Off The Record | David Kirby
Professional photographer David Kirby's fascination with audio resulted in him setting up his own audio-visual studio based around a Fostex A8 recorder and Tascam 133 cassette deck. Here he outlines how he works with it.
David Kirby, of VISION ONE, lives and works from his home in Oxfordshire where he produces professional Audio-Visual presentations. He readily admits to being a newcomer to the professional audio world but here he tells us how and why he chose his equipment and what he expects from it.
I started my present business as a freelance photographer, working on advertising and technical presentations. Photographically, I concentrate on creative studio work. However, I have long been fascinated by the extra dimension that added sound brings to visual communication and so it was inevitable that I am now also in the A-V business, producing three-projector slide-based presentations usually transferred to video for replay at exhibitions or for educational/training uses.
I could, of course, have left the audio side of the A-V work to one of the many excellent studios set up for this purpose. But I'm a bit of a loner, and I like a challenge, so I decided to bring the audio aspect in-house as well - and working out in rural Oxfordshire rather than in London's West End is also a pragmatic consideration.
The microprocessor programmer I use to run the three projectors is tape-controlled, in my case by a Tascam 133 stereo cassette deck, my first introduction to professional audio equipment. This is a fantastic workhorse for controlling the final show but it was soon obvious that I needed a multitrack of some sort for producing creative soundtracks. A Fostex A8 recorder and model 350 mixer were the result: they seem to be very good value. Early monitoring was done via headphones but I have since bought a Quad 405 amplifier and a pair of Tannoy Little Red monitors to complete the system.
This modest collection was built up over some eighteen months while I thought long and hard about what I actually needed and how easy it would be to drive by someone who normally thinks in ISO ratings and F-stops. Much valuable help came from the merry men of Danbury Street, Messrs. Raper & Wayman, who painstakingly deciphered my needs from my hesitant and rather poor command of the audio jargon.
Most of the work I produce has a large technical or scientific content. The message is usually fairly complex and the 'theme' needs building up over some minutes.
Music is very important in this respect, as are authentic ambient sounds. I have found out the hard way that there is no substitute for the real thing and that live sound always comes over better than sound effects taken from disc. (How many other listeners wince like I do when I hear the Beeb's standard motorcar in radio productions - which, by the way, I swear is a 1936 Wolseley 16 with a crash gearbox!)
Following on from this, you'll be expecting me to say that I commission and record live music. Unfortunately, I don't have the set-up for this and neither do my clients have the money to pay for it.
I listen to every piece of library music that is sent to me (Music Libraries please note) and I think about the musical content of any production at a very early stage. If I find a piece of music that suggests certain images or pictures in my mind that fit the subject matter in hand, I will then try, if possible, to compose my shots accordingly.
I must say that most records that are sent to me are inappropriate for my kind of work. The tracks are too short and much too up-tempo. One feels that they have been written with the 30-second TV commercial in mind. However, an exception to this is the A-V Series produced by Chappell, with variations on a theme taking up perhaps the whole of one side of a record. This enables me to build up the mood of a sequence, retaining an 'audio unity' and yet allowing me to vary the visual pace. I would like to see more of this type of music produced. The advantage of library music is, of course, that you only pay for what you use, the controlling organisation being the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society. The MCPS will also negotiate copyright clearance and fees due on any non-library music specifically requested by your client.
Living where we do isn't quite as bad as trying to run a studio at the end of a main runway at Heathrow but RAF Benson, where the Queen's Flight is based, is only a mile away. Strangely, this has not presented too many problems so far, except when an aircraft flies directly overhead. For recording live voice-overs I erect a carpet 'tent' in the middle of the photographic studio and this provides a sufficiently dead recording environment for the narrator. The science of microphones is a black art to me still but one thing is certain: I know that I need to spend some more money soon!
The key to any good A-V sequence is a cue sheet. All producers devise their own. Mine shows all the slides and their programming details ie. running time, elapsed time, nature of picture dissolve, plus equal weight on the audio input to show the script spoken by the voice-over, the music or special sound effects, with the sheet laid out with all these elements running together - a bit like a conductor's musical score.
I start off by doing a rough programming of the slides. The individual audio tracks are laid down on to the Fostex A8, the slide programme is then projected and I mix down on to the Tascam 133 whilst watching the screen. This is the most exciting and demanding part of the creative process - which rarely comes out right first time!
As I have only one pair of hands and there is a lot to do with them at this stage, the ergonomic layout of the equipment is vital. I designed and made my own console (with room for expansion) because a comfortable and good-looking environment is important to me and impresses the clients.
I have to admit to being a gadget freak and I draw great satisfaction from using modern equipment. It never ceases to amaze me that so much potential comes in such attractive (and seductive!) small packages.
The next piece of equipment on the shopping list is the new Fostex model 20 half-track for mastering. It would also be nice to do my own video transfer but maybe the lure of achieving even better quality sound will come first.
Feature by David Kirby
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