Sometimes, in the middle of a normal conversation, I’ll hear a word or phrase and for the next day or two I will fixate. I’ll drift into tangents, try to figure out how it applies to my world view, twist it around—just because that’s the way my brain works. I do crossword puzzles; I do pretty well at Scrabble. I’m one of those guys who believe that words matter.
So just the other day I’m on the phone with Cynthia Wisehart, a longtime editorial colleague and friend whom I’ve known since the late 1990s when she was editor of millimeter and we were both owned by Intertec. She’s now editor of Sound & Video Contractor. She’s a dancer, and she lives in the world of art and technology. She’s well-traveled.
Cynthia is intelligent, insightful, and pays attention to the larger world around her. She would be equally comfortable attending opening night at the Met or dipping into a dive bar and playing pool. So as we’re chatting away about cover stories and upcoming events, sidetracking into Facebook, our children and the election, she says, and I paraphrase, “That’s the whole problem today, people are living in a binary construct…”
Now that’s a new one, I thought to myself, and we soon went down the rabbit hole of zeroes and ones, black and white, for or against, male and female, yin and yang, and the way that modern communications, modern culture even, guides us down a path where the options are either one thing, or one other thing. But that’s it. There are no gray areas anymore. We got animated. Everything made sense. And then we hung up and I got back to my cover story on Appalachian State University and audio education. And I started thinking, “She’s on to something.”
We are so inundated with information and opinions these days that most people retreat into what they know, feeding their own Binary Construct. It might not be conscious, and nobody wants to admit it, but it’s there. The trick is to step outside of the construct and acknowledge the rest of the world. Sometimes that means that you have to get up from the mix chair, go have dinner with a friend and interact with people who might not share all of your opinions. That’s how we learn.
There is no “right” way to mike a kick drum, and there’s no surefire formula for a hit song. There’s no one plug-in or esoteric piece of outboard gear from the 1950s that solves every vocal issue, and there are no pushbutton fixes for adding emotion to a track. There are a lot of decisions to be made between 20 Hz and 20 kHz, many of them in the gray area. The best engineers know that.
Which brings me back to audio education. There is no right or wrong way to educate a budding recording engineer. A program might be six months with a certificate at the end, and it works for that individual. It might be two years, four years, at a for-profit, at a community college or in a studio one-on-one with a mentor. It all depends on what works for that individual. That doesn’t mean that a school should abandon the basics or modify curriculum with each new trend or technique. Who’s to say what’s right when it’s 2 in the morning and the harmonica part is lost and the mix is due in the professor’s inbox by 8 a.m. We get an education so that we learn how to think, how to solve problems, how to advance our art.
Appalachian State University, pictured on this month’s cover, has chosen music as the bedrock of its four-year recording education. Other schools might lean toward the GUI and the newest technology’s feature set. There’s room for multiple approaches. But it’s important to remember that The Binary Construct breaks down once you engage a room full of musicians and hit Record. Then it’s just time to jam, and there is no right or wrong.