Sound Production
Posted by Delia Bartle
Thursday 15th January, 2015

There’s a small booth crammed in the back of Elder Hall, invisible unless you specifically look for it. This is the home of the two 2015 Sound Production students, Oliver Brighton and Matt Toffolon. These two are not afraid to tackle challenges head on. Alongside tutor Andrew Dixon and ABC Classic FM producer Kat McGuffie, they were responsible for the live broadcast of Saturday’s concert on ABC Classic FM.

From critical listening sessions over lunch to late night cable rolls, there’s activity in this booth at all hours of the day and night. Andrew laughs as he recounts a day in the life of a sound production student: ‘don’t eat, don’t sleep, hold off going to the bathroom, and get into morning and afternoon tea when it’s all packed away.’ I caught up with the elusive three to gain understanding into their role at camp and understand the mystery behind the mix desk.

Oliver and Matt work alongside Andrew to prepare, record and produce pretty much everything that happens at Camp. This includes percussion, brass, chamber and orchestral concerts; some are recorded only for the archive, but then there’s also the two live Saturday broadcasts. Learning different recording techniques gives them an insight into the role of a professional engineer, and who better to learn from than Andrew, who has an impressive 42 years experience in the industry?

‘He’s never short of answers for the questions we ask,’ says Matt. ‘To hear some of his experiences really broadens our understanding of how we’re supposed to be doing our jobs.’ Like the other programs at Camp, the Sound Production course is a rapid, hands-on learning experience. As Oliver explains: ‘when we’re doing a mix over a rehearsal, Andrew lets us take control, directing us in the right direction rather than saying, “this is what you do”. It’s really good in that we get to discover it ourselves.’

The two weeks are filled with exciting experiences (witnessing Music Director James Judd use the analogy of squashing a kitten in regards to phrasing was a unique one), but they’re certainly not without stress. Oliver was responsible for Saturday’s evening broadcast, his first live recording of a full orchestra. He laughs nervously: ‘the first few minutes were nerve-wracking…but overall it was really good.’ Matt recorded the afternoon concert for delayed broadcast (tonight at 8pm on ABC Classic FM), and he’s already looking forward to the challenge of this coming Saturday’s live broadcast. ‘To know that quality is getting broadcast to the whole of Australia, indeed globally, it’s a pretty good feeling.’

Reflecting on the weekend’s broadcast, Andrew comments on watching Matt and Oliver talk with ABC producer Kat on a professional level. ‘When you stand back and see people doing that sort of thing it makes you feel good as a tutor, but it also reminds you of how you feel. It reminds you of just how rewarding it is. Through production and engineering I’ve met most of my idols, in a room where we sit down and discuss the music we’re doing as equals.’

Even though they’re sitting in the booth drawing up recording plans as late as 10.30pm at night, there’s no guarantee the recordings will run smoothly. Andrew comments, ‘It’s about very subtle changes because the people on stage are human and they do little subtle changes. The 10% adrenaline factor with a broadcast means that we have to change what we do ever so slightly.’

From our interview spot in the balcony of Elder Hall, we listen as the double basses begin to tune and the harp cascades through arpeggios. That’s the calling sign for the sound production students to hurry back to their closet-like office and begin the prep for another busy day of producing music. Sound production is not only a skill, but an art.

The first concert from last Saturday (recording engineer, Oliver Brighton) will be broadcast on ABC Classic FM, this Wednesday at 8pm.

– Delia Bartle

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