AES Section Meeting Reports

Pacific Northwest - November 18, 2008

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The PNW November meeting had PNW Chair Steve Turnidge describe his experience mastering the prerecorded music for the Seattle "WaMu Family Fourth" 4th of July fireworks show, and examining what subsequently happens to the sound. 15 members and 13 non-members attended the event, held at Shoreline Community College.

The WaMu Family Fourth is a long-running Seattle fireworks show and party held at Gasworks Park in the heart of Seattle, on the shores of Lake Union. It culminates in the fireworks, and while tens of thousands at the park view it live and hear the music on a PA system, many more view the TV coverage, with sound also available on FM radio simulcasts.

First, the client brought the sequence of music to be played, ranging from classical to hip-hop and everything in between. It came in various formats, from CDs to MP3s and varying quality levels. The job at hand would be to master the material, such that closely timed excerpts were musical, the sound quality and levels were appropriate, and the whole program flowed nicely.

Sonograms and waveforms showed the levels and spectra as-received, vs. what he returned. Before/after sound examples were also played. To achieve this, he described his "in the box" (all computer processed) mastering process.

Steve proceeded to reveal and discuss some of his secrets for his mastering plug-in processing software to achieve his goals, which included several products from Waves and Sony. Any processing is applied to an entire file. Several examples were played with various before/after uses of plug-ins. Using a salt on food analogy, a little processing can make the sound much better, but too much is just bad.

Prizes were awarded after the break.

Continuing after the break, editing was needed to cleverly create musically plausible excerpts of famous songs, and to sequence them. He uses Sound Forge (sometimes an older version) and CD Architect.

The delivered mastered CD material was played over the event PA system, and fed to the TV and radio stations. Steve recorded the broadcasts on his home VHS and Dish systems to look at later - oh, what disappointments. He showed waveforms and spectragrams of the poor broadcast audio, and conjectured on the broadcast audio chains.

He noted that mics had to capture the fireworks boom, so they also captured some of the music from the live PA. At least it was better than 2007, when the direct music feed was only turned on about halfway into the show.

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AES - Audio Engineering Society