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AES Student Blog

Student Design Competition Finalist and Award Winner: Steven Dale

We are happy to post some interviews with the student design competition winners of the AES 133 in San Fransico. Congratulations again!

honorable mention of category 2 (Graduate): Steven Dale


SDA: Tell us a little bit about you. Where are you from? Where and what do you study?

Dale: I grew up in Brooklyn, went to school upstate at SUNY Albany for computer science and recently completed the TransDesign MFA program at Parsons. Along the way, I learned many aspects of sound design and production, so I've been exploring ways to connect these together.

SDA: Tell us about your Design Competition entry. What were your inspirations? How long did it take to implement your concept? Any interesting stories?

Dale: I designed a working prototype of a sound map that allows people to navigate the sound of a space in realtime without having to physically move through it. My research was focused on public libraries, as I had fond memories of spending lots of time there when I was younger, and because of their importance to communities.

My goal was to explore the possibilities of using sound in new and unexpected ways, and privacy is undeniably an element of this that can't be ignored. Without a doubt, a lot more work would need to be done to implement something like this.

SDA: What initiated your passion for audio software or hardware design? What was your first project?

Dale: I've always loved music, though my spark to create came when I first started college. I had been experimenting with inexpensive tools like FruityLoops and software synths and shared a rough demo of a techno song with some friends. One of them had a studio and invited us to collaborate on writing it. I took the bus down to NYC on weekends, and anyone who works in a studio knows that time flies. And it's never enough. So back at school in between sessions, I tried to write on a maddeningly slow PC.  I remember spending hours bouncing tracks to disk, repeating, layering. It was masochistic, yet somehow I stuck with it. Thankfully writing and recording in software is now exponentially better.

What started as a love for electronic dace music transformed into an appreciation for many styles of music, and eventually into sound itself. I began recording instruments, and later vocalists I met online. In the last few years my interest in sound expanded to the hardware side, specifically installation work. I think this is the key to learning - finding a spark from within and then following all the trails it leads to.

SDA: What is the biggest mistake you made during a project?

Dale: I've gotten in over my head in several client-based projects, by over-promising and under-delivering. Those were good lessons on getting better at communicating clearly and setting expectations. It's still very much my philosophy that it's better to say yes, even though we may be uncertain how we plan on doing it, or even if we can.

SDA: What professional designers do you look up to? Why?

Dale: I have hard time with words, like 'design' and 'art' - these are artificial boundaries. I draw inspiration and ideas from seemingly disparate worlds, as I see them as all connected.

Reuben Margolin, who does incredible flowing wave pieces. In public art, Christopher Janney for designing for multiple senses. In film, Tim Burton for portraying the dark side of life honestly. In immersive performance: PunchDrunk's Sleep No More blew my mind. In music, Phillip Glass, Dan Deacon, for crazy melodies and dense arrangements. And on the more conceptual and technical side, Oliver Sack's writing on sound and perception and Blesser & Salter's Aural Architecture were hugely influential on me.

SDA: What are your highlights of AES 133 San Francisco?

Dale: Meeting really talented people from around the world, who presented a variety of projects. Particularly fellow students; I heard amazing music and sound productions, and met people working on great software and hardware projects. I found a place to stay one night in a bind through a generous new friend, and found the entire AES community as friendly and welcoming.

SDA: How has the AES helped you on your way to becoming a successful engineer?

Dale: I don't quite know what my next steps are, though I'm certain it'll revolve around the world of sound and music. Meeting people from all aspects, the technical side of hardware/software/sound engineering to performers, composers, and musicians. In terms of career path, it has helped me create a mental map of possibilities.

SDA: Any other hobbies?

Dale: I'm really interested in the tools people use to sketch, take notes, and share ideas. I've recently started development of a visual storytelling and mapping application to help people collaborate, research and share ideas, and I'm applying for grants to build a team to help realize it.

I love travelling, and being out in the middle of nowhere is a great place to recharge and spend time thinking. I write poetry and lyrics too, though I can't sing, so maybe in the future they'll be software to let us all sing. Oh wait, it already exists: AutoTune.

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

Dale: First and foremost, I'd be very happy if my hearing (and other senses) hold out unharmed. If I could sustain a practice that consists of creating installation work, collaborating with people from different disciplines continuously and teaching, I'd be very happy and lucky.


Check out Steven's projects and hear his sound creations.

Posted: Saturday, January 5, 2013

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