Sonic Science: Studio Meets Laboratory at Stevens Institute of Technology

Rob Harari is facing a very different kind of student body.

Standing in front of the newly minted music studio at the Stevens Institute of Technology – College of Arts and Letters (CAL) in Hoboken, Harari – the Technical Director of the CAL Music & Technology Program and an Associate Professor there – has an unusually diversified group of pupils to instruct. And these undergrads mark a distinct changing of the guard in audio.

“These freshmen were the first generation born with an iPod in their crib,” Harari says. “For the educators, there’s an intuitiveness to the technology that we haven’t seen before. That means there’s a lot of people who know how things work in the box, but can’t necessarily translate it in the analog domain – the ‘real’ world.

“That’s why it’s so important to make them think. Because if you can’t make the jump, you’ll only go as far as the box lets you.”

There's plenty of headroom at Stevens Institute's new CAL Music Studio.

There’s plenty of headroom at Stevens Institute’s new CAL Music Studio.

An Academic Backdrop

For Harari, the opportunity to guide his charges out of that trap came with the green light to build a new 3,400 sq. ft. music studio within Stevens’ CAL complex.

Part of a 55-acre campus that overlooks the Hudson River with expansive views of Manhattan, the CAL Music Studio was designed specifically with Stevens’ remarkably diversified approach firmly in mind. Founded in 1870, the higher-learning institution today consists of three schools and one college: the Wesley J. Howe School of Technology Management (STM), the Charles V. Schaefer Jr. School of Engineering and Sciences (SES), the School of Systems and Enterprises (SSE) and CAL.

Whether at the undergraduate, graduate or PhD level, the watchwords at Stevens are “multidisciplinary” and “interdisciplinary”. As a result, the Stevens student is immersed in an academic world of which audio is only one part – courses dealing with electricity and magnetism, circuits and systems, thermodynamics, modern physics, technogenesis, and more form their daily core.

“This facility is meant to support the production classes in the music and technology program, as well as provide a research facility for students who want to explore things like soundwave propogation and transducer technology,” Harari says. “So, for example, if there are students in SES who are making an iPhone app with an application for the music industry, they can work the bugs out here.”

Lesson Plan: Audio Quality & Signal Flow

Harari, who had been served as an adjunct professor at Stevens for several years before taking on the full time Technical Director role in 2008, began the buildout of the CAL Music Studio in earnest this January, after Stevens approved the plan to transform a former computer lab into an advanced audio instruction facility.

An expansive, sun-filled space with plenty of windows, the studio has room for up to 24 students. At the front, an SSL Matrix console is at the heart of the activity, complemented by a Yamaha 96v console in a separate learning station to the right. Both boards are linked to Mac towers running Pro Tools HD. On the left, a large live room complete with piano, drums, amps, and space for myriad instruments is separated from the classroom/control space by floor-to-ceiling glass walls, accessible by a sliding door.

Working closely with Shane Koss of Alto Music NYC, and after reaching consensus with the entire Music & Technology faculty, Harari procured a select equipment list that supported his exacting curriculum while staying on budget.

A customized Argosy stand holds the new SSL Matrix, along with outboard such as an Empirical Labs Distressor, Chameleon Labs 7802 Stereo Opto Compressor, Focusrite Isa828 8-channel mic pre, and MOTU Midi Express XT USB MIDI interface. A Universal Audio UAD2 Quad card is also part of the package. Meanwhile, monitoring comes via Dynaudio BM15A speakers and a Genelec 8020 5.1 surround system, delivering signal garnered from mics by Neumann, Sennheiser, Beyerdynamic, Shure, and AKG.

While a commercial studio’s hardware/software list will reflect the needs and aesthetic sensibilities of the owner and their expected client base, the equipment manifest of an educational studio necessarily has a different spin.

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