How Old Will I Be When I Finally Learn?

Since I haven’t been working for the past few months, I’ve been spending much more time outdoors than I usually do. It mostly consists of reading books in a park, but it is still outdoors. So I have managed to develop somewhat of a tan. Considering my typical color is very white–“clear” might be the appropriate word–I consider myself to be quite tan right now.

So today I go over to a friend’s house to watch the Laker game out at his pool. There’s a bunch of people over. Drinks. Sandwiches. And the game. The whole thing. I don’t really care to watch the game but it’s fun to spend time with friends. I get there just as half-time ends and pull out my book to read while everyone else cheers. I’m thinking to myself, “It’s no big deal. I’m tan. I don’t need to worry so much about the sun.”

Now it’s few hours later. I’m back home. Writing this. Looking at my bright red arms and legs, saying to myself, “When will I ever learn?”

A Crown Of Swords

I finished up book 7 of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, “A Crown of Swords”, and started on book 8.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: this series is amazing. If you are a fan of fantasy your should read these books.

My only disappointment is that from what I’ve read of reviews from other people, the series isn’t done yet. There are 10 books in the Wheel of Time. I’m clipping along at a nice pace and I figure that I should have them all done by about the beginning of June. I’ll have read them all one right after another. It will be disappointing to then have to wait I don’t know how many years for the next book to come out.

Birthdays, Pizza & TV

Today was Dana’s birthday. For those of you who don’t know, Dana is Cameron’s wife. And for those of you who don’t know who Cameron is, we work together doing sound. For the past several years we’ve always gone to Little Tony’s, a local pizza place with red-and-white checked table cloths on the tables, for Dana’s birthday.

This year had to be a little different. She likes to watch her TV and if there’s one show that she would call her favorite, it would be “Friends”. So this year her birthday consisted of take-out from Little Tony’s and the series finale of “Friends”. I can’t say that I’ve ever really watched the show to any extent, so the finale didn’t really mean much to me.

I gave Dana the complete series of “Freaks and Geeks” on DVD. All 18 episodes. We were both big fans of that show and very sad to see it go off the air. Of course after the big finale we had to put on the Halloween episode of “Freaks and Geeks”. Bill dressing up as the Bionic Woman. Classic.

What? I can’t hear you. Let me switch the phone to my bionic ear.

That show described my life in junior high and high school so well. Sam being a total awkward geek. Lindsay being really smart but wanting to hang out with the cool kids. Actually if you want to read a great book, Paul Feig, the creator of the show, wrote about his life growing up in “Kick Me: Adventures In Adolescence.” You can find out what actually happened to Paul when he dressed up as a woman for Halloween. Or the time he thought everyone should know his dad was a war hero so he hung a captured Nazi flag in the front window. Hilarious stuff. (Not that Nazis are funny. Life isn’t quite “Hogan’s Heros.” But I could definitely relate to the extreme mortification he always seemed to put himself through.)

I Was So Much Older Then, I’m Younger Than That Now

Today I spent several hours teaching a friend Pro Tools 101. It was an unusual experience for me. I have taught people things before. My work study job through college was working in the various computer labs around campus teaching people how to use software they didn’t know, and also doing telephone tech support. I had a lot of training in how to take a problem, break it down, and work through it in a logical progression. Plus I taught a series of classes on Pro Tools at AFI on three different school years. Teaching is something I’m some what familiar with.

This situation seemed different, at least to me. My friend has many more years in the sound business than I do. He works as a mixer. You can use Pro Tools to mix, but it’s primary function, at least in Hollywood, is as an editorial system. My friend has a strong understanding of how post-sound works but we were dealing with the other aspect of it. The part that he doesn’t do himself everyday at work. So most of the teaching was simply about which buttons to click, and which menus to select. He already had a firm grasp on “the why”. He just needed to know “the how”.

It’s also a bit of a delicate situation. The sound industry has changed a lot in the eight years I’ve been doing it. When I first started, there were still companies cutting on 35mm film in a Moviola. Now it’s all computers. Plus you can do a full 5.1 surround mix in Pro Tools itself. There are mixing jobs that people like my friend don’t get anymore because the production company is unwilling to hire a couple of guys to sit in front of a $500,000 mixing console. They just want to pay an editor to work with a $20,000 computer. He and every other mixer in town has complained at some point that they lose work to people like me with our computers.

I can guarantee you that you’ll get a better sounding track if you take it to my friend’s dub stage, than if you hire me to do it in my computer. Unfortunately that’s not always financially possible. So I was glad to help start him down that path to working with both systems.

How Good Can It Sound?

