A Sound Thinking Poll

By Ah-Keisha McCants

SoundThinking_ETGreen

Designed by ET Green / Instagram

Just last month, Whitney Edwards, CAT CUNY Service Corps member and City College student, attended the Audio Engineering Society (AES) conference with our Sound Thinking cohort. She and Ah-Keisha asked attendees who visited their table at the Education and Career Fair to answer the question, “What does the phrase ‘Sound Thinking’ mean to you?”

The responses were sonically thoughtful and deep – as one might expect from audio professionals, students and sound aficionados. 🙂

Check out some notable AES responses below!

“The phase sound thinking means to me, that you’re always thinking zonally. You’re always thinking in terms of sound, even in terms of engineering, sciences, biology, you always relate everything back to sound. Everything comes in the way of sound, vibration, air, and moving.”

“I would say that means innovative ways of being creative with sound technology and pushing the limits, trying new things and not being afraid of the results.”

“When I think of sound thinking, I think of when you’re brainstorming with a clear mind and you’re really focused on what it is that’s on your mind, but at the same time not letting other distractions get in the way or anything else that could sort of take your mind off the prize.”

“I guess it means like your interpretation of sound and what it means to you as a person, as an individual. Sound Thinking is thinking in a whole different universe. You’re just floating on the sound meridian and you just are able to experience it in your mind.”

“Thinking more in-depth into sound and thinking with sound, in a way. Thinking more in depth and really listening to sounds and figuring stuff out.”

Sound thinking sounds like a solid thought process because it is sound.”

“I think sound thinking is a form of language, where maybe words don’t work but instead let sound speak it for us. It’s quite understated because we still can’t define sound into words that is easy for anyone else to hear because it’s complicated and it’s a language that we have to decode. It speaks to those who don’t know how to comprehend it.”

“I […] think that Sound Thinking is something that we need to improve on because my mom is a hearing aid specialist and she would always remind us that those who are blind, can still communicate but those who are deaf it’s actually a lot harder and they get overlooked more so that’s why Sound Thinking is another form of communication that we all need to be aware of, like how we listen and also what we see, and how we can use sound to help those who don’t hear us.”

“The phrase sound thinking means to me, contemplating audiosonics and the various amplitudes that you may hear when you think of sound, or emotion and ambience. Sound thinking makes me think of sound in various ways.”

We’re curious about your thoughts. “What does the phrase ‘Sound Thinking’ mean to you?”

Share your answer(s) to the question in the comments section below.

Sound Thinkers Say ‘YES’ to AES!

by Ah-Keisha McCants

Last Friday and Saturday, October 19th and 20th, our Sound Thinking cohort attended the Audio Engineering Society (AES) 145th International Pro Audio Convention at the Jacob Javits Center!

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AES is the premier event for Broadcast and Streaming, Audio for Virtual and Augmented Reality, Live Sound, Studio Recording, Home Recording, Music Production, Game Audio, Sound for Picture or Product Development, and much more. It’s like an audio-engineering playground, with hands-on technology at your fingertips, and icons in engineering and music at your disposal! We’re talking the best of the best—the legendary Stevie Wonder even made a guest appearance!

Thanks to the folks at AES, and particularly Lori Jackson, their Membership Director, Sound Thinking NYC was gifted with free Exhibits-Plus badges! The group participated in a number of special exhibits at AES, including the: Broadway Sound Expo, Project Studio Expo, and Live Sound Expo! They explored informational panels: Know It Before You Track It – Guitar Literacy for Recording Engineers; The Special Sauce for Mixing a Hit Record; Mix-Masters: The Art of Mastering, as well as Platinum Mastering – Past, Present Future: Changes in Audio Mastering Technology/Aesthetics, to name a few.

Sound Thinking also had a table in the Education and Career Fair at AES on the Friday of the convention. We shared our Sound Thinking mission as part of their initiative to connect learning institutions from around the world with a massive audio, sound and music community of students, enthusiasts and professionals!

Check out a few of our cohort-member highlights from the AES convention!

“I really like the microphone section because I got to hear and experience different sounds they have and they’re each made for a specific time.” – Joanna S.

