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Buford Jones: “They bake the cake and I serve it”

Buford Jones is an award winning audio engineer from Texas. For the past 37 years he has been sound mixing live shows for some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry- David Bowie, Pink Floyd, George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Prince to name a few. He has also worked at the famous Abbey Road recording studios in London. He was at The Banff Centre recently as guest faculty for the Meyer Sound Workshop. I asked him about the tricks of the trade.

Sound mixer Buford Jones spent three days here for the Meyer Sound Workshop

What is the difference between being a studio sound mixer and a live sound mixer?

In the studio you’re in a controlled environment but on a live stage the acoustical environment is constantly changing. One day it can be very difficult to make things sound good and on another day it’s quite easy. That alone is a major challenge but it’s something you learn to cope with.

When some studio mixers go on the road they find it very disruptive not to have the sounds the way they are used to. The other thing with touring is that you only get one shot to get the sound right, but in the studio you rewind, go back and clean things up and keep cycling through it until we get it right. On the road it’s much more challenging. You get to do sound checks but on the road you’re lucky if you even get one sound check to prepare yourself for what’s going to happen in a live show.

David Bowie, Prince, Pink Floyd, Don Henley – you’ve worked with some big names. Who has been the most enjoyable artist to work with?

Linda Ronstadt. There are so many things I learned from that experience back in the 70’s. We first started working together in 1975 and through to 1980 when she toured. It was a step up for me and I was really learning a lot. I was still young and when I look back I think that’s where my whole career shaped itself.

How much time have you spent on the road?

After 37 solid years of touring I can think of only a three-month period not being on the road. For the first 10 years I think I was averaging nine months on the road, as things settled down it went down to maybe eight months and now I’d day I go on the road about three months of the year. It’s still enough travel enough to fill up five passports.

What keeps you going?

There’s something so special about doing a live show for 800 – 800,000 people; when all the elements come together it’s just priceless. You can’t describe it to family and friends you just have to be there. What keeps us driving is the inconsistency of it all because you’re always trying to get that amazing moment back. That’s the drive that keeps you going. I tried other areas of work but just keep coming back to the touring thing.

Can a live performance be greatly enhanced by the work of a sound engineer?

There’s some things that we can add to, to sweeten the cake, but I think when we overdo that we are taking away from the originality of it all. I remember in the mid 70’s I arrived in New York city and a cab driver asked me what I was doing in town and I told him I was in the live concert touring business, that I mix sound. And that I was mixing sound at that time for Linda Ronstadt. And he said, ‘ah,she bakes the cake and you serve it’. I’ve used that analogy ever since. In fact if I ever write a book that will be the name of it: ‘They Bake the Cake and I Serve It’.

Were there ever any major disasters during a live concert?

I don’t remember any show that didn’t come off on schedule but I do remember one show with David Bowie in France where the transformer ignited during the show and started a fireworks display. People in the audience just thought it was part of the show and started to cheer it on which was funny because it was actually a catastrophe.

What are the most important personal characteristics associated with being a live mixer?

A love for music is the number one. All the technical aspects are extremely important to understand and how to manipulate the equipment but it goes so way beyond that. I think that if you have a musical background it helps. I look at the musical console as an instrument. It’s your own way of playing a musical instrument. When you have that desire to play music and you collaborate with the artist you almost become like a band member. You have to understand musically what they are thinking and what they require. When you find that musical slot and you fit into it that’s when the true magic comes out.

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Spirit, melody and the mountains

When I found out I had been invited to participate in The Banff Centre’s Indie Music Residency, I let out a very happy shriek. Get this straight: I am not a shrieky person, and no one would ever describe me as a “woo girl”. I was THAT excited. It is a program that I have wanted to partake in ever since the Centre introduced it in 2009. My peers who have participated in previous years always describe it as an unforgettable and tremendously supportive journey. I can’t wait for mine.


Kat Burns, from the experimental music project Kashka, is in this year’s Independent Music Residency. Photo: Tiana Feng.                                              

This opportunity to spend two weeks honing my craft – in a dedicated rehearsal space  - in a supportive environment,  smack in the middle of a small break before a new record release and subsequent tour. It couldn’t have happened at a better time.

