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C4DM Seminar: Amandine Pras - Involving music performers in the design of innovative audio technology

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Date and Time
Wednesday, Sept. 13 2017 11:00 – 12:00

All welcome, no pre-booking required

Room 324, Engineering Building

Dr. Amandine Pras Department of Music, University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada Advanced music production Program (FSMS), Paris Conservatoire (CNSMDP), France

Involving music performers in the design of innovative audio technology

Since the invention of sound reproduction, music practices evolved in parallel with the development of audio technology. For instance, jazz and modernism emerged with the early age of recording; rock n’ roll and a chain of popular genres arose from the introduction of new music instruments and studio opportunities. While digital technologies also generated new music practices, they jeopardized the interactions between performers and engineers. In our digital era, musicians tend to produce their recordings without hiring audio professionals, and well-equipped studios keep closing. Meanwhile, engineers are designing innovative technology such as 3D audio that very few musicians get to interact and create with. This talk aims to reflect upon interconnections between audio technology and music performance through two recent student studies whose process involved performers.

In three steps, the first study evaluated an augmented reality solution by Dimitri Soudoplatoff to improve orchestra conductors’ headphone monitoring. The analysis of twelve international conductors’ verbal descriptions of their experience with monitoring devices allowed us to identify balance and level issues, aggressive clicks, and the difficulty of hearing the acoustic sound of the orchestra, leading eight of them to remove one of the headphone earcups while conducting. Maestro Laurent Petitgirard compared augmented reality with stereo monitoring in studio sessions; his feedback showed that Soudoplatoff’s solution provided more comfort and could successfully reproduce the acoustic sound of the orchestra on the headphones. Finally, a perceptual experiment with 15 Audio Engineering Society members confirmed the potential of this solution for achieving acoustic homogeneity when superposing two binaural auditory scenes recorded in the same acoustic space but at different times.

The second study builds on my observation that improviser Jim Black would benefit from using a wearable interface to trigger his electronic sounds when drumming on an acoustic kit. Victoria Grupp designed Track It Zip It according to Black’s descriptions of his needs, i.e. a potentiometer that could retain the value instead of returning to zero when no pressure was applied, and a XYZ sensor that could accurately read 2D locations and pressure. Black also insisted that the interface should fit him well, be water-proof, allow for movement flexibility and handle stage use. Grupp collaborated with designers Dr. Mailis Rodrigues and Dr. Rodolphe Koehly in Dr. Marcelo Wanderley’s laboratory (IDMIL) at McGill to create a first prototype that we tested with Black performing on drums. His feedback allowed Grupp to come up with a second version of the vest that is useable for Black.

These two studies transcend the current paradigm of audio technology becoming easily accessible to musicians but with the risk of limiting its creative possibilities. Future research will focus on digital mixing, technically facilitated by the design of intuitive software but slowly moving users away from the artistic goal of enhancing music performances. Paul Alkhallaff and I are conducting interviews with professional mixers to investigate perceptual differences in the musical discourse between summed tracks in vintage analog consoles (Neve 8088 and SSL 4000 G+) and in Pro Tools. A forthcoming collaboration with Dr. Joshua Reiss and Dr. Brecht De Man from Queen Mary will lead us to identify a set of criteria to qualify successful mixes from the qualitative analysis of sound engineer students’ verbal descriptions of mix comparisons.

Amandine Pras graduated from the highly selective Advanced music production program of the Paris Conservatoire in 2006, where she has been conducting research workshops and supervising Master’s theses since 2013. She completed her PhD thesis about best practices for musical recording in the digital era in Information Sciences at McGill in 2012. She then taught Audio Production at the Steinhardt School of New York University and carried out postdoctoral research in Cognitive Psychology at the New School, including a cross-cultural study in India with alternative jazz musicians from New York and Hindustani maestros from Kolkata. After three semesters of teaching at Stetson in Central Florida, she recently started working at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada. Parallel to her academic pursuits, Amandine keeps producing and engineering albums as a free-lancer for a great variety of musical genres. She was twice nominated at the Grammy Awards for classical music albums. Her recent productions Nébuleuses by Beta Lyrae (eBook, 2015) received the Opus award in Quebec and The Constant by Jim Black Trio (Intakt Records, 2016) received the “album of the year” award by Jazz Magazine in France.

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