Truck Festival 2017

It doesn’t get any better than this for a Live Sound or Audio Engineering student: an empty big top, three vans of PA system, lights and power, and three days to hone their craft with various artists across three days.

Truck Festival is now celebrating it’s 20-year anniversary and it was great for Media Technology students to return once again to design, set-up and manage the Veterans & Virgins (V&V) stage. As the stage’s name suggests, the line-up includes a mix of ‘veteran’ acts that have played the circuit – including Truck Festival – for a number of years and the ‘virgin’ up-and-coming artists supported by BBC Introducing. This year the festival had a capacity of just under 15,000 punters…not a small crowd!

We arrived at the festival a day early with a coach of enthusiastic student crew, three vans worth of equipment and a mixture of academic and technical staff from the department. We are also lucky enough to have support from a professional events crew supplied by Event Production Services who are a local events company owned by one of our own alumni Rob Nisbet. This gives our students invaluable training from a range of professionals with vast industry experience.

We put the students to work straight away and within minutes the flight cases are down the ramps and emptied into the tent. The PA is the first to go up, then trussing and finally lights. The students worked tirelessly to align the PA system, programme the lighting and setup the stage and backline for the music to begin. Over the next three days the students were in charge of stage management, audio patching, lights, front of house and monitor mixing. This really is invaluable experience in the pressure of a real world live event environment.

This year the festival had a spot of bad weather but the show must go on and the V&V stage was praised by artists, punters and festival management for its professionalism and quality of service.

The traditional festival accommodation of tents and porta cabins wasn’t exactly luxury given the rain and mud but the students still had a great time and as far as we know only one of them couldn’t wait to go. Well done to all involved!

RTS Young Technologists of the Year

Congratulations to Live and Studio Sound graduate Kath Gray who has just been named Young Technologist of the Year by the Royal Television Society. Following her graduation in 2013 Kath has worked for NEP Visions as a guarantee engineer. She has guaranteed several major shows and is currently overseeing some of the contributions from Wimbledon. It’s great to see young engineers being recognised and of course we’re thrilled to see a Media Technology graduate go on to be so successful. Well done Kath!

The full article from the RTS is here: https://rts.org.uk/article/kathleen-gray-named-royal-television-society-young-technologist-2017

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Kathleen Gray

Glastonbury 2017

Last month Media Technology students were on hand at Glastonbury festival to offer technical support for some of the media operations. A team of our students spent a sweltering week at Pilton’s Worthy Farm, guaranteeing the department’s outside broadcast production vehicle.

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This is the thirteenth year that Media Technology undergraduates have been involved with the festival and they were joined by students from journalism and television production. The students worked collaboratively to produce a range of material for indoor and outdoor screens at the Sonic Stage as well as camera documentary content for the festival organisers and international agencies.

Seasoned professionals are always highly impressed with the quality of the content produced by Solent and the professionalism of our students – this year montages of content were even used for the BBC Worldwide service.

Hats Off to Our Latest Graduates

Yesterday saw Southampton Guildhall Square filled with folk in funny hats and billowing gowns for the graduation ceremony of the School of Media Arts and Technology. After a foreword by Vice Chancellor Graham Baldwin, students were presented for admission by our Chancellor Admiral the Right Honourable Lord West of Spithead.

Media Technology students were admitted for degrees in BSc (Hons) Broadcast Systems Engineering, BSc (Hons) Television Production Technology, BSc (Hons) Audio Engineering and BSc (Hons) Live Sound Technology. Congratulations to all of you on your achievements. A higher education degree reflects a high level of independence and resilience as well as subject specialism. Many of you have overcome substantial obstacles at some point during your time here and every one of you is to be commended on your determination and stamina. We hope you leave with not just knowledge and experience but also the confidence to achieve your potential and to live your aspirations.

Further congratulations to recipients of additional awards:

  • Ed Lawrence and Ben Gould for the Ellucian Prize
  • Ed Lawrence for the Ed Boyce Memorial Fund Prize
  • Oskar Przybylski for the KP Acoustics Prize
  • Harry Wickings for the Christie Digital Prize

The ceremony was closed with some sage words from the Chancellor and Maggie Philbin. Maggie was also awarded an honorary doctorate in technology for her work promoting technology and STEM subjects through her broadcasting career and numerous outreach projects.

The day was a fantastic celebration of several years of toil and development. It was great for the course team to see the students officially recognised and of course to meet some of their parents. It was also wonderful to learn that so many of the third years have already accepted job offers and that several are even already in post.

Please do stay in touch. Students and Graduates are encouraged to join the Media Technology Facebook Private Group – email a member of the course team to be invited. Let us know what you get up to and feel free to drop in if you find yourself back in Southampton. The Media Technology Programme thrives from industry engagement and you are now the next generation of engineers and technicians. Once more; congratulations.

