2012 Olympics: Interview with audio consultant Dennis Baxter

With the 2012 Olympics fast approaching, API speaks to audio specialist and freelance consultant to the Olympics Broadcast Services Dennis Baxter, regarding the major audio concerns of one of the world’s biggest sporting events.

Having worked on no fewer than nine Olympic Games to date, Baxter has accumulated a substantial degree of experience and expertise throughout his career. Working alongside counterpart Nuno Duarte, who primarily takes care of signal flow and OB vans, Baxter’s principal responsibilities are concerned with the overall production and quality of the audio.

As a consultant who has worked extensively with both analogue and digital formats, he is quick to extoll the virtues of the digital age as one of the key factors in boosting efficiency when it comes to providing high quality sound at sporting events of such a scale; something Baxter boasts a significant knowledge of, given his experience of the transition from analogue to digital over the past nine Olymics.

“Moving into the digital world has helped in many notable ways. One way in particular is that it has eased the workflow, because it has essentially made the audio person’s job so much simpler. In the old days of analogue, you were always prone to high voltage and electro magnetic interference,” he comments. “The digital world made surround sound possible. You can’t do surround sound on the analogue boards because of the density of the signal.”

With the Olympics Broadcast Services covering the audio aspect of each and every element of the Olympic games, from the opening ceremonies to the vast array of sports and activities being broadcast, Baxter places great emphasis on the importance of capturing the best possible audio live, as opposed to any post-production or sonic tampering following the event.

“We present everything. We present opening ceremonies, to closing ceremonies. Every single sport and every single athlete, we present live. What the rights holders do [BBC] after that is down to their own production.” He adds: “I know the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation essentially present everything live. The BBC does some post-production and NBC notoriously has done a lot of post-production.”

Due to the very nature of the Olympic Games, the task of supplying the very best audio for each and every event is undoubtedly a potentially arduous one. From boxing to football, and from tennis to track and field, the micing and broadcasting requirements for each sporting discipline present a number of diverse challenges in the planning stages. Knowing exactly where to place each mic for optimum audio is just one of the many important components that goes into preparing for an event of such magnitude.

“Broadcasters, producers and directors are selected who are experts at particular sports. We use an international production team. We have about 40 different production teams from about 40 different countries and they are all experts at what they do.” Regarding the complicated nature of such an operation, Baxter explains: “It’s a complex working team of very complex audio people with egos and everything else. But I think we consistently deliver a very high quality product.”

When it comes to discussing the issue of micing and surround sound, Baxter makes no secret of his preference for Audio-Technica products, citing the company’s wide range of products as one of its most valuable assets. He states: “I started working with Audio-Technica back in 1994. The reason being that they had such a varied range of products. In 1996 I used about 20 different varieties. I was introduced to the Boundary microphone, when all I knew before was the PVM. That year at the Olympics I used about 120 of them. They can be placed very close to the athletes and the cameras can’t see them as they have such a low profile. Furthermore, one of the big issues with gymnastics is that the gymnasts compete in bare feet. Yet, they can literally step on the microphone without hurting themselves or damaging the piece of equipment.”

Aside from the microphones’ direct attributes of durability and versatility, Baxter has always been equally impressed with the support offered by Audio-Technica, adding: “As well as the variety of products, it was also the support that drew me to them. If I want to do something new or try something out they support me. When I went from Atlanta in 1996 to Sydney in 2000, I asked for two stereo shotguns, and I got two different stereo shotguns – the long and the short – a stereo boundary, a DSP microphone and a contact microphone. We found interesting sounds and new ways of doing things, which is what it’s all about for me.”

As well as his praise for Audio-Technica, Baxter has also stated his support for Genelec speakers, marking out its DSP processing speakers as particularly noteworthy products. He explained: “I am a very big supporter of Genelec speakers. The main reason being that they have DSP processing speakers, with the intent of trying to compensate for the inadequate feed in the OB van. An OB van is not designed for audio. That is a fact. So I think that they were very clever in coming up with DSP compensating speakers.”

Dennis Baxter will next month begin a series of monthly columns on the countdown to the 2012 Olympic Games.