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Author Topic: the role of an engineer in relation to art  (Read 9607 times)

Colin Frangos

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the role of an engineer in relation to art
« on: December 23, 2005, 03:44:41 pm »

In light of the discussions about what the roll of an AE is and how it relates to production and bands et al, I'd like to propose a parallel way of looking at all of this.

I make most of my income as a graphic artist, and a good deal of what I do involves color correcting photography for art galleries so that they can be reproduced, printed, and emailed with a degree of accuracy. I've worked on paintings by Hoffmann, Avery, Diebenkorn - a lot of big names - but also Trujillos, Fishers and Larsens, whom you haven't heard of. This process involves a huge number of technical challenges that I focus on, and consider the core of what I do, but it doesn't involve any aesthetic challenges. That is, I do not at any point try to "improve" any of the artwork, even though in many cases I'm not at all a fan of what I'm working on and could make it more appealing to me with some fairly simple cosmetic maneuvers. Punch up the colors here or there, add more contrast, tint the whole image, etc. I could even add little birds hanging upsidedown in key spots, since there's no painting I've ever seen that couldn't benefit from a crazy upsidedown bird in it. But I don't. I reproduce what I'm given as accurately as I can.

So the question is this: does the band bring a completed work of art into the studio, or is the completed work of art what comes out of the studio and goes to the mastering house? Is my roll more parallel to that of a recording engineer or a mastering engineer?

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Ronny

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Re: the roll of an engineer in relation to art
« Reply #1 on: December 24, 2005, 02:08:27 am »



I'd say ME, it's the producer or AE that creates the art, from the pallette of artists and the ME that improves on the color balance that was created. IOW, you can improve upon a piece of art by not altering the artists intentions and an ME can improve upon a song without altering the artists intentions. The prod/AE are in the most creative part of the process, like the painter is and the ME and graphics specialist are preparing the creation for the intended media(s).

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John Ivan

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Re: the roll of an engineer in relation to art
« Reply #2 on: December 24, 2005, 04:58:16 am »

Hi Colin,,

Ronny lays out good parallels and sums it up pretty good.. I would ad that, it really changes a lot from the engineers chair. Or at least down here in the mid to low,,to NO budget scene..

My Old Man started Recording Classical music in the early 60's. At that point, he would simply collect the audio with three omni's and be done. The art here is spending time at rehearsals deciding where the hell to hang mics and which mic's to hang. Then, it's up to the players.. These were really heady and wild times IMHO because of the emotional aspect of the process. I mean, second Violins could screw an otherwise GREAT performance up and feel real bad about it.... Having said that, they were cutting tape back then so it was not that uncommon to cut a movement in here and there..


Jazz. Acoustic Jazz was the same sorta deal. A Quartet would set up in a great room,{or not so great room;-} and blow. An engineer would listen,, a lot,, and then listen some more, go to the mic closet and grab what his.her ears heard. Again, simply trying to collect what's there in the room.

Of course the multi track Machines started to change all this and redefine the role of the AE BIG time. EQ, COMP'S,Time based FX all made it so the tracking and mix Engineers became "artists" beyond the {not so simple} art of collecting Audio. In a typical "modern" rock/pop recording, Engineer's are making a lot of what I would call producer choices right from the chair..... " Oh Man, that guitar tone is all 1 to 5-k,something must be done!" At this point, I try to work the source first with the guitar player leading the way if he can. Someone, is going to learn something, or, everyone is going to learn something. It's never "no one is going to learn anything".

So, IMHO, the line has been blurred over the years. I really really make it forward in my mind that I wont mess with anything I don't need to and make it very clear to the band that.
A. They must love the sounds.

B. If they need my help to love the sounds, I'll help to any extent I can.

I have always viewed engineers in rock and pop music as fill in or, temp band members. We really do shape stuff a lot. This may be different for others though..

 Ivan........................................................

