L.A. Grapevine

Nov 1, 2007 12:00 PM, By Bud Scoppa

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Last fall, Pepperdine University, whose main campus covers a Malibu hillside overlooking the Pacific, unveiled its music lab, featuring 17 specially designed workstations, each outfitted with an Mbox, a Yamaha keyboard and a suite of the latest software.

In the new music lab at Pepperdine University (L-R): technician Christine Huynh, Fine Arts department chair Cathy Thomas and facility designer Hanson Hsu of Delta H Design

In the new music lab at Pepperdine University (L-R): technician Christine Huynh, Fine Arts department chair Cathy Thomas and facility designer Hanson Hsu of Delta H Design

The project had its genesis when Pepperdine received a five-figure donation targeted for the creation of a music lab to be housed in the fine arts department. When GC Pro director of sales Rick Plushner got the call from a university official, he enlisted the help of account manager Gadget Hopkins, whose specialty integrating gear into studio and live sound environments. Plushner contacted Hanson Hsu of Delta H Design (profiled in the November 2006 “Grapevine”) to tap into that firm's extensive studio design experience.

“Gadget pretty much had the layout when we got involved,” Hsu recalls. “It was going to be 17 workstations for 16 students and a teacher. Each one would have an iMac; a full-sized, weighted, MIDI-capable Yamaha keyboard; and an Mbox. He and I picked out the software together — Pro Tools LE, Digital Performer, Finale and a Yamaha LC learning system. The weird thing is that there are no speakers — it's strictly headphones. We then designed the whole thing — including furniture, IT, sound systems and all the technical networking to hook everybody up — using a 1-terabyte RAID server. The concept was, you record something to a local drive, and the minute you leave the lab that file gets saved onto the RAID server, and then, when you come back again, you make a reservation at, say, Station 3 and all the files get dropped in that station. So nothing ever lives in the local hard drives, and they stay clean and operating at optimum speed.”

The other challenge was coming up with functional furniture. “It was a small room, and we had to do some serious furniture design to make everything work,” Hsu explains. “The Yamaha keyboards take up a lot of space, and then you've got a computer keyboard, as well. We found some inexpensive but strong desks that were modifiable to put a computer keyboard tray underneath. Then we bought these special stools that are similar to piano stools but more hip and modern, and on casters so you can roll around.”

In a sense, the Pepperdine project was also a learning experience for Hsu. “It was atypical for us,” he says, “in the sense that we didn't do any acoustics to the room at all. It involved the design of a furniture system integrated with a very compact and powerful, but cost-effective audio system, as well as training, technical support and working with a university, which is never simple. But what's cool about the lab is that, with all this stuff and a pair of headphones, these kids can compose scores and crank out albums.”

Now let's move on to a work in progress. The undergraduate programs offered at the Art Institute of California, Los Angeles' Santa Monica campus (another of the AI's 34 locations is in the mid-Wilshire area) reflect L.A.'s status as a media and entertainment center. For years, the school has offered majors in video production, media arts and animation, game art and design, graphic design, interactive media design and interior design. But until this year, AILA lacked an audio production program.

After launching in April, the department has been in fast-forward mode under the aegis of 27-year-old whiz kid Ryan Gahagan, a Maine-bred musician with post-production experience who's been at the school for five years. Gahagan, who pushed to get the program launched, has taken on the tasks of coordinating the curriculum, hardware/software acquisition, overseeing the five-person faculty — “and just making sure that it's a well-oiled machine,” he says, sounding totally on top of things.

Starting with 10 students in April, the program now has 60 enrolled as the third quarter begins this month; its rapid growth is a reflection of the long-standing need for professional training in the West Coast recording capital. Those 60 students will have to wait until January to start logging time on the fledgling department's prized acquisition, a gleaming new SSL C224 digital console.

“We chose the C224 for its versatility,” Gahagan explains. “There are gonna be so many projects going on at once — student projects, shows, movies and animation projects — so the instant recall of sessions is gonna be great.”

The C224 will be installed in the control room of a dedicated recording studio — designed by nonzero/architecture's Peter Grueneisen — which is under construction in one of the two buildings on the compact campus.

“I've been charged with getting the studio built and everything put together,” says Gahagan, “and I knew I wouldn't get it done without bringing in the best people possible. So it came down to getting nonzero/architecture, Paul Cox and Phil Wagner from SSL involved to help make it a great room.”

For the fall quarter, the undergrads will continue to share the 175 Macs spread over the school's seven labs with students enrolled in the above-mentioned programs. “For now, we're doing everything in the box, using the Mbox 2 environment,” Gahagan explains.

In the labs, the students will learn how to drive the software and understand the principals behind it, with an emphasis on Pro Tools HD and LE, but also including Logic, Reason, Peak and Digital Performer. They'll also be trained on the video department's ADR/Foley studio, running a Digidesign 003. There's already plenty of interaction between the video and audio departments, and Gahagan anticipates increased back-and-forth when the new audio space, which has been dubbed Studio C, is up and running. Gahagan is counting the days.


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