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"Inside the Convention ..."

Mel Lambert's special reports for "The AES Daily"

AES Daily VIP Edition: Getting the Most from the AES Technical program

VIP EditionI want you to promise me one thing; it won't hurt and, trust me, you'll feel so much better for it. Promise me that you will go to one more session from the Technical Program than you originally planned to attend. That's it.
   Why? Because this year's program, ably stewarded by Convention Chairman John Strawn and his cadre of 17 committee members and helpers, has produced what, for me, is one of the most varied selection of must-attend events I can recall in recent years.
   With the hustle and bustle of the companion exhibition - and who doesn't like to check out the latest and greatest sound benders? - we often overlook the ongoing work that AES members and others are doing around the world, and whose progress they report in papers sessions, tutorials, workshops and other events during these conventions. "Our technical program is a carefully crafted synergy of the theoretical and practical," John Strawn offers. "We hope to provide a unique opportunity for attendees to the San Francisco Convention to review the rich and varied world of professional sound. There are a number of Tutorials and Master Classes this year, covering a diverse range of topics - something for everybody. We like to think of these as a 'Mini Audio University' with two or three simultaneous tracks covering all aspects of audio. There are other tracks, such as Papers, Workshops and Special Events."
   And it is worth stressing that many of these elements bear a direct relevance to current technologies. For example, on Saturday, a two-hour workshop entitled "Surround Recording and Reproduction with Height," chaired by Kimio Hamasaki from Tokyo's NHK Science & Technical Research Labs, will look closely at next-generation 10.2 and 22.2 audio systems that offer 3D height and sound elevation. On Sunday, Robert Miller III will present a paper entitled "5.1 Surround and 3-D - Full Sphere with Height - Reproduction for Interactive Gaming and Training Simulation."
    Esoteric? Not a bit of it. If you want to see practical evidence of these advances, during the same weekend the AES has organized an off-site demonstration of multichannel systems, complete with ceiling-mounted playback loudspeakers. Looks to me like the multichannel worlds of consumer playback, motion pictures and gaming are set to collide. You saw - and heard - it here first!
   "AES Conventions are different from other gatherings," Strawn stresses. "We emphasize both a well-crafted technical program and a commercial exhibition. It is a marvelous synergy; you get to hear about the latest developments in the papers sessions, workshops and tutorials, and then see them on the exhibit floor or in specially organized demo sessions with real-world hardware. It's a development that we will continue to emphasize in this and future conventions."
   There is a session I'm particularly looking forward to. One of Friday's Tutorials with Digidesign's Michael Poimbeuf is tantalizingly entitled "Digital Plumbing for Studio, Broadcast and Live Audio." As Michael states in his summary: "This seminar presents an overview of commonly used digital audio interconnection technologies, including cabling, circuits, modulation theory and analysis techniques. We conclude with discussions of new interconnection technology currently in development." Not to be missed for studio operators and system designers alike.

