Sound at the BBC Television Center (part 4)
We have seven AudioFiles. They are used entirely in the post production areas, in the preparation areas and in the suites themselves, but not in the production studios. We used to move them into production studios from time to time because they are quite good at playing spot effects, but they didnt like the journeys very much - they didnt like being bumped along corridors. One of the features of this building is that in the technical areas, all the corridors have computer flooring which means that you can take the boards up, put new cables down and put them back again. The only problem with computer flooring is that it settles over time into a slightly uneven pattern, and if its not uneven the joins between the panels are enough to shock the wheels of the trolley as you wheel it over. The AudioFiles didnt like the constant wheeling around very much, so we stopped doing that and put them in particular places and left them there. Now we use samplers in the studios to play spot effects.
A SYPHER suite will, like any other post production studio, have a control room where most of the audio work is done and an adjacent studio for voices and live sound effects. All the studios are equipped for Foley effects with gravel trays and various surfaces for walking on. The preparation rooms are where as much of the script checking, selection of effects, early listening and track laying as possible is done before going into the suite, to save time in the expensive areas. One might guess that SYPHER is an acronym for some meaningful phrase and indeed it is. Not altogether as relevant to current techniques as it used to be but at least its less of a mouthful to say than audio post production. In SYPHER, the SY is for SYnchronous and the P is for Post dub. When we began, at a time when the broadcast machines were Quad, the first video machine we had was an early Sony open reel helical scan machine so the H is from Helical and the E and R are for eight track recorder which we used as our standard. If you add that up its SYnchronous Postdub with Helical machine and Eight track Recorder. Although we dont use the one inch video any more we have still retained the eight track recorder, even though we use many more tracks for track laying. We may use AudioFile and twenty-four track machines but because the videotape and sound sections here are separate we have to have a standard interchange medium with them, which is always an eight track audio tape and a U-Matic video cassette.
The console in SYPHER 1 is a Neve 66. In SYPHER 2 there is an older Neve and in 3 and 4 there are SSL 5000s. SYPHER 1 and 2 both have Necam 96 automation. Its a system we like very much and we have it also in our music studio. The programmable routing on the 66 is not a facility thats used very much in the post production area but the other facilities on the desk suit us very well. We still use Necam 96 because thats what we specified for our music studio and what we retrofitted to the Neve in SYPHER 2. Because we already had two systems when it came to SYPHER 1s refurbishment, we specified 96 again because we knew the system and we dont like swinging too many changes on operators because it doesnt actually help them any. So we said, We think Flying Faders is wonderful but will you make us a 96 because thats what we have, and they did and it was wonderful. Im not sure they would do it now, but at that time they had only just discontinued 96. If we were to carry on now I think we would have to change to Flying Faders but thats not a problem for the time being.
Also in SYPHER 1 we have grams and tapes, CD players, DAT machines and an Akai sampler. In SYPHER areas, all tape recorders, quarter-inch, one-inch and twenty-four track are timecoded and synchronisable. You can run anything in the suite to picture, and because of additions we have made to the Akai samplers we can run these locked as well, and of course AudioFile. Most of the synchronisers are now Studer TLS4000s although because of the requirements of NECAM there are some Adams Smith synchronisers as well. Long ago when we began this game there werent any synchronisers around at all and the BBC built its own. We looked at commercial synchronisers when they started coming out from other manufacturers and although they worked, we were still building synchronisers which were significantly faster on our kind of operation, largely because our synchronisers relied on reading timecode while the machine is in spool. Most manufacturers dont even now do that. They tend to give them an address to head for and sniff the timecode from time to time, which if you are doing a rapid roll back and forward, roll back and forward repeatedly, is very slow compared with reading timecode all the time. They did that because they believed that reading timecode while spooling tape would wear the heads very quickly. It doesnt because an air cushion builds up. Some of our own synchronisers still are faster, but most that we have now are commercial ones.