Wiring for Creative Arts Education, Part 1

Next-generation recording artists and engineers have a place to learn their craft with all the latest gear at Cleveland’s Cuyahoga Community College Center for Creative Arts. 7/08/2010 5:20 AM Eastern

Wiring for Creative Arts Education, Part 1

Jul 8, 2010 9:20 AM, With Bennett Liles

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Wiring for Creative Arts Education, Part 2
For creative art students at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, gone are the days when recording engineers had to learn on the job. ...

Next-generation recording artists and engineers have a place to learn their craft with all the latest gear at Cleveland’s Cuyahoga Community College Center for Creative Arts. Technical Support Manager Mark Baker is going to outline the facility for us and explore the extensive Aviom digital network that ties it all together.

Mark, it’s great to have you with me here on the SVC podcast and Cuyahoga Community College really got into to what looks like a very sophisticated situation, as far as mixing and audio networking and the training in how to do those things, but tell me a little bit about the community college first.
Well, Cuyahoga Community College is in Northeast Ohio; it’s actually in the Cleveland area in what is called Cuyahoga County, which is home to Cleveland. We have three main campuses—West, East and Metro—and they’re approximately 20 miles a part and they approximately have, at any given point, up to about 30,000 students full- and part-time. [Timestamp: 1:23]

All right, well that sounds like a thriving place. Yeah, it’s actually one of the largest community colleges in Ohio. I am not sure about the rest of the nation, but the college has been around since the 60s and is pretty well regarded in Northeast Ohio as a large educator, affordable pricing and such, so it’s quite popular. [Timestamp: 1:44]

And it looks like they got into a very big construction project on the Center for Creative Arts. When did all that happen? Well, the actual program itself started in 2001, in January of 2001, and went online in the fall semester, September of 2001. We had a series of smaller studios, which we quickly outgrew, and unbeknownst to us at the time, about four or five years ago, they started coming up with an idea for a media arts—or more appropriately, a creative arts program—to be headed by a dean. And they formulated this plan about maybe three years ago and they brought us in March of 2008, [which] was when they actually broke ground for the building and that’s when the principals—Tommy Wiggins, who is program director—myself, and a few other individuals that are on our staff were brought in when the actual building construction started to start supporting the infrastructure and designing it. [Timestamp: 2:45]

OK, and they’ve got a very sophisticated audio networking situation there. You’re teaching students recording and mixing. What’s the overall course of study for students coming in there?
The recording arts program is designed to be an associate of applied sciences degree. You have to take approximately 72 credit hours, so it’s about two and a half years to get through the full program with the internship. You have to have basic Math and English skills to get in, but we cover basic audio, electronics, recording theory, digital audio mixing, ProTool certification, small business management, music business, live sound, and audio for video for our media arts department. [Timestamp: 3:25]

Well, it sounds like they’re very well-trained and I just can’t imagine if when I was in college we would had had a facility like this and a training program like this; I could only dream of how better prepared I would have been. I spent about 26-27 years in broadcast TV production and they just threw me in on the fly. I had no previous experience and just learned on the job, making a lot of mistakes. This would have been just absolutely fantastic. So what kind of facilities do they have there at the center?
[…] We have two main recording studios that are approximately 4000 square foot. One contains a SSL Duality, which is brand new, a 48-channel. It’s really state-of-the-art because it acts as a controller and an analog workflow source that is great for teaching the students. Our second room contains a vintage, if you want to call it, it’s Trident S-80B 32-channel by 24 bus with a huge amount of offboard gear. As far as the rest of the facility goes, we decided that instead of building four main studios, we actually have two main studios, and then we also have five production suites. Each production suite is smaller, maybe 200 square feet to 300 square feet each. Two of these have tracking rooms that are attached; two are actually surround rooms—two separate rooms; and then we also have a mastering suite, which is pretty high-end. We really put a lot of money into that. We’re quite proud of it. But the production suites all have different consoles. We have Toft consoles, a Sony DMX R100, we have a TL Audio M4, we have a Control 24 Work Surface, and also the mastering suite has its own complement of very exclusive gear. As far as the rooms are concerned though, it’s really an advantage to us because we can put more people in more rooms to get, a) more experience on different types of consoles, and b) totally enable people to record larger projects at the same time. We’re quite proud of the setup. We also have a mini-technology lab, which is 18 work individual stations, Mac based. We have a secondary room that is a Pro Tools training lab with 16 Pro Tools work stations. Both of these rooms have a small winger isolation booth built into them—a 6’x9’ isolation booth so a small drum kick could go in there or an ensemble or something of that nature so they can actually still get recording time up there. Also we have a black box theater, which is in a multipurpose, basically, black box—no pun intended. It’s about, approximately, 4,500 square feet that we can host any number of types of shows from a dance ensemble to a rock concert to video and television taping functions. It also can function as a green screen production theater for our video department. [Timestamp: 6:31]