AES Daily Day #1/Friday Oct 6 Edition: Come and Share Your Windom

Day 1I have always believed in cooperation; divided we cannot be as smart as if we come together and share our knowledge. And I know of no better venue to communicate our wisdom with others than AES Conventions. Today's program is jam-packed with opportunities to simply listen and learn or, more usefully, participate in the proceedings and offer what you know.
   This morning, Joe Bean hosts a highly relevant workshop entitled "High Definition Recording" that will discuss the technological challenges of tools available for HD recording. "One of the main themes will be how to immerse the consumer audience in high-definition sound in order to improve the listening experience and drive market demand for more products," Bean offers. Plenty of interactive opportunities, I would hazard.
   And this afternoon, Vicki Melchior and Malcolm Hawksford are co-chairing a fascinating workshop entitled "High Resolution Audio - Discs versus Downloads," during which a star-studded panel will review multichannel audio on BluRay and HD-DVD, in addition to file-based and streamed versions. Seems that these two methodologies might be able to comfortably co-exist, opening a number of business opportunities for savvy investors, not to mention content creators. Come and make a difference.
   Later today, PSN's Clive Young will moderate what is destined to be a lively Platinum Road Warriors Forum, in which panelists Robert Scovill, David Lawler, Buford Jones and others will share their experiences while handling live tour sound; expect plenty of war stories and practical knowledge from the trenches.
   Turning to must-see technology on the exhibition floor, my vote goes to offerings from Solid State Logic, Fairlight and Tascam. SSL (booth 610) is showing Duality, a large-format analog console derived from E, G and K Series designs with DAW integration - think of it as big brother to the popular AWS 900+ with a price tag "half of its equivalent K-Series console." In addition to a SuperAnalogue mic pre-amp, each Duality channel features a Variable Harmonic Drive input stage designed to add analog character to "soulless workstation outputs." A Ying and Yang thing, I guess.
   Fairlight (booth 326) plans to dazzle the uninitiated with its new Crystal Core CC-1, a processing card that is said to offer 200+ channels of recording, editing, mixing, I/O and plug-ins with low latency and full DSP on every channel. The firm's Dynamic Resolution Optimization supports concurrent floating- and fixed-point processing; the patent-pending Crystal Core engine is based on field programmable gate array silicon that obsoletes, according to Fairlight, DSP/Time Slice Bus architectures. First offerings will support DREAM controllers and mixing surfaces. Somebody just moved the DSP goal posts, methinks.
   Tascam (booth 202) is showing the new DV-RA1000HD deck that supports 24/192 recording to CD, DVD or hard disk media; it also handles Direct Stream Digital sessions. On-board DSP for EQ and dynamics is included, plus Minnetonka's software for DSD conversion and DVD-Audio authoring. More than 60 hours of recording is offered via a built-in 60 GB drive. Quoted pro-user price is under $10,000. Such a deal.
   More tomorrow on not-to-miss events at Moscone; stay tuned.

AES Daily Day #2/Saturday Oct 7 Edition: Learning from History

Day 2As the saying goes, if we do not learn from history, we are destined to repeat its mistakes. So today I'd like to point you towards a couple of events from which, if you pay particular attention, you'll come away smarter than the next guy. Bob Ludwig is hosting a Platinum Mastering Special Event during which several leading exponents of the art, including Adam Ayan, Brian Gardner, Steve Marcussen, Herb Powers, Jr. and Darcy Proper, will discuss how the job has changed in reaction to the sea changes permeating our industry. In the age of AAC, MP3 and MPEG-4, is high-resolution audio still viable? Come and learn first hand.
   The NARAS-presented Grammy Recording SoundTable - always a fun-filled event - will focus on the genesis of Steve Miller Band's 1976 landmark Fly Like an Eagle album, with session recollections from engineers Jim Gaines and Mike Fusaro; joining the panel will be surround-sound doyen Ed Cherney to discuss Capitol Records' recent 5.1 remix. And the talented Mr. Miller will be on hand to separate fact from fiction.
   Staying with the San Francisco theme, SMB's home city will be the subject of a fascinating Studio History, moderated by Mix scribe Heather Johnson, and including personal recollections from former facility owner Dan Alexander, veteran session engineers Fred Catero and Tom Flye, musician/composer Pat Gleeson (remember his Different Fur studio?), seasoned engineer Leslie Ann Jones, engineer/acoustical consultant Jack Leahy plus design engineer Tom Scott. Subtitled "If These Halls Could Talk: A Historical Tour Through San Francisco Recording Studios," today's panel will consider the uniqueness of the SF facility scene, and how that environment's diverse and colorful musical history changed our culture. The City by The Bay truly made a difference to all of our lives.
   And later today, An Afternoon with George Massenburg promises to open a number of ears. Titled "Failures, Flops, Flim-Flams and Humbugs," and moderated by writer/sage Howard Masssey, the presentation looks set to provide Massenburg with a unique opportunity to vent on a number of vibrant topics. "Why is the audio industry going down the tubes ... and what can we do to save it?" he promises to assert. Or try this one: "Is downloading really the reason behind the demise of the record industry?" And my favorite: "Quad died a death. Isn't surround sound deserving of a decent burial too?" Expect some raised voices.
   For all of us hardware freaks, check out the series of Exhibition Seminars being held throughout today. Digidesign's offerings include sessions on Jitter, 101 Training Music, 101 Training Post, 101 Training Music and 48-bit Mixing - focusing on signal flow through the Pro Tools Engine. Renkus-Heinz will spotlight the technology behind the Iconyx digitally steerable line arrays; Holophone will demo the new H-Series 5.1 surround microphones; Virtual Katy will explain how users can streamline information exchange between Avid picture editing and Digidesign Pro Tools DAWs; while Altermedia will spotlight new features of its Studio Suite 8 management application. Come and get smarter!