“I just liked having conversations with different kinds of people… Because it’s cool to see different peoples’ perspectives. And this is an audio convention, but they’re all coming with so many different backgrounds in audio. I think that’s cool. – Taysia F.

“Bianca likes… The networking as well, as Taysia said. Being 17 right now, a senior in high school, and having so many connections through Sound Thinking and all the things I was able to do outside because of Sound Thinking, makes me feel in a secure place. But also going out of my comfort zone is a really great thing.” – Bianca P.

“I liked walking around and exploring… The whole new experience of being around people that have the common theme of loving music.” – Annalise J.

“I liked the soundboards and just playing with them. I was getting a feel of how it was.” – Simone F.

“I liked that I was able to get a hands-on experience with the Cloudlifter Zi… And then I won the Cloudlifter Zi.” – Sharon A.

“What I really enjoyed from this convention is, first of all, the mixing boards. I never really knew there were different types. I knew there was for live sound, studio, but I never knew it was for TV shows and all. It really mesmerized me just walking through the exhibition, looking at all the different mixing boards. And having the experience from the Platinum Sound studio, and gaining a hands-on experience of being the audio engineer… That just really puts my interest in learning more about it, at a higher level…” – Angie R.

“I think I really enjoyed the aspect of just being able to hear people’s backgrounds. We met a really nice man. I don’t remember his name. I didn’t catch it. But he was at the Soundable booth. He was so inspired by women all his life, and so he was really appreciative that we were here and that we were actually taking charge to network and get out of our comfort zones, and being so young. And he really encouraged me and inspired me to continue.” – Celines H.

Ah-Keisha McCants
Project Director
Sound Thinking NYC

Sound Advice

by Paola Messina

Woe is Not You! Avoid Dreaded Feedback & Hear Yourself On-Stage

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(Source: SoundOnSound)

Singers, did you know that straining to hear yourself on-stage may injure your vocal chords and simply turning up stage monitors (those wedge-shaped speakers) is a recipe for feedback problems?

First, consider using in-ear monitors (IEMs). When you notice a musician is performing wearing earbuds and has a pack hooked to their belt, they’re using IEMs to reduce noise and hear themselves on-stage. IEMs allow for greater mobility on stage, protection against high volume levels, and better sound quality.

If IEMs aren’t an option and a stage monitor is what you’re working with, make sure the wedge is at an angle that minimizes feedback from your mic (pictured above). It depends on the microphone you’re using, but when it comes to dynamic cardioid mics most often used for live vocals (the Shure SM58 is a staple), positioning the monitor directly behind the mic is the best option.

If feedback still occurs, equalization (EQ) might be the answer. Notching out frequencies above and below your voice’s frequency range will help you cut through the mix and remove the risk of feedback.

Finally, ask the live sound engineer to adjust the volume of your monitors as needed to hear yourself well and do a full-band soundcheck before the performance.


For more on hardware options available for live performance monitoring for singers and other instruments, check out these resources:

On-Stage Monitoring – Sound On Sound

In-Ear Monitor Buying Guide – Sweetwater

Refresher: Different Microphones & Pick-Up Patterns – Shure

More Tips On Preventing Feedback – Sweetwater

HAVE A QUESTION OR THEME SUGGESTIONS? E-MAIL PAOLA

IN SOUND THINKING: Mrs. Butcher

by Keith Johnston 

keith_Mrsbutcher

young Keith

I was born and raised in Brooklyn NY to Cuban-Jamaican parents. We were exposed to a broad range of music during the 60s and 70s. The radio was always playing in our house. We listened and danced to everything from mambo, reggae and calypso to rock, R&B and Jazz. My mother played organ and sang in church. My siblings and I would sing in the youth choir, as I would hide behind choir members during performances. As an introverted visual artist, I spent most of my time drawing on everything. At nine years old my parents enrolled my two sisters and I in Mrs. Ray’s School for Music and Culture in Bedford Stuyvesant. Mrs. Ray was an extremely conservative dark-skinned woman. Her hair would always be in a tight bun and she dressed in navy blue and white old English attire. Her high-pitched operatic voice would really intimidate me as she taught us how to read and play music on the piano. She used a wooden ruler to smack our hands or to tap us on different areas of our back to develop effective posture and technique. It was a traumatizing experience for me. Every week I pleaded with my mother not to go but she insisted on raising “well rounded children”. After about six weeks of lessons every Saturday, and daily practice, I refused, cried and begged not to go anymore. As a way to get out of it I told my father I didn’t like the piano and wanted to play the guitar, so he released me from piano lessons.

