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. 7/22/2010 10:05 AM Eastern

Wiring for Creative Arts Education, Part 2

Jul 22, 2010 2:05 PM, With Bennett Liles

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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. ...

For creative art students at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, gone are the days when recording engineers had to learn on the job. Technical Support Manager Mark Baker is here to give us the low-down on how the center uses an extensive Aviom system, digital mixers, and lots of other gear to teach the audio professionals of tomorrow.

And Mark, thanks very much for being back with me for part two on this, and in part one we were talking about the Cuyahoga Community College Center for Creative Arts and the tremendous facility you’ve got there for audio networking and just the list of all the facilities and the tools that you’ve got there is fantastic—particularly, to my interest, personally anyway, some of the more vintage stuff that you’ve got in there too. So what parts of the system are mobile? You’ve got some things in mobile racks?
When we initially came up with the design, you shoot for the stars and you reach the moon, but what we initially wanted to do was we really wanted to have anything to anywhere at anytime. In other words, it’s like we just wanted to be able to tap into a network based on like, “Hey, if I’m in room A, and I want to get a signal in room B, I just need to plug into the wall.” Once we got the price tag back on that particular scenario, we came up with huge amounts of Aviom gear in our rooms and we tried to figure out, “Well, what would be the most effective use of the Aviom equipment?” And to be thoroughly honest with you, what we decided to do in the end was the following: There’s very few times that we actually transferred information from studio to studio, maybe 10-12 times a year, so for us to dedicate Aviom equipment to each room that would be under utilized, it would seem like a good way to spend our money. So what we decided to do to make the most efficient use of the Aviom network was to create what were called input racks and output racks.

Now there’s a side note: What we decided to do was in the individual rooms themselves was to create a actual copper network, or in other words, we actually have copper home runs from the tracking room to our patch base and we use individually, in the rooms, the A16 queue system. So in other words, each room has its own A16 queue system that home runs specifically to that room and also our T1 lines tie specifically to that room. If we need to have information leave the room to go to another source or to another destination, what we decided to do was is that we create an input rack at one end and output rack at the other end [or] wherever it needs to be, whatever the destination is. The input racks can be one of two things: If it needs to be mic pre-based—in other words, if we need to go from one stage to a control room in another part of the building—our input racks actually consist of an A16D Pro and one ASI for the compatibility issue. We have two PB28s that are input modules or configured as inputs because the PB28s act as input and output modules to the other pieces. We have two 6416m mic pres for a total of 32 channels, and we also have a Cat-6 or just a network hub that ties into all of this from the front. We also have six 6416dios that we keep separately racked just in case we need to do digital transfers, but that hasn’t come up yet really. The input racks were covered there. The output racks, which go to the destination point, consist of the network hub again, which is basically just a RJ-45 strip. We have two PB28 in output configuration with male XLRs. We have two 64 I/Os, the 6416i, 6416o, and then we also have two remote control preamps. In other words, we call these RCIs, which act as the interface for the little box that’s called the MCS, which is the actual remote control that you can control the mic pres with at the other end. So in other words, what occurs is that you can have a microphone preamp at one end of the building or across the city, literally, if you’re connected by a fiber, and you can actually control those mic preamps from your control room on the other side of town, or the other side of the building, over the Aviom protocol, A-Net protocol. [Timestamp: 5:02]

That, in itself, is a tremendous advance that they’ve come up with in all these systems. I can still remember the days when I was breaking into doing TV remotes and running back and forth—really wore out a lot of shoe leather trying to give everything the initial listen and then running and adjusting preamps.
Yeah, I understand that they’re using it quite a bit for NASCAR now—Aviom systems that they’re getting them into the trucks. [Timestamp: 5:25]

Oh yeah, it would be a tremendous advantage there because there are so many places as far as that kind of setup that you can’t even get to.

So they’ve got remote preamp control, and one of the things that really makes this great to me is the different ways that you can configure it and do it quickly and easily. You can go from teaching them how to do say a live recording [or] say a music act and a separate person mixing the monitors—the stage monitors, and then go from that to a situation, where they may be having to do the monitor mixing and recording live PA and everything all from one console using the AUX outs.
Yeah, the Aviom inputs have D-sub splits, analog splits, or passive splits on the back. So I can feed downstairs, and like you said, I can actually take a split and run it to another location for whatever purpose that I deem necessary like monitors or a secondary recording system or whatever I decided to do. Again, the system is extremely flexible. It definitely has advantages. The key advantage, though, and I would say flat out if it wasn’t good in this department, would be the lack of latency that’s inherent to this system. It’s undetectable, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s flat out amazing that I can actually run a signal 400ft. over Cat-6 cable—64 channels of it, mind you, with no latency at all. [Timestamp: 6:55]

Wiring for Creative Arts Education, Part 2

Jul 22, 2010 2:05 PM, With Bennett Liles

All right, the package structure on the Aviom system is built for low overhead and minimum latency. And I understand that you also do a lot of ProTools training there?
Yeah, that’s correct. We’re a ProTools-certified training center. [Timestamp: 7:08]

So what do you have to do or have there in order to be a ProTools-certified training center?
Well first, there’s a faculty member, Bill Hartzell, and myself. We’re certified ProTools instructors. So we had to go out to San Francisco and get trained. You had to pay a certain amount of money, so we went through the instructor training up to the the 210M level, and then you have to basically buy the equipment. Usually you have to have a one-to-one situation with a ProTools rig, either the LE version—which is the lighter version, if you want to call it—of a ProTools system and then also the advance class is an HD system, which is the non-native version of ProTools with the expansion cards, Accel cards (They’re called external DSP.), and also more advance inputs and output modules. Other than that, once you get certified and then we get the appropriate Digidesign course materials from Digidesign, which is actually known as Avid now so I can use those interchangeably. The Avid is the parent company of Digidesign. And we’ve done this for approximately five years now—we’ve been an official training site. And we currently have 83 LE work stations and we also have 10 TDM or Accel HD stations, if you want to call it that. [Timestamp: 8:31]