AES Daily Day #3/Sunday Oct 8 Edition: Production Industries Abound

Day 3As we enter the last day of our Convention, I'd like to point you towards a number of opportunities to gather in the presence of the good and the gifted. This morning's Platinum Engineers session, intriguingly entitled "The Art of Recording and Mixing," and moderated by Jack Joseph Puig, EVP of Geffen/A&M Records, will bring together producer Tal Herzberg and engineer Dave Pensado, plus some surprise guests. Later today, a linked Platinum Producers session entitled "The Psychology of Record Making," and moderated by A&M Records president Ron Fair, will enable Martin Kierszenbaum, Eric Valentine and Jack Joseph Puig to provide invaluable insight into the production process.
   A couple of today's Poster Sessions look particularly intriguing. Consider a Signal Processing session titled "Decoding Second Order Ambisonics to 5.1 Surround Systems," with Martin Neukom. Or maybe "Artificial Reverberation: Comparing Algorithms by Using Binaural Analysis Tools," with Joerg Bitzer and Denis Extra. How about "Loudspeaker and Room Response Modeling with Psychoacoustic Warping, Linear Prediction, and Parametric Filters," with Sunil Bharitkar and Chris Kyriakakis? While the titles might sound rather mind-numbing, I'm sure that the experience will be worth your time and attention.
   One Tutorial Session that caught my eye: "The Making of Listen Up! by The Omar Hakim Band - an HD Video with Hi-Resolution Audio," during which Jeff Levison and Ronald Prent will detail a project recorded, mixed and mastered in 192/24-bit at Galaxy Studios, Belgium. Scheduled demos include mixing in 7.1-channel especially for Blu-Ray and HD-DVD, as well as 5.1 and stereo.
   And so to my Top Three Innovations at the 121st Convention. In no particular order, I nominate Fairlight, Genex/Oxford Digital/Smart and Digidesign. Quite literally, Fairlight's new and truly stunning FPGA-based Crystal Core Engine (booth 326) has moved the decimal point in the cost:performance ratio. Not to mention packing more low-latency, ReWire-compatible processing power onto a single PC card than I can get my head around. A remarkable breakthrough.
   Genex Audio, Smart AV and Oxford Digital (booth 532) have developed what the trio is describing as the world's first DSD Mixing Console, using a Genex-developed Mix+ Engine plus technologies from Oxford Digital, and commanded via OSC protocol from a Smart AV control surface. Mix+ packs 56 channels and 16 configurable busses into a 2U space, and runs Oxford Digital EQ and dynamics. Affordable DSD mixing; just what the doctor ordered.
   Digidesign (booth 826) continues to innovate its Pro Tools platform, with parallel developments in several sectors. Velvet is a series of new electric piano plug-ins from the firm's AIR Group. This RTAS instrument plug-in cleverly emulates a Fender Rhodes Suitcase, Fender Rhodes Mk I/Mk II Stage Pianos, plus Wurlitzer A200 ... and sounds impressive. On the I/O side, Mbox 2 Pro adds 96 kHz sampling plus Firewire (versus the current device with 48 kHz and USB2), plus the remarkable VENUE D-Show Profile worksurface, which packs all the functions you need on a live date into less space.
   And, finally, a tip of the hat and a fond farewell to three industry worthies who passed earlier this year: Stephen St. Croix, David Smith and Ron Estes.

   See you in Vienna and New York.

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