My Year in Industry at Dolby Laboratories

I recently caught up with Dan, who is about to finish his year placement at Dolby; here are his thoughts and reflections.

“Over Easter 2016, I was looking at my CV and although I was happy with what I had achieved at University thus far – I had partaken in enough work experience and society events for my satisfaction – I decided I needed to throw myself out of my comfort zone. I looked at placement years, but thought why would I want to take a year out? An opportunity came up at Dolby, so I applied, thinking the best scenario would be some invaluable interview experience and some handy pointers on how to improve. I went to the interview and was in for a real shock, I had to sit an exam on my knowledge and undertake a lengthy one-to-one interview with my prospective future managers. I was not ready for this. The exam was difficult and tested my computing, audio and electronics knowledge. I walked out after the interview feeling disheartened, almost certain of not getting the job, but ultimately fulfilled in that I threw myself out of my comfort zone and got the interview experience I was after.”

“Two weeks later, I was unexpectedly sent a job offer. Elation! My role was split into two parts, within two different locations. So I will try and summarise it as best as I can! There was a lot to take in.”

Part 1: Transfer Bay Engineer – Soho Square

“The first part of the Job was at the flagship office in London’s Soho Square. The office has many Atmos enabled rooms, as you may expect, from small mixing rooms to a large flagship screening room. These rooms fulfil many purposes, from demonstrations and business events to colour grading and atmos mixing. The screening room – currently the only screening room in the UK with Dolby Vision laser projectors – is always being used to test and show the latest upcoming movies to famous faces, cast & crew, societies such as AMPAS among many others. The amount of Dolby trailers I’ve had to watch this year is into the hundreds. You start recreating the sound effects and miming the words before you know it. I would often run screenings in the screening room and help calibrate and test the Atmos sound system installed within it, (26.10.1 for any of you wondering).  Since I’ve been there, we’ve had screenings for the likes of Tom Cruise, Colin Firth, Denzel Washington among others. I’ve had less pressured jobs!”

“The main role for me though, was Transfer Bay Engineer. I know what you’re thinking… What is a Transfer Bay Engineer? Well, a transfer bay engineer is somebody who quality checks mixes and sends them off to the next person in the chain from studio to distribution. So, I would receive audio for trailers, commercials and short films. This could be in 5.1, 7.1 or Atmos formats. I would test it, make sure it meets requirements for UK/European Cinema Distribution and if it did, I would send it off, if not, I would make some changes to make it meet requirement and go back to the studio suggesting those changes. It sounds woefully boring when you put it in writing. In practice however, it was very fun a great way of getting to know different studios, their practices and also working within professional standards.”

“Other than this, the role had many other jobs, which usually entailed visiting different studios and fixing equipment. I’ve sat in on a few master recordings for different films, which was pretty fun. Watching the Lego Batman movie in Bulgarian was… interesting.”

“Another initiative which Dolby is launching is the Ministry of Sound project. This is ultimately, Dolby Atmos in a nightclub. Its game-changing. Our roles as students were to support the artists who would come into the room and mix their tracks in Atmos, ready for playback at their Ministry of Sound sets. We’ve supported artists such as Max Cooper, Solarstone, S.P.Y among others. We would occasionally have to sell the idea of Atmos, to prospective artists. Which was fun, you’d get a sense of how artists mix and how they use the technology differently to how post production mixers use it. For me, the general consensus was that mixers enjoy the clarity you get with atmos. It’s not just a gimmick where you can place objects above you, it’s much more than that. Having full range surround completely changes the process, especially as you don’t have to go mad on the EQ to get something to cut through within a mix.”

Part 2: Content Services – Royal Wootton Bassett

“Okay, so part two of the placement is in the countryside. Royal Wootton Bassett. Less flashy, a little bit more humble but still stacked with knowledge and the latest in audio technology. 3 screening rooms, 2 other Atmos enabled mix rooms. This office served as the old European headquarters for a couple of decades and there are little reminders of the history of Dolby everywhere.”

“The role was a little more technical. It mainly involved fixing, testing and setting up Rendering Mastering Units among Cinema Processors, Multimedia Encoders, broadcast encoders and decoders and many other pieces of equipment. I’ve upped my soldering game, always handy, I’ve had to make a lot of breakout cables, d-sub cables and even a 6 way cinema processor switcher. I’ve also tested my programming knowledge by helping to set up new products which will be available to studios soon.”

“But there’s still the opportunity to get out and about. I have been on a few site visits, one of which to jolly old Southampton! Along with a few members of the team, I helped ‘Atmos-commission’ the new Showcase Cinema in West Quay. We went out and set measurement microphones within the critical listening area and attuned each speaker by blasting out pink noise and measuring the response averaged between the 8 microphones along the critical listening area. An EQ was added to make it hit the X-Curve. It was interesting to see! I hope by now you’ve all been and had a go on the reclining chairs.”

