While many people groan at the thought of going to work, Chris Morris (BFA ‘07) gets excited at the prospect and can’t wait to get out the door.
“I always say I’ve gotten a full-time job in my hobby,” says Morris. “I’ve always had an odd, odd passion for audio electronics.”
As the technical specialist in the University of Lethbridge’s Music Department, Morris maintains Studio One, the state-of-the-art recording studio on campus with all of its specialized equipment. For most of the year, his skills are invaluable to students in the Digital Audio Arts program but this summer one of his projects is to record the U of L’s 50th anniversary song written by John Wort Hannam.
Even someone who’s not a musician will notice the quality of sound when they enter Studio One. The studio was built so that surfaces aren’t parallel, eliminating the likelihood of standing waves and other sound anomalies. The room is constructed so that sound diffuses throughout the space.
“If you look around, everything is angles and curves,” says Morris.
Studio One features a 48-channel, large format recording console. The studio is equipped for 64 inputs and 64 outputs of analog audio with unlimited tracks in the digital realm. When Wort Hannam and his fellow musicians recently recorded Let It Shine On, Morris set up a dozen microphones for the drums, three for the guitar, three for the bass, and tracked the rhythm section together live.
“These individuals had never played the song together until they walked into this room. John had obviously sent them the demo so they had an idea of what they were going to do,” says Morris. “It all came down to us getting into one room, we listened to the demo again and talked about what we wanted to do. Then we put them in the rooms and let them jam it out for a bit to get a feeling for it and we went from there.”
While the drummer played in the main capture room, the bass player was in another isolation booth and Wort Hannam played guitar and sang in the hallway. These ‘scratch vocals’ won’t be used in the final cut; Wort Hannam will return to the studio to do the final vocals at a later date. Morris and Wort Hannam are also considering adding other instruments, maybe a dobro, slide guitar, piano or accordion. In total, he’ll have about 24 tracks to work with for the whole song. Once the tracks have been laid down, Morris edits each one before he starts the mixing process.
“It’s all about training your ear, that’s probably the most important part of the Digital Audio Arts program,” he says. “This program is tied to our traditional music program where students learn musicianship skills and music theory. It gives them a vocabulary to be able to work with musicians and it trains their ears to know what to listen for.”
At the end of the process, Morris will have a mixed song in a digital file that he’ll send off to Dave Horrocks at Infinite Wave in Calgary for mastering.
“Mastering engineers are supposed to have the golden ears, people who know exactly what they’re listening for. They have high-end, reference quality equipment and the ability to tweak the final product for distribution,” he says.
Although audio electronics was a longtime interest — he took his father’s reel-to-reel apart at age 10 — Morris left his home in Fort McMurray after graduating from high school to study management at the U of L. After one semester, he realized the program was not a good fit and he switched to New Media where he focused on web development and design.
“In New Media, my very first class was a Music 1000 course with Dr. Rolf Boon. He offhandedly mentioned they were going to build a recording studio,” says Morris.
Interest piqued, he asked if he could be involved and Boon signed him up to help with Studio Two, formerly called the Audio Research Lab. His passion for audio electronics once again came to the fore.
After graduating, Morris worked in freelance web design for two years until he was hired at the U of L to help with the startup of the Digital Audio Arts program. When the studio was being built, Morris acted as a liaison between the Music Department, the acoustician and architects.
“I designed the technical end of this room, choosing the equipment and the console, all of our outboard gear, how it works together and is wired together. The architects and acousticians came up with this beautiful space to work with. Ever since then, it’s basically been managing our labs, our studios and everything that goes along with it,” he says.
Morris met his wife, Kelly, who works in the Fine Arts Department, on campus when they were both first-year students at the U of L. He proposed to her on campus and now they work a floor away from each other. They’re definitely a U of L family.
“I love this place,” he says.