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Issue 93

REVIEWED

Ableton Live 12
What’s in. What’s out. What to expect.

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School of Rock

JMC’s new Sydney campus in Ultimo is spec’d out with a salivating network of audio goodies — SSL, Toft, JLM Audio, and a JBL line array — but it also doesn’t skimp on the real value of peer networking.

By

9 September 2013

Story: Robert Clark
Photos: Daniel Sievert

Last year, JMC Academy celebrated 30 years as a private education provider in the creative industries. Since its inception in 1982 it has been a fixture amongst the cafés and boutique retailers in Surry Hills, but this year it was time to expand — and it didn’t skimp. The new campus is a multi-level complex in Ultimo: an inner-city suburb gaining a reputation as a new creative hub in Sydney. With plush new studios and updated gear, it’s an exciting time to be a student.

DUAL PURPOSE

Speaking of upgrades, there is an impressive piece of kit in the campus’s largest recording studio. An SSL Duality in fact, and CEO George Markakis says he had no doubts about the acquisition: “As far as I’m concerned,” he asserts, “the Duality is the best you can get in terms of modern mixing consoles.” There is also a very practical reason behind the purchase of this particular desk. Markakis has always been keen on educating audio students on analogue systems first in order to build a solid foundation: “We try to instil in the students a thorough understanding of basic analogue signal flow as well as modern DAW workflow and the Duality makes both available. Also, getting to know the routing of an SSL makes a student infinitely more employable in big studios where SSL consoles are used every day.” Nick Franklin, a facilities supervisor on the campus, tells me it functions well just as an analogue console. They had three days between wiring it up and receiving a training session from an SSL rep, and within that time “we couldn’t help ourselves but play around with it,” he says. “And by the time he got here we’d worked out how to use most of it. It’s actually fairly intuitive; most of it behaves like a regular analogue mixing console.”    

MODERN VINTAGE

There is a neat little collection of analogue outboard gear rack-mounted beside the SSL such as a clearly well-used UREI 1178 and an Anthony DeMaria Labs C/L 1500 – and some more modern but still vintage-styled units like the Empirical Labs Distressor EL8 and a Manley ‘Pultec’ EQ. So it’s clearly not just about the new digital frontier at JMC, there’s also a respect for good old-fashioned, hands-on learning. A great example of which is the soldering equipment I happened to notice sprawled across a table in another studio across the hall. As Nick Franklin explained, “As part of the curriculum the students are required to construct a couple of different cables, as well as build a microphone preamp from a kit provided by JLM Audio… I think a basic level of soldering should be a prerequisite for any sound engineer.” Indeed.

TEACHING TOOLS

JLM Audio has also supplied some custom-built headphone amps for use in all of JMC’s studios. Franklin explains that they had difficulty finding off-the-shelf headphone amps to suit their needs, but JLM were able to provide units with nice, clear metering and headphone outputs located on the front to allow for quick monitoring of what’s going through to the live room. He says there’s been a “big general improvement” in the workflow of the students as a result. Further in the interest of simplicity and clarity, the first studio that students encounter features an elegant Toft ATB24 console. This all-analogue board is designed solely for recording, and I can see why students gravitate to it for tackling the complexities of signal flow. Franklin pointed out the colour-coded pots, logical layout and the meters on each of the busses to allow for quick troubleshooting. And that EQ ain’t bad to learn on either. These JMC kids are definitely lucky to get their hands on a desk like this early on.

Students then move on to an Avid C24 control surface in the next studio to apply their knowledge of analogue signal flow to the digital realm. Perhaps surprisingly, JMC has gone with SSL for their converters rather than the Avid HD I/O option that you might expect, and while Franklin admits he was a touch “nervous” about moving to the Alpha-Link MADI-AX system, he says it has been solid and works seamlessly in combination with the MadiXtreme card for interfacing. This set up is the same across all three studios to ensure easy networking and transferability.

TAMING THE WAVES

Acoustic treatment in the studios was taken very seriously (as you would expect) and Amber Technologies were contracted to consult and supply materials for the job. Owen Ironside from Amber describes their approach nicely: “The general design philosophy used in each control room was the ‘live end, dead end’ principle. This philosophy specifies a greater degree of absorption applied to the front end whilst the rear is treated with diffusion devices.” So, two-inch PrimeAcoustic Broadway panels are spaced evenly around the mix console, while the rear of the control room is diffused using PrimeAcoustic Razorblades. Ironside adds, “The Razorblades bring back some air and life into the room without allowing any flutter or slap back from the rear wall.” Further to that, the rear corners of the room are “double stacked” with broadband base traps called Max Traps, which prevent the build up of low frequencies in that area.

For each of the three live rooms, Ironside describes a slightly different approach: “They presented a different acoustic challenge as there is no fixed listening position or sound source. As with tuning a speaker for a room, the end result, for an acoustically-treated room, must be frequency balanced.”  Broadway panels are employed around the walls and suspended from the ceilings to target mid and high frequencies, while the same panels are offset at different points to “provide a cavity in which the low frequencies are trapped.” The end result is three pleasing rooms, both acoustically and aesthetically.

A MOVEABLE FEAST

Located on level 2 is a space that students from all disciplines will share. The Auditorium was intended to be flexible from the get-go so it could host both lectures and performances ranging from drama to bands. The PA People were charged with bringing it up to spec, and they turned to the JBL VRX900 series for the all-important speaker system. Due to the diverse nature of the space, the floor had to be kept as clean as possible, so the subs are flown behind left and right line arrays, which feature three 12-inch, powered speakers in each. The powered speakers avoid amp racks cluttering the floor, and the subs sit behind the arrays instead of within them because of restrictions in ceiling height. More PrimeAcoustic Broadway panels adorn the walls to dampen what is a pretty “lively” space, and while there is more work to be done in this regard, results so far have been promising. Visiting artists since the opening in March include renowned drummer Tony Royster Jr, Jay-Z’s producer Young Guru and international vocal coach for The Voice, Richard Fink IV.

At the helm of the system is the very portable Yamaha LS9-32 console, connected via Cat5 to a stage box at the front. There are also network points accessible through floor traps at a couple of different positions along the floor, so the whole setup is designed to be easily moved depending on what event is in the space. DSP is handled by a Soundweb London BSS Blu 100, and preset audio setups can be accessed easily through a Blu 10 controller’s menu, so lecturers can spend their time teaching instead of trying to get their mic working.

THERE’S NO ‘I’ IN JMC…

You might expect episodes of spontaneous performance erupting in the cafeteria a la ‘Fame’ at a school like JMC — what with all those talented kids in the one place — but while that’s not quite how it works, George Markakis is keen to emphasise the importance of collaboration. “What we found years ago,” he reflects. “Was that you’d have students from all these different departments walking through the corridors and they wouldn’t even know each other. So we stood back and said, well this is kind of odd because it’s not how the industry operates; they should be collaborating.” As such, JMC has collaboration written into its curriculum, and what they’re finding now is that a little microcosm of industrial cooperation takes place within the walls every day. “You’ve got the band who writes an original piece,” says Markakis, “then they’ve got management students who help manage them, then the audio students record the song and the film guys will do a music video.”

Creating an environment that mirrors the reality of the industry is pretty important for an education provider like JMC. Further to fostering professional relationships, it needs students to be learning on the latest and greatest gear whilst still having a solid grasp of the fundamentals, too. With new tech coming into the marketplace constantly, it’ll surely be a never ending process, but for now it seems the school has hit that balance nicely.

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READ ONLINE NOW
Online
Issue 93

REVIEWED

Ableton Live 12
What’s in. What’s out. What to expect.