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Student Recording Competition Finalist and Award Winner: Scott Levine

We are happy to post some interviews with the student recording competition winners of the AES133 in San Fransico. Congratulations again!


gold award winner of category 1 (traditional acoustic recording): Scott Levine

SDA: Tell us a little bit about you.

Scott: I grew up in Santa Barbara, California, about an hour north of Los Angeles. After doing a lot of music (marching band, yes, marching band) in high school, I went to study at the University of California, San Diego on a pre-med track. After a few years of studying science, I was pulled back into the music world with my job at the school's recording studios—I ended up graduating with a BA in Music and was accepted into McGill's Graduate Sound Recording Program. I'm currently living in Montreal as a second year student in the program, focusing on music production and spatial audio research.

SDA: Tell us about the production of your competition entry. How long did you work on it? Was it your first entry? Stories? Inspirations?

Scott: This recording (Third Construction by John Cage) came from a collaboration with the Architek Percussion Quartet ( The guys came to me looking for a different way to reach listeners aside from the standard CD or iTunes release, so we ended up producing a Blu-Ray with 96k/24b lossless surround sound. Because the goal was always surround delivery, the piece was tracked with 5.1 in mind—surround main pickup, individual spots, and surround ambient mics. We tracked the piece with video in late January 2012, spent 3 months editing the audio and video (editing audio gets a lot more complicated when you need video continuity!) and a week of mixing for the disc release. Because it was my first competition entry, I remixed the recording in August mostly out of paranoia!

The inspiration for the recording was driven by the musicians; they wanted to produce a recording that sounded like nothing else—a close and detailed, hyper-real sound coupled with this huge, interactive ambient environment. The quartet kept telling me "We want the listeners to not understand why they believe the recording", so we kept pushing the aesthetic farther and farther from traditional perspectives in listening.

SDA: What initiated your passion for audio?

Scott: There's no feeling that's the same as being in the middle of a group performing a piece of music—I realized that with audio, we can work to get listeners as close to that experience as possible, delivering not only content, but the emotional and physical experience taking someone out of their listening world and into a completely new context, whether it be for music, film, or live sound design.

SDA: How did the AES help you on your way of being a successful audio engineer?

Scott: I have been lucky to be awarded a grant from AES Educational Foundation for my studies at McGill. This grant has not only made it possible to attend the program, but has also demanded that I live up to the expectations! The AES has provided incredible resources to me through connections in presenting research papers, as well as recording tips and techniques from the masters in convention roundtables.

SDA: What are your highlights of the AES133 in San Francisco?

Scott: Of course I'm required to say the Student Recording Competition! Receiving critique from the judges was absolutely invaluable, but also listening to the other entries and the judges' thoughts during the entire competition gave a great idea to what works, and what doesn't—these are people who actually make money for their recordings!

Also, the paper sessions were really informative and impressive—it seems like there are more organizations and young researchers presenting each convention. Being able to present an engineering brief for the first time allowed me to have conversations with the research giants I've read papers by for years!

SDA: What was your funniest experience as an engineer so far?

Scott: So we're in the studio with a band, and they want to track some backup gang vocals for the end of one tune. Five engineers go into the live room and try it out, but we all keep singing the line too "pretty", so the band asks us to "rough up" the lines. That doesn't work either, because somebody keeps singing like Elmo from Sesame Street. Eventually, we ended up laying down on the studio floor and singing the line up to the ceiling, and it worked! Talk about "laying down" some vocals...

SDA: Can you tell us your biggest mistake you made during a production?

Scott: The latching Talkback button is the worst invention ever made...

SDA: What is the best recording of all time?

Scott: I've got to say Earth Wind & Fire's September—how can you get cooler than that?

SDA: Do you play any instruments?

Scott: I'm a trombone player, but I still haven't gotten that perfect trombone sound on a recording yet...

SDA: Any other hobbies?

Scott: The other engineers and I play squash here at McGill—it keeps us sane with all of the work. It's also a pretty good release for aggression when somebody slams your recording!

SDA: Where do you want to be in 10 years?

Scott: I'd love to be recording for film or music, and still working in development for new audio systems and practices—we need to keep moving forward as an industry!

Posted: Thursday, December 13, 2012

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