Dreams of a Music Man: Inside the Creative Mind of Ted Jamison-Koenig
Ted Jamison-Koenig didn’t grow up dreaming of graduate school (what kid does really?). Instead, he spent his time with music, and when his senior year at Communications High School in New Jersey rolled around and the time came to make a decision about where to go and what to study, one thought dominated: become a recording engineer at a multi-track studio. Five years later, after finishing his degree in recording arts in the Jacobs School of Music, Ted finds himself here, an MA student in telecommunications, putting together a committee, writing papers, and doing the prerequisite intellectual push-ups in T501. A far cry from throwing faders, placing mics, and checking equipment at Sunset Studios, I sat down with Ted to talk about his background in music, his experiences with recording arts, and why he ultimately decided to leave it behind.
Music has been a part of Ted’s life since he can remember. When he was really young, his first instrument was the family piano. His parents signed him up for lessons, but like many kids, practice just wasn’t a priority. Even though the lessons stopped, Ted’s musical interest still simmered, waiting for the right outlet. In 3rd grade he got his first trumpet. “The first day I brought home my trumpet was really awesome, I didn’t know how to do it, so I asked someone to show me the basics, and I just sat there for hours, and played. It sounded like crap, but I thought I was doing really awesome.” After that it clicked. In 4th grade Ted started playing the baritone euphonium (the solos in Holst’s “Mars: The bringer of War” from his suite “The Planets” are played with a euphonium if you need a sonic reference), and in 5th grade Ted started playing the trombone. Throughout middle school and high school music became Ted’s sport. He earned all state twice, in addition to a long list of honors and awards for his musical acumen.
Brass Quintet for the Ages – Just a Closer Walk With Thee
Ted attended Communications High School in New Jersey, a small, competitive magnet school that that specializes in equipping students with the skills necessary for careers in the media. Despite the lack of a specialized recording arts program, Ted became the token audio guy in a program that focused on film making.
Even outside of formal settings, Ted was finding creative musical outlets. In addition to the trombone and baritone euphonium, Ted played guitar. A fervent metalhead, he formed a band, New Jersey’s Drown the Swim Team, in which he played guitar and performed vocals. Although he admits to conducting an “Axl Rose one man band take over” (writing all the material, doing most of the thinking, and having his band mates execute his vision), Drown the Swim Team was, and to an extent, still is, his baby. While Drown the Swim Team earned a respectable following in the local area, more than anything, the band unlocked Ted’s passion for the recording arts.
School projects, high school band, Drown the Swim Team; the opportunities for recording were growing, and so too was Ted’s stockpile of recording equipment. His first important piece of equipment was a Korg 12 track digital recorder with its own disc drive so Ted could directly export his recordings from the machine. That allowed him to experiment and create. “I sat there, and at the time, I was ignorant, and interested in guitar pedals and processing. It was me sitting there alone in my room for hours and hours a day, with a guitar in my hand, hitting buttons that I didn’t understand, writing things. It was all very intuitive. It was very creative.” Not one to read manuals if he doesn’t have to, Ted learned the basics of compression, EQ, gain structure, and the like through experimentation. In some cases, it yielded something unique. “Even if the way I’m using something isn’t how it is supposed to be used, if it sounds good, or works for me, then I use it.”
Drown The Swim Team – The Guns of August
When it was time to choose schools, his parents warned him that going into recording arts would pigeon-hole him, but he pushed ahead, knowing it was exactly what he wanted to do. He was accepted to Ithaca College’s film school, but opted for Indiana after learning Ithaca didn’t offer a specialization in recording. Moreover, Jacobs is considered one of the best music schools in the world, and Ted wanted to record the best players. “No matter how much people tell you that they won’t care how the piece is played, and will care more about how you recorded it, it always helps to have a good player.” On his first day of his freshmen year, he sat in a class with Konrad Strauss, chair of the Department of Recording Arts, who posed this question: “Why invest in an education in recording arts, when you could use the money you are spending on education to purchase the necessary equipment to start your own studio?” For Ted, the answer was simple. The program allowed him to learn his craft, learn what equipment he should buy if he ever wanted to start his own studio, and it allowed him to play with rare vintage equipment that he would never have been able to use otherwise. Most importantly though, it gave him the chance to figure out if the recording business was really right for him. As he learned later, it wasn’t.
