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American Women's Club of Hamburg

Interview with Andrew Levine, mobile audio/video recordist and owner of blumlein records

by Shelly Schoeneshoefer

Schoeneshoefer: How did you get involved in this line of work?

Levine: If, towards the end of school, you'd have asked me to make a prediction as to what I'd study, I'd have said “music” with an emphasis on either violin or voice. Music has always been very important to me. I also have a strong interest in computers. Therefore, I ended up majoring in computational linguistics-training, where I learned how to develop software to handle natural language and cognitive psychology. After I received my M.A., I drifted into multimedia development–one of the projects being a learner-type identification tool for Deutsche Post and Telekom–and teaching. Then I moved towards video, and finally got into the field of sound recording.

S: What is your family background?

L: My father is from Brooklyn, New York, and studied trumpet and bass at the Juilliard School of Music. My mother is German and my parents met when she moved to the US after she finished her studies in physiotherapy. Shortly after I was born, we moved to Germany where I have lived ever since with the exception of a year abroad in Washington DC.  

S: How did you become interested in doing sound and video?

L: Video came first, originally as part of my work which was lecturing on multimedia development and I also was doing promotional work for Apple computers. I got into editing, and then moved into documentary filming which was based primarily in the field of education. At some point I decided that the sound was not good enough. I like the filmmaker Stu Maschwitz's comment, "The built-in mic on your camcorder is for decoration only. Use an external mic piped into your camera's audio inputs." So I started researching microphones and reading up on stereophonic recording techniques, then I started to record small bands, organs and choirs. The audio work then took off almost on its own. 

With my increasing focus on video in the past two years has come the enjoyment of still photography. Incidentally my father has been an avid photographer since the 1960s and my sister is an ICP (International Center for Photography in NY) trained documentary photographer. So there might be a family disposition.

S: How did you get your business started and what kind of background do you need to have in order to do this kind of work?

After a lot of private studies and experimenting, I finally started charging for my work when I felt I was consistently doing a professional job. It's important to note that recording technique is not carved into stone. I still experiment a lot to improve on my work and gain more insights into sound recording, both technical and aesthetic. This is why I have augmented stereo recording by optionally capturing surround sound, and am investigating ambisonics developed in the 1970s (as a working model as opposed to quadraphonics). I developed my XYtri setup and I generally try to push the envelope and publish or lecture on my findings.

Regarding my background I feel that a highly dedicated musical disposition, accurate analytical hearing ability, technical, especially computer-related, skills and an open, easy-going manner are prerequisites. Study intensely and try to gain lots of practical experience while approaching every recording situation with a fresh mind.

S: What kind of recordings do you work on, and how does the video part tie into it?

L: Over the years I have specialized in high quality, live recordings, mostly of acoustical (classical, jazz and contemporary) but also of amplified (band) music. Using my large selection of high-end microphones, I can track up to 30 channels of synchronous, high resolution audio. I also get hired to produce CDs, many of which came out in my label “blumlein records.” In these cases I can handle or assist in the planning of the session(s) and cover the stages of recording, editing, mixing and mastering all the way up to an online distribution and/or the creation of a premaster for physical replication.

Video made its (re)entrance in 2012. I had produced about one DVD a year, mainly for fun and to keep in shape, but issues with video crews assisting me caused more work than I saved. The possibility of using first one, then more, Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras to create cinematic quality images in low light situations (which describes the issue at many concerts) and the possibility of me handling the lot led to this development.

Meanwhile, I have developed a workflow for setting up the high quality audio to which my clients have become accustomed, then placing two or three cameras to capture several static angles and positioning myself for moving close-ups. While doing that I also watch all other angles and create a live montage of the event, a concert, an oratorio or dedicated recording session. I admit that this creates more work than just capturing the sound only, but I enjoy the extra challenge.

S: What is the most interesting aspect about your work?

L: I love music, listening and watching while it is created, so I am very fortunate to be able to devote all my energy to this endeavor. You can't really call my business “light-weight” since being a one-man show does require a lot of lugging loads of gear, and as a “green” business, I travel only by public transport. Due to the progress in technology, the load becomes lighter while the quality of my work goes up. I am in complete control of many aspects of my recordings while remaining flexible and being affordable for many artists, and I am happy for every new opportunity that comes my way!

S: Can you describe some of the seminars and lectures you have given and where they have been located?

L: Besides occasionally writing for the German Professional Audio Magazin and the British periodical Resolution, I regularly lecture at the bi-annual Tonmeistertagung/ VDT International Conventionto colleagues and audio technology students. This year I held two master classes in mobile audio/video production at Prins Claus Conservatoriumin Groningen, Holland. It is lots of fun to work with young musicians and help to educate them a bit about what the challenges are when recording, and what can be expected of professional help.

S: Thank you. For more information, or to contact, or to work with Andrew Levine go to andrew.levine@blumlein.net (Tonmeister VDT). 

Links:

Mobile audio - http://mobile.blumlein.net/index_gb.html

Mobile video - http://video.blumlein.net/

My small label - http://edition.blumlein.net/index_gb.html

The blog - http://radio.blumlein.net/

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