EDIT: TO PROPERLY SPELL COLIN.;-}..............................................
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"Transformation is no easy trick: It's what art promises and usually doesn't deliver." Garrison Keillor

 

Bob Olhsson

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Re: the roll of an engineer in relation to art
« Reply #3 on: December 24, 2005, 10:12:00 am »

Colin Frangos wrote on Fri, 23 December 2005 14:44

...a good deal of what I do involves color correcting photography for art galleries so that they can be reproduced, printed, and emailed with a degree of accuracy...
...does the band bring a completed work of art into the studio, or is the completed work of art what comes out of the studio and goes to the mastering house? Is my roll more parallel to that of a recording engineer or a mastering engineer?
Color correction is very much the role a mastering engineer plays, fixing unintended problems in final mixes.

A recording engineer is very much like a photographer or a painter. The music and musical performance is the subject.

danickstr

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Re: the roll of an engineer in relation to art
« Reply #4 on: December 24, 2005, 02:58:06 pm »

the great thing about bob's analogy is that it addresses the very many ways the styles of putting paint on a brush and slapping in on canvas can still be called the "same subject".  I would say to never underestimate your importance in choosing the weaponry of recording, setting levels, balancing mics and room diffusion, etc. it all adds to the uniqueness of that moment in time.  and speaking of that moment in time, also don't underestimate your interaction with the artist as far as their mindset.  picking the right gear and then blowing the confidence of a performer with the wrong attitude or comment ( such as, "no, we engineers never do it that way") is IMO worse than recording them through a casio sound card attached to an old pentium 2.  IF you want kitty to purr, stroke it tenderly. try to be good energy for all involved! Smile
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TotalSonic

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Re: the roll of an engineer in relation to art
« Reply #5 on: December 24, 2005, 04:32:05 pm »

I think  the role that Colin is describing most has its analog in audio engineering as the job I used to have - the vinyl master cutting engineer - being requested to do a "flat transfer".  In other words - the only additional processing I would do would be to what was necessary to have the final delvery format sound as much as the original master - so the idea was to preserve as much of the original "image" and not to "enhance" it.  

I think the visual equivalent of what most mastering engineers seem to be expected to do today would be the equivalent of a graphic designer doing digital retouches of shots of models for the covers of slick magazines, where every single wrinkle or blemish is wiped away.  One of my friends works as the Art Production Manager for Vanity Fair and guess what - Madonna doesn't look 28 anymore - but you'd never be able to guess this by photos that have been featured on their cover a few months ago.

Best regards,
Steve Berson

rnicklaus

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Re: the roll of an engineer in relation to art
« Reply #6 on: December 24, 2005, 06:02:40 pm »

TotalSonic wrote on Sat, 24 December 2005 13:32

I think  the role that Colin is describing most has its analog in audio engineering as the job I used to have - the vinyl master cutting engineer - being requested to do a "flat transfer".  In other words - the only additional processing I would do would be to what was necessary to have the final delvery format sound as much as the original master - so the idea was to preserve as much of the original "image" and not to "enhance" it.  

I think the visual equivalent of what most mastering engineers seem to be expected to do today would be the equivalent of a graphic designer doing digital retouches of shots of models for the covers of slick magazines, where every single wrinkle or blemish is wiped away.  One of my friends works as the Art Production Manager for Vanity Fair and guess what - Madonna doesn't look 28 anymore - but you'd never be able to guess this by photos that have been featured on their cover a few months ago.

Best regards,
Steve Berson


There used to be bragging rights to "I didn't have more than a .5 db change to 2 songs on the last album I engineered and mixed and most went over flat".

Things sure have changed.


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originalrecorderman

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Re: the roll of an engineer in relation to art
« Reply #7 on: December 24, 2005, 08:53:46 pm »

rnicklaus wrote on Sat, 24 December 2005 15:02

TotalSonic wrote on Sat, 24 December 2005 13:32

I think  the role that Colin is describing most has its analog in audio engineering as the job I used to have - the vinyl master cutting engineer - being requested to do a "flat transfer".  In other words - the only additional processing I would do would be to what was necessary to have the final delvery format sound as much as the original master - so the idea was to preserve as much of the original "image" and not to "enhance" it.  

