In addition to the two full-size symphony orchestras and a chamber orchestra, AYO National Music Camp also includes four non-instrumental programs which explore various corners of the music industry.
Flautist Ella Kay-Butterworth was a participant in the Sound Production course at camp this year. Sound Production is certainly a specialised field, but participants in this course come from a wide range of backgrounds – you certainly don’t have to be a freelance sound engineer or someone with albums of existing editing work to apply!
We sat down with Ella to find out more about her experience of the course, as someone who came to sound production from a classical performance background.
How did you hear about the Sound Production course and why did you decide to apply? Can you tell us a bit about your musical background and how you came to be interested in sound production.
I’m a classically trained flautist, currently completing my honours year at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, so AYO has always been on my radar of opportunities I wanted to pursue. Growing up taking AMEB exams and playing in many youth orchestras and community orchestras, I got to a point where I was regularly doing live auditions and felt really comfortable with the process, but (as it did with many other aspects of life) COVID-19 came through and turned that reality upside down.
In 2020, I found myself in the first year of my undergrad suddenly faced with the prospect of 12 months of recorded recitals, auditions and virtual lessons. Back then, I was ‘lucky’ enough to be living in Queensland (we didn’t have lockdowns anywhere near the length or severity of what my Melburnian friends can attest to) and studying at the University of Queensland (UQ) with Patrick Nolan, nonetheless I still really struggled with this switch to virtual and recorded musicking.
I loved my lessons with Patrick, but for my first two semesters of uni he would get me to record up to an hour’s worth of playing each week which we would go through together in minute detail– slowing down to 50% speed, analysing all the intricacies of articulation and intonation and technique in order to develop my ears to hear in what he liked to call ‘high definition’. At the time, this was a great way to get around the problem of lag and the terrible audio quality that comes with playing an instrument over Zoom, but I found it so confronting and often felt that half the problems I was hearing was in my own inability to record myself well.
So, when first year was finally over and it came time to pick my subjects for 2021, I decided I wanted to conquer my fears of recording and understand some of the things that were holding me back. I realised that now recorded auditions had forcibly become widespread, they were quickly becoming the preferred mode of presentation for basically all first-round applications and auditions in arts institutions across the world (something which is still very much the case). I had previously disregarded the music technology subjects offered by my uni, thinking they had little relevance to me as a classical musician who was destined to only work in live acoustic environments. After realising the error of my ways, I was lucky enough to study music technology subjects with the amazing artists Madeleine Cocolas and (Dr) Chris Perren.
In late 2021, I also was fortunate enough to be selected as a Performance Fellow by Dots+Loops, Australia’s post-genre music and arts series based in Meanjin, where I got to experiment and collaborate again with Madeleine and also with Expo 88 (aka Luke Cuerel). Recording and music technology seemed soon came to inhabit every part of my practice and working life as I was also employed by the UQ School of Music as an Event Assistant for their weekly livestreamed concerts, which soon led to a job working for Queensland Ballet as a Cultural Services Officer.
In September 2022, I was also involved in a project with UQ based label Corella Recordings to record a series of chamber works for flute ensemble by UQ students Monash Lal and William Elvin (this time as a performer not technician). It was a wonderful full circle moment to be back on the other side and finally have a sound understanding of what was going on around me (excuse the pun).
With all of that under my belt, I wanted to go even further and learn about the process of recording a full symphony orchestra (I had only worked on solo and chamber projects previously), so when it came time to record my audition for AYO in 2022, I saw the Sound Production course and thought why not!
What were some highlights of the camp?
I really loved being able to watch our Australian Digital Concert Hall livestreams. I think livestreamed music has been one of the best things to come out of the pandemic-era because they are such a democratized and engaging way for new and old audiences to connect with classical music. I’m really proud that something I worked on was watched by audiences across the world and especially watched back by the performers who have been able to keep it as a special memory of their achievements during camp.
What were some of the most valuable things you learned over the course of camp?
As we were working underneath the concert hall, Jakub had an ingenious solution to our having a lack of any sightlines, that being a camera (which he built himself by the way). It was very helpful in tracking rehearsals and concerts, and to all musicians out there all I would like to pass on a message from all sound technicians: as Roz from Monster’s Inc put it, ‘I’m watching you Wazowski. Always watching…’
How did your expectations of the camp line up with the reality? Was there anything about the experience that took you by surprise?
It was my first time in Adelaide, and I was not at all prepared for the dry summer heat! I grew up in Singapore and Queensland so humidity was my constant companion, but at the end of the first week we had something like three or four days in a row of 40 degree heat that was coming straight in off the desert! Sitting in front of a control desk and 2 monitors in an unairconditioned room under Elder Hall was not what I would call comfortable under those circumstances, but we got through it.
Another thing that really surprised me was the reality of working in a building as old as Elder Hall. When we rocked up the first day of camp to start our setup, Jakub gleefully informed us that we were going to have to run all our microphones from the stage box through a 50m cable, out the door of the hall, out a window, down the side of the building and back through another window into our control room below. Really makes you appreciate that most modern concert venues are equipped with tie lines!
Jakub Gaudasinski was the tutor leading the Sound Production cohort. What was it like working with Jakub?
Jakub is an incredible mentor and collaborator, and I thoroughly enjoyed our time working together. He’s funny, quick witted and most importantly endlessly knowledgeable! Any question I had Jakub knew the answer, and he could explain it in about 6 different ways ranging from the most basic and workable answer to complex discussions of how physics and chemistry concepts had applications in audio technology. He’s a real model of the type of incredibly dedicated and hardworking person you have to be to work behind the scenes in music in order to make the performers shine on stage.
Do you have any pieces of advice for those considering applying for the Sound Production program?
Do it! Whether you’re a serious instrumentalist like myself or you come to sound production from another background, more knowledge and skills will never be bad for you in your musical journey.
What are you up to at the moment? Let us know where we can follow your musical adventures.
My Instagram is @ella_kay_b which should hopefully soon be full of photos of me in Europe as I am leaving for a short time next month to attend the 3rd International Chamber Orchestra Academy in Phillipsburg, Germany.