“I was also invited to work at Cannes Film Festival. Helping out with screenings and decommissioning of the screening rooms. It was interesting to see how such an event was put on in a conference centre which is by no means meant to be a cinema. We also helped out with a few premieres which was pretty cool.”

“So, I’m now at the end point of my student placement and I’m ready to return to University with an added boost of motivation. So, to return to my original question: why would you do a placement year? Well, what is there to lose? I’ve been able to preview what professional life is like on the outside of University. I have been able to develop confidence and knowledge within the field, which has helped me chose the path of audio post-production post university. I have had incredible experiences and invaluable tips. A placement year may not be compulsory for the course, but has been instrumental for my growth as a sound engineer.”

Thanks to Dan for sharing his thoughts and experiences – we look forward to seeing him again in September. Keep an eye on the Facebook and SOL pages for placement opportunities and get involved with extracurricular events to help make your own.

My Year in Industry at Focusrite

I recently caught up with Adam, who is about to finish his year placement at Focusrite; here are his thoughts and reflections.

“I’m currently studying Bsc (Hons) Audio Engineering and I’ll be starting my final year in September. I applied to the course because, unlike many people, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. My degree title is actually in the name of the company I’ve been working for – Focusrite Audio Engineering Ltd. I picked this course and University specifically because it stood out head and shoulders above the rest. I visited a few other Universities with much stricter entry requirements before visiting Solent but the team, facilities and course in general stood out by a mile.”

“I decided to take a placement year for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I figured that applying for a job after University would be so much easier. I can’t put into words how much I’ve learned since being here and developed already existing skills; there’s no better way to learn than actually doing something. It’s not only that though, a good reference from a well-regarded company carries so much weight and the opportunity to socialise and network with people that you aspire to work alongside is priceless.”

“Secondly, I hope that it will make my final year much easier. I’ve had an extra year to develop skills that are necessary for my final major project and I’ve also had to manage my time, workload, deadlines and personal life around a much tighter schedule. “

“I’ve worked on a couple of big product-based projects since I’ve been here; unfortunately I can’t talk about them yet! Major projects that I’ve worked on (that I actually can talk about) include a new factory test system, the migration of all engineering data between PLM systems and more factory test stuff!”

“Our new factory test system replaces a standalone C++ application that’s been neglected over the years and is just u-g-l-y. It ain’t got no alibi. It’s ugly. The new system (pyFactory) is a web-based application hosted solely on Raspberry Pis. Using Focusrite’s existing audio interfaces we can run extremely high performance audio measurements very quickly. We can also test MIDI devices and perform firmware upgrades with the system. The system runs in a master/slave configuration, with one master device (serving database access and also as a system update manager) connected to multiple slaves – test stations running a web app that connects directly to the master’s database. The system also supports RS-232 comms, allowing us to control pneumatic test fixtures and automate entire tests (connector insertion, gain pot adjustment, etc…). The latest products to be tested on this system are Novation Peak and MonoStation; we’ve been working on porting over other product ranges, but new products always take priority. On the old test system, a Scarlett Solo (2nd Gen) would take ~60 seconds per test. The new test system can test ~2.5 units in this time. We’ve not yet figured out exactly how much money this has saved, but it’s a lot!”

“I’ve learned an incredible amount. I’m aiming to have a more software-focussed career; comparing my current code to code that I’ve written previous to this year is like comparing a Mr Men book to Stephen Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time’. I’ve developed my knowledge of networked audio, electronics, software development, project management, and manufacturing.”

“I’d like to return to Focusrite upon graduating, hopefully as a Production Systems Developer (or, more likely, a junior one of those). This would involve developing production systems software including test systems, analysis tools and workflow automation. I’m tempted to do a Masters but I’m not sure whether I could turn down a job offer! Focusrite are great in that you quite often have the opportunity to study for an advanced, or second, degree. We’ll see where it takes me!”

Thanks to Adam for sharing his thoughts and experiences – we look forward to seeing him again in September. Keep an eye on the Facebook and SOL pages for placement opportunities and get involved with extracurricular events to help make your own.

Sound Insulation: from Poster Day to Poster Boy

It’s always nice to hear what our graduates are up to and we were especially pleased so see Stephen recently become the face of his profession after Anderson Acoustics produced an infographic showing a day in the life of a sound tester.

Stephen graduated in 2015 with a first class honours degree in BSc (Hons) Sound Engineering and an Institute of Acoustics (IoA) Certificate of Competence in Environmental Noise Measurement. Since then he has worked for a number of events companies and is now employed by Anderson Acoustics as an assistant acoustics consultant.

Stephen’s interest in sound started from music production and DJ’ing and his time at Solent introduced him to acoustics. He became interested by the challenges posed by the field and comments that he enjoys pushing himself and his knowledge through projects. Of course he still finds time for music production in his spare time! The full infographic is reproduced below with kind permission and the original is available via Anderson Acoustic’s website. Well done Stephen and we hope to see you again soon.

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