Ten Years of Automatic Mixing

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Automatic microphone mixers have been around since 1975. These are devices that lower the levels of microphones that are not in use, thus reducing background noise and preventing acoustic feedback. They’re great for things like conference settings, where there may be many microphones but only a few speakers should be heard at any time.

Over the next three decades, various designs appeared, but it didn’t really grow much from Dan Dugan’s original Dan Dugan’s original concept.

Enter Enrique Perez Gonzalez, a PhD student researcher and experienced sound engineer. On September 11th, 2007, exactly ten years ago from the publication of this blog post, he presented a paper “Automatic Mixing: Live Downmixing Stereo Panner.” With this work, he showed that it may be possible to automate not just fader levels in speech applications, but other tasks and for other applications. Over the course of his PhD research, he proposed methods for autonomous operation of many aspects of the music mixing process; stereo positioning, equalisation, time alignment, polarity correction, feedback prevention, selective masking minimization, etc. He also laid out a framework for further automatic mixing systems.

Enrique established a new field of research, and its been growing ever since. People have used machine learning techniques for automatic mixing, applied auditory neuroscience to the problem, and explored where the boundaries lie between the creative and technical aspects of mixing. Commercial products have arisen based on the concept. And yet all this is still only scratching the surface.

I had the privilege to supervise Enrique and have many anecdotes from that time. I remember Enrique and I going to a talk that Dan Dugan gave at an AES convention panel session and one of us asked Dan about automating other aspects of the mix besides mic levels. He had a puzzled look and basically said that he’d never considered it. It was also interesting to see the hostile reactions from some (but certainly not all) practitioners, which brings up lots of interesting questions about disruptive innovations and the threat of automation.

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Next week, Salford University will host the 3rd Workshop on Intelligent Music Production, which also builds on this early research. There, Brecht De Man will present the paper ‘Ten Years of Automatic Mixing’, describing the evolution of the field, the approaches taken, the gaps in our knowledge and what appears to be the most exciting new research directions. Enrique, who is now CTO of Solid State Logic, will also be a panellist at the Workshop.

Here’s a video of one of the early Automatic Mixing demonstrators.

And here’s a list of all the early Automatic Mixing papers.

  • E. Perez Gonzalez and J. D. Reiss, A real-time semi-autonomous audio panning system for music mixing, EURASIP Journal on Advances in Signal Processing, v2010, Article ID 436895, p. 1-10, 2010.
  • Perez-Gonzalez, E. and Reiss, J. D. (2011) Automatic Mixing, in DAFX: Digital Audio Effects, Second Edition (ed U. Zölzer), John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, Chichester, UK. doi: 10.1002/9781119991298. ch13, p. 523-550.
  • E. Perez Gonzalez and J. D. Reiss, “Automatic equalization of multi-channel audio using cross-adaptive methods”, Proceedings of the 127th AES Convention, New York, October 2009
  • E. Perez Gonzalez, J. D. Reiss “Automatic Gain and Fader Control For Live Mixing”, IEEE Workshop on Applications of Signal Processing to Audio and Acoustics (WASPAA), New Paltz, New York, October 18-21, 2009
  • E. Perez Gonzalez, J. D. Reiss “Determination and correction of individual channel time offsets for signals involved in an audio mixture”, 125th AES Convention, San Francisco, USA, October 2008
  • E. Perez Gonzalez, J. D. Reiss “An automatic maximum gain normalization technique with applications to audio mixing.”, 124th AES Convention, Amsterdam, Netherlands, May 2008
  • E. Perez Gonzalez, J. D. Reiss, “Improved control for selective minimization of masking using interchannel dependency effects”, 11th International Conference on Digital Audio Effects (DAFx), September 2008
  • E. Perez Gonzalez, J. D. Reiss, “Automatic Mixing: Live Downmixing Stereo Panner”, 10th International Conference on Digital Audio Effects (DAFx-07), Bordeaux, France, September 10-15, 2007
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SMC Conference, Espoo, Finland

I have recently returned from the 14th Sound and Music Computing Conference hosted by Aalto University, Espoo, Finland. All 4 days were full of variety and quality, ensuring there was something of interest for all. There was also live performances during an afternoon session and 2 evenings as well as the banquet on Hanasaari, a small island in Espoo. This provided a friendly framework for all the delegates to interact, making or renew connections.
The paper presentations were the main content of the programme with presenters from all over the globe. Papers that stood out for me were Johnty Wang et al – Explorations with Digital Control of MIDI-enabled Pipe Organs where I heard the movement of an unborn child control the audio output of a pipe organ. I became aware of the Championship of Standstill where participants are challenged to standstill while a number of musical pieces are played – The Musical Influence on People’s Micromotion when Standing Still in Groups.
Does Singing a Low-Pitch Tone Make You Look Angrier? well it looked like it in  this interesting presentation! A social media music app was presented in Exploring Social Mobile Music with Tiny Touch-Screen Performances where we can interact with others by layering 5 second clips of sound to create a collaborative mix.
Analysis and synthesis was well represented with a presentation on Virtual Analog Simulation and Extensions of Plate Reverberation by Silvan Willemson et al and The Effectiveness of Two Audiovisual Mappings to Control a Concatenate Synthesiser by Augoustinos Tiros et al. The paper on Virtual Analog Model of the Lockhart Wavefolder explaining a method of modelling West Coast style analogue synthesiser.
Automatic mixing was also represented. Flavio Everard’s paper on Towards an Automated Multitrack Mixing Tool using Answer Set Programming, citing at least 8 papers from the Intelligent Audio Engineering group at C4DM.
In total 65 papers were presented orally or in the poster sessions with sessions on Music performance analysis and rendering, Music information retrieval, Spatial sound and sonification, Computer music languages and software, Analysis, synthesis and modification of sound, Social interaction, Computer-based music analysis and lastly Automatic systems and interactive performance. All papers are available at http://smc2017.aalto.fi/proceedings.html.
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Having been treated to a wide variety of live music, technical papers and meeting colleagues from around the world, it was a added honour to be presented with one of the Best Paper Awards for our paper on Real-Time Physical Model for Synthesis of Sword Sounds. The conference closed with a short presentation from the next host….. SMC2018 – Cyprus!