However, while he was in the program, Ted was inundated with projects. Every graduate recital in the musical school is recorded and archived, a responsibility that falls to the recording arts students. He helped record IU operas at the MAC, and worked with local bands looking to record EPs and albums. His best experience in the program was the orchestration of the live stream of American folk icon Todd Rundgren’s Halloween recital in 2010. “I got to sit in the booth and watch it, and order cameras around. The place was packed.” Held in Auer Hall in the music school, the show drew so many people that an overflow room was organized downstairs, where they watched Ted’s livestream. Furthermore, popularity of the stream ended up jamming up the servers. “It was the coolest thing because I knew what I was broadcasting was being watched by a ton of people, it was high pressure. Even if I never get to do anything like that again, I’ll have that experience.”
After four years, Ted decided that a career in the recording arts wasn’t for him. As digital technologies develop and allow individuals like Ted to gain access to top flight recording tools, the demand for big dollar mega studios is drying up. “Big studios are dying. If I have the same stuff that everyone else has, so why would I spend $1800 a day to record in a big studio when I could just do it at home?” As big studios die, so do the dreams of those like Ted hoping to find their name in the album liner notes of the world’s biggest bands. “The thing that I wanted to do is becoming more and more of a pipe dream. Frankly, it’s becoming unattainable by most people.” As the role of the recording engineer shrinks, the money is shifting to electrical engineers and computer programs who build the equipment and design the programs relied upon by recording engineers. As such, to break into the world of recording you need to “be willing to literally clean toilets for 2 years just to get your foot in the door. For every person like me who is unwilling to do that kind of work, there are 200 people willing to wade through the crap just to get a job.” Ted acknowledges that he would be willing to do it if the end result was more rewarding. The head of the studio he interned for was 25 or 26 years old and had been in the business for a few years. Even though he had been elevated to head engineer, he still lived at home, didn’t make enough to have his own place, and he never saw his family. He got home at 3 in the morning, only to have to be back at 9, and as a result, he would often sleep in the studio. The life of a recording engineer is a grueling one, and for Ted, who one days dreams of a family, it is just too much.
Ted Jamison-Koenig – Mantlepiece
Although his dreams of recording superstardom have faded, his memories won’t. He recently compiled a list of 70 songs which remind him of his undergrad days, and every song transports him back to an event or a moment in time. “Music is very connected to memory” Ted tells me. As one who listens to his own recordings more frequently than he would like to admit, Ted will always have a vivid archive of his brief career as an aspiring recording engineer. While he may not ever use his recording skills in a professional environment, his recording career mirrors his life in music. From piano, to baritone euphonium, to trombone, to guitar, and finally recording, musical skills come and go, but the fervent passion for music lingers on.
The Artist and the Academic
Grad student Daphna Yeshua-Katz and her husband Avi are true masters of time management. Daphna is in the second year of her PhD program in the Department of Telecommunications and Avi is a working artist who recently opened a show at the John Waldron Arts Center in Bloomington. For both organizing work and play is extremely important while raising their two young children, Stav and Itamar. Luckily for her, Daphna can easily dispel all common notions of what it means to live with an artist. She says, “Avi is a really social person; he can make friends anywhere. He is actually much nicer than me.” Daphna explains that when she and Avi first started dating in their native Israel, her friends joked that for an artist, Avi is surprisingly normal. Some of Avi’s previous projects include providing artwork for all the rooms at a hotel in Tel Aviv, designing the calendar for logistics company DHL, and creating art for health video games. He is now in the process of designing wine labels for a major winery in Israel.
His current exhibition focuses on the urban landscapes of Bloomington. The creative process for this project involves several stages. He first scouts a location that is visually intriguing. The vistas he chooses are often ones that feature what most would characterize as eyesores, e.g. electric lines and light poles. He then sketches out the line work of these vistas freehand, before going back and scanning them into his computer. Next, he uses Photoshop to color the line works before printing them on canvas. “When I first print them on canvas, it always surprises me. It’s such a big difference as compared to working on a little computer screen. The large scale prints on canvas reveal so many more dimensions.” He leaves the electric lines, fences, and other “eyesores” uncolored or white, so to separate them from the rest of the landscape. Avi explains, “Photoshop is liberating. I have more artistic freedom. I change the colors until the painting reflects something that evokes an emotion while viewing it.” Indeed, two of Avi’s line work sketches did not make it into his current exhibition because the colors weren’t quite right. When asked about the two sketches, he explains that although technically the line work was very good, the colors did not speak to him.
