Learning to be a Sound Mixer/Technicain

For my 113MC task I have been chosen as the team’s ‘Sound Mixer’. At first I would have preferred to be the Vision Mixer as it has been my previous role in college studio productions as well as being in similar roles in my voluntary work. However, I have grown to appreciate the placement of ‘Sound Mixer’ due to it being similar in ways to the Vision Mixer desk. While the sound mixer is obviously different as it is to do with the production’s audio operation rather than visual operation, it is similar in the way that it involves the precise operation of a gallery-based board; bristling with dials and faders to operate during the live production.

The Soundcraft Spirit E12, the sound mixing desk which I will be using during the 113MC module

The other reason why I’m pleased to be the Sound Mixer is that it presents the opportunity to learn a new skill, broadening my professional skills for later life. As my previous experience in the media has mostly revolved around visual media and post-production work, I have never had the opportunity to control a sound mixing board, other than viewing a demonstration by the technician who I done voluntary work for at college. The sound mixing desk also gives the opportunity to research the electronics behind line-in levels and ‘gain’. Editing sound during my many years of post-production experience has been very useful, but it just isn’t the same as the opportunity to operate a live sound-mixing board.

While this position is primarily in the gallery, it also involves work in the studio; ensuring that the wireless microphones have sufficiently charged batteries, checking that their wavelength corresponded to their relevant transmitters (which they were not when I first tested them) and connecting the transmitters to the XLR sockets.

I have found the ‘main meter’ which shows the mix output to be invaluable during our team’s production rehearsals, particularly considering that the sound which the gallery staff hears isn’t necessarily the same volume as what is being recorded. This is due to the gallery speakers having their own volume dials on both the sound board and the speakers themselves. Monitoring the main meter’s coloured LED lights is important during the production rehearsals to ensure that the recording volume isn’t too high or low, altering the relevant dials or faders.

As the 113MC module progresses I hope to learn even more about the sound desk, especially during the specialised skills session which may be given. The introduction of working VT-inserts will mean that I’ll be switching between the VT sound and studio sound when appropriate.

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Finding greatness in the mundane

I think that the BBC programme ‘The Box that Changed Britain’ (aired 9th May 2010) has been a great example of how a great documentary from the most unlikely subjects. In this documentary it was the humble ship container.

In a separate production the BBC have also added a GPS tracker to a shipping container to enable online users to track it live, in an attempt to portray the global trade system.

The BBC's own shipping container

A bizarre wheeled shipping container, appearing in the game 'Garry's Mod'

The BBC have managed to tell a long story about the history of British dock working, an inventor’s dream, conflicts with the dockers unions, the rise of Felixstowe (where I spent the first 7 years of my childhood) as Britain’s modernised docks, and how today’s consumer society and service economy would struggle to survive without the humble shipping container.

The fact that the BBC were able to gain this much documentary material from a seemingly mundane object is quite inspiring. Documentaries are more commonly focused on a person or a historical event, which shows the originality of this documentary. Though having said that, the BBC have also been running a series of documentaries on Radio 4 named ‘The History of the World in 100 objects’, portraying the development of mankind via significant objects.

Final Letter to Self

David, Coventry university has been an interesting mix of new and old. Instead of gaining media equipment along with friendly anecdotes from one Media technician, the process is much more formal here at the ‘Media Loan Shop’; having to bring back equipment at an exact hour. The lending out of equipment is now based on which equipment you’ve been taught how to use by the university staff, regardless of other qualifications or experience. I understand that the Media Loan Shop does this to minimise the risk of the expensive equipment being damaged. You will just have to be patient until the Z1 and similar level equipment becomes available via the ‘Skills Sessons’.

Due to the official nature of the Media Loan Shop, work experience to students is given via paid job placements, which at least in terms of money is a big change from the voluntary work which you done with the Media technician during your many years at college.

The journey to the lecture theatres/workshops is much better than the 50 minute bus journey to college, now being just a 5-10 minute walk.

While some things have covered old ground, you have also learnt alot  over the past academic year in the lectures and workshops. One of the things which proved to be a good and for filling challenge was the ‘Afghanistan debate’ as part of 111MC, where you devised a notes format which worked very well to help win the debate.

The lectures have been very useful throughout the academic year, both in terms of academic knowledge and understanding the structure of the task given to you. All the modules have been valuable, with some experiences highlighting pitfalls while others improving on previous skills or even learning new ones, such as learning the advantages and disadvantages of adjusting the frame rate of a camera, and how to connect the camera-to-studio talkback system.

Letter to Self

[As wrote on 25th December 2009]

David, in one year I should hope that you have done a lot of things in that time. After almost 5 years of college, the change of being in university and a different area of the UK should have brought a lot of new experiences, knowledge and opportunities. Some of these will be unexpected and some will be optional. One of these optional things will be improving drawing skills. It just takes practice.

In this level 4 Media course, I should hope that you have learned will be a welcome breath of fresh air from the level 2 and 3 media courses. During this year you will not have been told the basics of Final Cut Pro, Avid, Premiere or camera angles.

Reflection on the 3 things that inspired me most

In this essay I will be reflecting on the 3 things that inspired me the most and how they effected my approach to my discipline.

