Mel Lambert shares his thoughts and impressions from the four-day AES Convention, which ended on Sunday in Warsaw.
There can be no denying that the 138th AES Convention, which concluded here on Sunday at Warsaw’s elegant Sofitel Victoria Hotel, was a well-deserved success. The outstanding programme of papers, workshops, tutorials and related sessions was ably coordinated by co-chairs Bozena Kostek and Umberto Zanghieri, together with their large crew of volunteers. With a reported 1,500 registrants, including well in excess of 700 full-pass attendees – a slightly better turnout than last year’s gathering in Berlin – the organising team, led by executive director Bob Moses, are to be congratulated for their efforts in reaching out to the North European audio community and securing such a positive reaction from students, researchers and end-users.
Manufacturers and product distributors responded well, with some 30+ stands displaying wares from more than 70 pro-audio brands. Traffic was brisk throughout the convention – the exhibition running for three of its four days – with large audiences during the companion Project Studio Expo (main image, above), held adjacent to the expo area. Whereas during previous conventions the PSE audience had been provided with wireless headphones, the PA system used in Warsaw was more than adequate, without proving too distracting to adjacent exhibitors; if anything, it drew in attendees that were passing along an adjacent corridor to the main meeting rooms.
As David Josephson, president of Josephson Engineering (right), a US-based manufacturer of studio and measurement microphones, told PSNEurope: “For some people we are a new or specialised brand; only a few AES attendees will be looking for our type of products, but they are extremely important to us. We like good traffic to make sure that we reach the type of people we are targeting with our microphones. Here in Warsaw the attendance might have been modest compared to the US shows, but it matches what we enjoyed in Berlin last year. Was it worthwhile? Always!”
Graham Boswell, commercial director with Prism Media Products, which offers recorders, converters and test equipment, was equally enthusiastic. “Despite the lower attendance at European shows compared to US conventions, we can identify the market sectors we do business with,” he said. “It’s OK if, in addition to meeting old friends at these exhibitions, we see several new faces, and make important new sales contacts. As expected, Warsaw has been a positive experience for us. The AES is finding its niche for these European exhibitions, which we will continue to support as a sustaining member.”
As Florian Camerer from ORF/Austrian TV stated during his Keynote Speech (“Zen and the Art of Listening”), sound is more than just hearing. “We need to listen and connect with an event; it's all about successful storytelling,” he considered. “The essence of communication is making somebody care. We need to use sound creatively,” he concluded. AES president Andres Mayo also stated that the highly successful Student Delegate Assembly “sows the seeds for what the next generation of audio engineers will be doing in the future”.
One of the stand-out presentations proved to be a workshop session entitled “Mixing Meets Mastering: Where the Line Becomes Blurred”.
Chaired by Rob Toulson from Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, participants included George Massenburg from McGill University, Montreal, Mandy Parnell from Black Saloon Studios, London, and the husband and wife and team of Ronald Prent and Darcy Proper from Wisseloord Studio, The Netherlands. Directly addressing the subject of over-compressed and normalised mixes that seem to be the norm for today’s releases, Proper stated: “We need to receive an uncompressed, well-balanced mix that we can master for the targeted release medium,” be it MP3 at variable data rates or one of the newer high-definition offerings, including Neil Young’s PonoMusic format.
“Our main levelling tool is a vintage API 2400 compressor,” Prent advised, "which lets a lot of transients and peaks go through but maintains a pleasant sounding output.”
“If there is the time and budget,” Parnell offered, “I prefer to master an early demo mix so that I can provide feedback for producer and artist.” “We should live with a master mix,” Prosper advised, “and ask whether it brings across the creative message of making the album.”
Regarding the growing use of stems during mastering, Proper advised that “mixing is a very different talent to mastering”, while Parnell considered that “we work on the emotional content of a track”.
“The mastering engineer is the last advocate for the listener,” Massenburg concluded.
(Pictured, left to right, are Rob Toulson, Mandy Parnell, George Massenburg, Darcy Proper and Ronald Prent)