For months I listened to my sisters practice and perform recitals playing “Moonlight Sonata” and other classics, as my father would take me to work with him. I couldn’t decide which was worse, Mrs. Ray or cleaning and mopping down a four story brownstone every Saturday. That Christmas my parents gave me a sunburst colored TeleStar electric guitar and amplifier. I was so elated, strumming the out-of-tune strings. Eventually the excitement deflated by the horrible sound and I went back to drawing in my sketchbook. My mother asked my father “How is he going to learn to play that thing?” My father said he found a teacher on Snyder Ave. The following Saturday, my father grabbed the guitar and we drove to East Flatbush. I was so excited, thinking about all those cool guitar players I’ve seen on TV or on my father’s albums, like Jimi Hendricks, Chuck Berry and Wes Montgomery. We pulled up in front of an apartment building with four rough looking teenagers, with headbands and Afros sitting on the stoop. In the window of the first floor apartment was a crooked written sign that read “Mrs. Butchers School of Music”.  The joy of my father taking me for guitar lessons faded into anxiety as we exited the car. Between the neighborhood and the trauma from Mrs. Ray I started to retreat. My father became annoyed, “Come on Boy! Don’t start! Carry this”. He handed me the guitar in a black plastic, vinyl-ish case.

As we moved toward the apartment building the teens moved out of our way. My father rang the bell and a woman with a big smile and round glasses looked out the window. She unlocked and opened the front door wearing a floral housecoat. I remember thinking “she plays the guitar?” She warmly greeted me, much different from Mrs. Ray who was very stern. “Good afternoon young man. I am your teacher Mrs. Butcher. What kind of guitar do you have there?” I proudly said “a TeleStar”. “Oh” she said, obviously not knowing what that was. Knowing my father it was probably the cheapest guitar he could find.

We entered her eclectic living room with shiny wooden floors, dim lamps and floral wallpaper. Her dusty old chandelier, much different than Mrs. Ray’s shiny elaborate one, provided a homey comfort. I was enthralled by the messy artistry; all the instruments around the room. Hanging on the wall was a big 36 inch saw with wooden handles on each end of it. The only furniture in the room was an antique couch with a plastic cover, a glass coffee table, wooden nightstand and two plastic covered dining chairs with a music stand in front of it. My father paid Mrs. Butcher for the lesson and book and said he would be back by 2pm.

After my father left I stood in the midst of the room amazed. Mrs. Butcher asked me to sit in one of the chairs. I sat staring at the different brass and woodwinds on the bookshelf and thinking, “Does she collect all these instruments or does she play them?”  In the right corner was an upright piano, in the left corner an organ; behind me was a series of string instruments, cello, violin, upright bass and a banjo in a corner next to a vacuum cleaner. “Are you ready?” she asked. I asked if she played all these instruments. She said yes, noticing how I stared at the saw on the wall. She asked if I wanted to hear it. I signaled “yes”, not really knowing what she meant by playing it. Noticing my distraction she removed the saw from the wall, sat on the couch, placed it between her thighs, grabbed a bow and began to play. It was the most remarkable thing I had ever heard. The saw sounded like a human voice. She made it sing. In that very moment I fell in love with the infinite possibilities of music. As a result, for the rest of my life, I never stopped studying and digging for the music inside me, living the musician’s endless journey of exploration and discovery through collaborating in this universal love language. From playing in bands at school, jam sessions, block parties and local clubs to recording studios, tours, recording artists and performing at Madison Square Garden, Rockefeller Center, and in front of thousands in venues and stadiums around the world.

Thank you Mrs. Butcher for those inspirational Saturdays of patient instruction, spontaneous jam sessions and a skillset that set me on a musical pathway to self-discovery and creativity.

