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TEDxSalford 2.0

29 Oct

It was last April when I decided to apply for volunteering at TEDxSalford, the local branch dedicated to bring TED talks to Salford city. The fact that it was managed by Salford University students, it being a non-for-profit organisation and the quality of the speakers in TEDxSalford’s previous editions really drew me to the project. Plus, who doesn’t want to take part into a project that is changing the way people see life in the world?

I applied for the position of “audio producer”, which I thought might fit my experience and personality, having to compose and produce the background music for the talks videos that would be edited and uploaded to Youtube. Having already done something similar in the past, I thought that this challenge would be great for me. At that time, the next TEDxSalford event was set for Sunday 21st October, at the Lowry theatre no less, aiming for a 1500 attendee reach: goals were set sky-high.

After a short probational period, I was admitted and on board, but although the curator committee was working hard behind the drapes during the summer, no teamwork had been already done. It wasn’t until September when the TEDxSalford volunteer team started to work on the project at full height. Incredible speakers and performers were starting to finally line up for this event, making people believe in the project from the get-go. It’s not too often when you get to join people from the likes of Ken Shamrock, the ex-wrestler and now children charity man; Joe Incandela, head of the Higgs Boson experiment at CERN, or Sir Ian Wilmut, cloning pioneer. The speakers’ backgrounds and variety of topics was mind-blowing.

But oh well, not everything was easy here. Biggest mistake of this was the failure to secure no sponsors at all for the event, relying solely on ticket sales so as to pay for the speakers’ travel and accomodation. So the pressure on our audience outreach and ticket sales was huge.
Marketing plans included seeking student attendees at Schools and Colleges, company sponsorship hunt and aggressive flyering and postering through Salford and Manchester Universities campus and accomodations. Effort seemed in vain some weeks, but we also experienced huge sales bumps due to blogging, word-of-mouth, the Welcome Week interest from students on the event… and some contacts’ work from the curators of the event.

As weeks went by, more and more team efforts were required, and as in every team, some people withdrew from the project because of their lack of work on it, or because of the lack of faith on us reaching the sales goals. On the other hand, some other people joined halfway through, bringing new life and energy to the team. In the end, incredibly, we reached our goal of 1400 ticket sales, directly or indirectly, and we managed to cover the event costs. Yay!

For the day of the event, I chose to be assigned to the most demanding workforce: the IT team. Our duties would include having to operate a vision mixer whose output was the giant screen at the Lowry theatre, requiring the inputs from 4 laptops with the speakers’ presentations, plus videos and music as required, a lockscreen for the breaks and also a tweetwall. Having to coordinate as well with the Lowry tech team to open audio channels for the PA systems, making sure speakers were ready to go, etc. Tough task, nerve-wracking and always on the edge of chaos and failure. But that was left for the day of the event…

The Lowry's Lyric Theatre

The Lowry’s Lyric Theatre. Nice place for a little gig.

Before that, the fun part started: having to assign each speaker with a team member to arrange picking up from airport/station and hosting labor. One-to-one, personal interaction with some of the world’s most influencing people might seem intimidating at first, but  as always, people are people everywhere. There is nothing that people enjoy more than having a conversation with another human being that asks you questions and wonders about your likes, dislikes, personal thoughts, past experiences… no matter how brilliant and exceptional they might be in their professional lives, they are flesh and bones and they love to interact with young people like us. There is always a lot more to people than their public face, which makes it all even more engaging and fulfilling.

I had been assigned as the secondary contact for Sir Ian Wilmut and the main contact for Paul Zenon, Britain’s leading magician/comedian. Well, Paul Zenon needed no help from me, but Sir Ian Wilmut did require the help of his primary contact and sometimes from me, so it was good to be there to help.

Then on Saturday we got to get together and have dinner with some of the speakers that had arrived on Saturday: Mr. Salil Shetty, head of Amnesty International, Sir Ian Wilmut, Joe Incandela, Etienne Stott and Jim Dickinson, our incredible host. Most of the team was busy bringing speakers to the hotel even at night, and making sure everything was ready for the big day.

Sunday 21st came and started really early for everyone (7.15 am in the Theatre for most of us!). From my side, the IT team, laptops were setup, signal checked, presentations loaded and fixed hurriedly, videos downloaded… frenzy everywhere.
Without knowing how this did happen, it all suddenly came together for all of us when Jim Dickinson went center stage to announce a short introductory speech from Mishal Saeed, our own incredible curator (along with Uzair Butt, our tireless co-curator). Boom, it was all happening for real, this was it! Nerves started going up and down our hearts and brains, and Vlad, Richard and me, the wonderful IT team, were starting to really fiddle and struggle with what this all meant: loading presentations, making sure they were working, making sure nothing wrong was shown in the big screen, and that audio from videos were listened clearly through the PA system.
Due to all of this frenzy, nerves and worrying about things, I just wasn’t able to communicate properly with most of the speakers backstage, even though I managed to get a photo with super-friendly Etienne Stott, Team GB’s olympic gold medal for rowing.

