interview: the academic studio manager -- Ian Stonehouse
Ian Stonehouse is head of music at the Electronic Music Studios at Goldsmith's College, University of London, UK. Here we talk about his background, today's studio, music, and why he uses Mac OS 8 for his own home studio.
Goldsmith's EMS Homepage : www.goldsmiths.ac.uk/departments/music/ems
First of all, did you kind of fall into the studio engineer business (the classic way used to be starting as tea boy) or did you do courses and all that?
I got into it via the scenic route, more by accident than by design. I've no formal music qualifications - I'm pretty much self-taught - though I did study the guitar for a several years when I was younger. I've done a couple of short audio engineering courses, including one back in 1988 at the now defunct Thatched Cottage Audio in Cambridgeshire. This included a great seminar with Paul White which really opened my eyes & ears to the whole area of sound engineering. He's now Editor-In-Chief of Sound On Sound magazine (www.soundonsound.com).
Before you started work in the Electronic Music Studios at Goldsmiths College what were you up to?
I originally started out as a painter & film-maker doing a Fine Art degree at the School of Art & Design in Wolverhampton. Simultaneously I was doing the classic 'Art College band' thing. The band were called "MFD" and it was an amalgam of various styles and musical influences - The Mothers Of Invention, Can, Crass, Disidenten, Ivo Papasov, etc. In 1989 I started running an animation workshop for young people with a colleague of mine at the Light House in Wolverhampton, which eventually lasted for 4 years. At that time I was also learning a lot of sound and video editing/recording skills, working freelance. I moved to London in the mid-90s and eventually ended-up working for two years as technician in the (now defunct) Lux Centre (www.lux.org.uk) in Hoxton Square. Since 1999 I've been doing my current job as Studio Manager/Head of the Electronic Music Studios (www.goldsmiths.ac.uk/departments/music/ems/) here at Goldsmiths.
Any interesting anecdotes from that time?
Well, as a kid I used to pass the time wiring old tape recorders together - that's really where it all started... about age 12 or 13. I'd record sounds/voices off the radio and just edit, for hours, days, weeks on end. I still have dozens and dozens of these audio cassettes at home. At the time I was making them I thought they sounded fantastic, but they're really pretty rancid in comparison to what you can do these days with computers.
About the same time I remember a particular Saturday when my mother came back from a 'Jumble Sale' at our local village hall. She'd bought a secondhand LP of the film soundtrack to 'Oklahoma'. However, to her surprise the actual disc inside was one of early electronic music, featuring Ilhan Mimaroglu, Tzvi Azni, Walter Carlos and Andres Lewin-Richter. It was on the Vox-Turnabout label, 1965, the year I was born, which seemed a highly significant fact to me at the time! I saved it from the rubbish bin and played it to death on this old Bush mono record player I had in my room. It's hard to relate the seismic effect of, say, 'Agony' by Ilhan Mimaroglu, on the mind of a 12-year old kid living in the middle of nowhere. Bear in mind that the only other record in my collection at that time was (ahem) Gary Glitter's 'Hello, Hello, I'm Back Again!' (1973) [Note: there's an exceptional and surreal cover version of this by the Swiss band The Young Gods].
The studio you run caters for music students where, I guess, studio practice learning is a byproduct. Do you get any feedback as to what the graduates are going on to do?
Yes, I get a lot of feedback from former students - it's always interesting to find out what they're doing out there in the 'real world'. One ex-student was working recently in (what remains of) the BBC Radiophonic Workshop - she started pretty soon after she'd graduated, archiving and so forth. Many go into teaching music, others have become successful musicians/composers in their own right.
I think mostly you run Mac systems but you did have a Linux system for a while. Was that discontinued because of man-power problems (servicing two operating systems) or were there other reasons?
Well, I'm no Linux expert, and there wasn't sufficient long-term interest to maintain it. There are still one or two students who run Linux on their own home systems. These sorts of issues are invariably driven by student demand, but issues of time and money restrict what's do-able on a practical level.
What areas are booming at the moment in the studio?