Keith Johnston
Director, College & Adult Program
CUNY Creative Arts Team

Sound Music Reviews

Hi, Clara and Jasmin here! We are two students from the inaugural cohort of Sound Thinking NYC! We decided to come together to create this column to share some of our favorite pieces of music to all of our readers in hopes of expanding your palate. With our reviews of production, sound and background information, we hope to help you discover new music and artists that you normally wouldn’t listen to. Music is a very large area of opportunities and we hope through this monthly column, we could make it a little easier to get to know some great artists to watch out for! Thank you for reading!  – J & C.

Review By: Jasmin Bota

waitress_500This month the album I’d like to focus on is the soundtrack to the popular musical, Waitress. Originally a famous movie back in 2007, composer and pop singer Sara Bareilles brings this movie to the stage with her raw emotion, and beautiful interpretation of this heart-wrenching journey. The show is a self-discovery story about a woman named Jenna who is married to an abusive husband. After one drunk night, Jenna finds herself pregnant and must decide whether or not to leave him for good after she gives birth. To cope, Jenna finds baking to be a sense of comfort and uses it as her creative outlet—throughout the show she uses baking to help her figure out her problems. As Jenna’s pregnancy progresses and Jenna’s pregnancy journey continues, Jenna begins to fall in love with her OBGYN and the two start an affair that will change her life. This emotional rollercoaster of self-doubt and re-discovery creates a story that has listeners on the edge of their seats from start to finish. 

Waitress is an award-winning musical and is the first Broadway show to have an all-female creative team. Waitress has also set the record for the most money earned in previews for a play showing at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. This album includes powerful ballads by Broadway actress, Jessie Mueller, who plays Jenna and is mostly known for her role as Carole King, as well as appearances by Kimiko Glenn, Keala Settle, Drew Gehling, and many more. The heartfelt lyrics and emotion within this album makes Waitress a story to remember and with a band of very few, this music is as raw as its story. I would rate this soundtrack a 7/10 because of its storyline and plot as well as vocal richness. The only reason I will not give it a 10 is because Broadway shows are simply better in person. The magic of live theater is one that is well underestimated! 

Although streaming this album is a gift on its own, seeing the show with it creates an experience I’m sure every music lover would kill to get their hands on. 

Rating: 7/10
Album: Waitress the Musical
Composer: Sara Bareilles


Review By: Clara O’Connell

marmozetsmainimageIn late 2015 and early 2016, the vocalist of the British band Marmozets, Becca Macintyre, endured two intensive procedures on both of her knees, immobilizing her for months after the operation. Those months spent in solidarity launched Macintyre into a depressive spiral to the point where she considered quitting the band, something she had been working on since she was fifteen years old. But she felt as though the stage was where she belonged, and she could never give that up. Little by little she began to get back on her feet and find her place again. And so Marmozets, comprised of Macintyre’s brothers Sam and Josh on guitar and drums, respectively, and brothers Will (bass) and Jack (guitar) Bottomley, began recording for their second album Knowing What You Know Now later that year, 2016.

The album features dance-y songs like “Meant to Be,” big rock songs like “Habits” and “Suffocation,” and slower, more somber songs like “Me & You”. The sonic diversity of the record was a deliberate choice; “That’s the beauty of art; you can go in so many different directions,” says Macintyre to Rock Sound magazine. Macintyre’s vocal performance is incredible and impressive—switching from angsty rock sounds in songs like “Major System Error” to a strong, deep voice in songs like “Insomnia”.

Despite the variety in sound throughout the album, Knowing What You Know Now has a common idea running through it. It’s “about going through all the trials and the crap that life does bring… It’s about realizing and getting some sort of method to fall in place for you to be able to deal with those situations, when they come back around,” is how Macintyre describes it to AltPress magazine back in January 2018. In a sentence, this record is for anyone looking for an honest British rock album with a strong vocal lead and energetic band to back it up.

Song: Run With The Rhythm
Rating: 4/5
Album: Knowing What You Know Now (Roadrunner Records)
Artist: Marmozets

The Artistic Life of Chris T.