I think the visual equivalent of what most mastering engineers seem to be expected to do today would be the equivalent of a graphic designer doing digital retouches of shots of models for the covers of slick magazines, where every single wrinkle or blemish is wiped away.  One of my friends works as the Art Production Manager for Vanity Fair and guess what - Madonna doesn't look 28 anymore - but you'd never be able to guess this by photos that have been featured on their cover a few months ago.

Best regards,
Steve Berson


There used to be bragging rights to "I didn't have more than a .5 db change to 2 songs on the last album I engineered and mixed and most went over flat".

Things sure have changed.





There still is Randy... there still is.


Twisted Evil

Bob Olhsson

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Re: the roll of an engineer in relation to art
« Reply #8 on: December 25, 2005, 02:45:43 am »

rnicklaus wrote on Sat, 24 December 2005 17:02

There used to be bragging rights to "I didn't have more than a .5 db change to 2 songs on the last album I engineered and mixed and most went over flat".
And the mastering engineers loved to do the bragging, I first heard about Bill Schnee from Doug Sax!

crazydoc

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Re: the roll of an engineer in relation to art
« Reply #9 on: December 27, 2005, 08:19:30 pm »

Bob Olhsson wrote on Sat, 24 December 2005 15:12


A recording engineer is very much like a photographer or a painter. The music and musical performance is the subject.


I think not. The music is the art and the musician is the artist. I think music has more depth/abstraction than the visual arts. In music there is someone who has the "vision" or creates the music (the composer), someone who interprets it (the musician), and someone who records/prints it (the engineer). The sonorecord is a product of all of these to different degrees, depending on the individual production. Of course, one single individual can do some or all of these functions.

In the visual arts, in general, the artist usually performs all these functions. In the print arts there can be "printers" who make the final prints from the negatives, lithographs, etchings, etc., who by their technique also add an interpretation to the final product. I would place these akin to the recording engineers. Mastering involves the framing of the work.Smile

Just my ignorant 0.02.
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Dave Martin

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Re: the roll of an engineer in relation to art
« Reply #10 on: December 27, 2005, 11:07:46 pm »

I have to think of engineers as 'craftsmen', not as 'artists'. One analogy (since I just read a book about him) would be Thomas Chippendale, the English furniture builder. Assuming that you buy the idea that a Chippendale chair or sideboard is 'art' (hey, they sell for huge sums at Sotheby's...) then Chippendale would have been an artist. However, most of the actual work was done by his journeyman carpenters, not by Chippendale himself. And for that matter, later in his career, Chippendale's journeymen did a large part of the design work themselves (subject to the master's approval). Nevertheless, they were 'craftsmen', not 'artists'.

And while I appreciate Ronny's assertion, I've never bought a record by a producer. (Phil Spector aside - but most of them were really Phil Spector records; performed by other singers and musicians...) I buy a band's record, or a singer's record.
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Ronny

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Re: the roll of an engineer in relation to art
« Reply #11 on: December 27, 2005, 11:14:13 pm »



When an eq is used in mastering, it's like altering the hues of the paint colors, ITR, it is within the frame and not a border procedure. The artists paints the picture, the mix engineer mixes the colors for him and the ME fine tweaks the hues and how strong the color pallette is presented on the final exhibition. In this regard, all can be apart of the artistic element, although the artist is the foundation.  
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Colin Frangos

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Re: the roll of an engineer in relation to art
« Reply #12 on: December 28, 2005, 07:20:37 pm »

ivan40 wrote on Sat, 24 December 2005 01:58


My Old Man started Recording Classical music in the early 60's. At that point, he would simply collect the audio with three omni's and be done. The art here is spending time at rehearsals deciding where the hell to hang mics and which mic's to hang.


I don't see that as a creative task. Mic placement doesn't benefit by being done in an extremely unique way, it benefits from being done in a very well thought out way. So I see this as an analytical task.

Bob Olhsson wrote on Sat, 24 December 2005 07:12

Color correction is very much the role a mastering engineer plays, fixing unintended problems in final mixes.

My job isn't to fix unintended problems, though. It's to make sure the work can be reproduced accurately.

Bob Olhsson wrote on Sat, 24 December 2005 07:12

A recording engineer is very much like a photographer or a painter. The music and musical performance is the subject.