Stereophile magazine has published an article on iTunes. Most of it is yet another rehash of new features of iTunes 4.5. However the most interesting point is that the New York branch of the Audio Engineering Society (AES) is gathering this month to discuss the impact of portable digital audio players like the iPod using compressed audio files on the sound of music.

It is an important topic. When we do the final mix for films, we go to a dub stage that looks like a theater with most of the seats pulled out and an enormous mix board in the middle of the room. The speakers on these stages sound far better than the ones in most movie theaters. When it comes time to do the DVD mix, sometimes near field speakers are placed on the stage. These might be Genelecs or Audix or some other high end speaker that sounds much better than your home theater setup. The point is we try to get the best sounding mix out of the best sounding speakers. And when we go from movie theater to home theater we try to accurately reproduce the ideal listening environment.

Another way to think of it is that you know a hundred dollar pair of headphones is going to sound a lot better than a ten dollar pair. When you’re working with sound, whether it’s music or films, you want it sound the best it can under the best possible situation. (And therefore it should sound as good as possible under less than ideal situations.)

But iTunes and iPods and the like present a different problem. We are no longer just talking about monitoring through different headphones or speakers. We are talking about reducing the quality of the sound before it even gets played back. By it’s very nature, a compressed sound file is better at playing back certain frequencies, and worse at others. In my own personal observations, high frequency transients like the harmonics from cymbals are the first things to get thrown out in MP3s. So if you know that a lot of your listeners are going to be listening to MP3s versus CDs, do you start reducing those high end frequencies in your mix?

It’s definitely something to think about and should be an interesting discussion.

Smell The Glove

What bridge have I been living under for the past few years? How did I miss these guys?

I went on a bit of a music shopping spree on Friday. I picked up “Swagger” and “Drunken Lullabies” by Flogging Molly. I’m still shocked that I never heard this LA band until recently. (Damn you, Clear Channel for making a radio station that I actually like!) Oh well, at least I finally found them. They play an amazing mix of traditional Irish ballads and jigs, sea chanteys, and punk rock. It’s incredible stuff. “Swagger” is a fun, energetic album and even though I’ve only listened to a couple of tracks off “Drunken Lullabies” so far, it seems to be the same.

Loretta Lynn on the other hand is someone I have heard of, though I can’t say I can name a single song by her. (Other than she is the subject of the movie “Coal Miner’s Daughter” so I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a song with the same name.) I’m not sure why “Van Lear Rose” caught my eye on the new releases list but I decided to read some reviews at Amazon and few other places. After several that started out along the lines of “I don’t normally like country music but…”, I decided to check it out. It’s produced by Jack White of The White Stripes of all people. It’s quite good. There’s a raw feel to the songs that I like I lot more than the overly produced gloss that shines off those few tracks I’ve heard by Garth, Shania, and those other modern country acts.

I bought several other albums as well but I haven’t listened to them yet, so I don’t have much to say. But I’m looking forward to them: Eric Clapton’s “Me and Mr. Johnson”, Aerosmith’s “Honkin’ On Bobo”, Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Fever To Tell” and Toots and the Maytals’ “True Love”.

One Step Beyond

A Pro Tools update for everyone.

I’ve said that we set up a Pro Tools system in an unsupported configuration to and have been testing it. You can get all the details on the system in my earlier post.

It works pretty darn well. We had our first big test Thursday and Friday with pulling sound effects from our new Soundminer database and sending them into Pro Tools to cut a very action intensive 5 minute scene. Guns, explosions, general mayhem. It worked beautifully. I don’t remember the exact track count, but it was over 32 because at one point Cameron had to change the voice setting up to 64.

The one disappointing thing was the performance of the MJPEG A quicktime movie on the Aurora Igniter video card. It was a bit jerky. We checked the Info window while playing the movie in Quicktime Player and it wouldn’t stay at a constant 24 fps. Occasionally it would speed up or slow down by about .5 fps. We didn’t have time to tweak the settings so I can hopefully get that to perform better.

Plus it wasn’t exactly the standard Quicktime file that we would normally playback for sound editorial. It wasn’t loaded off a video tape like they normally are. This was the conversion from an Avid Quicktime that I mention in my last post. The image size was larger than I normally digitize at, and maybe that had something to do with the less the perfect playback.

In fact, the Avid Quicktime played back better even in Pro Tools with all those tracks of audio running too. The only downside to that was the movie could only display on the computer monitor and not on the video monitor. So Cameron used that to cut against instead of the MJPEG A picture.

We haven’t really tried out the SCSI on this setup yet. This scene was cut off the internal hard drive (a standard HFS+ format, not journaled) and the digital picture was played back off a second internal hard drive.

It’s not the be-all end-all, but it does seem that the Pro Tools 6.2.3 software works well with Mix hardware on a G4.