Sound Design Sub-commission

2019 Sound Sub-commission Meeting Minutes

Oct 9, 2019

Annual Meeting:
The annual meeting of the Sound Design Sub-commission was held on June 10 at Mama Shelter Praha, 1800-2100. The meeting was followed by dinner and ListenHear.

Joe Pino - Chair                                               Chai Smith
Wei-Ping Chen (OISTAT Headquarters)    Erik T. Lawson
Richard K. Thomas                               Margaret Shumate
Janne Auvinen                                     Scott MacDonald
Matthew Suttor                                    Philip Owen
Roger Alsop                                          April Viczko
Abigail Nover                                        William C. Kenyon
Travis Wright                                        Antonio D’Amato
William Lowe                                        Adam Mendelson
Tomy Herseta                                       Josefina Cerda Puga (late)
[name illegible]                                    [name illegible]
note: others arrived later in the evening but were not recorded.
Five were students. Four were not OISTAT members.

1.   Welcome by Joe Pino, Chair.

2.   Introductions of attendees.

3.   Explanation of OISTAT and its mission for first time attendees.
Also explained the structure of the Performance Design Commission and the specific mission of the Sound Sub-Commission.

4.   An overview of various past OISTAT Sound projects was presented.

5.   Review of the schedule of upcoming events in the Sound Spot and Sound Kitchen. This included future scheduled Sound dinners at various Prague restaurants to continue discussions from the current meeting.

6.   Review of the schedule of OISAT events in the coming week, including OISTAT FIESTA, the OISTAT FORUM, and the Performance Design meeting.

7.   Discussion of the election for new Chair of Performance Design, specifically who was eligible to vote.

8.   Discussion of the leadership election for the Sound Design Sub-commission which will take place at the annual meeting in 2021. The meeting should likely be held during World Stage Design 2021 to get the best turnout. Discussed the process for nominations by an OISTAT center and the responsibilities of the sub-commission chair in regards to serving on the OISTAT Governing Board.

9.   Discussion of better planning platform. The Sound Group has used Yahoo Groups since 2011. Many members do not receive notifications of activity in the Yahoo Group or receive it very late, months after posting. Given the many new technologies available for remote meetings and planning, what recommendations did the members have? Platforms suggested included Slack, Flock, groups.io, and Google Groups. Pros and cons of each were discussed by people who had used them. The Sound Sub-commission has been informally using Slack since World Stage Design 2017 to keep in  touch socially so that was mentioned as an easy possibility. The free version has limitations that would eventually catch up, specifically on-line storage space and the inability to do group phone calls or video chats. Google Groups was the other free format people were familiar with. The primary disadvantage is the lack of access to historical threads for new members, i.e. members can only access discussions from the point that they join. . It also doesn’t support threaded conversations, which seems problematic. Basecamp was brought up with much positive experience although it is a paid platform. It was noted that OISTAT has a Basecamp account already. ACTION ITEM: to investigate whether it will be possible for the Sound Sub-commission to use OISTAT’s Basecamp account and further investigate Slack.

10.   World Stage Design was introduced by April Viczko and people were asked to think about programming they would like to have there. The Sound Sub-commission is committed to having better than 75% and ideally 100% of the presenters being from minority or marginalized groups. April mentioned the large Canadian Indigenous population and other plans to include that group in WSD. There is a desire from several members to focus the Presentational offerings and the Sound Kitchen performances around different definitions and techniques of creating immersive worlds. There is interest from the hosts in facilitating a larger format system and venue in order to accomodate the demands this focus would demand. ACTION ITEM: The Group should begin researching and suggesting/contacting possible presenters in the coming year, to be discussed at the next meeting.

11.   William Kenyon (Education Commission) spoke about the desire to have more sound designers participate in the Beijing International Biennial. We will work with him to make sure we get the word out in as many avenues as possible for the next one.

12.  The future of the Sound Sub-commission was presented as a topic for thought and discussion over the coming week. The group has a handful of very active members and a much larger membership who are limited in how much and how often they can participate. Reasons include funding to attend events and meetings, visa issues (which have been specifically problematic for one member), and professional work which rightly occupies the majority of people’s energy. There is interest in pursuing a podcast series that was proposed by Joe Pino; Abigail Nover volunteered to help develop that idea.