OK, [it’s] tremendous facility. You’ve got all these different and all these different rooms. Now how is all that connected together?
When we came up with the initial design, I had actually gone to a place called the Expression Center, which is in California, and also the Idea Center, or Ideastream Center, which is based in Cleveland. When I went into the rooms, I noticed that they had these panels that would connect to anywhere and so I brought that idea back and basically we whittled it down to two types of production panels, as we call it. We had a production panel “1” and a production panel “2.” [For] production panel “1”, we decided would have two COM lines, two phone lines, six Cat-6 high lines, video BNC times two. We had two fiber lines-in and out both ways. We had four TI lines for audio or any other purpose for that matter. We had two SMPTE lines—in and out—and we also had two AES/EBU lines—one in, one out. On the smaller production panel, we had one communication line, four TI lines for audio, three Cat-6 connections, RJ-45s, two video, and two SMPTE. The idea was that all these panels are dispersed within four floors of the building. The building is more or less spread out, the ground level is primarily recording arts, the first floor is a Wi-Fi café and also administrative offices, but the second and third floors contain media arts and also more music classes and our mini-lab and such. So what we decided to do was if we wanted to get signals from anywhere to anywhere by a copper or another system like Cat-5 or Cat-6, we were able to do this quite easily. Everything ties back to our machine room on the lower level or the sub level. So at this point, what we have is essentially [is] 288 Cat-6 TI lines around the building, we have 56 fiber TIs, we have 60 video TI lines, 208 audio TI lines, and 52 SMPTE—in and outs. So that was the primary way that we were getting signal. So in other words we were going to run a video session in any particular room or we can disperse information via the machine room to anywhere else in the house. [Timestamp: 8:52]

Wiring for Creative Arts Education, Part 1

Jul 8, 2010 9:20 AM, With Bennett Liles

OK, and what kind of digital network are you using to connect all these sources?
Mark Baker: One of the primary ones is what we call an Aviom system, which is sold by Aviom. Primarily what we’re doing is is that we’re using a Cat-6 lines and these production panels as TI lines to go back to the machine room, which contains our Aviom networks, which we actually have three of. Each network Aviom bay is capable of carrying 64 channels of either audio or headphone feeds to and from any direction and can be dispersed by a hub system to anywhere in the house. [Timestamp: 9:28]

OK, you were talking about the main hub of all this. Where is that located?
That’s located down in the machine room where we were talking about the production panels that we have in the house tie back to. So in other words, we have essentially three audio racks that tie back to that system. It’s quite effective actually. We used it for a large-scale TV show that we do called Crooked River Groove. We hosted it in the black box theater and we sent basically 24 channels of audio to six production suites plus our main tracking room along with video and recorded it all simultaneously as a huge class project. [Timestamp: 10:07]

