Mixing live sound: Art or science?

Wednesday 5 February 2020, 4.00PM to 5.30pm

Speaker(s): Dr Annie Jamieson, Curator of Sound Technologies, National Science and Media Museum.

The star of the National Science and Media Museum’s Sound Technologies collection is the Midas XL3 48-channel mixing console, serial no. 003, from 1990. It’s been used for over 25 years by many of the UK’s top live sound engineers, in venues from Wembley Stadium to festivals across Europe, and for artists as diverse as Nina Simone, Prince, PJ Harvey and The Prodigy. This console came to the museum with an unusually rich provenance, raising opportunities for both enhanced curation and innovative research through the exploration of its use and users.

In this talk, I will discuss plans for a new research project to explore the role of the front-of-house mixing console as a boundary object between the aesthetic production of the music and the technical infrastructure of the PA system, and the mix engineer as mediator.

While the relationship between musical artists and record producers has been well-addressed and there is little dispute that the studio producer often plays an important role in the artistic development of the music (consider George Martin as the “5th Beatle”, for example), the production of live music has been little explored.

Whilst there is a widespread, though not ubiquitous, view in the live sound industry that the front-of-house mix is art, while the set-up of the PA system is science, this distinction has not received much consideration in musicology. To what extent might we consider the mixing console to be a musical instrument – as much as a guitar or piano – and similarly, to what extent is the live mix engineer a musician - or not?

Dr Annie Jamieson

I am a historian of science and technology, with a PhD in the history of medical light technologies from the University of Leeds. I have since worked in various academic roles, involving teaching and research in a range of areas of history of science and technology. I explored historical and current understandings of hearing risk and hearing protection in relation to the music and sound industries, working with industry, educators and academic researchers to raise awareness of these issues and of the solutions available.

I have presented my research to the Audio Engineering Society [1] and at the First European Hearing Conservation Conference, and have also been featured in TP[2] and PSNEurope [3]. I have presented educational seminars on hearing protection for sound professionals for the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine, and at trade shows such as PLASA and BPM/PRO.

At the National Science and Media Museum, I have introduced the history of sound technologies into our collections and exhibitions, and I research the history of these technologies and foster collaborations with academics and industry professionals. I am especially interested in (though not limited to) the history of live music production, and in developing ways to effectively engage our audiences with sound objects on gallery.

Current research projects include the AHRC-funded ‘Sonic Futures’ (with James Mansell, University of Nottingham) in which we work with artists, makers and audiences to create prototype interactives to represent sound-related objects from our collections, and the XR Stories-funded R&D project ‘Responsive Interpretive Storytelling’ (with Bright White and DC Labs) to develop responsive, mixed-reality interpretation for one of our iconic Marconi microphones.

[1] ‘Uses of and attitudes towards hearing protection in the sound and music industries: results of a pilot survey’, Proceedings of the 58th International Audio Engineering Society Conference on Music-Induced Hearing Disorders. (June 2015)

[2] ‘The Bigger Picture: Audible Concerns.’ Total Production International (191). (July 2015), 82-83.2015

[3] Technology feature: Noise annoys!

Location: Rymer Auditorium, Music Research Centre, Campus West