Audio tech program provides students with hands-on experience
Students are satisfied with small class sizes, personal attention
In the basement of the Kreeger building, far away from the center of campus, AU’s audio technology program is thriving. What once started in 1979 in the basement of the old McKinley building has grown into a successful program with two separate undergraduate majors, a minor and a master’s degree, allowing students to gain a unique hands-on experience that is hard to come by at other institutions, the program’s director said.
Equipped with three different recording rooms, including a live room that professor Mike Harvey uses to bring in professional bands for students to record, the audio technology program, also known as A-tech, utilizes state-of-the-art technology to give students the most cutting-edge training possible.
“With A-tech, there's always new software coming out, there's always new techniques, there's new music, there's new trends, there's all of that,” program director Ana Cetina said. “So, there's always something and we have to keep current, we can't just stay on the oldest software because it's still working for us.”
Originally, the audio technology program at AU revolved around a computer science and physics-concentrated major, audio technology. However, since 2003, the program has revamped the thematic paths students can follow to include music and communications, as well as technological options such as music software design. Rather than focusing solely on technology and physics, the program has expanded to become more involved with the Department of Performing Arts via the audio production major.
“Our audio production [major], that's the younger major, it's the more popular one. Our background is in music and so people know AU and our program as a music recording program, so that's how students begin here, wanting to record music,” Cetina said. “They tend to be musicians, they don’t have to be, we don’t require them to be, unlike other audio programs.”
Current master’s student Rebeca Lindenfeld is one audio technology student who is not a musician.
“I wanted to be an audio engineer, so I chose American because I’m into physics and their program had a specialization track that let me be involved in sound and recording, but also be involved with physics,” she said.
However, the difference between audio production and audio technology is the specialization tracks offered, Lindenfeld said. The audio production degree offers concentrations in communication and music, whereas the audio technology degree offers specializations in computer science or physics. Lindenfeld felt so passionate about the specialization that she decided to minor in physics, she said.
“So really, the difference between the two majors is the concentration and where they decide to take that, you know?” Cetina said. “So if they do A-tech instead of A-pro and do computer science, maybe where they take that is they still like to record music but they’re more interested in the design aspect of creating software, or they want to do video games or something like that. But, then they also know the artistic side as well as the tech side.”
Braxton Boren, an assistant professor of audio technology, researches the simulation of 3-D sound fields for virtual reality, musicology research and music composition.
Lindenfeld is drawn to a similar dynamic incorporating sound and science to create 3-D audio.
“I want to learn about and work with making binaural sound where instead of hearing left and right, you would hear like the sound is surrounding you,” she said. “My goal is to combine sound design with 3-D soundscapes for movies or film but Professor Boren’s sort of experimentation would be made for Virtual Reality which would also be very interesting to work for.”
But the audio technology field is not strictly set for just film production or music. Lindenfeld explained that one of her teaching assistants for a physics class was double majoring in audio technology and physics, but wanted to focus on underwater acoustics dealing with larger mammals and their sound waves.
Shannon Lynch, a student in the audio technology master’s program, is also blending audio with another field of study. Lynch is focusing on radio and podcasting for her capstone by creating a political podcast called “Radical Center,” which is specifically geared toward young voters and covers controversial political issues. Lynch came into the audio technology program with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Georgetown University, and kept stumbling upon A-tech while she was searching for an audio program for post-graduation.
“There are about 40 students in the master’s program and the department of political science I was in for undergrad was made up of thousands of students, so to go from that to such a small program has been really nice,” Lynch said. “I feel like the professors really know who I am.”
For her podcast, Lynch gives backgrounds on the different topics being discussed and invites young voters on as guests to have discussions. She said the audio technology program has been very helpful in developing the podcast.
“Most people don’t go into the audio technology program with the focus in podcast audio, most come in with a focus on music audio,” Lynch said. “The professors have been super accommodating and helpful and have helped me kind of build my own concentration, it’s a very flexible program.”
While the program has many strengths, there can be a bit of an issue with accommodating students in a limited space. The largest control room holds a class size of strictly 12 students, and all three recording rooms have to be shared between different classes and also be available for students to complete their homework and assignments outside of class.
“It's not like we can move somewhere else, too, there's probably about a million dollars' worth of wiring just in the walls, so you can't say, ‘oh we're just going to move over into a different building’,” Professor Paul Oehlers said. “Even if they located another space for us, it's not really an option because of the infrastructure and all the wiring."
While the program might not have the most space on campus, it has so much to offer its students.
“You can go all different kinds of ways… almost every aspect of audio. I thinks we’re kind of like an octopus, we have tentacles that reach everywhere,” Oehlers said.