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Going Strong at 125: AES Convention

This month in San Francisco marked the 125th Audio Engineering Society Convention. Since its founding 61 years ago (AES holds multiple conventions), the convention has grown into the foremost audio industry event.

THIS MONTH IN SAN FRANCISCO MARKED the 125th Audio Engineering Society (AES) Convention. Since its founding 61 years ago (AES holds multiple conventions), the convention has grown into the foremost audio industry event.

Jim Anderson is the Audio Engineering Society's newest president. The award-winner has worked with everyone from the Muppets to Branford Marsalis.

Jim Anderson is the Audio Engineering Society's newest president. The award-winner has worked with everyone from the Muppets to Branford Marsalis.

“You can trace all major milestones in the audio industry to the show,” says Jim Anderson, professor at the Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music at New York University and the incoming president of AES. “But it's also like a reunion, a chance to catch up with people and research what you've read about all year.”

Anderson, whose term began just days after the San Francisco Convention, takes up a mantle that's been held by industry luminaries since the beginning. “AES has always been concerned with upholding quality and pushing the boundaries in both the exhibition and technical presentation portions of each convention,” says Anderson, who has attended the society's conventions since 1977. “Most of the audio technology we take for granted today was presented as a concept paper at a past AES convention.”

In fact, the original AES Convention was conceived as a so-called “paper show,” with the emphasis on researchers and engineers presenting their latest concepts to their peers. Technologies such as parametric equalization (EQ) were first presented at an AES Convention (the 42nd, in 1972, by George Massenburg). Other AES conventions in the 1970s gave the professional AV industry products like Sanken's two-element cardioid condenser microphones in one body, which were also presented as technical papers. Today's gatherings spotlight up to 175 papers.

In recent years, AES has stayed on the cutting edge thanks to shows like the 111th Convention in 2001 that focused on high-resolution digital technology and featured the introduction of Neumann's digital microphone, as well as demonstrations of Super Audio CD. “Think of how digital audio workstations have become more mainstream,” says Anderson. “At an AES Convention, people vote with their feet.”

Over the last 10 years, the show has grown exponentially, even as the video part of the AV industry has received so much attention, a sign, Anderson thinks, that the audio business is still healthy and evolving. “We opened a new learning track on live sound to reflect the health of the music industry.”

And over time, as the show gained notoriety for its industry-changing papers, the few product stalls tucked away in a nearby hotel ballroom grew into larger and larger exhibition booths. (The 125th convention was scheduled to have more than 370 exhibitors.) Suddenly, you had a full-fledge trade show and convention.

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

At this month's convention, AES paid homage to the industry's heritage. In July, AES debuted its Oral History Project, a DVD collection of one-one-one interviews with audio industry luminaries such as Les Paul and Kees A.S. Immink (“father of the CD”). This month's homage included looks at important technological milestones, including a session titled “Innovations in Live Sound—A Historical Perspective,” chaired by Ted Leamy, chief operating officer of touring and install firm Pro Media | UltraSound in Hercules, Calif. Panelists scheduled to appear included Soundcraft co-founder Graham Blyth and Meyer Sound co-founder John Meyer.

While trends come and go, true shifts in the industry drive technology innovation further and faster, Leamy says. “For example, in 1980, the debut of the Meyer Sound UPA-1 and Meyer Sound's patent for the trapezoidal loudspeaker cabinet moved the industry toward sound systems that truly summed together to work as a large array,” he explains. “It was a seismic shift and the industry hasn't looked back.

“Innovation is driven by demand,” Leamy continues. “Since the beginning, giants of the audio industry have shared information and research at AES. When it comes to pioneers like Meyer and Blyth, don't you want to ask them what they'll invent next?”



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