According to Benjamin Franklin, life’s two certainties are death and taxes. In the event production industry, however, networking is quickly becoming a certainty as well. Gone are the days when knowledge of IP networking was reserved exclusively for those who had spent their teenage years organizing LAN parties for gatherings of the neighborhood nerds. (Or was that just me?)
Now, networked control and configuration features are standard fare for digital consoles and system processors, and shows are increasingly leveraging the advantages of networked audio protocols such as Audinate Dante. Tasks such as assigning static IP addresses, configuring routers, and even setting DMX addresses on lighting fixtures (oh, the horror!) have become regular aspects of my day-to-day work.
Audio production no longer happens in a vacuum –I’ve noticed a sharp uptick in the number of events incorporating timecode, OSC, MIDI cues, and deeper integration between audio and other production aspects such as lighting and video. Expanding our knowledge into these other areas can understandably be a bit daunting.
Luckily, there’s a great resource available for those of us looking to brush up our knowledge of networked show systems: John Huntington’s book “Show Networks and Control Systems.”
Huntington is a professor of Entertainment Technology at New York City College of Technology (Citytech), and he’s an accomplished sound system engineer and educator. He published the first iteration of the book in 1994, and in keeping with the pace of production technology, it’s undergone several expansions and revisions to get to its current form.
The scope of the book is nothing short of impressive – it touches on virtually all aspects of modern production technology, from lighting, lasers, video, and stage automation, to fog, pyro, and animatronics.
The underlying fundamentals of show control – cueing, feedback systems, and design principles – are covered before moving on to more technically immediate topics, including all the obligatory acronyms (DMX, ACN, RDM, OSC, MTC, MIDI). The writing is extremely clear and logical, making it easy to follow along to topics that we as audio engineers may have little experience with.
Although the obvious emphasis for sound humans are the chapters covering audio-specific topics and IP networking protocols, I found the remainder of the text so interesting that I read it anyway.
As a child, I was fascinated with the automation and control systems behind the major Disney theme park attractions, and John’s book shows exactly how these feats of engineering are accomplished. (Of particular interest are the case study chapters at the end of the book, which look at representative examples of real-world systems and break them down piece by piece.)
I’m also a firm believer that the more we know about all aspects of production, the better we can work in a modern production environment. If I’m able to have an intelligent conversation with a video tech or a lighting programmer, the production will certainly benefit, as show-critical ideas can be more easily communicated and understood.
Plus, a brush-up of networking principles is always a good idea – each day, more of our gear is networked, and it’s now within our purview to be able to configure and troubleshoot these systems. How well do you really understand subnet masks?
I fully acknowledge that I’m in a small minority who enjoys reading technical books the way my mother reads Agatha Christie novels, so for normal humans, the text is organized in a logical fashion and well-indexed, making it quite simple to locate a description or term if time is of the essence. Got a question on a specific MIDI parameter? Easy to find. In addition, Huntington’s website (controlgeek.net) offers free video lectures to accompany each chapter of the book – an incredible resource on its own.
When considering additions to my technical library, I look for resources that are extremely relevant or will allow me to learn something new and interesting about another aspect of our profession, and “Show Networks and Control Systems” definitely checks both boxes.