Interview #3 : Tavius Aiton from Architectural Acoustics

Here is my third video interview with an acoustical consultant in the US ! I would like to thank Tavius Aiton for having accepted to be interviewed ! We talked about a lot of interesting things related to acoustics and that is definitely the interview I am the most proud of so far !

This talk was very interesting because I discovered some differences between Europe and the United States when it comes to acoustics. Mr Aiton talks about his company, his work, his projects and he shares some useful tips at the end of the interview.

Here are the main points we spoke about :

General Presentation

Architectural Acoustics

Tavius Aiton used to be a sales rep in the architecural acoustics. With a double experience in acoustics and in audiovisual, he found that it was a nice mix to work in a field close to audio. After working for Stanford Graduate School of Business in 2011, he was called to take over a former colleague’s position. He finally ended up with creating his own company, now located in California.

Tavius’ job in particular

Tavius is a consultant in acoustics, mainly for audiovisual projects. He works with architects to develop acoustical requirements on specifications. He also works with integrators in A/V and sometimes with users in particular.

Why acoustics ?

Tavius has been into music for a long time. When he was young, he used to record mixtapes for friends. He studied Philosophy at Santa Clara University but he dropped out of school and moved to San Francisco. In the early 2000s, he worked in music and dance in San Francisco. Then, he moved to San Jose and worked for a radio DJ. He also started to work in acoustics with … Edward Basanese at West General Acoustics ! So he loves music and audio since he’s young and working in acoustics was for him the best way to keep in touch with this world.

Relationships

Over the last decade, he has been collecting contacts in the acoustics and audio industry. His database is currently filled with about 2000 contacts ! Every month, he sends a sort of newsletter to all of them with trends or ideas. This way allows him to keep in touch with all the people he used to know and/or to work with.

Not everybody has an acoustics project, but when they know somebody and something comes up, they can recommend.

Referral accounts for most of his projects so it’s important for him to build deep relationships.

His best project so far ?

When he worked at West General, he worked for Apple Computer. Yes, he worked for Apple. Yes, he worked in the same company I would love to work for. They found him in the Yellow Pages. See, nothing is impossible ! The project was to rebuild a hemi-ancheoic chamber prior to the launch of the iPod. When Apple asked him to do it, he said “Sure !” though he couldn’t do it personnaly. But thanks to his contacts, he could make it happen. He worked with specialized contractors and companies. At the end, the chamber looked like a brand new chamber and the results exceeded the engineers expectations. This project built his reputation because nobody before him wanted to achieve this.

Apple anechoic chamber

One of the 17 Apple anechoic chambers that Apple talked about during the antenagate.

Europe, United States and Acoustics

After 20 minutes of interview, I felt that he owes his carreer to his experience while in France, we pay a lot of attention to education. I wanted to have his opinion.

Tavius’ opinion is that in the United States, it’s mainly about selling and profiting. Therefore, everything needs to be done quickly, that goes for construction as well. Especially in California, it’s not about creating a space designed to last a long time. That’s why experience is more important than a degree.

Like Mr McCreery, he agrees on the fact that clients don’t always think about acoustics. And there are too few people educated with acoustics and that know how it works. Many spaces are not designed for good acoustics and users complain once the building is done while problem could have been corrected earlier.

Money being the bottom line, it’s also about recommending something that won’t be taken away because of its price. Acoustics is a particular field because it’s not physical, it’s something that we feel, especially when it’s wrong.

An acoustical consultant in particular

An acoustical consultant is a particular role because you are in touch with very different people. So it’s all about understanding your role in relation to them. What are their needs ? How do you talk to them ?
The second thing is to learn a lot. Tavius said he reviewed lots of reports and that is knowledge in materials helps him to think outside of the box compared to “standard” acousticians. Understanding construction industry and architecture is also a big help.

[It’s] being open to trying things, meeting people and learning things.

Audio acoustics

Most of Tavius’ late work dealt with audio acoustics. Existing audio systems that aren’t working or don’t sound well. The main problem is to know what needs to be done to improve the audio. Tavius’ role is to recommend acoustical treatments and moving or changing speakers within a room.

Some examples of projects related to audio acoustics are for example a project for a film production studio inside of a company that wants to make educational videos to put on YouTube to promote their company.

The main problems in this project are due to a fitness center. There is also a train that comes fairly regularly close to the office. These spaces create a lot of disturbing noise for the video recording. The office had to be isolated from the surrounding environment.

Basically, we had to create a room within a room

These noises are about structure and materials (their density, how do they come together). When a soundwave hits a structure, the whole structure starts to vibrate. Therefore Tavius has to carefully chose materials depending on their density, the distance between them, the air space between them, and the different points of contact.

During the making, he has to pay a lot of attention to the clarity of sound, the speech intelligibility (ie working on the reverberation). The ultimate goal is to seal the room like we would do for maintaining heat so as to control the directions of sound.

At every stage of the process, Tavius has to be sure that his recommendations are followed. Indeed, there are sometimes contractors that think in a different way and want to do it their way, whereas it could jeopardize the project. His role is to find recommendations that fit with the project and that are affordable.

A box in a box

General principal of a “box in a box” construction

Perspectives

His short-term projects

Tavius doesn’t have a lot of short-term projects. During the interview, he only talked about a project for a performing arts center in North California and the project for the video production studio. But they are no other projects that he can speak about right now.

His long-term projects

His long-term project is to create a privatized line of acoustics material for the AV industry specifically. With his combined experience in audio and acoustics, he wants to create solutions boxed for specific applications (eg studios, or theatres) because some people don’t have a strong understanding of acoustics. He aims to answer 3 questions : What can be bought ? How much they need ? Where is it located ?

It’s close but there is a timing factor.

acoustic material

Example of basic acoustic material.

One more thing : Some tips for people like me

  • Focus on the area where you want to go. Some people think they can do everything but they can’t. You have to find precisely what you want to do.
  • Learn as much as you can. Get a degree in mechanical engineering or architectural design. Education is important to get a foot in the door. But if you only think about education, you go through school, and then you get your degree, and it’s like “Now, what do I do ? I’ve got to get a job”. So you need contacts.
  • Know people. Reach out to people in the industry, build contacts, build your name. It allows to have more options.

Because ultimately, that can be your future.

For those who will work in a consulting firm, you will start in the bottom. So get in with the good consulting company, learn as much as you can from them, and build as many contacts as you can. So when the time comes when you cant to do something different, you have contacts and people you know.

Or you can do like myself and some of my friends and you can become independent and do you own thing … which is ultimately the best thing ever. Absolutely the best thing ever.

Bringing integrity to integration

Before interviewing a speaker, I always try to learn about the company. The only way I can do this is reading through the website. What struck me when reading Tavius’ was the catchphrase “Bringing integrity to integration”. I wanted to know more about it.

Most of the companies are selling audio systems without considering the environment. Indeed, these companies are working in audio, but they don’t understand acoustics. So clients are sometimes spending big money but the system doesn’t work well.

This problem is due to a lack of consideration of acoustical design. People are just assuming that what works over here will work over there. But every project needs to be seen as an individual project. Indeed, it may be a similar system, but it’s not the same room or environment. So Tavius’ role is to design systems with the room in mind, which is integrity. The system and the room are meat to work together.

 

One more time, thanks again to Tavius Aiton from Architectural Acoustics ! A new interview is coming ! But that will be for the next post !

Thanks for reading and tell me if you spotted any English mistake =)

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