We had to overcome some minor technical glitches (shit always happens) and the instant complains from the audience on Twitter, but we pulled through generally well I think.

Working backstage

Backstage, trying to sort out presentations and videos

Then, the day was over, and we found ourselves packing up again, the day having flown by in a breeze. It was now dinner time with some of the speakers that were still in Salford, and now that the pressure was over,I got myself together to finally being able to actually talk with Davide Swarup, John Robb, Ken Shamrock or Ray Hammond during the dinner. Best part of TEDxSalford was this one: networking, talking and interacting with the speakers, further enriching your mind in a less “formal” environment.

It wasn’t over yet. On Monday, with a couple of friends, we decided to record a duo with Davide Swarup and Rob Thorpe, our musician team mate, performing together at Davide’s hotel room. The results of this short reunion will come out in a video soon, so stay tuned! To wrap this up, after a great lunch with Davide, a small part of the TEDxSalford team had dinner with Ken Shamrock at San Carlo restaurant in Manchester, talking about USA politics, the way children are raised today, how the wrestling and fighting industry works and the like. Lovely.

It’s been a week since then and I already missed. It has been like riding in a rollercoaster and then suddenly stopping. Although TEDxSalford 2.0 is not over yet, because the videos have to be prepared and edited, the audio mixed and fixed and many things are left there to do… I am already looking forward for TEDxSalford 3.0!It has been amazingly fun and enriching to get to know many team members’ backgrounds and views. This is the stuff that life experiences are made of: interacting, knowing each other, growing, learning. Thanks for the ride, TEDxSalford team. Will catch up soon.

TEDxSalford 2.0 team and speakers

TEDxSalford 2.0 team and speakers

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Alive and kicking

7 Sep

It’s been more than a while, I know. I could try to make up any excuses for my lack of posts in the last 8 months, but I wouldn’t be honest to you.

Not that I haven’t been busy or haven’t done anything in this time (maybe not as much as I wanted, though) but I didn’t feel like writing about it. I couldn’t explain why, maybe I thought it wasn’t important, or that it wouldn’t make a difference for anyone else out there. But oh well, that’s low self-esteem, and that’s a game I won’t be playing anymore.

So, to make this comeback post short, a quick resume of the activity I’m carrying out now:

  • In May, for the module Audio Postproduction of my Master, and along with group mates Richard Pugh and Makoto Nagahama, we produced a full sound design from scratch for a small part of the Open-Source animation movie “Elephant Dreams”.

The full scene can be checked out here:

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Surround recording techniques: Double M/S and IRT Cross

17 Jan

As part of the tasks to complete for our Digital Studio Production module at the Master in Audio Production in Salford University, we were asked to do two surround location recordings with portable equipment if possible. These recordings would be later mixed into 5.1 Surround format in the studios as part of our assessment… and it’s also good fun too!

The first recording I did in this fashion was not properly “on location” but in our University’s recording studios instead, using their equipment in full. It all happened before the Christmas break, when some of us Master fellows joined there to make a “jam session” (some noise with instruments  such as guitars, bongos, a battered drumset) and record the resulting soundscape. The goal was to set ourselves as far in the corners of the live room as possible so as to create a wide soundscape to recreate via surround recording techniques.

My setup of choice for this surround recording was the Double M/S technique. But not the usual one with two Mid microphones and one Side microphone for both of them, all sharing the same space in place. Instead of that, I decided to use Curt Wittig’s techniquue, shown in ‘Spatial Audio’ book by Francis Rumsey. In this one, two separated MS pairs of mics are used: one of them will give the front signal and the other one will record the rear signal.  According to Mr. Wittig, the rear MS pair should be placed back in the room at a distance from the front pair further than the room’s Critical Distance (DC).

Double MS Diagram

Double MS setup diagram (taken from “Spatial Audio” by Francis Rumsey)

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Saving the music industry: live CDs for sale after gigs

30 Dec

One of the most classic ways of “piracy” that has been around since the start of live rock and pop music in the 60s has been the “illegal” recording of live gigs and concerts. This was called “bootleg recordings” and happened when someone in the audience succeeded to smuggle into the venue a portable recorder connected to a microphone that would be pointed at the center of the PA system. Simple as that: record what you’re listening to (if security staff doesn’t notice what you’re doing!) This yielded what is called “audience recordings”, which got better from the 70s on as the technology improved and made equipment smaller year by year, growing a very big industry with the advent of easy-duplicating cassette tapes and such. The recordings also improved greatly in sound quality and some of them are really good documents of the live sound of mythic rock bands at that era such as Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin or The Rolling Stones. There are also some recordings sourced directly from the mixing desk on to tape (soundboard recordings) or from an FM broadcast of the era. That recordings are the best sounding ones almost for sure although some of them suffer from not having enough audience response.

A bootleg front cover

Since the 80s on, these bootlegs generated a big market around them, causing festival organisation to run raids on the audiences and such. For more info on the history of bootlegging, I recommend that you read Clinton Heylin’s excellent book “Bootleg! The rise and fall of the secret recording industry”. Continue reading