The arrival of 3D television marks a major step forward in the evolution of home entertainment. It creates an environment that is more immersive than anything 2D television has to offer and I will not be surprised if it catches on relatively quickly.
I demoed a Sony TV with the required glasses and was amazed. Its depth perception allows the viewer to examine details of an image from every angle. That’s not possible in 2D. It forms the gateway from viewing to participation. And come to think of it, participation is where it’s at.
Imagine the video game Call Of Duty in 3D. Now you are the soldier and you are immersed in that environment, removing you from the couch and putting you on the battlefield. That’s pretty exciting.
And these visual advances bode well for sound……
I know I should write about audio since I live and breathe it but I’ve been distracted by the news. In two weeks the US could find itself unable to pay all its bills. Why? Because the Congress refuses to raise the debt ceiling if the president insists on raising taxes as part of any agreement. We can debate what lead us into this predicament but there is little debate in my mind as to how to get out of it. We have to cut costs and raise taxes-that means everybody has to tighten the belt more than they want to. As a business owner, I am a capitalist and interested in making a lot of money but at the same time I understand our country is in a financial crisis. While I would not be happy to pay more, I don’t believe it’s right to improve our country’s balance sheet solely on the backs of the poor. Don’t the wealthy want to pitch in and help our country in its time of great need? Some do, I know that. But with an annual deficit estimate at 1.5 trillion, everyone has to help, including those at the top of the food chain, otherwise we are just delaying the inevitable bankruptcy.
As JFK so eloquently put it more than a generation ago, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”.
So quit your bellyaching, raise taxes and help this country get out of this mess.
There is a paradigm shift taking place right before us that is challenging established institutions.
It is challenging how we do business. It’s challenging how we lead our lives. It’s a shift that is as obvious to the generation coming of age as it is opaque to those who have relied on established ways.
Institutions such as public libraries, record stores, books stores, magazine and newspapers are all being affected. Fixed times for news reporting is evolving away from schedules and more towards real time as events are unfolding.
Colleges may take pride in their hallowed libraries, but kids coming up today may have little use for them other than to grab a coffee at the stand in the library meant to attract students to the place. Card catalogues have been replaced by browsers.
Record/CDs stores have almost completely vanished and subscriptions to printed newspapers and magazines are dropping. The job search listings in local papers have lost most of their value. No one needs them.
Cell phones have replaced land lines and GPS has replaced printed maps.
What’s astonishing in all of this is how fluid and natural the change has been.
I was at an antique store the other day where the merchant was selling a typewriter. They are fascinating devices, used for decades or longer and at one time indispensable for a business. Completely useless today. How do you change fonts on such a device? Why do you need to type it directly on to paper? What happens if you make a mistake? How do you spell-check on it? How do you even share the document with others?
At the turn of the 19th century, profound changes were taking place in the way we interacted with our environment. It was the age of invention, we moved from travelling by horse back, to automobiles and airplanes. It was the age of the lightbulb and telephone. One hundred and fifty years ago, the only way to light a street was to have someone ignite every gaslight on the block individually. As the electrical grid was established, every home was magically given light, heat and electricity. Good thing too, we needed a place to plug in our phonograph record player which had gone from a mechanical wind up box to an electronic device capable of playing LPs or long playing records. It ushered an era of radio and TV and profoundly changed our definition of leisure time. We collected things: records, books, 16 mm film and these collections we owned with pride. Our collections now exist in a digital format that we can carry anywhere – our movies, books, records, family photos.
What is driving this change? Instant gratification. My kindle allows me to download the lastest best seller in seconds. Who needs a book store unless you want leisure time to browse without a goal.
The results of this shift is that life is simultaneously getting easier and more complicated. We’ve become dependent on a technology that is seamlessly integrated into our lives but can have disastrous consequences when it suddenly doesn’t work – imagine the panic when the NASDAQ website is down.
In my twenty years as an audio engineer, I’ve seen a profound change in how we deliver audio. We started with mix masters that were 1/2″ tape stock the size of an LP and weighed several lbs. DATS followed. They contained all the information of an LP and could fit into your back pocket. Then it was CDs that could store and provide instant playback for consumers. Now we can drop an entire artist catalogue on to a thumb drive not much larger than the top of a pen. Engineers rarely see a physical element anymore. They download posted elements, then record to a hardrive, upload to a server and play on a lap top. If I was a FedEX employee, I’d be concerned. We don’t ship like we used to.
