Adventures In Audio with Audio Masterclass
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Sound at the BBC Television Center (part 4)


AMS Audiofile

“We have seven AudioFiles. They are used entirely in the post production
areas, in the preparation areas and in the suites themselves, but not in the
production studios. We used to move them into production studios from time to
time because they are quite good at playing spot effects, but they didn’t
like the journeys very much – they didn’t like being bumped along corridors.
One of the features of this building is that in the technical areas, all the
corridors have computer flooring which means that you can take the boards up,
put new cables down and put them back again. The only problem with computer
flooring is that it settles over time into a slightly uneven pattern, and if
it’s not uneven the joins between the panels are enough to shock the wheels
of the trolley as you wheel it over. The AudioFiles didn’t like the constant
wheeling around very much, so we stopped doing that and put them in particular
places and left them there. Now we use samplers in the studios to play spot


A SYPHER suite will, like any other post production studio, have a control
room where most of the audio work is done and an adjacent studio for voices
and live sound effects. All the studios are equipped for Foley effects with
gravel trays and various surfaces for walking on. The preparation rooms are
where as much of the script checking, selection of effects, early listening
and track laying as possible is done before going into the suite, to save time
in the expensive areas. One might guess that SYPHER is an acronym for some meaningful
phrase and indeed it is. Not altogether as relevant to current techniques as
it used to be but at least it’s less of a mouthful to say than ‘audio
post production’. “In SYPHER, the ‘SY’ is for SYnchronous
and the ‘P’ is for Post dub. When we began, at a time when the broadcast
machines were Quad, the first video machine we had was an early Sony open reel
helical scan machine so the ‘H’ is from Helical and the ‘E’
and ‘R’ are for eight track recorder which we used as our standard.
If you add that up it’s SYnchronous Postdub with Helical machine and Eight
track Recorder. Although we don’t use the one inch video any more we have
still retained the eight track recorder, even though we use many more tracks
for track laying. We may use AudioFile and twenty-four track machines but because
the videotape and sound sections here are separate we have to have a standard
interchange medium with them, which is always an eight track audio tape and
a U-Matic video cassette”.

The console in SYPHER 1 is a Neve 66. In SYPHER 2 there is an older Neve and
in 3 and 4 there are SSL 5000s. SYPHER 1 and 2 both have Necam 96 automation.
”It’s a system we like very much and we have it also in our music
studio. The programmable routing on the 66 is not a facility that’s used
very much in the post production area but the other facilities on the desk suit
us very well. We still use Necam 96 because that’s what we specified for
our music studio and what we retrofitted to the Neve in SYPHER 2. Because we
already had two systems when it came to SYPHER 1’s refurbishment, we specified
96 again because we knew the system and we don’t like swinging too many
changes on operators because it doesn’t actually help them any. So we said,
‘We think Flying Faders is wonderful but will you make us a 96 because
that’s what we have’, and they did and it was wonderful. I’m
not sure they would do it now, but at that time they had only just discontinued
96. If we were to carry on now I think we would have to change to Flying Faders
but that’s not a problem for the time being.

“Also in SYPHER 1 we have grams and tapes, CD players, DAT machines and
an Akai sampler. In SYPHER areas, all tape recorders, quarter-inch, one-inch
and twenty-four track are timecoded and synchronisable. You can run anything
in the suite to picture, and because of additions we have made to the Akai samplers
we can run these locked as well, and of course AudioFile. Most of the synchronisers
are now Studer TLS4000s although because of the requirements of NECAM there
are some Adams Smith synchronisers as well. Long ago when we began this game
there weren’t any synchronisers around at all and the BBC built its own.
We looked at commercial synchronisers when they started coming out from other
manufacturers and although they worked, we were still building synchronisers
which were significantly faster on our kind of operation, largely because our
synchronisers relied on reading timecode while the machine is in spool. Most
manufacturers don’t even now do that. They tend to give them an address
to head for and sniff the timecode from time to time, which if you are doing
a rapid roll back and forward, roll back and forward repeatedly, is very slow
compared with reading timecode all the time. They did that because they believed
that reading timecode while spooling tape would wear the heads very quickly.
It doesn’t because an air cushion builds up. Some of our own synchronisers
still are faster, but most that we have now are commercial ones”.

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David Mellor