Well, of course it wouldn’t be complete if they didn’t have a good thorough training in ProTools anyway, coming out of that program. So what plans have you got there for maybe running that system beyond the building?
Well, what we’re trying to currently speak of is, is that Wesley Greed is the actual company that was our integrator, and they’re actually expanding in the college. This was their first big project that they had done, and they also had gotten a contract to do the other theaters on the West campus and the Eastern campus, which I mentioned earlier because we are located at the Metro campus in downtown metropolitan—downtown Cleveland. And they’re installing Aviom systems over there also, and if we get the correct version of fiber, which is I guess known as black fiber, that we need to travel the 20-some odd mile distance between downtown Cleveland and our East and West campus facilities, and if we get the fiber component that ties in, we can easily do and have that remote control that we so desire. In other words, we could record a theater or a classical presentation or whatever the event was at West or East campus at our downtown location with almost zero latency. [Timestamp: 9:47]

Yeah and it’d make your staffing a whole lot more flexible too. Yes, absolutely, and they actually will put one input rack at each location, so essentially we’ll be able to flip 32 channels of mic pre from either end, which is pretty cool. [Timestamp: 10:02]

Well, of course on any digital audio system, system timing is a critical factor and the source of, usually, a lot of problems. I mean a lot of problems that do come up can be traced to timing problems. Have you ever had any situations in that system where you’ve had to go back and get timing right?
No, actually the interesting thing was that when we built this system, we had discussed about using a master clock, like an apogee, or some other device. And once we talked to the folks at Aviom, we just decided to basically go with the system timing clock that’s inherent into the 6416 I/O, which is their digital input/output interface. What occurs is, is that basically that particular device that lives in our machine room, which again I’d mentioned that we have three networks or three sub networks; each network is composed of one 6416dio and then we also have the MH10 distribution systems and we have six of those tied to each 6416dio so we have a total of 18 of the MH10s—six per system and we have three of the 6416dio’s that are the heart and the timing reference, or clock reference, of each network. [Timestamp: 11:25]

How did you explain the technical system to all the people who, say, were going to be paying for all this?
We really didn’t have to explain ourselves. However, when they asked what it was, we basically told them that this was a state-of-the-art Cat-5 system. The thing that they really had to be sold on was, “OK, why are you going to spend X amount of dollars on this particular component?” And our justification is that A, it future proofs the building because that’s the way industry is going currently—at least in the audio and video industry for video for audio. The secondary thing was that once we showed them the price difference between if we wanted to run all copper lines to perform the same tasks as one Cat-6 line would, it’d dramatically knock down the costs. So it actually was an easy sell, if we went on the points of “This is what’s current and this is what we’re going to save by installing this over a traditional system.” [Timestamp: 12:25]

Yeah, being able to give them a comparison is really a good key to making them understand why you have to have this or that and how much it costs and what you’re really saving in the process.

So did you have any surprises in the installation or have to go back and tweak anything once you got it up and running?
No, again, that’s the beautiful part. We were terrified when the doors opened the first day—well, at least I was. I was quite apprehensive. I mean we had literally finished like a week or two prior to the school year starting. We were still unfamiliar with a lot of the systems that were in place. We were actually installing a bunch of equipment and getting everything ready and we were crossing our fingers that everything was going to fire up. And the Aviom part of that whole equation was probably the most fool-proof method that we actually came into play. Again, from the day that it was installed to current, this system is, I would almost say flawless, and for that to come out of my mouth is a big kudos to them because I can find fault with just about anything. And their system is extremely relevant and it’s just one of those things where you can really set it and forget it, which makes the creative process much more interesting. [Timestamp: 13:51]

Yeahm, and really lets you get on with what you’re there to do instead of trying to figure out how to make the thing work and something that complex that goes on behind the scenes. It’s really a testament to the way the company designed it…
Oh yeah, absolutely.
…to make it work so easily. And especially with an initial installation as big as what you’ve got there. I mean, it almost has to have some glitches somewhere or another. I was back at CNN, here in Atlanta, on the day before they went on air in 1980, and you wouldn’t believe the bedlam that was going on. Cables through hallways, through windows; cables going across people’s desks and…
Yeah, you know what I’m talking about then. [Timestamp: 13:34]

Absolutely, absolutely. So what’s been the reaction from the students and faculty so far. It sounds like it’s very positive.
It was quite a successful opening, and that’s an understatement. Our first real year is wrapping up as I speak. We just had finals this week, and the students are totally aghast. In fact, here’s a testament to how really cool it is: We have students that are graduates from years ago that want to come back and take classes again so they can get their hands on the gear. That alone should be a testimonial because who wants to come back to school if they don’t have to? You know what I mean? [Timestamp: 15:11]

Well, it sounds like a great system and I envy your ability to put it all together and have it for all the students. They’ll never know what it would have been like otherwise—just being thrown in to a private sector situation and just told to sink or swim and learn on the job. It’s such a tremendous advantage for them to be able to come out of a program like that. And Mark, I very much appreciate your being here and taking time to do this. Mark Baker with the new Cuyahoga Community College Center for Creative Arts. Thanks very much.
All right. Hey, no thank you very much. I appreciate the time.

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