Pianist and composer Arthur Bloom is founder and executive director of Renovation In Music Education (RIME, www.rimemusic.org), a non-profit organization, which he operates out of his Washington DC-based studio.
Bloom’s work with RIME grew from his experience in upstate New York. “Several years ago the Albany Symphony commissioned me to write a piece that had an educational component to it, but would go way beyond the usual ‘Hey kids, here’s a trumpet.’ They wanted me to foster genuine collaboration, to engage the kids in the creative process and figure out a way to get them on stage with the orchestra.” Bloom created a program with two parts: a curriculum through which the kids created and learned material at an accelerated level, and a culminating concert in which they performed with the orchestra. The program featured a variety of musical styles from classical to rap, and a plot that served as a template for the curriculum.
Based on the success of their original program, RIME received a grant from NASA. “Through what is really an unprecedented partnership, we are turning ‘An Orchestra’s Guide to the Young Person’ into ‘An Orchestra’s Guide To The Universe.’ In this version, a kid’s journey through the universe will interrupt the culminating concert, with students preparing for the performance through classes in science and music. With NASA as our partner, we hope to develop a truly innovative way to provide a fantastic science and music educational program to underprivileged kids around the country.”
As RIME grows, so too have their production facilities. “Because of our multiple needs, from audio recording and production, to the notation of orchestral scores and parts, to the production of other educational materials, we need to have a particularly flexible studio. Our monitors were a critical choice,” noted Bloom, “and you can’t get much better than the Acoustic Transducer Company (ATC). We use ATC50As, and I can’t say enough about them. They bathe the entire room in sound, and that’s important, because we’ve got a bunch of remote controlled sites at different spots of our studio. At the same time they’ve got a big and accurate sweet spot, which makes them great to mix on when you’re sitting at the proper position in the stereo field. ATC monitors are like stethoscopes. They’re extremely accurate and are perfect production tools. They don’t sugarcoat the sound, they say it like it is, which helps us produce a better product.
“Our overall approach to the studio is to banish the mixer as a central location, and tether different stations located throughout our space to a central computer. This approach allows us to work where we want to work, rather than force us to hunker down around a mixer like campers around a campfire. Our console-less studio is based on a Macintosh G5 placed in an IsoBox, with a PreSonus Central Station as our monitor matrix, and a variety of control surfaces that communicate with the Mac through cables and wirelessly. A Moog PianoBar, for example, enables us to use a Steinway B piano as a MIDI controller and computer work station.
“While we work with a number of suppliers, we have a special relationship with TransAudio Group out of Las Vegas. They’re incredibly helpful and the gear they represent is truly the cream of the crop. We have a bias towards remote controllable equipment, so our Soundfield SPS 422 microphone system is a perfect fit, and an example of the high caliber equipment available through TransAudio. The 422 is a remote controlled mic with four capsules in it that records at a full 360 degrees. You dial in the patterns you want as well as the width of the stereo field, and the results are gorgeous. It’s versatile, accurate and produces a 3-dimensional stereo field that is so good, it makes you feel like you could just reach out and touch the instruments on playback. Plus, it works particularly well on piano, a notoriously difficult instrument to mic.
Bloom continues, “Similar to the ATC monitors, the Soundfield microphone is an extremely accurate system. If we want to add a bit of warm and fuzzy to it, we sometimes plug it directly into a Drawmer 1960 compressor. The 1960 is a beautiful piece, a hybrid of solid-state mic pre’s and tube compression. I find that routing the Soundfield (which includes its own mic pre’s) through the 1960’s compressor works well on a variety of acoustic sources, including piano. Sometimes I also like to add a touch of the 1960’s compression to the final stereo buss when mixing. With a central computer married to superlative outboard gear and monitors from TransAudio, we have the best of both worlds: digital flexibility and analog high-fidelity.”