Measure Of Success

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Jamie Anderson Calibrates For The Common Good At Rational Acoustics

by Kirsten Nelson


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NAME: Jamie Anderson
TITLE: CEO and Head System Tweak
COMPANY: Rational Acoustics
OVERTIME: Anderson has been teaching and working in the field of sound system engineering, measurement, and alignment for more than 17 years. What he has learned from his career so far is that art and practice of system alignment is as varied and expanding as the people, equipment, and applications that encompass the field.

SCN: Your entry into the audio industry was through an interest in entertainment lighting technology. What was it that originally drew you to the latter?

Jamie Anderson: I was a pretty hard-core theater geek growing up, spending most of my spare time working productions at school and in the community. When I got to college, that theater interest expanded to include concert and show production as well.

Yeah, I started as primarily a lighting guy, but made the transition to the dark side as I got involved in sound design at the Yale School of Drama (YSD). To be honest, my interest in theater sound design quickly lead to a strong necessity for system engineering chops, which lead me down the path I’m on now.

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Over the course of his professional career, Jamie Anderson has taught more than 225 SIM and Smaart classes. Here, he sets up for a class at the Voorhees Theater at City Tech College in New York, NY in January 2010. SCN: Somewhere between your electrical engineering and optical physics studies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI ) and your eventual decision to focus on sound design in your MFA program at YSD you were exposed to the world of audio engineering and measurement at a Grateful Dead show. How did your system tour with Don Pearson and Dan Healy later change the course of your career?

JA: While at WPI in Worcester, MA we earned extra cash working as job-in IATSE stagehands over at the Centrum. During a load-in for the Dead, my friends convinced Don and Dan to give us a tour of the sound system—which ended up including a glimpse of how they were tuning their system using an FFT-based analyzer. At the time I was more interested in the lighting rig, but that exposure did come back to haunt me a couple years later as I grappled with the sound systems I was working with as a sound design student at YSD. I was realizing that system design/engineering wasn’t just about slapping up some boxes and plugging them in—maybe those hippies were on to something . . .

I started digging deeper into what they had been doing, and focused my thesis work on system measurement, and that process led me from RTAs to dual-channel FFTs to Broadway system alignments to SIM.

SCN: Following Yale, you moved to the West coast, and after a brief stint teaching in the Theater Department at USC, you became technical support manager and SIM instructor for Meyer Sound. Then, after spending some time on the road touring with k.d. lang and the Dave Matthews Band among others, in 1999 you joined EAW to manage its then new acquisition, SIA Software and the Smaart measurement platform. What did your field experience and teaching more than 225 SIM and Smaart classes reveal about the realities of system tuning?

JA: The period that probably most defined who I am as an audio engineer and as an instructor was the initial years I spent at Meyer working for 6o6 McCarthy and answering technical support and SIM questions. It wasn’t so much a time about accumulating specific knowledge, as it was one that sharpened my basic engineering process, of defining problems, gathering information (data), and developing specific solutions. I found out that the important thing wasn’t knowing the answers, it was just being able to figure out how to get them.

In the early ’90s, SIM II had just been released and we had to create the training programs. It was an amazing experience to work with 6o6 as he broke down the measurement concepts that were embodied in the analyzer and put them into a format that made them learnable. It certainly wasn’t always a smooth process or even a consistently successful process, but it certainly had progressively clarifying effect—for both of us, I think. As anyone who has ever tried to teach a subject knows, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you can teach it, or even that you truly understand it—and correspondingly, through the process of breaking concepts down to teach to others, you learn them more deeply yourself.

Of course, whenever I started feeling particularly accomplished or knowledgeable, I was continually reminded that you stop listening and learning from others at your own peril. Leaving Meyer to tour reinforced that in spades. To be honest, I think there are startling parallels to be drawn between life on the road and learning to survive and enjoy kindergarten.

SCN: In 2008, you launched Rational Acoustics with other Smaart principals, and a year and a half later purchased the Smaart brand product line from EAW. How do you see measurement instruction and Smaart software itself evolving?

JA: For us, the key element to participating in the evolutionary process has been (re)establishing Smaart’s independence—most importantly, with securing our ability to make development, support, and sales/distribution decisions that make sense for our geeky niche of the tiny pro audio market. The tools and practices that comprise system measurement and alignment are in a continual state of growth and refinement, pushed on both by the relentless expansion of processing power available in our laptops and gear, and by the constant innovations of the engineers that make up our industry (who can now affordably get their hands on these tools).

Education will follow, of course, both online and in person—our users are becoming very sophisticated at getting information. We just need time to learn from some new and creative failures!

Our goal with Rational is to be in a position to participate and respond.

SCN: How would you complete the following statements?

If you don’t read the manual, you’ll never…get 100 percent out of your gear.

One element every venue and application has in common is…they are real.

Smaart Move

In November 2009, Rational Acoustics completed the purchase of the Smaart brand product line from Eastern Acoustic Works (EAW). Four of the five people on the Rational Acoustics team were present in 1999 when Smaart became an EAW product, and together they have big plans to carry the brand forward into a new era

This month at InfoComm, Rational Acoustics will be demonstrating the first version of Smaart designed and released solely by Rational Acoustics, Smaart v.7, which is the culmination of an intensive two-year development effort. One of the most powerful aspects of Smaart v.7 is its object-oriented program architecture. Effectively, the program is built of many individual code modules that are run as independent, inter-related programs (“objects”). This means that users can run as many simultaneous single-channel (spectrum) and dual-channel (transfer function) measurement engines as their PC will allow. This new architecture also means that Smaart is ready for expanded application/interaction beyond the basic program itself.