Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Listening in Rome

"...a phasing effect with the very early reflections". One bit of sentence told me that Bob Katz works on a completely different plane altogether.

The thought of listening for this audio artefact had never troubled my mind; and even knowing what to listen for, I could only just make it out in the studios at home and at Red Tape. Having said that any feedback on Corazón Fugitivo's 'Rome Calling' mix would yield new and valuable information, this innocuous-looking snippet was a complete game-changer - telling me that I would have to send the salsa album to Florida for mixing as well as mastering.

That was the day before Rome.

I walked into the Auditorium della Discoteca di Stato on a wondrous Wednesday morning to be greeted by the lovely Andrea and Laura assisting none other than the flame-haired Mary Kent, author of "Salsa Talks". It was a great thing finally to meet and connect over salsa, as my attendeeship to "Bob 'Til You Drop" (BTYD) was being processed. Indeed, over the next three days I consider myself fortunate to have had so much of Mary and Bob's time to talk about things other than and including salsa dancing and music.

Loo... certified by Laura and Andrea

BTYD was a brain-melter of a workshop.

The early part of the morning dealt with ear-training; listening to several audiophile recordings and understanding how they were achieved. After the mid-morning break, it was into mastering software and workflow. Lunch was delish; an outside catering company had set up in the old courtyard with benches laden with classic Italian cuisine, and there we mingled - engineers, producers and musicians alike - under white canopies in the bright early summer sunlight. Then it was back into the fray to ruminate over the main tools of mastering and their effects. By the time those essentials were covered, space in the schedule for mix evaluations had run out.

If there were to be one slight regret, it would be that (frankly, all of us were hostages to the effects of saturation by then). It was more than compensated for by the company of warm, open, like-minded talents like Pierangelo, Federico and Samuel - musicians and audio experts in their own right.

Bobbin' 'til we were a'droppin'
(back, left to right) Pierangelo Troiano, Bob Katz, Federico Simonazzi
(front, left to right) Samuel Gaehwiler, Loo Yeo
Photograph courtesy of Mary Kent. All rights acknowledged.

Bob had kept up a lively, engaging patter throughout the day. It's not easy to run a full-dayer like that; his slight frame surely hid a deep well of stamina to draw upon. What I can say is that Mary and Bob hosted, presented, managed and delivered the workshop with not inconsiderable style. It is certainly one to go to again.

The next two days of 'Rome Calling' were more technically based on broadcasting and, despite being focussed on loudness normalisation as per European Broadcasting Union's Recommendation 128, had more than enough of the good stuff for the general producer and engineer. I came away with a feeling of being privileged to have engaged with unassuming people at the top of their game, the likes of Florian Camerer, George Massenburg, Thomas Lund, and Alessandro Travaglini. George especially, still communicates energy, enthusiasm, curiosity and wonder in all things to do with sound, music and people.

I have also an elevated respect for TC Electronics, headline sponsors and organisers of the 'Rome Calling' Audio Seminars, a company with so much class that it chose not to emblazon its presence in every nook and cranny. Instead, everyone from TC Electronics adopted understated roles of facilitators/advisors. Deserved plaudits go to them all.

And salsa still proved relevant to this entire context. Rome Calling affirmed several things. Foremost, a number of the demonstration pieces selected by Bob and George were Latin; in private conversation it sparked considerable interest when we discovered that it was an area I worked/played in. Afro-Cuban and Latin music has stature amongst the audio elite.

Just as invaluable was the chance to hear the personal story, about: why Mary embarked on "Salsa Talks" and how it resonates with my position with Víspera, and what she's working on now; Bob's insights into the remastering of the Fania back-catalog; and George's work with Cándido Camaro and Linda Ronstadt.

BTYD in the Eternal City.
Photograph courtesy of Mary Kent. All rights acknowledged.

Salsa is such a rich sustaining world that it's easy to be drawn in and become cloistered within it. Rome was a landmark event, to step out and to look back, and to savour it as appreciative outsiders do, if only for a short while.

Loo Yeo

For more about Loo's sojourn in Rome, visit the public photo album links (by Facebook) below: