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AES139 Student Recording Competition Winner Interview: Jennifer Nulsen

Jennifer Nulsen's submission received a honourable mention in the first category (Traditional Acoustic Recording) at the Student Recording Competition of the 139th AES Convention. You can listen to her work here
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? Where and what do you study? What audio field are you in?
I am currently located in West Hartford, CT, where I study at the Hartt School at the University of Hartford. I am a double major in music production and technology and piano performance, and will graduate with two B.M. degrees in May 2016. I work primarily in classical music recording, editing, and production, but I also work in video post production and jazz recording.
What initiated your passion for audio? When did it start?
My passion for audio is an outgrowth of my passion for music, which began at a very early age. Late in high school and early in my undergrad career, I began to relate my musical experiences to audio after working as a production assistant on a classical album release. Between this experience and some basic music technology courses, I found myself drawn to the union of art and science that audio work can be. For me, recording music is about creating the ideal performance of a piece or a song, using slightly different tools and skills than the musicians themselves. This challenge of learning a new skill set and a new way of listening to create an ideal performance intrigued me then and it has kept me intrigued ever since.
Are you a musician yourself? What instruments do you play and in what musical context?
I am a musician­. In fact, while studying audio, I’m also studying for a degree in piano performance. This has led to mostly classical performance situations as both a chamber musician and solo musician in the past few years, but I’ve also worked as a jazz pianist in trios, quartets, and big bands.
Tell us about the production of your submission. What is the story behind it? What was it inspired by? How long did you work on it? 
My submission was a concert recording for a professional woodwind quartet at the Tanglewood Music Center, and so the inspiration behind the recording was to capture the most accurate and enthralling performance possible while keeping the stage fairly clear for the performers and audience. The turnaround time for these concerts was fairly quick, so I only worked on the recording for about two days - a day after the concert, and another day before the competition to revisit the recording before submitting it.
Was it your first entry?
It wasn't - I entered last year at AES 137 in the same category, and received a Bronze Award for that entry.
What was your most significant/funny/inspiring experience as an audio engineer?
The most incredible experience I’ve had as an audio engineer to date was the opportunity to work as an assistant engineer on the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra’s performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 under Andris Nelsons. The soloists and orchestra were absolutely astounding, and the sheer volume of performers (over three hundred fifty) on stage provided a new level of challenge and a simply astonishing volume of sound. The performance was broadcast to radio and to a live stream in Boston (several tens of thousands of people total), so the pressure to know the music and the technical setup equally well was high, and I truly enjoyed getting to know both the music and technology even better through this experience. Working under great head engineers also made the experience educational, as they were incredibly open to explaining the setup and offering constructive criticism as the week of rehearsals and concert progressed.
Accidents happen: What was your biggest mistake in a production and what did you do to redeem the situation?
There are so many times where I’ve made a mistake in a production and had to learn to never repeat it through the process of remedying the situation, and I feel that this has really helped me to grow as a young engineer. However, a particularly tricky moment for me came in a concert recording of art songs and poem recitations. The first speaker walked out and I had forgotten to spike where he was standing on stage, so he ended up standing at a great distance from the microphones I had hoped to use to capture his voice. I had to go back and remix the whole recitation pretty extensively, and ever since then I’ve been very careful about solidifying stage positions with performers during the rehearsal process!
What’s your advice for engineers who are just starting out?
I feel like I’m just starting out myself, but so far, the best advice that I’ve received was to treat audio work like an instrument. Constant practice and new experiences, even if you end up being the coffee person, working for eighteen hours straight, or recording something you feel like you’d never record individually, are both important and irreplicable. I’ve learned so much just by showing up to assist on sessions and asking as many questions as seemed appropriate to the situation. Also, try as many new types of audio work as possible; for me, the best way to figure out what I wanted to focus on was by learning about what I didn’t enjoy and why I didn’t enjoy it.
Tech talk: What are your favourite pieces of equipment (microphones, outboard, plugins), and why?
Lately, I’ve been using the Millenia NSEQ­2 on almost every recording I’ve done, as a sort of master bus EQ, because I love the ability to toggle between the J­FET solid state and Class A vacuum tube circuits. This option has been an excellent finishing character touch on several recordings for me recently.
Can you name one or multiple of your favourite recordings or productions and tell us why you like them/what you like about them?
I really love the Goat Rodeo Sessions album by Yo­-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Stuart Duncan, and Chris Thile. I think the balance between direct and ambient sound is incredible, and that the production draws the listener into the center of the group without distorting the sense of proportion and tonal balance of each instrument. This record is one of my go­to reference recordings whenever I’m trying to adjust to a new system or a new room simply because it is so honest and transparent in production style.
What/who made you join the AES?
I joined the AES shortly after I began my audio studies at the Hartt School, after my professor, Justin Kurtz, encouraged me to join to take advantage of the awesome opportunities at that year’s convention in New York and through networking year­round with the people I would meet that fall.
What do you like about the AES? How does it help you to become a better and more successful audio engineer?
I like the chances that AES provides to engineers to connect with both people in their own specialized disciplines, and with people outside of that realm. Beyond this, AES allows these groups of people to educate each other and together build a stronger base of knowledge and further advancement for the audio industry, utilizing the combined types of knowledge and individual strengths of uniquely talented audio engineers.
Tell us about your favourite experiences at the 139th AES Convention in New York!
I loved getting caught up with friends and colleagues that I rarely see outside of the conventions, and particularly enjoyed Saul Walker’s talk with Alex Case about his career and where he sees the audio industry going in the near future. I think that both Mr. Walker and Mr. Case are brilliant speakers and engineers, so listening to them discuss console and gear design in relation to the future of the industry was pretty incredible.
What is your favourite frequency?
If I had to listen to only one frequency for the foreseeable future, it would definitely be 250 Hz. I think it’s a very relaxing frequency, even if it can cause a lot of buildup trouble in production at times!
What do you do when you’re not in the studio or doing anything music related?
Usually when I get some down time, I end up relaxing at home with a good book or some Netflix.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I’m not sure, but I hope to be working in classical audio production in some capacity full­time, with a graduate degree in audio engineering.
Could you provide us with some closing comments?
Thanks to the AES for this award! I’m looking forward to next year’s convention.
We look forward to seeing you there too! 

Jennifer's website

Posted: Monday, February 1, 2016

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