Production Sound & Video

Fall 2018

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40 THE 1970'S While the 1960's saw some further advances in the techniques of both production sound recording and re-recording, it wasn't until the 1970's that some of the nascent technologies developed for music recording began to make inroads into the film industry. Although stereo and surround sound were nothing new (going all the way back to the early 1950's), the films released in either four-track 35mm Cinemascope mag or six-track 70mm mag were limited to major roadshow titles like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Woodstock. Prints were extremely expensive, and the number of theaters equipped to run either 35mm mag or 70mm were typically limited to major cities. And even with the advent of these technologies, theater loudspeaker systems hadn't really evolved much past the technologies of the late 1940's and early 1950's. Despite the extraordinary quality of 70mm magnetic, the Academy curve was still the norm, with its severe rolloff of high frequencies. Other changes were beginning to take place in the 1970's as well. Audiences had become more sophisticated in relation to sound. A new generation of music listeners had become accustom to high-quality home sound systems, FM radio began to take off, the quality of the compact cassette improved, and those with the means invested in recorders to listen to four-track reel-to- reel releases. Audiences of this generation were not going to be satisfied with the sound of a theater system developed two decades ago. Commensurately, theater attendance was in decline, and studios were looking for ways to attract a younger audience. It was against this backdrop that a number of advances in film sound took place. Most notable among these was the introduction of Dolby noise reduction in the post-production stages (first used on Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange in 1971). While the film was originally released in Academy mono (due primarily to Kubrick's concern regarding how many theaters would be able to play stereo optical), it was clear from the tests done at Elstree Studios that the quality of sound could be markedly improved if the process could be applied to the optical track itself. Further development was done at Dolby Labs over the next few years, which culminated with the release of Lisztomania in 1975 and Star Wars in 1977. Also notable was the introduction of Sensurround by Universal Studios, which was first used for the movie Earthquake in 1974. And perhaps most important in the realm of production sound recording, 1975 marked the year that Robert Altman's movie Nashville was released, significant both for its use of multitrack dialog (with stellar work by mixer Jim Webb), in addition to live multitrack music recording (utilizing a remote truck built by the author). While multitrack dialog recording was not exactly new per se (having been used for the production of three-channel Cinemascope films), the use of multitrack for production sound would mostly be limited to Robert Altman films for nearly The Way We Were: Mixers Past & Present (Part 2) two decades. It did, however, help to spur a move to a more sophisticated approach to production sound, which was still largely done on mono Nagra recorders (despite the introduction of the stereo Nagra 1970). With the introduction of op-amp technologies, mixer designs began to take on a significant change in design philosophy during the 1970's. These advances, along with more sophisticated printed circuit board designs and smaller components, made possible more compact mixers with less current draw than their predecessors. It also heralded the adoption of a modular approach to console design, with components separated into input modules, master modules, buss assignment modules, and monitor modules. While these approaches were at first destined for the music and broadcast world, it wasn't long before they were adopted by manufacturers engaged in designing mixers for the film industry. This was due in no small part to the increase in the channel counts of film dubbing stages, which were beginning to increase with the advent of Dolby stereo in 1975. The same approach was also used for smaller production sound mixers, with more limited facilities. The 1970's would also mark an era that would see a more ready adoption of European film sound equipment by US sound mixers. Although companies such as Sennheiser and Neumann had made inroads into the United States with their microphones (primarily for music recording), and Nagra with portable recorders, up until the seventies, if you walked into most film sound operations, nearly everything you saw was of US manufacture. In the early seventies, there were still not many choices when it came to lightweight production mixers (the Nagra BM-T and Sela 2880-BT not withstanding). For stage work, it was still common in Hollywood to see mixers made by both Westrex and RCA dating back at least a decade (with many custom variants) used on set. 1. The Sela 2880-BT mixer, introduced in 1967, paired with a Nagra III recorder. The industry standard for many years. Photo courtesy Film Sound Sweden 2. The Cooper CS-106 mixer, designed by Andy Cooper, and introduced in 1989. Could run off of internal batteries. Featured both 12-volt T power and Phantom power for mics. Two-stage high-pass filter. Comprehensive talkback and monitoring facilities. Still in use today by many production mixers. Photo courtesy Cooper Sound 3. Sonosax SX-S mixer, designed by Jacques Sax, and introduced in 1983. Available in six, eight, or ten inputs, this mixer became a favorite of sound mixers who needed a small, lightweight mixer. Photo courtesy Sonosax 1 2 3

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