crowd-funded and is being produced on a budget of around £4000. This was a fantastic opportunity that I could not turn down and since accepting the role, Adam has also asked me to complete post-production work on another short film he has done – and this was my first official paid freelance role. Although it was only a small amount, it is definitely a milestone in my career.

I am currently using my wages from working at Ideal World to buy my first personal location recording kit for the ‘Survivors’ shoot. I have upgraded to Pro Tools 10 and I am also currently enhancing the knowledge I gained from my degree in audio production for film through reading and testing the equipment I have purchased.

After the ‘Survivors’ shoot, I intend to apply for more freelance roles within the industry to enhance my audio portfolio, whilst continuing to gain experience in live TV sound at Ideal World. Afterwards, I hope to move to Manchester or London and apply for work in Audio Post-Production facilities whilst continuing with freelance audio work.

Links here: Breaking, Survivors

Work Experience At British Grove

Blog post by level 1 Audio Production student Alistair Pritchard (3rd from left).

I was invited to spend a day at British Grove Studios in London by Dave Harries when our course gained JAMES accreditation. I helped set up the new tweeters in both studios and was introduced to the various employees of the studio and was then invited to spend a whole week at the studio later on in the year.

The building has a lovely, warm and homely atmosphere with real character, made more so by the staff that work there. Owned by Mark Knopfler and managed by David Stewart, British Grove is one of the very few studios left in London who cater for orchestral recordings as well as bands. Its amazing acoustics and flexibility of live rooms and booths allow it to adapt to each client’s needs.

During my first day I worked as Assistant Engineer with Joe (Engineer) and Steve McLaughlin who’s produced various compositions for films such as Die Hard and X-Men. This involved setting up for recording piano and classical guitar (see picture below) to add to a previous orchestral recording done at Abbey Road Studios. This was to be used for an art exhibition and possibly for a film in the future. Microphone positioning/choice was a key factor during this session to get the best sound but also to piece the music together as it was a complicated composition.

On my second day, after getting to grips with my role as an Assistant Engineer and familiar with the new environment, I was to work with Rich and Jason – setting up to record an album. Later that day I was introduced to Guy Fletcher (keyboard player in Mark’s band). The recording would take place for the rest of the week in studio 1 and, during this time, Glyn Johns was mixing an album for a client with Martin (British Grove Engineer) in Studio 2. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to him and Don Was, which was really nice. I then found myself discussing work with them and made coffee throughout the week which lead to having lunch followed by some sound advice from Glyn himself.

For the recording session in studio 1 we had to use all of the booths and the live room. This consisted of many instruments being recorded all at the same time. To name a few:

Fiddle and Whistle/Flute – Neumann 67 (valve).
Drums – AKG C12s were used as overheads (also valve and very rare these days).
Vocals – A modern copy of a Telefunken 251.

Danny Cummings (percussionist) then turned up with all of his gear and by God, did he bring some drums?! We set them up and got levels with various microphones to find out which ones gave the best sound, in particular for the bass drum. The project was for a Spanish flamenco artist (cannot be named for private reasons) and was to be produced by Guy Fletcher. The musicians were part of Mark Knopfler’s folk band and friends, who I have to thank for making me very welcome and are such nice people. In total we had nine songs to record in full and straight away from hearing the first song you could see why the client had come to British Grove Studios, he was absolutely incredible as a composer of music and guitarist.

Throughout the week I learnt a lot about the hierarchy within a studio and how each level communicates with each other. Specifically to production techniques I learnt about microphone placement and some useful tips on Pro Tools. As the week came to an end working at British Grove started to feel like a norm, and I thoroughly enjoyed it and was always eager to learn but I felt like part of the team – in all honesty I was sad to go.

However, my week was still yet to be completed as David gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse and I stayed for the weekend too. I was then fortunate enough to meet Paul Crockford who is Mark’s manager and has a wealth of experience in the role. The following morning we were set to finish the previous day’s song which would determine whether or not we would finish on time. Later that day I was pleasantly surprised to meet Mark Knopfler himself and that was a great end to the week with the final pieces being tracked and edited.

Overall I had a brilliant time and couldn’t have asked for a better week. Thank you to all involved.

Ethan at Maida Vale Studios

Blog post by level 3 Audio Production student Ethan Ejdowski:

On Februrary 15th, I travelled down to Maida Vale Studios in London to do some primary research for my Research and Development module. I’m researching into live music at the BBC and targeting specifically the Maida Vale studios.

I started the day with a tour of the studios, learning how the buildings work towards different sessions which are broadcast directly from the studios. Sessions such as Radio 1 Live Lounge, Zane Lowe sessions, the BBC Symphonic Orchestra.

I was then given the opportunity to observe the setup and broadcast of Radio 1’s Live Lounge with the guest being Ed Sheeran. I then observed a second session, this was the set-up and 40 minute live broadcast of The Black Keys (shown in the picture below).

It was a great experience and helped me gain an understanding of how the Maida Vale sessions work and also how I can attempt to gain a job in a similar field.

Working With Binaural: Bringer

This post was submitted by level 3 Audio Production student Matt North.

For the first of two audio projects required on the 3rd year of Audio Production, Luke Pickering and I decided to experiment with binaural audio.  What started out as an idea of producing a 5.1 surround sound mix for an animation rapidly developed into writing and producing our own short horror film, which focussed on the binaural soundtrack to induce fear upon the audience.

The main premise for our film is completely unique and takes the form of three short films, each representative of the three character’s first-person perspectives.  We wrote a script based on this idea so that in order to fully understand the entire storyline of the film, all three films need to be viewed at once.  The films are to be exhibited across three screens at the Degree Show, allowing three audience members to experience a character’s involvement in the film and then conversing with the other audience members afterwards to understand what happened in their film.

