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Saturday, May 23, 2015

MEIS Study Abroad 20-22 May

Zachary and Kira
Our family arrived in England on May 14. We headed to Woodbridge right away so that we could all get situated at my in-laws' lovely home. The kids could get used to being with their Nana and Granddad while I prepared for the Maymester course.

This also gave me a chance to adjust to jet lag. I need energy to keep up with the students!

We took the kids to the neighborhood park, where some really nice locals commented on my children's lovely "American accents".

I headed off to London to meet our tour guide, Drew Young, and get acquainted with the hotel. The students were all on different flights, so I anxiously awaited everyone's arrival. Once we got settled in, we went out for food and a brisk walk. The following day we were bound for Liverpool!

Study Abroad students
We departed from Euston station and took the approximately 2 hour journey from London, arriving mid-day, and checked in to our hotel which is right across from the main train terminal in Liverpool.  We stored our luggage and set off to pick up our conference registration.

Along the way, we found a newly revitalized shopping district. This area shows how much Liverpool has grown from the rather depressed, industrial town it was the last time I visited in 1998. It now appears to be thriving, although I wonder about the effects of gentrification.  At any rate, it was good for the students to see where they could shop and find ATMs, all walking distance from the hotel.

The Liverpool Sound City conference is a four-day festival consisting of concerts and workshops for music industry students and professionals. The sessions were held in dark rooms with blue lights - not exactly great for recovering from jet lag. As a technology professional, I would have liked to see more technical demonstrations, but as an artist I did find the talks about surviving in today's music industry to be enlightening. Perhaps I will offer to present a "DIY recording" talk at next year's conference!

My colleague Stan Soocher is joining me to teach a section on music business; unfortunately we missed his moderation of the panel which discussed the "Blurred Lines" case and its impact copyright. He did tell me afterwards that there is an appeal in the works.

I visited sessions on artist income and social media strategies with an impressive list of panelists, including Nick Calafato from LastFM, Rakhi Sina from Eventbrite, and Ari Stein from Gigmit. The conference also featured "roundtables": group discussions held in a "speed-dating" style where attendees would swap tables with a featured host every 15 minutes.

Leslie with Nick of
From these sessions, I wasn't surprised to discover that some artists make more money busking than on the bar circuit. People will pay for a (unique) experience, but not recorded music. Opportunities exist, however, in the broadcast/netcast area, where artists flock to get airplay/netplay. One example of this is a young woman named Eileen. She is a poet but also has a radio show and musicians constantly approach her for airtime.  Another French student works for a company who grant money to artists from her country gain traction in the UK. Artists have to prove they have a track record and strategy - no mention of their talent and ability.

Nick from last.FM foresees streaming services becoming demographically splintered in the coming years. He posed the question: Will streaming services appeal to certain demographics? Will Tidal, because of its founder (Jay-Z), be oriented towards hip-hop? Globally speaking, Spotify has become "trendy" in France, while CDs are still more popular in some countries.

In the Marketplace area of the conference, Wez Priceless gave (very basic) lessons on how to DJ. Props to this guy for wiping CDs on his shirt and tossing them, very nonchalant and label-side-down, around during the demo. Those were the days.

I visited the table at Liverpool John Moores University and was crestfallen to learn that they had cut the music program - ironically - at the Lennon School of the Arts. How could this happen!

There was also a main stage that featured performances; in particular I liked She Drew the Gun and Steed.

Late on Friday, the festival at Bramley-Moore dock was pleasantly packed and equipped with rides, food vendors, and at least 8 stages. Some massive, some tiny. I saw Everything Everything (highly recommended from student Josh Kern) and a band called Taffy.
Everything :||

The act "dogshow" was bizarre and novel - yet somehow ordinary in terms of sound. Their act was on a self-contained, mobile stage. The lighting guy was on an attached golf cart and very into his job. Complete with fog machine, Korg analog synth mod, at least two Macbooks, drum controllers, cymbals - this was very damn loud and the crowd was very into it.

Altogether, a pretty packed 48 hours here in Liverpool, and still two days to go in the festival. You can be sure I will blog about it.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Comparison of two Atmos theaters in Denver area: Marvel's Avengers (Age of Ultron)

The first theater I went to was the AMC Flatirons 14 theater in Broomfield (near Denver), who presented the film in ETX. They pride themselves on having recliners to sit in, and they are quite nice, but they are also in front of a wall.

The recliners are in front of a wall.  Remember that - I will come back to it later.
Flatirons 14

The film was shown in 3D, which is a hassle for me because I wear glasses. I can get around that by wedging the earpiece between my dreads so they don't keep slipping down.

There was no Atmos trailer, and subsequent conversations with colleagues led me to believe that the film was a 7.1 upmix.  I was seated halfway between the screen and the rear of the theater (#14). I didn't hear any thing much from the side or rear loudspeakers, and I suspect that is mostly because each row of seats has a low wall behind it, and each recliner is below that wall.  So, if you don't want to learn a little about sound diffraction and barrier walls, I don't blame you, but know this: walls tend to block sound. It don't take an Einstein.  As my colleague Fred Johnson said, cinemas care about getting butts in (very comfy) seats and recliners do that better than sound.  Sigh!

But there is another theater near Denver: the Regal Continental, which presented the movie in RPX (also in 3D). You can read a thread comparing RPX and ETX, but all I cared about was that it had Atmos.
These guys care about the whole experience. Check out the dramatic entrance!

I met up with Fred's surround sound class. The place was amazingly huge. So, 2/3 of the way back could have been one of 20 seats. I used the sound from the pre-show "First Look" to detect the amount of energy coming from the rear speakers. Because my previous viewing didn't reveal anything, I was more interested in the rear and side channels.  Before the movie began, I counted 8 speakers on the left, 8 right, 8 rear, and 16 in the ceiling (40 total!) Later, we were informed that there are 78 screen channels, (including 5 arrays, 5 mids, and 8 subs.)

A big theater with lots of speakers
Here are some of my notes from the movie (minor spoilers):

  • Reclining is nice but the sound is better when I'm sitting forward a bit.
  • The Atmos trailer ("geodesic"?) was cool, felt good about my positioning when I heard it
  • When Bruce Banner is listening to opera, heard soprano from top speakers
  • Front channels are smeared for me - no localization, probably sitting too far back
  • Immersion is really good
  • When Hawkeye's kids run in, sound is offscreen right, possible a little towards back - hard to localize and that might have been the intention
  • Thor's flight into the sky uses top channels
  • Glass shattering is always heard in the rear channels - not overdone, just predictable
  • When Ultron rises above the city at the end of the movie, mostly top channels are used with some sides and front - textbook "voice of God" technique, lol
  • Destruction of meteor in all channels
  • Overall, nice and loud without distortion.

After the movie, we got a tour from Fred's contact at the theater. He tld us the brand of speakers were SOS and Klipsch (about $50,000 worth of speakers). They use a Doremi (pronounced do-re-mi) server with PCM uncompressed audio. I had to leave before the end of the tour so I will report back with the info I get from Fred.

Conclusion: If you are in Denver and want to see a movie in Atmos, go to the Regal on Hampden and Monaco. It's very kick ass, from the time you walk in with the neon lighting. This place cares about audio - and the seats aren't bad either, they're like "rockers". Just as comfy. I need to go again and see if sitting closer gives me more sense of what those 78 front speakers are doing!