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AES: Back in the New York Groove

By Clive Young. With classes packed, an exhibit floor filled with the latest gear and a beat-heavy keynote address by hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Flash, the AES Convention opened in style in October.

New York, NY—New York City has its famous fall traditions, from holiday parades to the occasional World Series win, but for audio professionals, the arrival of cooler weather means just one thing: the return of the Audio Engineering Society Convention. And what’s not to love? The convention brings with it an exhibition floor teeming with exciting gear, both new and classic; workshops and panels that expand attendees’ knowledge and craft; networking opportunities for catching up with industry friends and making new connections; and lots more. As the convention’s slogan goes, if it’s about audio, it’s at AES.

That doesn’t happen by accident. Valerie Tyler, AES New York 2019 Convention co-chair and AES secretary/Board of Directors member, noted, “We’re so proud of the team that came together to build the absolutely amazing program at the 147th AES Convention. We’ve expanded the comprehensive technical program to include more genres, a broader range of new technologies and a wider breadth of voices than ever before. There’s content that will meet every attendee’s interests and needs, as well as giving them the opportunity to expand their horizons.”

That was certainly true this year, as the convention introduced much-anticipated tracks in EDM and hip-hop & R&B; expanded offerings in technologies ranging from immersive and spatial audio to game audio and XR; and more events that continued the society’s ongoing mission of fostering inclusivity throughout the audio industry.

Related: At AES: Honoring the Development of Hip-Hip, by Katie Makal, Oct. 18, 2019

Underlining a number of those efforts, hip-hop legend Grandmaster Flash gave the show’s keynote address, “Evolution of the Beat.” While he modestly claimed at the start, “I speak better with my hands than a mic. I’m not much of a talker,” he easily commanded the room as he recounted DJing as a teen in the 1970s and developing what he called the Quick Mix Theory: his homespun, analog method for remixing, looping and extending breaks using only two turntables, two records and a crayon. In the process, Flash created a revolutionary way to reinvent music, laying the musical foundation for hip-hop in the process. Closing out with a series of fleet-fingered demonstrations, he looped such classic breaks as the percussion from “Take Me to the Mardi Gras” on Bob James 2 and the Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache” to roars of approval from the standing-room-only crowd.

The opening ceremonies may have been packed, but it was hardly the only place in the convention center like that, as numerous audio manufacturers unveiled new products on the exhibition floor. Sometimes long-awaited, other times presented as an unexpected surprise, the introductions often had throngs of interested attendees checking them out, creating entire regions of the show floor that were difficult and yet enticing to pass through.

Related: At AES: Building a Better Podcasting Studio, by Anthony Savona, Oct. 17, 2019

Attendance this year was on par with previous years, according to convention officials, but with shifting preregistration numbers, according to Colleen Harper, AES executive director. “The number of attendees opting to register for All-Access badges for the full technical program is nearly 20 percent over and above last year, proving that AES New York 2019 is more relevant than ever to an industry where technology and its application is in a constant state of change.”

Greeting those visitors on the exhibition floor was a wide variety of manufacturers, industry organizations and more. “AES New York has 47 new exhibitors, 236 exhibitors in all—all the leading international professional audio brands are here,” noted Graham Kirk, AES director of sales and marketing. “The exhibition is covering the largest footprint with the most exhibitors we’ve had in any of the last three years. The AES exhibition hall is an unparalleled experience for audio professionals of today and tomorrow, and the convention is the flagship of our growing roster of events worldwide.”

Related: PSN’s Best of Show Award Winners at AES 2019, Oct. 21, 2019

Also present on the show floor were a variety of educational opportunities as industry pros shared insights and expertise at the Inspiration Stages, which hosted more than 130 sessions throughout the convention, between the new Electronic Dance Music Stage, the Recording Stage, the Live Production Stage and the AES Mix with the Masters stage, along with the AV-over-IP Theater and the [email protected] Theater.

There was plenty to enjoy and learn about outside the exhibition floor, too. Grammy- and Emmy-winning drummer, producer and musical director Steve Jordan presented another keynote address, “The Love of Recording,” discussing his entrance into the industry, what he learned from others and how a desire for his drum sound to be accurately captured on vinyl led to a second career as a producer—one that’s found him working with everyone from Keith Richards and Sheryl Crow to John Mayer. Elsewhere, an AES Historical Session became a Hysterical Session with the retrospective “Spike Jones: Preposterous Precision,” where panelists Mike Wisland, Arlen Card, Emily Taggart and Grammy-winning producer, engineer and director of music recording and scoring at Skywalker Sound Leslie Ann Jones (yes, Spike’s daughter) looked back at his career and continuing influence.

Related: At AES: A Lifetime of Reward for President Nadja Wallaszkovits, by Steve Harvey, Oct. 18, 2019

Related: At AES: The Realities of Mixing in Virtual, Mixed and Augmented Reality, by Anthony Savona, Oct. 18, 2019

Related: At AES: Album Pros Deconstruct Recording Process, by Katie Makal, Oct. 17, 2019

The AES Convention has always provided opportunities to learn and dive deep into the technologies that are part of the pro audio industry. Visitors with an All-Access pass could take in seminars that ranged from “Optical/Fiber Optic Microphone: When and Why Should I Consider Using an Optical Microphone?” to “PMC, Capitol Studios Present: Music in Dolby Atmos,” concerning Amazon Music’s Atmos Streaming Service, to a look at the future of sports broadcasting with “Live Broadcasting with Object-Based Audio.” Even the last day of the show with a closed exhibits floor served up strong panels including “Archiving the ’90s,” “Producing High-Quality 360/3D VR Concert Videos with 3D Immersive Audio,” and the eye-opening “Emergency Preparedness and Safety for Broadcasters.”

A key part of any AES show are the panels where engineers unpack their work on great records. The new R&B and hip-hop track hosted engineer Gloria Kaba discussing her work recording A Tribe Called Quest’s We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service; Kevin Killen recounted mixing Peter Gabriel’s So and U2’s The Unforgettable Fire; and Dave O’Donnell explained the making of Sheryl Crow’s latest (and last) album, Threads.

While this year’s show is now one for the history books, planning is already underway for the 2020 edition—the 148th Convention—as the AES will return to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center next fall, Oct. 21-24.


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