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The Art Of Sound Engineering – Andrey Borisov Reveals What It Takes To Be A Versatile Professional

Written by: Anna Goryacheva, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

"If you want to achieve a high level of skill, then you should focus on one thing" – a stereotype you often hear from teachers or mentors. Like in many modern media industries, the versatility in music production is considered to be not the best quality for a professional.

A man sitting next to his office table with his computer.

Andrey Borisov is one of Europe's most sought-after sound engineers. His recordings received remarkable reviews from the world's top critics and were nominated for the Recording of The Year by MusicWeb International Magazine. He has worked with acclaimed theater directors such as Robert Wilson, Dmitry Krymov, Robert Lepage, and Grzegorz Jazhina. He combines work as a sound designer in musical and drama theater with classical sound engineering, recording symphony orchestras and chamber ensembles in concert halls. In addition to engineering and sound design, Andrey has composed music for numerous theatrical productions and several movies. He also teaches sound engineering at the Moscow State Institute of Culture.


Today we spoke with Andrey Borisov personally and learned how it is possible to work in different areas of the industry and achieve top heights in each of them.


Andrey, tell us how you got started in sound engineering and music.


The music came first, although I always had a complicated relationship with it. I started studying piano at ten, relatively late by today's standards. And as you understand, I had significantly fewer chances to become a professional performer than my fiveyear-old colleagues. However, it did not last long, and after two years, I dropped music school. A few years later, I wanted to play the piano again, which was serious this time. My parents helped me find a private teacher, and my interest in music has grown daily. I studied regularly, listened to many different recordings, and even began to compose. My passion for sound engineering came later, thanks to my older brother, who was fond of sound recording equipment. At 17, I started my studies at the Moscow State Institute of Culture in the sound engineering department. However, I didn't feel comfortable without formal musical education, so after graduating from the Institute, I continued at the Moscow Conservatory studying composition.


So, after you received your education as a sound engineer, you temporarily left the profession?


On the contrary, after the Institute, I started working as a sound engineer at a theater, being a student at the Conservatory at the same time. After several years of experience in theater music production, I also began participating in theatrical projects as a composer.


Did you work on live shows at the theater and record classical music? How is it possible?


It's a matter of planning. The theater's repertoire is usually known months and years in advance. So while I didn't have theater performances, I would have scheduled recording sessions.


You have a lot of solo piano and chamber music recordings. Have you developed any recording methods of your own over the years?


Oh, sure! First, it's important to mention that in classical sound recording, the choice of microphones and their placement is crucial. If you hear the result that satisfies you at the recording stage, you can assume that most of the work is already done.


When I first started recording piano, like most novice sound engineers, I used the so-called "good old starting points." But over time, after listening to quite a few recordings made at various well-known studios and halls, I created my templates of microphone setups and started using them, combining options. Although I have developed several exemplary configurations for different situations throughout my work, I continue trying new things. Many sound engineers will probably agree that there are no ideal universal solutions – different halls, studios, and recording methods are suitable for different music. In other words, my microphone setup for Chopin's Etudes would be slightly different from what I choose to record Prokofiev's Sonatas with the same grand piano. The sound engineer always makes the final decision on how the recording product will sound. It is a continuous process: searching, paying attention to nuances and details, differences in perception, and experimentation. That's why we call it The Art of Sound Engineering.


Well said! As I understand it, classical sound recording requires musical education from a sound engineer.


Yes, that's right. Sound engineers who work with professional musicians must have serious musical training and experience. I often tell my students about this – when you record music, especially classical music, you should at least be able to follow the score and understand styles, form, and arrangement.


But is it necessary at the theater?


As for the theater – everything is a bit different. You have to be fast and creative there. Since most of the work has to be done on the fly, academic pedantry is not on your side. By the time you decide which of your favorite tube microphones is best for the harpsichord, the scene will most likely already be over, and you will not have time to do critically important work.


Since we moved on to the theater, we know that you have worked with many prominent directors. How difficult is it from a psychological point of view?


This is a fascinating question. It's not always the same. Interaction with directors in cinema and theater often differs from working with musicians. With musicians, you can usually speak the language of music using all available professional terms. Many directors know the musical language but still do communicate using different figurative terms. It's more complicated, and it often comes down to how long you've been with the director and how well you understand each other. With Dmitry Krymov, for example, we had a very successful workflow: he explained what he wanted to get as a result. He said: "I will not interfere with the process, and when you think that I need to pay attention to your work – just tell me that everything is ready." Such an approach is essential for work at the theater – all stages of the work of a sound engineer are constantly exposed to everyone. That is entirely different from studio work, where you can decide when the result should be presented.


How do you generally build communication with musicians or directors? Are there any peculiarities?


I believe it is worth trying to understand the director's tasks regardless of how he describes them. Many novice engineers tend to use technical vocabulary too much without thinking about whether someone understands them or not. As an educator, I believe that this is not the best solution. Ultimately, the final result is vital for the project, and it depends on if all the team members are on the same page. Maybe Pink Floyd created genial things while not having the most friendly relations within the band – but it's better to treat this as an exception and maintain a positive atmosphere and good relations in the team.


So, can and should one be universal in one's profession?


Well, on the one hand, experience gained in one field of activity can make you an outstanding professional in your area. On the other hand, the experience you get from different activities is a broad outlook, which helps to follow the changes in the entire industry. Often, knowledge gained in one area enables you to answer questions from another. Classical sound recording and work in drama theater are still areas of working with sound, which is why they coexist so well. As one of my teachers once said, "It is crucial to find unity and variety balance."


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Anna Goryacheva, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Anna Goryacheva is an award-winning Russian-American pianist, recording artist, educator, and entrepreneur. Being a brilliant soloist and chamber musician, Anna performed recitals in Russia, United States, Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Finland, and Sweden. Her solo and orchestra performances were broadcast on the radio and television worldwide. Anna is the Founder of Elite Piano Institute the top piano school in Los Angeles, California. She has also gained recognition as a renowned pedagogue and has been featured in numerous media outlets for her expertise as a piano coach such as Thrive Global, Kivo Daily, Influencive, America Daily Post, The American Reporter, Voyagela, Disrupt Magazine, to name a few. In 2020 Anna was featured in the Brainz Magazine global list of 500 entrepreneurs, influential leaders, educators, and business owners worldwide recognized for their success, achievements, and unique work.

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