13.   It was also noted that a more ideal time for this meeting would be in the middle of PQ. On the Monday of the meeting at least a half dozen very active participants had not yet arrived in Prague. And using the time at the end of the week when all the other OISTAT commissions meet would result in similar number of people having already left.

14.   The 2020 meeting would ideally be held in Calgary if they will sponsor it. This will allow us to advance the proposed venues and assess the equipment at the University. ACTION ITEM: follow up with April and Ian about this.

15.   No new business.

16.   Meeting was adjourned for dinner and ListenHear, during which discussions continued.

Prague Quadrennial 2019 Report
After having virtually no sound programming at the 2015 PQ – OISTAT’s Sound Kitchen, a workshop by Gareth Fry and a presentation by John Collins being the sum total of sound focused events over the ten days – the 2019 PQ returned to the level and quality of the 2011 PQ’s offerings for Sound. There were a number of workshops focused on or featuring sound design as well as a dedicated sound venue called The Sound Spot. The Sound Spot was programmed and managed by the OISTAT Sound Design Sub-commission on the invitation of the PQ Artistic Director Markéta Fantova.

The Sound Spot was contained within a large sports venue which housed a sound/lighting/media installation called 36Q. The 36Q venue also contained a Light Spot venue for lighting and media programming. It provided five days of programming including the fourth version of OISTAT’s Sound Kitchen, nine wildly varied presentations by sound artists, an open workshop and a well-attended roundtable discussion on the idea of immersion.

The Sound Spot Presentation series included:
•         MUSIC AS A CHARIOT (Parts 1 & 2).  Richard K. Thomas US) did a two day presentation of the theories in his book Music Is A Chariot.
•         TRIGGER CHANGE. Mary C (CZ), the curator of the Synthesizer Library Prague spoke on using the library for outreach to bring music and sound to marginalized people.
•         WAVE FIELD SYNTHESIS AND SPATIAL AUDIO FOR THEATER. Bobby McElver (US) discussed his work with wave-form synthesis, a complex system for creating three dimensional audio of which he is one of the leading theatrical experimenters.
•         CONSCIENTE COTIDIANO. Josefina Cerda Puga (CL) discussed the politics of her sound design practice in Chile.
•         CHILEAN SOUND DESIGN. Josefina Cerda Puga (CL) presented an overview of the sound design practices and overall sound design scene in Chile.
•         EMPTY VESSELS AND CLEAN SLATES: CRAWLING THROUGH TIME AND SPACE. John Richards (UK) from Dirty Electronics talked about the imperative of analog circuit hacking in a digital age.
•         ENTANGLED FORMATIONS. Anne Cecile Lie (NL) spoke about her work using GPS systems for installing “permanent” sound walks.
•         HOW HUMANS HEAR. John Taylor (UK) gave a simple but spectacular demonstration of the difference between how we hear in real life, how we hear on recordings and how we hear in theater.
•         THE SOUND BLOWS FORWARD n’ THE SOUND BLOWS BACK. Roger Alsop, moderator. A lively roundtable discussion about the meaning and uses of immersion in the broadest sense of the word. The discussion was well attended with several directors, media artists, lighting designers joining the core of sound designers. After three hours no conclusions were reached but a lot of thoughtful discussion was had.

The Sound Kitchen ran three sessions on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons. Sound designers submitted proposals which were evaluated by an international jury from seven countries. Twenty sound designers from fourteen countries were chosen to present. The goal of the Sound Kitchen, which was first held at PQ in 2011, is to allow sound designers the time and an environment that permits them to present their work in sonic conditions better than an exhibit hall can offer. The presentation series featured an array of topics and presenters.

One of the goals of the Sound Spot was to include time in the schedule for discussions to continue after presentations and performances. This was something discussed after World Stage Design in Taipei where the schedule was felt to be too packed with content to have time for refection and discussion. This initiative was augmented by arranging for three group dinners over the course of the PQ. These were well attended, averaging about 20 people a meal, and proved to be an ideal addition to the schedule in terms of making socializing easier and providing the opportunity for conversations to carry on into the evening.

