AES Section Meeting Reports

University of Massachusetts-Lowell - September 30, 2009

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As music students, we are often asked to analyze songs when we listen to them. For many, this can get to a point where listening to music isn't even enjoyable. In an attempt to prevent this from happening, the AES officers hosted a listening session in the critical listening room at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.
After about an hour of listening for pure enjoyment, a couple of the officers gave short presentations on some things they had noticed in selecting songs to play for the listening session. Vice Chair Brett Apitz began with a few examples of compression. He played "What Goes On" by the Velvet Underground. Although it seems unheard of, the guitar in this song is not crushed by a compressor, so it has a pretty wide dynamic range compared to what we are used to hearing. To contrast this, he played "One Headlight" by the Wallflowers, in which the vocals were compressed to a point where the intensity level of the singer went from a calm talking to a screaming intensity with very little perceptive change in volume.
After this, Chair Marc Hoffman played a few examples that demonstrated the dangers and rewards of sampling music as an instrument. He played "Buggin' Out" by A Tribe Called Quest. In this song, you can hear the cuts in the samples and where they begin and end. As a comparison, he played "Take Time" by the Books. In this song, the band inserts samples from various sources and they want you to hear where the sample starts and ends and where it came from. It is the same effect but implemented for two different reasons.
Next up were a couple of surround mixes. First was a song accompanied by video called "Dynamic Symmetry" by BT. This was interesting because it was an all-encompassing experience between the video on the screen and the music surrounding you. After that, "Only" by Nine Inch Nails was played in surround. While most surround music mixes tend to be a bit gimmicky, this was a very interesting and dynamic mix. There were various synthesizer noises swirling around you and pulling you into the music, but you were still engaged by the driving bass and drum tracks that Nine Inch Nails has been known to provide. All in all, the surround mixes were a great experience for those of us who don't have a properly set up surround system in our homes or listening environments.
As the night wound down and people began to leave, the remaining students moved to the centerline of the room, and the session regressed into listening to songs for pure enjoyment. "Hakuna Matata" and "The Circle of Life" both got played off of the Lion King soundtrack, which was interesting to hear the film scoring. Also, who would have known that in "The Circle of Life" that a drum set and midi piano are African instruments? One of the highlights of the night for many came toward the end, when "Creep" by Radiohead was played. After being enthused by hearing Sean Slade's talk about perfect guitar tones at the Boston Area Definitive Audio Student Summit, students were eager to hear some of his previous work. Let's just say that he definitely did not disappoint.
The listening session came to end not for a lack of material or enthusiasm, but because it was just getting too late on a school night. We all have different reasons to listen to music, but in a room that sounds as good as the critical listening room at UMass Lowell you will never run out of motivation to listen to, study, and enjoy music.

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AES - Audio Engineering Society