Both Daphna and Avi agree that his artwork has a playfulness inspired by their two kids. They own several ‘Where’s Waldo’ books in Hebrew that get a lot of use. Avi explains, “I began to hide animals in my illustrations to quiz them. Then I found that it added an interesting element for adults who view my art.” Avi names his works after the animals he has hidden in them, such as “The Hawk and The Hog.” Avi observed that once viewers read the title of the work, they began looking for the animal or animals hidden inside. While the piece is dignified by its placement on a wall at a gallery, it has a child-like challenge to it, something Avi describes as art you can play with. “I use it as a tool to get people to stop and take a good long look at the painting. This makes them take part in my game.” The side effect is that the viewers take more interest in other details of his work. While his current work was inspired by the Monroe County Courthouse, Avi’s next inspiration springs from the various broken down cars he has seen in and around Bloomington, often in fields. This inspiration invokes nostalgia, as each car has a history, a story behind it.
As for making the lives of an artist and an academic work? For Daphna, it’s a balancing act. Back in Israel, both her and Avi’s parents helped in watching the kids while they worked. Now, they schedule their work while the kids are in school and organize a shift system on the weekend. Daphna explains, “I’ll work Saturday and Avi will work Sunday or I’ll work mornings and he’s work evenings. We have to schedule the time to work on what each of us do. Also, we are lucky that we can rely on the friends we’ve made in Bloomington.” Before Daphna came to the United States, she remembers reading a blog of an IU grad student who was also a parent. It stressed the importance of being able to work day and night. A self-proclaimed day-worker, Daphna had serious doubts about whether she would be able to do so, but looking back, she wouldn’t change a thing. “Once you find something you are passionate about, you find a way to do it. I am passionate about my research and Avi is passionate about his art. We find a way to make it work.”
Check out some of Avi’s work here. His exhibit runs at the John Waldron Arts Center, 122 South Walnut Street, until November 28th.
Co-sponsored by Gender Studies, Telecommunications, and Journalism, this week’s brown bag featured two scholars whose research interests involve the dimensions of self in regards to makeover television. Katherine Sender is an associate professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. Brenda Weber is an associate professor of Gender Studies and adjunct associate professor of American Studies, Communication and Culture, Cultural Studies, and English at Indiana University. You can listen to the full audio here: Katherine and Brenda
The Reflexive Self: Makeover Television and its Audiences
Katherine Sender talks about her forthcoming book Makeover Television and its Audiences (New York University Press), which is the first to consider the rapid rise of US makeover shows from the perspectives of their viewers. Here she argues that this genre of reality television continues a long history of self-improvement, shaped through contemporary media, technological, and economic contexts. Most people think that reality television viewers are ideological dupes and obliging consumers. Instead, Sender found that they have a much more nuanced and reflexive approach to the shows they watch. Audiences are critical of the instruction, the consumer plugs, and the manipulative editing in the shows. At the same time, they buy into the shows’ imperative to construct a reflexive self: an inner self that can be seen as if from the outside, and must be explored and expressed to others. This book intervenes in debates about both reality television and audience research, offering the concept of the reflexive self to move these debates forward. It concludes by addressing the concept of reflexivity itself, and how we can rethink this to take account of people’s emotional and institutional investments.
Brenda Weber reflects on Sender’s presentation via her recent book Makeover TV: Selfhood, Citizenship, and Celebrity (Duke University Press). Based on her analysis of more than 2,500 hours of makeover TV, Weber argues in this work that the much-desired After-body speaks to and makes legible broader cultural narratives about selfhood, citizenship, celebrity, and Americanness. Although makeovers are directed at both male and female viewers, their gendered logic requires that feminized subjects submit to the controlling expertise wielded by authorities. The genre does not tolerate ambiguity. Conventional (middle-class, white, ethnically anonymous, heterosexual) femininity is the goal of makeovers for women. When subjects are male, makeovers often compensate for perceived challenges to masculine independence by offering men narrative options for resistance or control. Foregoing a binary model of power and subjugation, Weber provides an account of makeover television that is as appreciative as it is critical. She reveals the makeover show as a rich and complicated text that expresses cultural desires and fears through narratives of selfhood.
Nicky Lewis: The Artist and the Academic, Brown Bag
Mike Lang: Dreams of a Music Man