Engineering/Design Background
Both my dad and my granddad have been involved in engineering designs of somesort throughout their careers, I was interested in continuing that tradition along with the sheer creativity involved when I chose Engineering as one of my two extra choices in GCSEs at high school.

What I love about designing mechanical products is the way that every piece has a specific function which helps create the overall product, how the slightest difference can decide the machine’s success for failure. And in the words of Antoine de Saint-Exuper; “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

I find that this can be applied to creating a media product, especially in the field of editing. No matter whether it’s image, video or audio editing, I take pleasure in getting the placement and effects just right for the desired result.

GCSE Action Film
My second choise for an extra GCSE course at high school was Media Studies, where the major project of this course was to create a short film of any type. Being a teenage boy, the only natural choice was an action movie with plenty of guns.

The creation of a gun-toting action movie was much easier than if I were to try it today. This is because of a few things; it was just a GCSE level course which didn’t have such a large focus on professional paperwork, it was the year 2003 and despite being post-9/11 there wasn’t any nanny-state style anti-BB gun laws or practices, and the school staff were just that ‘easy going’. Though we at least had the common sense to film during after-school hours and inform the staff before filming.

This left me and the actors free to film throughout the high school with a semi-professional camera, an Airsoft M16 assault rifle and a replica musket converted to look like a sniper rifle. I even spent extra time after my engineering classes to create fake bullet casings to use as props, manually dropping them to the floor as the actors pretended to fire (with the gunshots being edited in post-production). I used the CAD/CAM (Computer Aided Design/Computer Aided Manufacture) equipment in my engineering classroom to create the empty assault rifle casings out of pine wood (shaping steel would have been a bit too realistic) coating them with a wood varnish and metallic gold paint to make them appear more realistic to the camera. And after all that work, the close-up camera shots were worth it. My Engineering teacher not only gave me permission to do this, he was actually very supportive throughout the process.

During the post-production phase I was fortunate enough to gain a head-start over my classmates when learning the basics of Adobe Premiere, as the multi-talented Dr. Ken Farquhar (my brother’s science teacher at the time) was kind enough to give me a casual tutorial.

My film went on to be shown at the school assemblies for all year groups, and was looped for a solid week at the school reception; though I don’t blame the receptionists for eventually muting the sound, as it involved a lot of gunshots.

While my action film was bodged and unprofessional due to its severe lack of organisation, it did teach me that anything can be done with the right amount of intuition and improvisation. Now 7 years later, I find inspiration in the ability to produce media when faced with deadlines and practical issues, but this time with more knowledge and maturity.

The Media- Being the ‘Middle Man’ of society.

With the media’s name derived from ‘medium’ or ‘medius’, meaning the in-between stage of a source and the public, being the ‘middle man’ is quite a good thing to be in society. For example, when doing voluntary work at the Norwich Theatre Royal I found that being a theatre technician is the best way to get to know celebrities, as there are no cameras or magazine interviewers; allowing the celebrities to be more natural without their ‘stage face’ on.

Being the public’s source of information also puts you in a very responsible position as your bias has, given certain circumstances, the potential to be imprinted on the audience. Television stations such as Fox News have been criticised for having such a right-wing bias that it’s an affront to ‘honest journalism’.

The thing which inspires me about the media its power to shape society, for better or for worse. And as I said in the theatre example, it’s also the closest you can get to the limelight without being dazzled by it.

Extra-curricular activity reflection

I have been fortunate enough to be involved in many media-based extra-curricular activities over my seven years of Media courses. I have done a lot of voluntary work with the media technician of Norwich City college, Derek Williams, which has lead to other work.

I think that the most notable of these extra-curricular activities has been Tempting Fates, the online ‘black drama’ by Eye Film and TV. It was made as part of a paid training scheme for post-gradates, and Derek was kind enough to recommend me to Eye Film and TV despite myself having just graduated from college rather than university.

In the production I was an Editor, which involved capturing/logging DV footage, and then editing that footage in the Non-linear editing program Final Cut Pro. Me and the other editor (Tom Hall) were particularly pleased once we managed to complete particularly hard task involving a stunt taking place in the footage, which we were able to successfully edit in such a way as to make that stunt appear more realistic. From this, I have gained more knowledge and confidence in the possibilities of post-production.

I think the main way in which this job contributed to my professional discipline is the general experience of working as part of a commercial team rather than an educational one. Having recently graduated from my BTec National Diploma in Media Production, I was able to look back upon how the simulation of professional practices in my class (such as health and safety forms, and project deadlines) worked well in some aspects of this work, yet failed to touch on other aspects of commercial life such as the long working hours and the heightened importance on what you produce. It was also interesting to see how the locations were transformed to the director’s wishes. The Character’s bedrooms had a prop budget, while a lot of the props in the professor’s lab, most notably the fake super-computer, were scavenged from an Aladdin’s cave of obsolete computer equipment which we borrowed from the college we were filming in (which also happened to be my college). This was another example in my media career where improvisation has proved to be a very important skill.

Tempting Fates Credits: http://redeyepictures.com/credits/