Production for public television. It brings forth images of dingy rooms with frayed carpet and exposed wires, perhaps a leftover radio studio, where somehow a stellar production comes out because the dedication to the art of sound surpasses all of the budget limitations. No more.
In a unique public/private arrangement, WNET/13 of New York City, producer of nearly 35% of the original programming on the PBS network, and Tonic, a post-production facility headed up by composer/sound designer Peter Fish, have partnered up to offer the best of nonprofit content and commercial enterprise. WNET/13 is the primary client in the facility, bringing in roughly 70% of the work. The other 30% is taken up by a combination of long-form TV, promos and a smattering of music dates brought into the mix by Tonic. Consequently, the audio suites must handle live broadcast, high-end post, music, special events and just about anything audio.
“There are the pure music rooms of the world,” Fish says, “the Hit Factorys and the Right Tracks. They've done it, and I respect them. But then there's this room, which is both a great post room and a ‘Music Room 1A.’ The only real difference is the mind-set of the engineer. It's a far superior room for post, and whatever sacrifices the room might make for music — piece by piece — we can sure turn out a damn good-sounding record.”
Central to that philosophy of being all things to all clients is the selection of console and the surround monitoring environment. Fish, an early adopter of Euphonix technology, maintains a System 5 at Tonic East for ad agency clients, but went with the AMS Neve Libra for WNET.
“About three to four weeks a year, WNET/13 takes over Studio A [the mirror image of Studio B, on the cover] and does their live pledge event,” Fish explains. “So when I was at NAB three years ago putting these rooms together, I was looking for a console I could trust that had the redundancy and features of a live broadcast console and could do post, as well. There was only one I had confidence in where if a bucket went down in the middle of a show, another bucket could be plugged in without power going down. I'm a fan of a lot of consoles, but there was only one at the time that did that.”
The two main rooms are identical in their makeup, with Libra boards, Pro Tools and a relatively unique Genelec 5.1 monitoring system where the rears rise up out of the producer's desk when needed (ghosted on the cover image). That makeup is central to Fish's mandate that engineers be able to move from one environment to another on demand. Studios A and B share a live recording space, and they are both tielined to WNET's two soundstages (each with 48 mic inputs to the control rooms), as is a ProControl/Pro Tools MIDI edit suite. Each room holds a DigiBeta and D2 machine. Every other video option comes off of the 128×128 Grass Valley router.
Fish says that not a day has gone by this year when there hasn't been some sort of 5.1 work going on at WNET/13 or at Tonic's East Side location. “We have a mantra here at Tonic, and that's, ‘Stereo is the new mono,’” Fish says. “We are aggressively pushing the surround market from the back end, and broadcast clients are buying into it because of the DVD after-market. The West Coast is still way ahead of the East Coast, but we're trying to push it.”
“Surround rooms can be divided into two categories,” says facility designer John Storyk, whose partner, Beth Walters, designed the interior finishes. “There are special-purpose rooms, such as DVD authoring suites, audio mastering rooms, gaming industry environments, etc., that typically are trying to adhere to stricter speaker placement configurations. These are often — not always — larger rooms with minimum console and equipment requirements. The other type is for those people who need to continue to be in the music or commercial audio post business. Larger consoles, more equipment, a producer's desk for clients, keyboard rigs, and it must handle 5.1. In the WNET/13 audio suite, we had two things that needed to be in the same place but, luckily, not at the same time, which is why we came up with the ‘rising monitor’ scheme coming up out of the desk. We tried ceilings, walls, but this seemed to work the best.
“The other creative challenge here was that we had to rotate the room with respect to its orientation in the building column grid,” he continues, ”about 15 degrees off that axis. This allowed us to make the space wider and deeper as well as create symmetrical glass on both sides of the room's acoustic center line. This approach gave us excellent line of sight to both talent and machine room, while maximizing the space we were given. Finally, the lower circular ceiling cloud allowed us to install active low-frequency absorbers to correct for low-frequency build-up.”
Tom Kenny is the editor ofMix.