Audio Engineering Society

Chicago Section

Meeting Review, January 2003

other meeting reports 1/03 Meeting Highlights
by Bob Zurek

On January 16, 2003 forty members of the AES Chicago Section attended a presentation given by Gary Khan of the Pegasus Recording Company, at Columbia College’s Audio Technology Center (ATC). The presentation dealt with conflicts in approach to classic and modern audio recording. Mr. Khan divided recording approaches in three categories; the pursuit of “sonic purity,” a performance oriented approach, and finally an electric systems perspective. The first approach can be seen as a minimalist approach, or the attempt to create an aural documentation of the performance being recorded. Mr. Khan showed how the “less is more” theme pervades this technique. In this approach a very simple audio system is utilized, consisting of only transducers, amplification, and routing or storage of the signal. No processing is used throughout the process in order to keep the recording as natural as possible. In addition to the minimal electronics in the system, Gary described the minimal micing used in this classical technique as well. This technique typically utilizes three microphone components, which are; the reference set, the focus or spot mics, and an ambient microphone. He also noted that the use of the spot and ambient microphones is typically minimal, and used only to support the image. As the meeting was held in one of the ATC’s studios, Mr. Khan was able to playback examples of this technique as well as the others discussed later.
The second technique that Mr. Khan discussed is based on a performance-oriented approach that supersedes technical optimization. In this approach, the transducers (on both ends of the reproduction chain) are recognized as the weak link in the audio system. Instead of creating a snapshot of the performance as in the previous approach, the engineer uses the characteristics of different transducers to create a sonic impression of the performance. The goal of this technique is not to produce a perfect copy of the musicians’ performance but to convey the ideas of the performers as an artist does in an impressionist painting. In this portion of the presentation Gary showed the sonic variations that can be exploited during the recording process in areas such as polar pattern, diaphragm size vs. acoustical transduction tendencies, and transducer operation principles. He gave suggestions as to what types of microphones should be used in different applications, and what microphones should never be used in some applications to avoid damage to the transducer.
The final system approach Mr. Khan discussed was an electronics systems approach. In this approach transducers are used with analog and digital circuits and processors to intentional color, edit, synthesize and manipulate the recorded performance. The use of these techniques, on equipment such as digital audio workstations (DAWs), can create a recording that the artists could not or did not perform live. Audio can be sampled and edited to position an artist both temporally and spatially to create the desired impression that the artists chose to create. Mr. Khan broke up the discussion of this technique into sonic coloration components, and processors categorized by relationship to waves. An example was shown of a track in which all of the musicians were recorded separately, and the percussion track that made it to disk was created on a DAW with samples recorded earlier by the percussionist.
After the presentation Mr. Khan and Mary Mazurek provided tours of the ATC for the meeting attendees that were interested. The Chicago section would like to thank Gary, Mary, and Columbia College for the presentation, tour and venue for the meeting.