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Breaking with convention: A round up of AES Dublin

The 146th international AES Pro Audio Convention took place in Dublin at the end of March. PSNEurope spoke to some of those most closely involved in the event to reflect on its key talking points

From March 20-23, Dublin provided the setting for the 146th AES (Audio Engineering Society) Pro Audio Convention. Marking its first visit to the Irish capital, the event saw some of the most influential figures from the world of audio engineering come together for four days of panel sessions, keynote talks and presentations addressing the most pressing subjects and innovative technologies impacting the sector.

Among those who participated in and contributed to the convention by way of keynote speeches and panel appearances were AES Dublin Convention co-chairs Mariana Lopez, lecturer in Sound Production and Post Production, Department of Theatre, Film and Television, University of York; Enda Bates, assistant professor, Music & Media Technologies, School of Engineering, Trinity College Dublin; and acoustic consultant Ben Kok. Here, they discuss event highlights and why the AES Convention series is so vital to the pro audio industry…

What were your highlights from this year’s AES Convention?
ML: The fact that we introduced novel aspects to the convention format. Often conventions follow a predefined structure that’s quite difficult to innovate, but we managed to introduce a few new things. For example, for the first time in the history of European conventions (I believe) we offered students hands-on workshops. The workshops were organised by Becky Stewart (Imperial College) and focused on immersive audio. The workshop delivered by Becky was on building wearable binaural systems with Bela, and the one delivered by Enda Bates was on Composing and Producing spatial audio for 360 video using freeware. 

Another highlight was the keynote by Professor Stefania Serafin. I’m a huge admirer of Stefania’s work, so I was delighted to hear her speak on sonic interactive design, whcih she described as “a fertile field of investigation at the intersection of sound and music computing and interaction design.” She introduced us to an array of exciting projects she has designed together with collaborators at Aalborg University, including work on physics-based simulations of musical instruments, new interfaces for musical expressions, cultural heritage, walking and rehabilitation, as well as virtual and augmented reality.

Of course, we shouldn’t forget that a huge highlight was the people themselves. Working with Enda and Ben was a wonderful experience, but we weren’t the only ones contributing to the organisation. AES Dublin was only possible because lots of people volunteered their time to make a great event come true, and we are truly grateful for their fantastic contributions.

EB: Highlights included the keynotes and opening remarks, which brought welcome attention to this convention’s increased focus on diversity and inclusion, a feature specifically recognised by many attendees as a welcome development. It was fantastic to bring the AES Convention to my hometown of Dublin for the first time, and to have so many Irish engineers, researchers and composers presenting their work. The convention was also used to launch the new Ireland Regional Section of the AES, which will continue to present interesting topics on audio all around the country over the coming months. It was also great to see such a large attendance at the spatial music concert, and the technical tours.

BK: My personal highlight was also that it was held in Dublin, and revealed the formal start of the convention’s Irish Section. Dublin has such a vibrant musical and cultural life, and there is some interesting audio-related research going on at Irish universities, so it is logical that the local AES members are recognised and supported by the international society of AES.

What subjects were particularly important to you at this year’s event?
ML: In terms of the topics covered, we tried to make sure film sound was represented. A particular highlight for me was the panel ‘The Present and Future of Audio for Film and Television’ which brought together four extremely talented sound professionals: Howard Bargroff, Anna Bertmark, Emma Butt and Fiona Cruickshank. Furthermore, two complementary talks were also delivered on the subject, one of them by Anna Bertmark on ‘Emotive Sound Design in Practice’ and the other by Thomas Görne on ‘Emotive Sound Design in Theory’. In addition to this, Ana Monte also challenged participants to think about the technical and creative processes involved in capturing sounds in conflict zones as part of documentary work.

In relation to the overall ethos of the event, we did a lot of work on addressing gender equality as part of the process of organising the convention. This required us to reflect on strategies to encourage participants to consider diversity as part of their proposals. For example, we did our best to try to reduce the presence of all-male panels (often referred to as manels) in the convention. It was refreshing to work with panel proposers that had already considered equality as key, and that were willing to rethink their proposed configurations. It was great to see the latter reflect on how diversity had improved their panels by introducing balanced opinions, different perspectives and new exciting avenues of enquiry. It’s about making sure all voices are represented, but, of course, there’s more to be done to achieve better gender diversity at audio events. 

EB: The AES conventions are often a little more student-focused than conferences, and we saw this continue in Dublin. It was particularly nice to see so many Irish students taking part, and from so many different institutions. Spatial audio is my particular area of interest and I enjoyed seeing a continued focus on this at the convention, particularly the various papers and sessions on spatial music.

BK: Immersive/3D audio – there is a lot going on in this field and the results were presented at our convention.

Tell us about your involvement in this year’s event.
ML: In addition to the role of convention co-chair, I also took an active role in a number of sessions. I chaired the panel on ‘The Present and Future of Audio for Film and Television’, which was a particularly exciting event as I was thrilled to be able to bring together such wonderful sound professionals and hear their thoughts on the technical, creative and interpersonal aspects involved in sound for film and TV. I was also delighted to chair a panel on ‘Audio, Accessibility, and the Creative Industries’ which brought together Emilie Giles (The Open University), Sarah McDonagh (Queen’s University Belfast) and Ben Shirley (University of Salford). As part of the session we discussed how audio technology, sound design and e-textiles could be used to provide accessible experiences for visually impaired audiences and those with hearing loss.

Additionally, I was asked to act as one of the judges for the student recording competition for the category of Sound for Visual Media. I got to listen to all the entries students make from all around the world and work with two more judges to provide students with lots of feedback to help them move forward with their work. Moreover, the shortlisted students were then invited to present their work at the convention and received additional feedback.

EB: As well as being one of the co-chairs for the convention, I am also the chair of the AES Ireland Section which was officially launched in Dublin. I presented a paper on spatial audio, 360 video and spatial music, chaired a panel discussion on adapting spatial music and theatrical content to different loudspeakers and venues, and presented a hands-on student workshop in immersive audio. The latter was the first time such a hands-on workshop was presented during an AES convention and it was very well attended.

BK: It is hard to define what goes into organising such an international event; on one side you have to follow set tracks because that is what one is used to, while at the same time people are expecting something new and exciting. A specific problem is that you are largely dependent on submitted papers and proposed workshops and tutorials. We were lucky to have very good chairs both for the papers and for the workshops and tutorials, those teams did a great job. During the convention itself, I kept a low profile, just making sure everything went properly, but of course, I could not resist chairing the papers session on Room Acoustics which has my personal interest.

Why are events like this so important for the industry?
ML: I personally think it’s a great opportunity to catch up with new developments in the field. Listening to researchers, practitioners and industry developers talk about their work is a way of keeping up with new developments. I also find this type of event is crucial to develop professional networks that may result in collaborations, exchanges of ideas and friendships.

EB: These events are particularly important as they bring together such a diverse range of people with an interest in audio, including composers, sound designers, artists, professional audio engineers, acousticians and manufacturers, alongside academic researchers and students. This sort of holistic gathering is so integral to the industry and yet rarely occurs.

BK: This is where the latest and upcoming developments in audio are presented, but even when you are not in the upfront of development or research, the workshops and tutorials offer an opportunity to learn from the leading figures in the industry. Most importantly, it is a networking event where you can meet others working in the same industry with the same interests. You can bump into audio celebrities and talk to them, most of them very happy to share their knowledge. You might meet your next employer or client, or get the idea to start your own business. And, of course, you can present yourself through a paper on your research results, by giving a tutorial or by participating in a workshop.