Luke was aware of an abandoned RAF building on the outskirts of Lincoln, which we visited in an attempt to draw up ideas for the storyline of our film.  The place itself was extremely desolate and had a strong sense of isolation from the city; in other words, it was very creepy.

With our experience in radio drama script writing from the 2nd year, we wrote a script based upon the graffiti within the building and created the fictional storyline of three art fanatics searching for the early work of a popular graffiti artist, Thomas F. Bringer.  We wanted to come up with an original and non-clichéd idea and felt that that we could portray the feeling of horror by manipulating the binaural soundtrack.

Following the guidance of such website as DigDagga.com, a blog on binaural audio, we invested £190 into some in-ear binaural microphones from the USA.  On location, we set our actors up with a digital camera gaffa taped to a sports headband around their head and placed the binaural mics into their ears.  The mics were extremely sensitive and we had to do some rigorous testing to ensure that we would record the best possible signal and not have the gain set too high.

For such scenes as Dan’s attack, we really wanted to play upon the binaural aspect and thought of many ways in which we could inject both realism and fear into the soundtrack.  Upon reflection, the sound of the tape being wrapped around Dan’s head really is horrifying.  We had no problems with the audio upon location until we reviewed that particular scene, when we realised that the gain was incorrectly set to accommodate the screaming and this resulted in heavy clipping.  We both decided that despite it sounding terrible, it actually added to the sense of horror we were trying to convey.

We recorded some binaural Foley on location, such as the coughing up of blood in Dan’s film and also some bangs from the main room that are evident in Ed’s and placed them within the original recorded audio.  Due to them being on location, we didn’t have to worry about matching the reverbs to the room and they slotted into the soundtrack smoothly.  As we wanted everything the audience heard in the film to be binaural, we completed some post-production Foley with the binaural mics as well.  These were then manipulated to add to the sound of Dan’s attack and death, as well as Lisa’s panic attack to give off an extra sense of realism.

After the soundtrack was ready we researched into EQ mapping, which we discovered was necessary to add an extra realism to the films.  This involved playing white noise in the Sound Theatre into the binaural microphones and then using O-Zone’s EQ matching plug-in to read the frequency response of the mics.  This was then inverted to bring the frequency spectrum to a flat level, therefore replicating human hearing as much as possible.  This was essential learning in the use of binaural.

Whilst the majority of binaural experimentation has been through the use of dummy-heads, we attempted with BRINGER to create a realistic and professional binaural soundtrack on a small budget using in-ear binaural mics.  This process has ultimately taught us a lot about recording binaurally and I would recommend anyone to attempt and experiment with the advantages that binaural can bring to a production.

Audio Production Is For Girls!


Picture – three of the seven young women studying Audio Production; Alex, Lilly and Galani.

BA (Hons) Audio Production is in its third year, meaning we now have students at all three levels. Of these, we have a small but growing number of young women: three at level two (of twenty seven students) and four at level one (of thirty one students). However, we still have relatively few female applicants. I talked to Jasia, Galani and Alex to find out why, in a field that has traditionally attracted many more males than females, they were compelled to buck the trend and study Audio Production.

Galani: “I knew I wanted to be in a sound-related job from being in secondary school, when I first picked up guitar lessons. I had this youthful perception of being a “rockstar” musician. However, as I got older, my interest grew into the technical aspects of production. I started to research more into sound engineering and knew from then on that this is what I wanted to do for my career. When I came to university, I was pleased that the course opened up new areas such as film, television and radio too, and I fell in love with sound for visual media!”

Alex: “I think girls get put off of doing audio because of the theoretical and technological side of sound and the practices that come with it – they assume it’s a subject for boys. But for me that is the interesting part, learning the ins and outs of everything. Sound as a whole interests me and is something I want to keep learning about and make into my career.”

Jasia: “From an early age I have listened to radio and there is still a lack of women presenters which has driven me to my ambition of becoming a radio presenter. Audio Production is a great course to widen knowledge and gain experience for future jobs in the industry.”

As the women here verify, there are many aspects to audio production and the reasons for choosing to study on the course are as wide-ranging. Audio Production has its technical aspects, of course. However, there is no reason for it to suffer from the same challenges of gender stereotyping as subjects like engineering, chemistry and computer science despite the very unhelpful images of bikini-clad models holding synthesizers that still appear in today’s music technology magazines.

The challenge then is ours: to find ways to communicate to female applicants that this is not a ‘boys with toys’ course but a rich and creative learning environment involving the many aspects of audio production. I hope this blog post goes some way towards that.

Link – Julie Allinson from the University of York describes her gender stereotype work at University of Lincoln’s DevXS

Traps

Level 2 Audio Production student Luke Pickering’s new band on Bandcamp. All tracked and mixed by Luke at the University’s studios.

Luke’s At It Again!

Level 2 Audio Production student, Luke Pickering has formed a new band with members of his previous, now defunct, two bands! Traps have been recording in the university studios and are currently mixing their latest EP.
Luke says: “Traps formed late 2010 after our bands Prisms/Mute broke up and have been gigging since our first show in Sheffield mid-February. We’ve got a 5 track demo on our soundcloud/myspace for anyone to download which I just did in my bedroom so had some songs to get started with. Now halfway through mixing the EP, which we’ll send to independent labels and promote over a summer tour or two later this year”.
The line-up is:
Luke Pickering – Guitar, Lead Vocals
Ben Wilson – Bass, Vocals
Guy Chater – Drums, Vocals

Listen to the tracks recorded at the university here:
Traps: Nasty Little Man by audioproduction

Traps: Diagnose Me by audioproduction

Myspace
Soundcloud

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