Ash Mountain

Where is my mind? is one of my favourite songs by Pixies. And every time I listen to them I fall in love with the complexity of their simplicity. But, how many times had I realized the importance/difficulty of the work behind that tune? Of course I had realized the creative labour of the band, their lyrics, their talent as musicians, etc. But how many times had I imagined the recording engineer trying to choose the best microphones for the guitar amplifier and their perfect placement to get the desired tonal balance? Never! Well, never….until now!

I had to deal with some of these issues recently (together with my classmates Rice and George), during our recording project for the Digital Studio Production module. We recorded some tracks of Ash Mountain, a blues/country/folk band based in Manchester, whose line-up consisted of acoustic and electric guitars, bass, drums and vocals (and possibly a mandolin!). I just can say thanks to Ash Mountain for coming, for their patience and their great music! I will have to mix and master one of their tracks later on, in both stereo and surround 5.1. And It would be great if they were happy with the result! That is my main objective. After all, they are our clients!

Before the recording session, I prepared myself by doing some research about microphones and their placement, reviewing the signal chain (to prevent its possible conversion into a labyrinth during the session), and resolving the sometimes mysterious ways of headphone mix as well. As for the session, I suppose I could say it was fine since we had not serious troubles, apart from the common time limitations you all can imagine (time! Always rushing us!).

And now is when the critical moment arrives… what were my personal feelings about the recording session? Well, I feel that being so nervous and stressed did not help me so much. But my main enemy was without any doubt communication in English. It was really hard not to understand everything and being confused because of the language (I am sure some of you will understand how does this feel). I am a very calm person and every time I feel all the above factors I can’t avoid it: I change my skin to become a little Charles Chaplin. Apart from that, the most important conclusion I can get from this experience is that I learnt lots of really important things.

Here is the first one: A good sound engineer will be able to make things seem beautifully simple, making the complexity of his/her work unnoticeable.

Dolphin echolocation

In nature is possible to find the most intelligent systems. And sometimes I can’t understand why we don’t try to learn more from it and imitate them. Why do we automatically consider our iPod/mobile/laptop the most clever machine ever. After all machines are the fruit of our evolution, and so their evolution is completely dependent on ours. It is limited by our own intelligent. And now I ask myself… has human intelligence reached its maximum? Because evolution is absolutely linked to survival, not to consumerism. What will be the next step of our species? Will we develop the skill of procreating via Facebook? Will we have three more hands to carry more Primark’s bags simultaneously? Anyway…

Going back to natural systems, I will talk about dolphin echolocation, the natural equivalent to sonar (whereas bats hold the patent for the radar equivalent!). Dolphins use this system to detect really small objects underwater. They produce series of clicks of short duration and high intensity, at frequencies as high as 120 kHz, thanks to a region in their head which is called melon (not the fruit!). Dolphins point their head at the desired direction and project these clicks in narrow beams, which strike objects (sometimes penetrating through them) and produce echoes. Then they receive those echoes by means of their lower jaw and a complex fatty structure that transmits the vibrations to the middle ear. Finally, dolphin’s brain interprets the echoes, extracting information not just about the distance and direction of the object, but about its size, shape, texture and density as well! It seem that dolphin’s echolocation sense is closely linked with their visual sense, so they easily relate things heard to things seen, reconstructing an object’s image from its echo. For example, a dolphin could distinguish an aluminum dish from a copper one, even if they were painted with the same colour. Or it could distinguish a hollow pipe from a solid one!

Paul Langevin invented the sonar around 1915. And now, tell me, how many time had been dolphins using echolocation before that date?

Most of answers are in nature.

Eny

Today I am feeling a bit nostalgic, so I will talk about one of those little, but important, things that I had to leave in Spain. I will talk about my pet, Eny. A bonsai tree from the species zelkova serrata, more commonly known as Japanese elm. He is about 11 years old now, and I must confess he is the most beautiful gift I have ever had. Because he is alive and evolves in time together with me.  Because his life completely depends on me, but he just waits in silence for my cares. Never asking for nothing, but giving me a great sensation of peace. Surprising me with a new tiny leaf every day.

Bonsai cultivation is an art closely related to Zen philosophy. Every detail is important, and being patient is essential. There are many different bonsai styles or forms (broom, slanting, cascade, windswept, multitrunk, forest, growing on a rock, etc), and many different techniques to shape the bonsai according to each of them.

Thanks god when I received mine he already had his form: an informal upright style, which means that the trunk grows upright in the shape of an “S” more or less. Why “thanks god”? Basically because all the plants I had before Eny, died after suffering from my cares. And my friends and family were already expecting a tragic final from the beginning. Can you imagine what could had happened if I had had to put a rock among Eny’s roots!!??

But, despite of my “plant killer hands”, I have always tried to do my best with Eny. Putting him for a while under the sun when it is not so hot. Giving him a bath once a week (Yes! a bath, immersing his flowerpot until he stops bubbling!). Spraying his leaves with water to cool him down. Pruning his leaves in the perfect place so the next sprout grows in the appropriate direction. Putting him in the brightest place of the house so his leaves don’t become yellow or bigger and bigger. Cheating him by removing all his leaves so he thinks spring is starting again and he sprouts with new and stronger branches. Surviving together to fungal diseases and red spidermites. And talking to him so he does not feel alone and depressed in autumn.