In honor of National Arts Education Week, we asked our Senior Leadership Team to talk about their artistic lives, aside from their work here at CAT – and here’s what Chris Tokar, our Director of Resource Development, had to say…

Chris-Tokar


I serve as the Director of Resource Development here at CAT.

My job is all about bringing resources – typically money – into the agency, via fundraising and winning and managing contracts for our services.

But the personal resources I use to get the job done grew out of my personal development in the arts.

I was always an artsy kid, and my first job at age 12 was trading my labor as an assistant for art classes at a local museum.  Helping the younger students get their paints and watching the magic of red and yellow making orange never got old.  Then I could pick up my own brush in the afternoon and dig into trying, once again, to get the still life right.  I loved the cool ground floor studios, the smell of old paint and the shelves full of plaster models.  I felt like an important part of the professional art world!

CTphoto

Chris, working on a painting in high school

High school and college ceramics taught me that the process is as important as the product.  If you only pay attention to the final product, you miss out on a lot of the benefits of practicing the craft: the mesmerizing spinning of the wheel; the enjoyment of literally getting your hands dirty; the blurring of the lines between the creator and the creation.  Plus, if you are only thinking about that mug you want to make for Christmas, and ignore the opportunity to be deeply invested in each step of the process, your final product will probably be flawed. Paying attention to how you do something and being fully engaged in it makes life richer, and makes for better work. It also gives you the freedom to be proud of what you produce, because you have invested your best intentions and efforts into making it.

But perhaps the most important thing that all of these muddy, friendly, communal art spaces taught me is resilience. When your pieces blow up in the kiln, when the shape and color aren’t quite right, when you know that you haven’t really put the spout on a teapot correctly so you throw your masterpiece into the slip bucket and start again: these are all difficult things to face, but easier in a supportive community. To try again and again builds tremendous skill and ultimately teaches you how to get consistent, desired results in almost anything. And the act of trying again and again, with a bit of a ruthless standard, can also give you unexpected gifts. You know – and you act on it – that you can do better. You understand that mistakes are more common than successes. You make mistakes that are more beautiful than your initial idea, and you learn to use these mutations and errors on purpose to build your repertoire of skills and outcomes. Nothing beats that kind of educational experience. Especially when you don’t even realize it is an educational experience.

When I talk about these experiences with my colleagues, they are mirrored in every discipline – drama, music, and dance. There is a wealth of resources that children can tap into when they are given the opportunity to engage in the arts. I love the fact that my work at CAT helps provide opportunities for thousands of NYC students each year to open the door to their potential, to develop their abilities, and to start building their own resources.

Sound Advice

by Paola Messina

What is compression and why is it important in music production?

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Compression is used to even out the dynamic range of an audio signal.  

 Our voices have dynamic range and thankfully so! It’s only natural for the volume of the speaking and singing voice to fluctuate. In fact, it’s a powerful source of expression. The same can be said about instruments and variations in how loudly/quietly we play them.

When it comes to recordings, however, listeners shouldn’t be reaching for the volume knob constantly to make adjustments. This is where the compressor does its magic, insuring that both the quietest and loudest parts of your mix aren’t too low or too high to hear properly. Lower audio signals are boosted and louder ones are attenuated, creating balance between the two extremities.

Compressors can be applied to individual tracks, but are also a common addition to the final mix, shaping the dynamics of the track as a whole for extra power, punch and energy!

Before you compress:

  • Record a clean take! Wait until you’re editing and mixing to add compression.
  • Experiment with different settings and make sure you’re familiar with the meaning behind each of the parameters (Attack, Release, Ratio, Threshold) as you make your adjustments
  • Less is more – over-compressing may bring noise and unwanted sounds to the forefront!
  • A/B’ing: Listen to the track with the compressor engaged and with it bypassed so you can compare and contrast as you go.

To sum up this first edition of Sound Advice… Listen closely to compress, no stress!


For more on compression and techniques, check out these resources:

A Beginner’s Guide to Compression – Sweetwater

A Guide to Compression with Examples– Tutsplus

How Does Dynamic Range Compression Change Audio? – How-To Geek

HAVE A QUESTION OR THEME SUGGESTIONS? E-MAIL PAOLA