I couldn't disagree more. For someone who bills his hours as an Audio engineer I'm not sure what to make of your view of your roll.

The band spends their time rehearsing, playing live, working on what they do. After they've sweated over it for long enough to feel like it's ready, they go in to record it. And... you consider their part of this the subject of your work? Did you misspeak or do you really consider the band's music nothing more than a still-life that you touch with your magic?

What the band does is art. What you do is engineering. Your job is to document what they sound like, to tend to the technical elements that are necessary to document what they do. Nothing in your job description suggests that you're being hired to make their songs "better" or "more creative".

I'm surprised by how many people who refer to themselves as engineers are looking to call what they do creative. There are creative elements to any engineering effort, but ultimately your job is to support the creative people, not to be them.
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Ronny

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Re: the roll of an engineer in relation to art
« Reply #13 on: December 28, 2005, 07:43:58 pm »




Nobody is taking anything away from the musicians, Colin. I read Bob's comment totally opposite of the way that you read it. He's spot on that an audio engineer captures the subject just like the photographer does. One captures sight at a specific time and date and one captures sound at a specific time. If creating a mix didn't have some artistic merit than we'd have midi mix engineers modules, like some of the midi drums that have been some of the engineers subjects.

So what is more artistic, the engineer that creates a mix, or a drum machine? An engineer isn't a program and anytime something isn't programmed to repeat, it has to be  creative.

Fact of the matter is, that there are artistic elements that arise in all parts of the cd production chain, from the songwriter, to the musicians, producer, tracking and mix eng's, ME's, artwork etc. It a collaboration of people with special skills that make for the final product, all are artists in their own right.  
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John Ivan

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Re: the roll of an engineer in relation to art
« Reply #14 on: December 28, 2005, 08:18:56 pm »

Colin Frangos wrote on Wed, 28 December 2005 19:20

ivan40 wrote on Sat, 24 December 2005 01:58


My Old Man started Recording Classical music in the early 60's. At that point, he would simply collect the audio with three omni's and be done. The art here is spending time at rehearsals deciding where the hell to hang mics and which mic's to hang.


I don't see that as a creative task. Mic placement doesn't benefit by being done in an extremely unique way, it benefits from being done in a very well thought out way. So I see this as an analytical task.

Bob Olhsson wrote on Sat, 24 December 2005 07:12

Color correction is very much the role a mastering engineer plays, fixing unintended problems in final mixes.

My job isn't to fix unintended problems, though. It's to make sure the work can be reproduced accurately.

Bob Olhsson wrote on Sat, 24 December 2005 07:12

A recording engineer is very much like a photographer or a painter. The music and musical performance is the subject.

I couldn't disagree more. For someone who bills his hours as an Audio engineer I'm not sure what to make of your view of your roll.

The band spends their time rehearsing, playing live, working on what they do. After they've sweated over it for long enough to feel like it's ready, they go in to record it. And... you consider their part of this the subject of your work? Did you misspeak or do you really consider the band's music nothing more than a still-life that you touch with your magic?

What the band does is art. What you do is engineering. Your job is to document what they sound like, to tend to the technical elements that are necessary to document what they do. Nothing in your job description suggests that you're being hired to make their songs "better" or "more creative".

I'm surprised by how many people who refer to themselves as engineers are looking to call what they do creative. There are creative elements to any engineering effort, but ultimately your job is to support the creative people, not to be them.




Well, I guess we can all see this differently.. I am of the view that, engineering a record is mostly art. There are a huge number of things we need to know about how the gear works but most of that can be learned and kept in our mind all the time and/or reviewed when we run across something we have not done in a while..

There are folks who can write thousands of pages on theory and not one word of it will be wrong. At the same time, they can't hear the right things or in a way that relates to music. This means they are missing the one thing that will allow them to make great sounding records and this thing is IMHO, pure Art.

Mic placement is in fact an art form IMO... If it were not, there would be one way to mic everything. There is literally no end to the ways to mic everything.........

Ivan..............................
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"Transformation is no easy trick: It's what art promises and usually doesn't deliver." Garrison Keillor

 
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