The traditional ListenHear event was held following the annual meeting at Mama Shelter restaurant. There were seven presenters:

Erik T. Lawson, Abigail Nover, Joe Pino, Rick Thomas, Janne Auvinen, Roger Alsop, Matthew Suttor who spoke about topics from James Joyce to human evolution to creative burn-out.

Sound Design in the National Exhibit
The Sound Sub-commission undertook an informal look at how Sound Design was represented in the National Exhibition, which featured roughly 60 countries exhibiting what they feel is their finest work in design. [NOTE that this is based solely on working through each exhibit, observing the contents and taking notes - no outside interviews or discussions where had with other curators.]

37% of the exhibits had no sound designers, composers or sonic components as part of their exhibits. These exhibits usually listed just the costume and scenic designers. These exhibits often neglected to mention the lighting designers as well, although from the images presented, there was clearly artistry in lighting represented.

43% of the exhibits had no sound designers or composers mentioned in their displays or materials but had sonic components to their exhibits. Usually this was in the form of captured show audio coming from video monitors running extracts from featured shows. Also common were headphones connected to monitors or tablets that also played show audio from the captured performances. Many of these captures clearly had sonic design elements audible and in several cases original music was featured. In one case, a country featured several musical theater productions in their exhibit but did not mention the lighting or sound designers for those productions.

4% of the exhibits listed sound designers in their exhibit materials and had audio components in their exhibits but did not have a sound designer as one of the featured designers. In all cases directing, scenography, scenic and costumes were the featured designers.

17% of the exhibits had sound designers and composers featured in their exhibits, listed sound designers and composers in their materials and had sonic elements in their exhibits.
Roughly 4/5 of the exhibits make no mention of sound as a discipline or component in live theater performance.

Note that there could be many reasons for this. No sound designers may have submitted work to the exhibit. Or none of the sound work submitted was of a caliber to be included. Many of the national exhibits are the product of that country’s designer organization, many of which still have memberships including only scenography and may or may not include lighting. And clearly this was not a proper analysis, though one can argue that by judging from what is observed you get a clear idea of what a casual observer would take away. Even giving the benefit of the doubt, there is still clearly not much recognition for sound as a design in a large part of the world’s theater.

Future of the OISTAT Sound Sub-Commission and PQ
At the conclusion of PQ, there was an ad-hoc discussion as to the value of continuing to do the Sound Spot activities at PQ in 2023. Primary points raised:

1.     There is a sense that PQ doesn’t really care and is actually disrespectful toward sound design in that the venues provided are always sub-standard. The sports hall that housed the Sound Spot was excessively hot and had no air circulation. It was not acoustically isolated from the surroundings so the Blue Hour was constantly heard in the background. There is a feeling of “why would anyone come to a noisy, hot room to sit and sweat while trying to listen to sound?” While everyone applauded Markéta’s effort to provide a space for sound, media, lighting and what is certainly the next generation of performance experiences, it still fell short of being ideal.

2.     The vendors who donate the exceptional equipment that gives the Sound Spot a top-flight sound system were disgruntled that the venue wasn’t easy to find, wasn’t inviting to casual audiences (i.e. non-sound people who were not already planning to attend events there), and wasn’t sonically excellent in a way that really allowed for high-quality sound. They reinforced that they are not supporting us to advertise or promote their equipment but because they believe in our mission to raise the awareness of sound design; they don’t think the current situation achieves that and thus, find it hard to justify the expense of donating their support.

3.     People voiced that they would prefer if future Sound Spots were independently set up by the OISTAT Sound Sub-Commission in parallel but not under the auspices (and control) of PQ. This would allow for finding a venue conducive to showing off sonic work. Since there is little or no attendance in the Sound programming from the general PQ attendees, there is a feeling that it won’t affect the attendance if we aren’t directly connected, physically or programmatically to PQ.

This will be on the agenda for the 2020 meeting, since it was discussed  by a small subset of members who happened to be in the room when the Sound Spot was struck.

Future Projects
•   World Stage Design
•   podcasts and other digital outreach, including profiles of designers, tutorials and “mixtapes”
•   better partnering with ASD and TSDCA for sharing and developing resources and opportunities

respectfully submitted by Joe Pino, October 4, 2019