But beware of what technology leaders tell you. They all have agendas. Case in point: when Steve Jobs was asked if he felt competition from the Kindle reader he replied, “Why should I? Nobody reads anymore.” That was a bold statement, perhaps even a keen observation. Then I saw the new IPad ads. In it there’s a guy sitting back leisurely reading a best seller on his new IPad.
People here are tired of me talking about AVATAR. Many of my friends didn’t think it was that great. But I loved it – proving once again that movies are very personal. They strike a chord with one and fall flat with another. And if the movie is any good at all, the lower your expectation the better the payoff. Admittedly, I did not expect much from AVATAR.
Some observations on the film.
1) All caps for a movie title grabs attention (even if it is a little cliche’d) and it works with AVATAR, I can’t even type it without it being in caps. I’ve tried several times but it keeps self correcting! Unbelieveable.
2) The technical execution is nearly flawless. It’s the first film that I didn’t just watch…I experienced it. I was an extra, witnessing from within the set, all of the action as it takes place. I am completely sold on the 3D experience.
3) James Cameron is one dissatisfied individual. It shows in the way he sets up and films his scenes. A guy I was discussing the film with took offense when I compared Cameron with August Rodin throwing his hammer at the finished, anatomically correct sculpture screaming, “why don’t you breathe!!”
4) Music By James Horner. It reminds me of the great work of John Williams and without going too far off on a tangent, seeing Williams conduct Star Wars would be a thrill on the scale of watching Mozart conduct one of his symphony.
Horner’s music blends beautifully with the scenes as he lifts them with melodies and rhythms that evoke the past and the future at the same time. The vocalist is haunting as are the tribal instruments. The sound quality outstanding as is the mix, delicate and forceful at the same time.
So what fascinates me about this film is that it’s deeply moving, despite its flaws. And the flaws are obvious. The theme is not fresh (Pocahontas, FernGully, Dances with Wolves), the characters are thin, especially the colonel, and mining company execs – they are easy to dislike.
But it is a story of internal conflict and of transformation. It’s the story of finding that your perspective is not the only true one, that there are shades and not absolutes. The fact that Cameron chooses to align himself with the “tree huggers” is to his credit. This appeals to me.
But at the end of the day, this is about entertainment and hugely entertaining it is.
I started out as a performing musician and became an audio engineer in order to record my songs and the various bands I was playing with. I found it was both efficient and cost effective to learn how to engineer. It was also gratifying because when you learn a skill one becomes less dependent on someone else to get the job done. But my path was a tough one. I didn’t have anyone to mentor me. My two band mates and me opened up the manuals and started reading about the gear we’d just purchased.
My first studio consisted of a Tascam 1/2″ eight track recorder, 1/4″ stereo mix master recorder, Tascam 24 fader console, various outboard gear, keyboards and mikes. The first pair of microphones we purchased were AKG 414s. They were great for vocals and as well as in a stereo pair placed overhead for drums.
My band had morphed into a production company called Atomic Records. We had a basement studio in WESTBETH, an artist housing complex in the west village consisting of two rooms, one of which we turned into our control room. Of course there was some water damage on the floor of the space. What basement hasn’t experienced that? So we bought a dehumidifier. Every three days we had to carry the dehumidifier’s overflowing tray down the hall passed the water bugs and empty it into the sump pump’s canal.
Once the decks and console were positioned, we connected everything with RCA cables through a patch bay and we were off and running. Within two years we sold our first recording to RCA, a song called “If You Feel It”. They paid us a $12,000 advance and our basement studio became our lab where we eventually churned out the demos for two LPs. One of the songs we recorded eventually went top 40. The artist was Denise Lopez and the song was “Saying Sorry Dont Make It Right”.
Recording with tape is very different from recording on Protools. Tape is almost an instrument in itself. It has an effect on the sound that you can manipulate like a piece of outboard gear. It’s a beautiful thing to witness dialing up signal level for a desired effect.
When working in Protools, I’ve found the exact opposite is the case. The whole idea in digital recording is to avoid any effect at all from the digital recorder. It should be transparent-like it’s not even there. That’s partly why the sound is so clean. If there’s an engineer out there using a digital rig like an instrument, I’d love to hear about it. Hmmm, anyone have Butch Vig’s contact info?
In 1993 I was hired by Grey as their in-house audio engineer. I set to work designing and building their rooms to make them more suitable for a professional recording environment. One of the surprises of my life was how much I enjoyed the agency environment. I loved doing spot work and also welcomed the challenge of multi-tasking the various projects with their narrow deadlines. Guess I’m a masochist at heart.
Then one day there was a department meeting and the person in charge said, “everyone still employed here stand up,” then they looked at me and said, “You, not so fast”. That’s how I ended up here at HOBO.