WACO, TEXAS: Cultivate Informed Creative Research: these four words summarize the mission of the exploratory music composition lab at Baylor University. “Our students bring so much to their composition classes – they’ve been studying on their instruments for years, they’ve taken intensive music history, theory, and musicianship courses – and they need an inviting space to freely experiment with all of that background knowledge in new and exciting, creative ways,” explained Dr. Ben Johansen, lecturer in “Composition and Computer Music” at Baylor’s School of Music. Together with his colleagues in the department, Johansen has been building out that creative space – dubbed “Alinea” – with tools that are not only beautiful sounding, but also unfailingly robust to near-constant usage.
When Johansen joined the faculty last August, he set to shoring up a few of Alinea’s weak links. The larger eight-channel studio needed a reliable eight-channel interface, and Johansen did a lot of research to find candidate interfaces that were rock solid stable no matter what the situation. “That all-important criteria collapsed the universe of possibilities to just two brands,” he said. “Add to that the additional criteria that the interface would have to work easily and reliably with pretty much every variety of audio and composition software in existence – Logic, Pro Tools, Izotope, Max, Ableton Live, Pure Data, Dorico, SuperCollider and on and on – and it had to sound pristine. Well, that got us down to just one – Metric Halo.”
Part due diligence and part “gearphilia,” Johansen went ahead and purchased a Metric Halo LIO-8 interface with eight optional mic preamplifiers for his personal use and found empirical support for his research. “The Metric Halo preamps are stunning,” he said. “They’re incredibly quiet and accurate; our students can hear exactly what they’re recording. Their super low noise at very high gain allows them to record quiet sounds that you’re not used to hearing in recordings; sounds not audible to the naked ear. It’s opened up a host of creative compositional ideas. In addition to using the Metric Halo LIO-8 in Alinea, we trust the device not just to document the concert, but also as a tool used in interactive electronic piece performances, where its rock-solid reliability again keeps the creative juices flowing.”
To keep things manageable in a space that gets used by so many different people on so many different projects, Johansen keeps the more complicated routing scenarios that the Metric Halo LIO-8 is capable of off the table. Students simply route its eight inputs and eight outputs, however they are needed, within the software they’re using. As expected, it performs flawlessly in that capacity. The Baylor faculty teach only two classes in the space: “Electronic Studio” and “Advanced Electronic Studio.” At any other time, day or night, students in the program are invited to use the studio for its main purpose – artistic class projects and personal creative projects. “We’re here to experiment,” Johansen said. “We’re trying to make new music by finding expressive things to do with sound that have never been done before!”
Based on its success so far, the Composition Department recently purchased a second Metric Halo LIO-8 with eight mic pres for use in the smaller two-channel studio. “We want to keep things consistent as much as possible,” Johansen said. “If they know how to use the larger eight-channel studio, they will know how to get things done in the two-channel studio as well; And no one will use the two-channel studio if it is inferior. Our long-term end goal is to get several more LIO-8s with pres so that we can host and record an annual electro-acoustic festival.”
ABOUT METRIC HALO Based on the Gulf Coast of Florida, Metric Halo provides the world with award-winning software and hardware recording, processing, metering and analysis solutions.
(PHOTO CAPTION: Dr. Ben Johansen with his colleague, Dr. Scott McAllister, Professor of Composition, with Alinea’s two LIO-8/8 interfaces.)