The 117th AES Convention

by E. "Doc" Smith on October 29, 2004

The 117th AES Convention, opened yesterday at the Moscone Center to record crowds. AES is the acronym for the Audio Engineering Society, and for old audiophile like myself, a chance to see old friends from around the world, and gander at the latest cutting edge technology. All of the leading manufacturers are here, from Apple, Sony, Yamaha, Mackie, as well the fledging new kids on the block. A few of the vendors opined that the striking hotel workers were using some of their new technology now to get their message out!

Need a wireless controller for your dancers to wear on stage? Max/MSP has got one that will change the lighting and music with an array of motions. I could just see the Margaret Jenkins dancers swaying and spinning, triggering audio, video and lighting with their bodies. Cirque du Soleil and others are now beginning to use this kind technology even as we speak.

Tony Shepperd, a recording engineer up from Los Angeles, had just finished a recent Whitney Houston project, and couldn’t wait to see the latest in audio recording gear. “Man, I’ve been here for four hours and I haven’t seen one tenth of what’s here”. These days you can make music by simply cutting and pasting samples from a library of incredible sounds. Cakewalk, Pro Tools, Apple’s Logic Audio and a host of others will do it for you too. Click another button and it will print out a score for you, complete with notation, allegro! Virtual tracks, MIDI tracks, Loop tracks, you name it, you got it.

Level Control Systems, an audio company from Sierra Madre, specializes in matrix sound systems, and have installations in London, Paris, Universal Ampitheater and the Hollywood Bowl. Their systems place speakers in strategic areas around a room or venue, enabling sounds to circle around you, above you and next to you. all from a laptop! Ingenious stuff.

The amount of information here is truly staggering, and impossible for me to take it all in a day. There are lectures, panelists, demonstrations and tutorials galore. A few local non-profits, like the Women’s Audio Mission, across the aisle from Bob Moog’s latest synthesizer add to the strange and wonderful juxtaposition of grassroots audio engineering and high priced gear.

One vendor who went by the name of “Mr. McPantsdown”, cynically lamented that the AES is often seen as the “Uninformed selling the unavailable to the insolvent”. He may have a point. Who could afford all of this new stuff? The advent of all of the new recording software, and the brave new world of the MP3s, have put a major dent in the recording industry market. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of these vendors will be filling chapter 11 a year from now, or if the next “iPod” will spring from this crowd? Time will tell.

E. “Doc” Smith is a musician and recording engineer who has worked with the likes of Brian Eno, Madonna, Warren Zevon, Mickey Hart, Jimmy Cliff, and John Mayall among others. He is also the inventor of the musical instrument, the Drummstick. He can be reached at

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