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Director Skip Armstrong is listening

Skip Armstrong in the studio

Director Skip Armstrong, audio producer John Loose, and re-recording mixer Gavin Fernandes. Photo: Rita Taylor.

The 2013 Banff Mountain Book and Film Festival is coming (only five more weeks!). And at this very moment Skip Armstrong, director of the film that won last year’s Dolby Audio Post Production Award, Of Souls + Water – Shapeshifteris here at the Banff Centre preparing a new piece to be screened at this year’s festival.

With him are John Loose, a leading next-generation mixer and audio producer from Dolby Laboratories, and Gavin Fernandes, the former chief re-recording mixer for Technicolor in Montreal. With the help of the Banff Centre’s crew of audio work studies, they’re building a state-of-the-art surround-sound mix for Armstrong’s film, which is about a friend’s expedition in Baffin Island.

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Measha Brueggergosman: Bend, break, breathe

Measha Brueggergosman

Measha Brueggergosman at the 2013 Banff Midsummer Ball, with trombonist Wycliffe Gordon. Photo: Rita Taylor.

You would never forget meeting soprano Measha Brueggergosman. I first met her when I walked by her outdoor table at Maclab Bistro on The Banff Centre campus, when she was here earlier in the summer to perform and record. “Hey,” she said. “Come sit down.” I obeyed.

“Are you the one who’s going to interview me?”

She then took my number, made a call to arrange the time and  introduced me to her friend, while simultaneously sending more texts, presumably to contacts far and wide. Once the plan was made, I was kindly dismissed.

This friendly/bossy mix made me even more curious about a woman who’s an international opera star, emerging gospel favourite, new parent, yoga instructor, and all around, in-your-face, super extrovert. Her energy is contagious, her life has been a mix of extreme highs and crushing lows, and she seems to know everyone and to remember everybody’s name.

When my appointment time came, Measha and I sat down to talk about tattoos, breath, yoga, and what it means to be the keeper of the classical music grail.

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Produced by Jennifer Kingsley.

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How to Listen with musicologist Tyler Kinnear

Tyler Kinnear

Musicologist Tyler Kinnear with Jennifer Kingsley. Photo: Rita Taylor

“Once you start listening, it’s impossible to stop.”

That is the first lesson I learn from Tyler Kinnear. He’s a musicologist from the University of British Columbia, and he is a practiced listener. As Kinnear points out, we don’t have any “earlids,” so our ears are always open, but how often do we really use them? What don’t we listen to?

Kinnear sat me down and took me through the three simple steps of his listening practice. We tried to listen without forming opinions or leaving anything out. In that spirit, I’ve left the audio recording below uncut. I invite you to spend seven minutes in the woods with Kinnear and me. Join us and learn more about How To Listen.

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Step one:

  • Observe yourself. Get present. How to do you feel?
  • Just as you wash your hands before a meal, this first step is about cleaning your ears. (Kinnear mentions R. Murray Schafer here)

Step two:

  • Listen. What are the sounds around you? What’s in the distance or up close? What patterns and interactions can you hear?
  • Try to reserve judgment and simply open your ears.

Step three:

  •  Reflect on what you have heard. How do you feel? What do you think?

After listening, Kinnear takes some time to relax. If you are listening with a friend, it’s fun to talk about your experience.

Remember that you can do this anytime and anywhere. You might find that the places you are most familiar with are full of sounds you’ve never noticed.

Produced by Jennifer Kingsley

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Bless you, o mountain climbers

One of the most striking features when walking into a church is often the stained glass scenes around the walls. But in the little church on Beaver Street, the stained glass provides a glimpse into the history of Banff along with scenes of Christian icons. It may be the only church in the world with elk, moose, mountain explorers, and skiers frozen in the colourful glass. The perfect place to merge classical music with the distinctiveness of Banff.

It’s a long-running summer tradition for The Banff Centre to bring classical music concerts down the hill to St. Georges-in-the-Pines Anglican Church. Each Tuesday performance features Banff Centre musicians in residence, performing as soloists, or in small ensemble settings, one of a few weekly concerts we take into the community. It also gives our audio work studies a chance to work with new, and somewhat reverent, acoustics.

Check out the Soundcloud page for more podcasts. Produced by Camara Miller, mastered by Magdalena Kasperek.

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