New class offers digital music recording experience

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A spaghetti jumble of 24 wires converges in the center of a performance room in Westbrook Music Building, joining microphones to a computerized audio system designed to record every nuance of a musical performance.

Students in a new digital audio recording and production class - first offered through the School of Music in the spring semester - carefully position microphones to capture distinct sounds from 17 musicians in the School of Music's Jazz Ensemble 2. Each instrument is recorded to a separate track so the sounds can be individually manipulated at a later date.

But for one evening in May, it's all about the performance, and capturing it on the hard drive of a loaded Apple computer.

"It's a rather massive undertaking," said Tom Larson, a lecturer in the School of Music who teaches the recording class. "We're going to use all 24 inputs on our mixing console, so we're maxing things out tonight."

Eric Richards, assistant professor of composition and jazz studies, presides over a half-dozen takes of a familiar Nebraska song. But the tune has a twist - a new swing version requested by John Richmond, director of the School of Music. The result is a playful take on "Dear Old Nebraska U" that Richards says is in the spirit of Doc Severinsen's Tonight Show Band.

"It's fun for us to play and I hope for those who hear it, it's kind of fun to hear such a well-loved university tune in a contemporary swing setting," Richards said.

The students of Jazz Ensemble 2 bring the short tune to life, while in the hallway, recording students monitor as the song feeds the system producing a flurry of blinking lights and waveforms.

Pianist Nathan Todhunter says knowing the microphones are live can actually improve his performance.

"In a good way I believe that puts a little pressure on what you play," said the music major from Grand Forks, N.D. "You have to bring your best stuff and you can't slouch off."

Richmond said being able to digitally record music has become an increasingly important skill in the music industry.

"It's to the point that being able to digitally record is an assumed skill set for composers," said Richmond. "This is just one of the ways we work to keep our students as current as possible."

And keeping students abreast of industry trends has helped raise the stature of the School of Music. The school was recently listed as one of the 20 major universities strong in music in the third edition of the Fiske Guide to Getting into the Right College.

Nick Tusa, a music major from Omaha who hopes to one day work in a recording studio, says the new digital recording class has opened his eyes to the equipment and techniques he'll need in the profession.

"This will help great in my career," he said.

The digital audio recording class is part of the College of Fine and Performing Arts' Digital Arts Initiative, a collaborative effort to provide interested students from all majors hands-on experience applying current technology to the arts.

Each of the three education units in the college have hired one faculty member dedicated to the initiative. They are Jeff Thompson in Art and Art History, Steve Kolbe in Theatre and Film, and Damon Lee in Music.

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Watch a video of the recording session at Go behind the scenes of the session at Download a podcast of the song at

- By David Fitzgibbon, University Communications

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