Lynn Fuston’s feature article in this issue on
audio control applications for touch screen
technology, coupled with a recent online
discussion on digital console operating paradigms,
led me to ponder again the concept of
signal flow and non-linear control topologies.
With analog consoles, the signal flow somewhat
followed the control layout of a console,
though with dual in-line faders, output matrix
switching above input controls and so on,
that only went so far. Still, once signal flow
had been mastered on a given analog console,
the concepts were fairly transferable to
other desks within the general class.
Audio schools still typically teach signal
flow beginning with analog console models
then apply those concepts to digital consoles.
That is a reasonable starting point,
but with modern digital desks, there are
often significant operational differences
between brands. Then when you add in
control surface layering, shared controls
and control features that are not practical
in analog (if even possible), the learning
curve can be steep when moving to
a new digital console. Non-standardization
of labeling and nomenclature can further
complicate the process (even with analog).
Digital Audio Workstation signal flow and
operation can also vary wildly between
brands, even as there are some commonalities
in the displays of most DAWs. The
signal flow has a studio-encompassing
analog equivalent, but the feature sets of
DAWs include additional, now mandatory,
capabilities that have no traditional counterparts.
Becoming a true master of a given
DAW is even more intimidating than the task
of learning a new console, as the functions
are even less standardized, including where
the various controls and buttons reside
within the GUI and how much is buried
inside a menu tree.
True to pattern, new technologies both
give and take. Mostly what’s taken is time.
But that initial learning curve is typically mitigated
in the long term by greater efficiency,
assuming one doesn’t overindulge the temptation
to fix things with technology when the
project would have been better served by the
engineer taking more care when recording,
also assuming competent musicians. The
capabilities we have today offer an amazingly
satisfactory cost/performance ratio. Never
have so many been able to do so much for so
little, and there’s very little to keep anyone
from playing. That’s the give.