There's been a real explosion of interest in MaxMSP/Jitter (www.cycling74.com) software and the whole area of live electronics in the past 3-4 years, and we have a lot of expertise amongst both staff and postgraduate students. We've been running summer courses in MaxMSP for a few years now (www.goldsmiths.ac.uk/departments/music/ems/courses.html) and recently introduced weekend ones as well. Another very strong area is that of acoustic ecology/soundscape.
Did you form a general impression of Linux at the time? (this was, what, three years ago?)
Not really - I never had enough time to get involved with the software.
How do you find the current generation of the Mac OS for music-making?
Well, we run OSX Panther pretty much exclusively - save for our multi-channel system, which is dual bootable into OS9 or OSX. We had odd issues when we first migrated over from OS9 - firewire drives dying, dual monitor setups fouling-up, software incompatibility - but you learn to expect these problems. I've no real complaints about OSX, except for how much it cost us to migrate - speaking as a relatively low-budget studio. We had to spread the cost over two years, chiefly due to the cost of upgrading our larger ProTools systems from TDM to HD.
Do you have any favourites in the outboard gear you have there?
TFPro's P8 'Edward the Compressor' (www.tfpro.com/products/ etc). It's wonderful multi-mode stereo optical compressor that we bought from Ted Fletcher when he visited the studio (www.tfpro.com/general). The name's pretty good too! I guess one of the old favourites is our Roland 100M modular synth from the 1970s. I recently used it, and it's white noise generator, for a live piece by one of our postgraduate students - "White Noise Machine" by John Lely. It's also a great tool for teaching the basic principles of synthesis on. We're also about to evaluate some motion capture equipment that we're being lent by Animazoo (www.animazoo.com) which generates a whole range of MIDI data.
What's your favourite small monitor at the moment. I think you were using some of those nice, big Mackies for bigger speakers a while back. Do you still like them?
Yes, we still have eight of the Mackie SRM450s and they're great for concerts, but not so appropriate for use in the studio. We bought one of their subwoofers last year as well, so we now have about 4500 watts of PA living in this relatively confined 8-channel Studio when it's not being used live. As regards small monitors, I like the Genelec 1030As (actives) which we use in our main Control Room. They're very clear, with a good stereo image and sense of depth to them.
Heh heh, well, I know what you're using at home for your music work but I have to ask ... what is your setup?
Well, I'll probably lose all credibility for admitting this, but a lot of my sound editing is done on an antique Mac 7100/80 Nubus computer running ProTools 3.2 (4-track) in Mac OS 8.1. It works fine for what I do most of the time, though my external SCSI hard drive is getting a bit long in the tooth. I do have a 1 GHz eMac running OSX Panther, and I'm in the process of buying some outboard sound gear for this.
Is this a case of you being contrary or do you feel that, for some applications, the older gear is better?
It's me being contrary I think. I still do some editing/mastering on tape, never mind ProTools 3.2. Not that I'm an analog fanatic, it's just old habits dying hard. Having said that, I don't want to be caught up in this endless cycle of upgrading every year to a newer faster system. It's partly due to financial limits, but also because I'd never get any work done if I was spending the bulk of my time installing, reinstalling or updating software. My spare time is pretty scarce, so I just use what's to hand.
What do you think of the latency comparison between Mac OS X and Mac "Classic"?
I guess I've become used to the occasional delay between clicking and the software actually responding in OSX - it's better in some apps and versions of OSX than others. I do like OSX Panther a lot! I guess I 'cut my teeth' troubleshooting OS8 and OS9, and the shift over to OSX has meant having to forget a lot of what I used to hold dear to me, and learn new tricks and wrinkles to get everything behaving as it should.
Finally, what have you been listening to recently?
Halal Kebab Hut played as part of our recent Sonic Interactions Conference (www.goldsmiths.ac.uk/departments/ ..) and they were great fun, both visually and musically - I've also been listening to their CD 'high brow low art music'. Aside from that, current favourites are V/VM (especially their 'Hate You' CD), the PrimeTimeSublime Community Orchestra (www.primetimesublime.com) and a perennial favourite of mine - Mr Bungle's 'California'.
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