The Banff Centre: Listen

The listening room is fancy. We go there in our first week at The Banff Centre and sit in front of the super-tweety-bassy-worth-more-than-a-new-car speakers. If I’m going to learn to design sound, I must also learn to listen.

Our audio team has 13 members, including 10 audio engineers from Canada, the U.S. Germany, Argentina, Poland and Iran. They have impressive credentials. Take Pouya who did a double major in piano performance and classical composition before his masters in audio engineering, or Winfried who is a bona fide German Tonmeister and acoustic measurement specialist (whatever that means). Everyone has done something amazing, and they all have golden ears.

Listening class is meant hone those ears even further. We’ll listen, then critique and discuss. Okay, they’ll critique and discuss, and I’ll take notes.

The first piece is classical, and afterwards the room buzzes with talk of balance, frequency response, dynamic range, signal processing and spatial imaging. I stare at the blank page in my lap.

Lucky for me, audio engineers come with some built-in qualities like extreme patience, knowledge and enthusiasm (though they would hate to be called enthusiastic). This makes them good teachers.

Over the course of three hours, with their guidance, the music begins to morph.

A classical piece resolves into a string quartet sitting right in front of me: violin, violin, viola and cello. A jazz tune transforms into a woman standing and singing from between her band mates. A classical guitarist fills the room, and the notes jump from floor to ceiling like fireflies.

I wonder what the everyday world sounds like to my new colleagues, and I begin to realize that after this summer, nothing will sound the same to me ever again.

If you want a taste of my new audio world, go to the virtual barber, put on some headphones (that’s important) and listen.