Meeting Report: July 2020 – Ric Curtin

The Melbourne Section conducted an online meeting under the current lockdown conditions on Monday July 20th using the Zoom platform.
Our guest speaker was Audio Designer and Post Production Sound Mixer, Ric Curtin who presented to us on his 50 Years of Audio Production.
Chairman Graeme Huon welcomed the 29 attendees and introduced our speaker to present to us on his topic.

Ric Curtin outlines his life in audio production – Screenshot courtesy of Rod Staples

Ric started out with a brief rundown of his early days in Western Australia and the UK. Illustrating his journey with a series of slides, Ric described his starting out as an audio operations trainee with the ABC, before moving to Channel 7 Perth, then off to the UK with the goal of building his skills by being exposed to work at a higher level than Perth offered. Ric told of being thwarted in taking up a BBC job offer due to a lack of Union membership, and how he then advertised in Melody Maker to get his first gig, with chart toppers Blackfoot Sue to tour operating their newly acquired remote-mixing PA system (a new development at that time, with the Who being the only other band using the technique).

Following one of their live shows Ric met Gary Lyons of SARM Studios, one of the pre-eminent UK studios at the time. Gary offered him a fill-in gig for a Tape Op who was going on a course. With the band due to take a fortnight break, Ric was able to take up the offer, which ultimately resulted in the offer of a full time job. During his time at SARM, Ric had the opportunity to work on the mixing of Queen’s “A Night at the Opera” album, including on the iconic song “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

Ric then recounted returning to Perth for personal reasons, and picking up his broadcast production career at Radio 6KY. Quite a contrast moving from SARM, mixing Queen to Perth radio! Ric then told of moving east not much later, settling finally at EMI Studios 301, where he worked with the band Dragon on their album “O Zambezi”, which included the hit song, “Are You Old Enough?”. He told of the range of artists and bands he worked with at 301, including Slim Dusty and Anne Kirkpatrick, including their live album at the Sydney Opera House.
Ric then outlined his return to Perth, working in the studio with groups like Eurogliders and The Dugites, moving on to Soundwest where he had the opportunity to work with Kevin Peek (Sky), who introduced him to the DX7 synthesizer and its then-new MIDI interface, which he had to interconnect with Soundwest’s gear. The facility then moved up to the Australian Fairlight synthesizer, being one of the earliest adopters of this revolutionary instrument. He mentioned their becoming an early beta-test site for the device.

Ric then described the recording of a synthesized version of The Planets suite, where Rick Wakeman came over to play on the production. He also described Sky coming over to record their The Great Balloon Race” album at Soundwest. He also covered the establishment of Roleystone Studio with Kevin Peek, where they also diversified into advertising work. Ric outlined the challenges of working with clients in Singapore, leading to the establishment of a studio in Singapore. Then Hark Marvin (The Shadows), who was now based in Perth, had Ric build him a studio. Hank’s touring commitments meant Ric was able to hire the studio for long periods for his own projects. As Hank’s touring commitments tapered off and he started to work on a studio album, he was unable to access his own studio because of Ric’s commitments, and had to hire another Perth studio. This was obviously not sustainable, so the inevitable “lunch” occurred, and Ric found himself looking for new premises for his projects. He was lucky enough to find a new home at Double G video studios where he was able to set up a pair of sound studios to complement their video work – equipping them with dsp Postation, a revolutionary Australian audio editing system designed for audio post production. In 2004, with dsp no linger in existence, Ric made the decision to upgrade to Merging Technologies’ Pyramix workstation. He explained that he choose Pyramix over ProTools because of its superior capabilities for video-post at that time, as well as its much better headroom.

Ric explained that his increasing amount of long-form work was tying up studio space clashing with Double G’s short-form commercial work where access to a studio was needed at a moment’s notice. In 2007 this led to Ric establishing his own facility, where he still now works.
Ric then took us on a short virtual tour of his facility, showing his setup, describing the Tango control surface he uses, built by Joey Narai, the designer responsible for the original Postation (http://josephnarai.com/about-me/). He also described his monitoring setup which has essentially two separate 5.1 systems – one configuration for cinema mixes and the other for video mixes.

Following the virtual tour, Ric played us a short segment from a recent feature film he worked on, “100% Wolf” and then shared his Pyramix screen, demonstrating the track layout, and work practices like the use of clip gain to exactly match dialogue elements. He also described the Foley aspects, citing the excellent work of the Foley artist John Simpson (https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0801060/).

Pyramix – Example track layout – Screenshot courtesy Rod Staples

Throughout the presentation the audience was able to submit questions via Zoom’s Chat function, and at the end of Ric’s presentation Graeme moderated a wide-ranging question and answer session.
It covered Dolby Atmos, the use of clip gain, auditioning mixes in actual cinemas and cinema lineup challenges, his use of plugins (where he cited Izotope Rx as his primary one for cleanup work, with Flux Evo Channel and Waves LoAir as also being useful).
Following the formal session several participants stayed online for an informal conversation where several other topics were canvassed such as location sound, ProTools/Pryamix project and file interchange, and dialogue mixing.

We thank Ric for his most informative and entertaining presentation.

An edited version of the Zoom video recording is below, minus some third-party copyright material. (Duration 1hr14min)



This video can also be viewed on our YouTube channel at:
https://youtu.be/ppVnidu9zbk

Links:
Ric Curtin: https://riccurtin.com/
Merging Technologies Pyramix: https://www.merging.com/products/pyramix
100% Wolf animated feature: https://www.studio100film.com/en/films/100-wolf/
(Available to rent or buy via Apple iTunes Movies, Google Play Movies and other streaming On Demand services)

Plugins mentioned:
Izotope Rx – https://www.izotope.com/en/products/rx.html
Evo Channel Strip – https://www.flux.audio/project/evo-channel/
Waves LoAir subharmonic generator – https://www.waves.com/plugins/loair

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