Tuesday, 31 July 2012

So, is recording engineering?

*drum roll*

*opening of gold envelope*

....and the answer is......."it can be".

Wait! Before you shout "fix!" or "cop out!" and march off, that really is the best short answer to the question (honest!). Having over the last eleven months spoken to over two hundred people about this, and delved into pages and pages existing writing on the subjects of engineering and recording, it was very unlikely that there was going to be a single, unanimous answer which would fit into a single sentence.

A longer answer is to be found in all of the articles, papers, interview transcripts etc. which can be found at the project web resource here. Although the Fellowship formally finishes tonight (just two hours left to go, sniff!) this resource will be a permanent record of the work that's been done. As you can see there still more to be posted there, and this will happen over the next few months. As I said in this morning's post this is really just the start of the public engagement with this subject. When I was first planning about this was something I was interested in and really felt needed some time and energy spent on it, now I'm passionate about making people think more about the engineering which is responsible for so much of the world that we live in, and the recording industry which provides so much of the soundtrack to it.

Before I sign off for the last time during this fellowship, I'll give you a medium-sized answer in the form of a top 10 thoughts that people have shared with me, or that I've come to realise myself as this project has gone on.

1. If your definition of an engineer is strictly someone who is a chartered engineer, then recording isn't engineering. Most people who work in recording studios aren't chartered and there is no organisation that I, or anyone I spoke to, is aware that is able to charter people based on their recording work.

2. For others engineers are those are apply numeracy an scientific knowledge to solve human problems and create things......

3......but engineering seems to have been around longer than science, so perhaps we have to be more general and replace that with some form of organised corpus of knowledge. I think that what this implies is rationality, an attempt to move beyond what "feels right" and what is explained by magic. That there is a structure and ordered behaviour of the physical world around us and engineering is the acceptance of this. 'Faith in the rational', if you like.

4. For one well known engineering academic of the last century, engineering is elevated above craft by the intellectual skills required for, e.g. "a computer software system". Can recording situations present the same challenge? Sometimes? Always? Never?

5. For another, writing  around the same time, this is the distinction: "Craft is the power to produce a preconceived result by consciously controlled action: the craftsman always knows what he wants to make in advance [whereas the engineer does not]".

6. For many who work in the studio, getting the best recording is not the most important thing, getting a recording of the best performance is the most important thing. If there is engineering, it serves to capture the music. The music does not exist solely to provide raw materials for engineering.

7. Engineers use existing methods and tools where they represent a satisfactory solution (they do not reinvent the wheel) but they are able to design and verify new solutions where necessary and possible. They do not just follow 'cookbook recipes'.

8. The accumulation of scientific knowledge is via experimentation however engineers use this knowledge in a systematic way to arrive at the best solution quickly. Trial and error, with no understanding of the underlying physical processes, takes longer than this.

9.Certain recording, and many live sound, scenarios require the design of systems for audio capture and/or reproduction. For some this is audio engineering (i.e. relating to the design and production of sound recording equipment) for others it is a part of recording engineering.

10. A useful way of categorising knowledge and ability in the studio might be to make the distinction between operator (can operate machinery, but does not understand how it works or the principles on which it functions), craftsperson (can assemble and use recording systems according to experience, and has sufficient understanding of the tools to experiment) and engineer (understands the physical laws of sound production and capture, understands the design and function of the equipment they use, can design and explain, new methods and systems for new recording challenges in a methodical and systematic way).

None of this is set in stone but is, I believe,  a useful set of ideas for applying to the work that you do, or aspire to do.

Does it resonate with you?

1 comment:

  1. I have learned a lot about engineering just by reading this article. I have been considering studying to become an engineer for a long time. I know it's a lot of hard work, but the benefits are obviously worth it. What are some things I should be doing now to prepare myself to become an engineer? http://www.newschoolalbany.edu