OK and one of the main advantages, from what I know about the system, is the fact that you don’t have to have some kind of big fancy computer system to run it and to make all the assignments and configuration. Most of the adjustments and everything are just front panel on the hardware.
Oh and that would probably be the most complicated part of the whole system; the system is extremely easy to use. It’s almost fool proof. There’s no way that you can mistake or cross signals anywhere in the path. Like, for example, if a mic channel is used, like mic 1, and you can’t access it from any other point if your systems are connected to the same network. Which if they are, all you have to do is basically set the network perimeter or what network that you want it to be and you literally plug it in and it automatically sees it. There’s no IP addresses to set. The system, if it’s on the same network, immediately recognizes that there’s either another mic pre or another line-in input module or a line output module online and it’s ready to go. It’s literally that simple. It doesn’t get much more easier than that. [Timestamp: 11:16]

Well, even with Cat-5 and Cat-6, that’s a lot of cabling to do. Who installed all the twisted pair for you?
The company, at the time, was called Doan Pyramid, which now, I guess their name is Zenith Corporation or Zenith Communications. Interestingly enough, as far as total cable for the building, we actually installed 450,000ft. or approximately 85 miles of audio and video cable across the board so the project was really extensive from that point. The twisted pair that we’re using is the built-in 79-89 R twisted Cat-6, which has the video component, I guess or video capable, and that’s our primary twisted-pair that we used throughout the building. [Timestamp: 11:59]

OK and you’ve got audio, you’ve got queuing, you’ve got timecode. I read somewhere where you’ve got a dedicated system just for the distribution of the timecode.
Yeah, actually that system is interesting. The way that that technically works is that we used a 64 16I for the inputs and then we used a MH10 because that particular SMPTE system is actually an A-16 protocol. Aviom has two types of protocol. It has A-Net protocol—the 64 system, and they also has an Aviom the A-16 network. And for those two to talk, you need what’s called a ASI interface to actually tie those two together so basically the 16 protocol and the 64 protocol can talk on the same network. And what we do is then we distribute that through a group of seven A16-D Pros, which is our distribution network and those go to all the TI lines. [Timestamp: 12:57]

Well, I would think that coming in there everybody’s got to have a certain basic level of knowledge about this, but one size doesn’t fit all as far as how fast they learn this and how fast they all pick it up. You’re going to have students coming in with a little more experience and a little less. So what’s the general learning curve on students and faculty operating the network routing and the set up on this thing.
The students actually take to it quite quickly and the faculty actually—the interesting thing is that the faculty is actually coming up with newer and crazier ways to use it, and I mean crazier in a positive way. We had one instructor come in and after he thought out the distribution issues or the advantages of using it, he actually will take a direct output from each channel on the SSL console—because one of the things is that when you’re in a learning situation, you want to have more students have hands on at one time—and he started deducing, “Well, hey, I have 48-channels here, it would be great if I could use the Aviom system to basically take direct outs with the A-16 mixer or little personal mixer,” so each student gets a personal mixer and a direct out that feeds the Aviom queue system and each students gets his own channel that he can listen to at will through a pair of headphones, for example. But as far as like the learning curve, that was just a brilliant thing that he came up with. Like I said, it’s like this system is amazingly plug-and-play, and if you just get a quick 20 minute tutorial, you’re easily up and running. In February of this year was our first real attempt at using the Aviom system to be the distribution point for this Crooked River Groove show and it worked impeccably. I can’t stress that enough. We absolutely had almost zero issues with the system and Aviom was kind enough to even send out a system tech for us and just to oversee it because we had mentioned, “Hey, this is what it’s really being built for. Can you come out and help us out?” And they flew a guy out and it went extremely smooth. In fact I think the poor guy was bored because it went so smooth. So we were quite pleased. [Timestamp: 15:16]

Like the lonely Maytag repair man.
Yes, I would say that’s a perfect parallel.

All right, Mark Baker and the Cuyahoga Community College and their Center for Creative Arts. Sounds like you’ve got a great thing going there—tremendous benefit to the students that I wish I’d had in my day. Thanks for being here for part one and in part wwo we’ll get more into what you do with Pro Tools and the system and maybe some of the fiber interfaces, but thanks for being here for part one.
OK, thank you.

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