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Digital Control, Analog Freedom: Pro Tools | S6 Reconnects Mixer with Music

Fast approaching its 30th anniversary in 2017, RoastingHouse AB is a music company with a global reach that encompasses publishing, labels, productions and recording/mix/mastering interests. It operates a number of studio facilities, including a major 12 studio complex located in its home town of Malmö, in the south of Sweden.

Anders ‘Theo’ Theander started out as a professional drummer before moving into production and engineering – in the process racking up more than 140 album credits. Today he is the owner of RoastingHouse AB but remains active in the studio – not least in its flagship room, Studio 1. Set within a 19th century building, Studio 1 has been the subject of a substantial upgrade over the last few years that has seen it adopt a workflow based around Avid’s Pro Tools and a Pro Tools | S6 M40 Control Surface – the currently largest Pro Tools | S6 console in Scandinavia.

As well as delivering a boost for music recording and mixing applications, the Pro Tools | S6 has enhanced Studio 1’s post-production capabilities, which also include 5.1 surround (Genelec), Joystick Module, Post Production Module and a 40” 4K screen. The need to support multiple projects – and project types – is an ongoing preoccupation for Theo and colleague’s Simon Hansson (Studio Manager & Engineer) and Micko Twedberg (Engineer), but in truth the mixing set-up had been in flux for several years.

“We had had the ability to sync our 24-track 2” Studer A80, Mac 3, tape machine to Pro Tools while still using our old analogue desk, although over time I had become more and more enamoured of the freedom of working mainly in the digital domain,” he says. “But what I didn’t like about digitally-oriented recording was the tendency to work primarily with the keyboard and mouse/track pad – in fact, I found that it hindered my ability to focus on the music. I was simply not connecting with music in the way I had done when we used only analogue gear.”

The acquisition of an Avid C|24 control surface (which is largely an analogue device) helped to address Theo’s “need for faders”, but when he heard about the S6 he quickly realised that this was another way to go. “It has that combination of the feel of an analogue console with all the digital benefits, so we knew it would be a fantastic addition to the studio,” he says.

 

All set for surround

Designed for optimum flexibility, the S6 is based around the Master Touch Module, which provides touchscreen access and control. Customers may then choose from the S6 M40 or S6 M10 control surfaces, which both feature a tilting 12.1-inch multipoint touchscreen, eight adjacent rotary encoders, and dedicated knobs and keys.

At RoastingHouse Studio 1, the S6 M40 has evolved in response to the studio’s changing requirements. In the nearly two years since it was acquired, the fader count has been increased to 40 while a host of additional modules have been added. Of particular note are the modules to support surround sound, with immersive audio expected to make a significant impact on production workflows over the next few years.

“Swedish Television and the Royal Opera House in Malmö are among those to have expressed an interest in surround sound, so it’s important that we have the capacity to support immersive work,” says Theo.

But it is the ability of the S6’s Master Touch Module and Master Modules to be programmed to meet specific user requirements that is proving most critical to Theo. In fact, they are not only enhancing his day-to-day working life – they have also reignited his personal connection with music itself.

“By programming the S6 to behave in the way we want it to behave, I have found that we are using the keyboard and trackpad less and less – and I hope that we really won’t use them much at all at some point in the near-future,” he says. “As a producer and mixing engineer, this has had massive benefits for my work. For a while back there I felt like I was more of a computer engineer, but now I am back to focusing on the music again and being a music worker once more!”

Although the experience of switching to the S6 has been distinctly challenging at times, necessitating intensive support from Gothenburg-based Avid partner Meta4, it is clear that Theo has no regrets.

“The S6 has helped me to find my way back to working with music in a creative way to capture and convey the right energy. My mixes have become more ‘alive’ and ‘musical’ again, thanks to the S6,” he says. “Moreover, I am glad to report that the positive feeling about the system is shared by the other engineers and producers who have passed through RoastingHouse recently.”

 

Photos by Roger Jensen

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Easing the Editor’s Struggle… Just a Little

Blackway is the latest collaboration between Swedish director Daniel Alfredson and editor/post-production supervisor Håkan Karlsson. Screened at the Venice and Austin film festivals ahead of a general release, it tells the story of a young woman who returns to her hometown on the northwest Pacific coast of America only to be menaced by an ex-police officer turned criminal. The film was shot in Canada but edited at Karlsson’s People in the Park facility in rural Sweden. Which, he explains, was made possible by remote networking.

I’ve been working with director Daniel Alfredson for 25 years, on TV drama series and a lot of films. We did The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, based on the novel by Steig Larsson, and episodes of the Millennium TV series that was also inspired by his work. More recently we made Kidnapping Mr Heineken, which featured Anthony Hopkins.

Our latest film, Blackway, also stars Anthony Hopkins, as well as Ray Liotta and Julia Stiles. It was shot on ARRI ALEXA in 4:4:4 and I edited it using Avid Media Composer. I’ve used Media Composer as long as it has existed and I’ve been editing for 25 years. I was using Steenbeck editing tables until 2000 but I started with Avid long before that. I’ve tried other programs but Avid is my preferred tool – it just works for me.

I set up People in the Park in 2006, based in Kilafors, a small town about three hours north of Stockholm. It was a small risk but I wanted to build a place where people would want to come to work.

I work here with sound designer/mixer Kenneth Skoglund and film and sound editor Sarah Patient Nixastro. People in the Park is built inside a big old school, with an office, several virtual editing suites, a grading room and a mixing studio. There are guest apartments for directors and producers because a week here is like two in Stockholm – you can get more done in shorter days.

When people can’t come to us, we’re also able to work remotely, as we did with Blackway. Collaborative distance working is made possible by the combination of Avid with the HAWC cloud-based editing and distribution platform. HAWCeye, the streaming service we use for distributing footage such as daiies, edited scenes and versions of the film. HAWCsuite works like a remote computer; it allows me to have directors, producers and more to ‘visit’ me in my edit suite from wherever they are, while still working in high-res and with no latency. But it´s just a computer, not an edit system – it is more passive, whereas Avid is more active and can be used for the coding as well as the editing.

All of this worked well on Blackway. I did go over to Canada for a week just to see everyone, but other than that I was in my post house. And because of the time difference with Canada we were able to work during their night time. My assistant Bjorn worked closely with me and we did a lot of the DIT at my facility instead of on-set. This included the encoding for Avid offline; by using the FileCatalyst transfer platform we could upload the original in high resolution and encode everything for Avid.

FileCatalyst uses the UDP-based Data Transfer Protocol for uploading RAW files, which is a fast and secure way to transfer data. As well as loading the video footage into Media Composer I also had the audio files and continuity reports. I was post supervisor on Blackway and Kenneth Skoglund, who was the sound designer, worked closely with me using Pro Tools. I work a lot with the sound and the music – it’s very important to do that for the final editing.

Everyone was very pleased with the results, and it really shows that you don’t have to be close to the production any more to stay connected and to do a great job.

The fascinating thing I find about editing is working not only with a big canvas but also having the choice of a ‘big wide pencil’ or a ‘small, thin pencil’ – which is what Media Composer and other Avid systems provide. They allow you to go down to the tiny things, at 1/25th of a second. Even at that level, though, every decision is big. I think it’s very important that editors struggle. Editors should want to make the end result better than the best all the time and, while technologies like Avid are ‘just tools’, they help enormously in doing that.

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Features and Familiarity Make Avid VENUE | S6L a Hit at Union Scene

Avid’s VENUE has long been one of the most requested live mixing systems in the world, with the combination of an extensive feature-set and intuitive operational style making it a favourite of FOH and monitor engineers. The Avid VENUE | S6L console is one of the latest additions to the VENUE family, and its popularity among live music practitioners is one of the factors that led acclaimed Norwegian music venue Union Scene to purchase not one, but two, of the highly-specified systems.

Situated in the city of Drammen, 25 miles from Oslo, Union Scene has been a staple of the country’s music scene it opened its doors for the first time 20 years ago. Following a hiatus in operations between 2002 and 2006, the venue has gone from strength to strength, hosting rock, jazz, folk and many other genres of live music. It also has a close association with another regional cultural institution, Drammens Teater, which is located nearby.

Petter Grimstad is lead technician at Union Scene and has observed the centre’s expanding use of Avid Technology since its renaissance began nearly ten years ago. “I like the ease of use of the Avid systems – the way they are set up and the ability they offer to employ a wide variety of third-party plug-ins. We had been using VENUE | Profile Systems for a number of years, so it was a logical next step that we would begin to think about investing in the S6L,” he says.

An FOH engineer favourite

The VENUE | S6L offers a feature set that is truly extensive, with the headline capabilities including 300-plus processing channels, an advanced engine design, modern touchscreen workflows, and the ability to work with more plug-ins and Pro Tools track counts than ever before.

Several of these elements loomed large in the decision-making process when Union Scene decided it was time to upgrade its console infrastructure with two S6Ls. “It had come to our attention that the S6L is a real favourite of touring engineers, particularly on the international circuit – and we do get a lot of international acts performing here. The comfort and familiarity that many feel with the console was definitely part of our reason for investing,” says Grimstad.

The fact that “even more plug-ins” can be used with the S6L, yielding “greater freedom of creativity in the mixes” was another important factor. Then there was the sound quality. Grimstad comments, “Everyone that I know who has come into contact with the S6Ls since we acquired them has commented on the quality of the audio that is achievable with this system.”

“These systems are very versatile and easy to use, and we have been getting great feedback from both regular and visiting engineers about their performance. They are a real boost to our flexibility.”

—Petter Grimstad, lead technician at Union Scene

A boost for flexibility

The ability to configure and reconfigure the system through an array of network and I/O options also means that the S6L lends itself to Union Scene’s increasingly diverse workload. Whilst live music remains its core activity, the venue also hosts corporate events, conferences, meetings and more.

Underlining the versatility of the S6L, Grimstad confirms that the two consoles – which were purchased and delivered towards the end of 2015 – are used for both FOH and monitor duties across the venue’s three primary performance areas: a 1350-capacity main stage, a 250-capacity secondary room, and a compact 100-capacity space.

“These systems are very versatile and easy to use, and we have been getting great feedback from both regular and visiting engineers about their performance. They are a real boost to our flexibility,” adds Grimstad.

Love the workflow

In time, Grimstad hopes that it might be possible to add a smaller S3L console to the Union Scene inventory. But for now he is more than happy to continue his own long history of using Avid – a brand with which he is clearly entirely comfortable.

“I have been using the Avid systems for more than ten years,” he says. “I particularly love the workflow and the option to use a great variety of party plug-ins. With some other mixing systems, you are a bit stuck with the straight EQ and compressors, but Avid really gives you a lot of choice – and that’s something you need when the types of event are so diverse. I am glad to report that the S6L continues in this tradition, so we are very happy to have it here at Union Scene.”

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