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Sound at the BBC Television Center (part 3)

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The AMS Assignable Console

Assignable consoles have been an awful long time coming and there still aren’t
that many about. Perhaps the problem has been defining the situation where an
assignable console is absolutely necessary, rather than being merely an interesting
technical development. Console size is, for the BBC, the vitally important factor.


“When we were first in discussion with Calrec, who began the project,
about assignable consoles it was true to say, and I think it still is true,
that the only way you can get faders as close together as you ideally want them
is to have most of the other controls either somewhere else or hidden. The faders
on our AMS assignables are at 25mm pitch, which means we can get a lot of faders
within the reach of an operator. Seventy-two on the consoles in the Television
Centre studios, which are indeed within reach. If we had 35 or 40mm modules
the desk would be enormously bigger and not really be within the reach of anyone.
Also, if the faders are that far apart it’s very difficult for an operator
who needs to control a large number of channels simultaneously to get his hands
spread across them. This happens particularly in the more complex talking head
shows. If you have eight or ten people doing a simultaneous discussion then
you need to have your fingers across all the faders controlling them, riding
them all the time. That’s very difficult when the faders are 40mm apart
because not very many people have hands that big! Programmes have become more
complicated in terms of numbers of sources. Even talking head programmes which
we once would have covered on a couple of booms or a few stand mics – now everybody
has a personal mic. That makes life very hard for the operator”.


As an aside to the discussion of console, I asked why this was so. “It’s
the producer’s choice. It looks cleaner to them if there are no stand mics
to get in the way and they have got used to it, and the presenters have got
used to it. It does mean that you can work in busier, noisier circumstances
without having too much background noise as well. Because of the number of other
activities in the studio these days and the number of other people working it’s
difficult to keep the background as quiet as you would like. Life is harder
now than it used to be for the person who’s mixing. Anything with music
in it is also much more complicated now. When I first started mixing, the keyboard
player played a piano. Nowadays he wants a mixer all of his own because he’s
got so many outputs all in stereo. If that sort of thing happens everywhere,
everything needs more and more inputs, so you have large consoles. The only
way you can get that many faders that close together is to have an assignable
desk with fewer controls to accommodate.


“Having said that, a number of other advantages come with it. In particular,
the architecture of the desk is held in temporary software so you can configure
the desk anyway you like, and also you can interrogate the desk and ask it questions
like, ‘What auxiliary outputs is this channel feeding?’, and it will
show you that it is feeding Auxiliaries 1 and 2. You can ask Auxiliary 2 which
channels are feeding it and it will show which channels are feeding it. So you
have an instant check if things go wrong. If you get a call from the floor saying,
‘Why is the bass guitar on foldback?’, you can find it very quickly.
That sort of thing is very useful, and a third level of usefulness is that because
you can store desk setups on a floppy disk, once you have more than one of these
consoles you are in the very happy position where a Sound Supervisor can do
a very complex setup in a few milliseconds. He walks in the door on a morning,
switches on the console, places the disk in the slot, calls up whatever setup
he wants on the particular disk and he’s all set ready to go. That used
to take hours of careful checking that every knob was zeroed and then set to
where you want it. It also saves a lot of time at the end of the day when people
who are kind to their follow-on colleagues can zero everything on the desk quickly
so as to leave no nasty time bombs”.

David Mellor

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David Mellor

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