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A new recording facility in the Communication University of China is aiming to give students an insight into surround sound

A new recording facility in the Communication University of China is aiming to give students an insight into surround sound, as Weijing Chen reports

Few audio schools around the world boast a pedigree as distinguished as the recording department of Beijing’s Communication University of China (CUC). Once known as the Beijing Broadcasting Institute and now operated under the guidance of the State Ministry of Education as a part of the Chinese government’s Project 211, the University is so influential among Chinese broadcasters that it has been described as ‘a cradle of China’s radio and television talents’.

Indeed, the importance of the university is hard to overestimate, with course topics as diverse as journalism and communication, radio, film and television arts, information science and technology, literature, engineering, management, law, economics and science. By far the biggest school however is the School Of Cinema and Television (SCT), boasting 161 tutors, among them 33 professors and 39 associate professors. For more than 20 years, the jewel in the School’s crown has been its recording department.

Once part of the Information Engineering School, the recording department was granted its independence in 1995, and now boasts 240 attendees including undergraduate students, graduate students, MFA students and PhD students. Among the subjects taught are signals and systems, electronic techniques, basic acoustics, studio acoustics, the theory of recording equipment, sound system design, the technology of stereo recording, the recording of classical music and more. Meanwhile, its faculty is comprised of some of China’s best recording minds, with over 70 per cent of the teachers holding professorships, associate professorships or Master and PhD degrees. Among the teachers are well known names from the Chinese industry including Dakang Li, Wei Li, Yu Wang, and Yilong Zhang.

But as with any facility boasting a long history, the recording department faces the ongoing challenge of maintaining its technology lest its students lose sight of the cutting edge. In today’s broadcasting industry, that means ensuring that CUC students leave fully skilled in the 7.1 mixing that has become a priority for broadcasters all over the world.

Prior to 2010, the teaching facilities operated by the recording department comprised of two studios – a medium-sized room that was built at the end of 1990s, and a larger studio built in the mid 1980s. However, these two spaces were designed to work in tandem with older technologies, and the CUC quickly decided that they were unsuitable for training students in surround sound production – a new facility was required.

Helping to find a solution was associate professor Jue Wang. ‘We didn’t construct a new building for the new mixing studio. Instead, we transformed an existing, large classroom,’ she explains. ‘We found that the physical condition and noise-elimination characteristics were good for recording within the room. After an investigation by the sound designer and after repeated demonstrations, we finally decided to follow a plan to transform the space.’

The new facility comprises a dubbing room, an equipment room and a substantial mixing area. ‘The mixing room’s total area is about 35 sq-m,’ explains recording department professor Dakang Li, a man regarding on his own account as a leading sound engineer within China. ‘It is a big portion of the whole construction because our main purpose was to build a post- production mixing room that completely meets the industry standard. At the same time it has to take the corresponding responsibility of working as a teaching area.’

Major course teacher Yilong Zhang adds: ‘The recording facilities should be advanced, practical and scalable. Compared to other mixing studios, this one’s biggest difference is that as an education organisation our systems need to have more complicated demonstration and teaching features. These unusual design requirements have been revised and discussed many times during the construction process, and finally have been achieved. The integration of the facilities was been done by Digital Media Technology Co Ltd, and their professionalism during the construction process of the mixing studio has been very satisfying.’

Sitting at the core of the mixing room is a Pro Tools HD system with an Avid C|24 control surface, while 7.1 monitoring is via a combination of Genelec enclosures. Three Genelec 1032A monitors are situated at the front of the room in an L-C-R configuration, while a further four 8020A nearfield monitors are located to the left, right and the rear of the user. Low frequencies are courtesy of a Genelec 7070A sub. Crucially, the L-C-R monitors and the sub are all located behind the room ’s screen, which was selected specifically for its acoustically transparent qualities.

For hardware effects, the department selected a Lexicon PCM96 surround reverb processor, while the room’s Pro Tools system has been loaded with plug-ins including the Sonnox Elite Oxford collection, Machine Control, DigiTranslator conversion software and Neyrinck SoundCode for Dolby Digital.

Visually, the newly constructed display system is formed by two LCD monitors, an LCD television and a video projector, with the dual LCD monitors displaying the Pro Tools interface for the user while the television and projector are used to allow students to watch Pro Tools sessions as they happen. Also included in the design is an Avid Mojo SDI which is used to facilitate the real-time video capture feature of the Pro Tools system. There is no observation window between the mixing room and the recording room, so instead users can achieve real-time image exchange through cameras and monitors, while the system has the ability to exchange images freely between the dual LCD monitors, the LCD television and the projector.

In order to achieve the complicated video switching required for the installation, system engineer Yufei Wang from DMT designed an independent video patchbay. Alongside achieving all of the functionality described above, the patchbay allows the connection of further video facilities, effectively future-proofing the studio’s facilities against new technologies.

According to professor Zhao Song, project leader for the installation, the completed studio has already earned merits from its users. ‘The construction of the mixing studio started in September 2009, and has been open to teachers, students and people who work in audio industry since January 2010,’ he explains. ‘The studio has already received praise from teachers, students and professional audio experts.’ The finished install can handle tasks ranging from dubbing and foley work to surround sound post-production for film and television.

The new facility reflects the high profile position of the Communication University of China, and the competitive position that it maintains within its market. Increasing amounts of the University’s graduates are winning awards for their efforts, while some are even ranked among the top 10 recording engineers within China. Every year graduates are deployed for key positions with China Central Television, China National Radio, China Radio International, and regional radio stations and television stations, while others move to top colleges, arts organisations, and record companies. Spurring all of this activity is the work of CUC and its recording department, with its new surround sound facilities allowing its students to lead the industry.


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