I realize it is my fault if Eny has not an appropriate Zen style. Because I am unable to make any drastic decision to make him looks Zen enough, as pruning main branches just because they are ugly or putting wires around his small and fragile trunk. I really don’t mind if he is not the most beautiful creature in the world. Neither am I. The only important thing for me is to make him feel as the most loved bonsai in the world. And manage to keep him far from death!! Up to now, I think I am achieving it…

Social media, and Web 2.0 in general, is having an important influence in the world of business, displacing the old model where a clear border existed between producers and consumers. Business are incorporating social media strategies into their business models to make the most of the new context and to avoid falling behind regarding their competitors. Adapt or die.

The AV industry is being affected as well, in both a positive and negative way. The massive spreading of information make easier for consumers to learn and acquire skills that otherwise would just belong to the field of professional producers. Linked to this idea appears again the concept of prosumers (Sorry, noise for everyone!): Consumers directly competing against skilled professionals in the art of media production. Re-mixing their work, spending less money and time, decreasing quality, but after all succeeding! Is it fair? I suppose it depends on who is facing the question.

Having the whole world population as potential competitors must not be funny for big AV companies that enjoyed someday the privileges of exclusivity and monopoly. However, not everything is bad. Social media and media convergence, is bringing as well new opportunities. New market sectors to explore and expand themselves, as is the case of the increasingly popular short-form video content sector. The possibility of being ahead of the future success or failure of a production, by studying the latest social tendencies and opinions for similar products. Free marketing campaigns, specially important for small business which otherwise would be almost invisible.

On the other hand, in terms of AV creation, the so-called participatory culture associated to social media is bringing new waves of creativity in both its most beautiful and mediocre forms. Little contemporary art treasures hidden among incredible amounts of rubbish. Anonymous media content inspiring and being used in big AV productions without even realizing its original creator. Is this fair? I suppose it depends on who is facing the question…

Anyway, something is true: the modern AV industry is in everybody’s home. Quality content, in not many of them.

A 30 seconds hook

Short-form video content has made his way towards the public’s heart, and… guess where advertising have their eye on! Their length perfectly fits in our fast lives. Long enough to entertain us, short enough to not distract us from the another thousand of fast online activities that require our immediate attention.

The amazing thing is that, for the first time, the use of video format for promotional aims, is not anymore the monopoly of big firms. What’s more, they have found fierce competitors in the so-called prosumers. The shift in audience’s preferences towards more casual, authentic and closer content have displaced bigger productions and its clear selling intentions.

This is the moment to admit it: I am not the owner of a big firm. I am just an audio producer about to be born. And when I think in the enormous popularity of short-form video content nowadays, the first word that cross my mind is “opportunities”. Mainly, opportunities of promoting myself as a professional in a medium where any fish could attract attention, not necessarily the biggest one.

The first important thing would be to decide exactly the target audience of the video along with the specific skills that I would like to highlight, in order to properly design the content and its form. But undoubtedly, the main emphasis would be put on creating some kind of real interest in the target audience.

According to the consumption patterns of short-form videos (pretty different of those related to traditional TV), there would be no point in creating a video just focused in selling myself at all cost. The audience would directly jump to the next video! The kind of promotion I am talking about would be based on establish a symbiotic relationship: My main effort would be focus on contribute creativity, entertainment, and maybe training (a video tutorial series focused in audio, for example). The audience, and social media environment closely related to short-form video content, would contribute in a massive spreading of my video, assuming that I finally achieved in creating meaningful content.

A really interesting thing about the sharing platforms where short-form video content is mostly distributed, is the possibility of monitoring and measuring the effectiveness of my modest marketing campaign, to find out as it goes along what factors are working and what are not.

Anyway, before I plan all the above, it could be worth to spend at least 5 minutes trying to discover the secret viral-video’s formula!

Brave new world

Dear Mr. Huxley,

I am writing you from the brave new world. Some changes did take place during the last years and I am sure you will be pleased to know them.

The apocalyptic message of the digital revolution prophets vanished in the air after all. They were rushed into thinking that the new media would kill the old one. Both of them are coexisting now, being their relationship complex and unpredictable. Maybe these prophets underestimated the power of the customs already stablished. Or maybe they just took into account the technological face of the change, which has been the trigger but not the whole.

Now, a new theory has born trying to amend its predecessor’s main failures. Convergence. A simple word to explain the conversion of the world I used to know into this completely unknown brave new world. A word to convey multiple ideas. The blurring of boundaries between different technologies, services, markets, mediums, means, media and minds. The technological, economical and cultural substratum where the change lies and evolves. The inevitable divergence associated to any convergence. To set an example, the divergence in the face-to-face interpersonal relationships associated to the convergence in social media based relationships. Collateral damages that we are forced to accept as the new way of happiness. Read the rest of this entry »

Seeds in the wind

Talking about intellectual property and copyright issues is talking about controversy. Controversy between those who understand art as seeds that must be scattered by the wind and those who understand art as an exclusive privilege just for those who can afford it. Controversy between genius and thieves of ideas. Between artists claiming for the money they deserve for their work, intermediaries who buy a new yacht every year and the public, who prefer not to pay for something when it can be obtained easily by free (illegally or not, that is another question…). No matter where you look at. There is controversy everywhere! Even in me.

A law which could comprehend all these controversies in a fair way seems to me really complicated. An impossible task, I dare say. Specially because we are talking about regulating a market of ideas, abstract concepts born in somebody’s mind. We are talking about padlocking an idea and spreading it at the same time. Difficult, isn’t it? Read the rest of this entry »