Studio Pro-Audio

Interview with Gavan Eckhart

Sat, 31 Aug 2013 10:52

Gavin Eckhart

Gavan Eckhart is one of South Africa’s top Sound Engineers that rules under the radar. He is a virtual expert in almost every area of audio including but not limited to recording, mixing, live sound, post-production, mastering and broadcast audio. Quite simply, he can handle anything you throw at him. Looking at his client list, the mind boggles: Miriam Makeba, Stimela, William Kentridge, Freshlyground, Lucky Dube, Marcus Wyatt and Phillip Miller, to name a few, which gives testament to his output of excellent work and steadfast production ethics.

He’s recorded orchestras, mixed film scores, recorded and mixed a plethora of artists and bands, handled location recording for top local TV shows and toured the world as a live sound engineer, representing the cream of the crop of our local professional community.

Pro-Systems journalist Greg Bester caught up with Gavan at his studio to learn more about him and get his perspective on all things audio. Here’s what he had to say.

Tell me how you got into sound.

I got into sound because it was easier than music, or so I thought. Or rather, playing music as an instrumental skill. I had grown up around music and always sought out to be a musician. I went to music lessons from the age of five and music was always in the family.

Yes, your father is the famous saxophonist Eckie Eckhart, isn’t he?

Yes, he bestowed upon me a great many gifts he got from working at a music shop like harmonicas and drums and recorders. And not just recorders but nice recorders like Yamahas, etc. From recorder it was piano and from piano it was the saxophone. I then tried drums for a while and then tried bass after carrying around drums. I then got a massive bass amp which made me not want to play bass anymore! (laughs).

When did audio come into the equation?

Well one day I happened to walk by a jazz club when my dad was looking for a gig and the owner was in need of a sound engineer. Of course, before that I was throwing rave parties with my friends and since my father owned a PA, I was always roped into being the sound provider for these no budget, teenage jaunts which would include things like procuring electricity from lamp poles at Zoo Lake. Then I learned very quickly about electricity and how it hurts! So I already had a bit of grounding in audio, which prepared me for working at the Bassline in Melville, which was my first real gig.

How did the Bassline help develop your skills?

Well, I got a lot of guidance along the way from some very good teachers, one of whom was Ian Osrin who suggested I bypass the EQ at the Bassline, which I wasn’t allowed to touch being a junior engineer, and which subsequently made the system sound like a real sound system.

So that was your first encounter with Mr Osrin?

It was indeed. That was my first foray into sound as it should be as a basic philosophy. Because we become so involved with the process we often don’t look at the basics and go back to the principles of the fundamentals. Any adjustments you make should be well considered because often the best thing to do is nothing at all as opposed to over complicated smoke and mirrors. I generally try to maintain a neutral profile as a conduit between the material and audience.

Did you study audio at all?

Well while I was working at the Bassline I went further with my audio studies at In House Audio College which had a supplementary effect in that I then started understanding the peripheral, fundamental and theoretical approach to audio. Of course, I had already had a very hands-on experience at the Bassline which pulled it all together. As time went on my position at the Bassline became tenuous and that is where Ian Osrin, who owns a studio, came into the picture again.

What did you learn from Mr Osrin?

Well, Ian is multi-faceted. He does a lot of broadcast recordings, studio work and multi-track live recordings so those are the three main branches of the audio world that I got exposed to, along with some really interesting clients.

Did you find that an easy transition? Did you get more inspired by the studio?

At the time as a budding young engineer I was able to buy myself a PC at great expense along with some software which allowed me to produce music in my bedroom on PC speakers. I initially started recording live performances at the Bassline on a Roland VS880, would dump them into Cubase one at a time and then line them up manually. The point is that I was learning all the time and attempting to achieve certain things without much guidance. I also had friends who were interested in the same thing so that helped.

Tell me about your work with Miriam Makeba.

By the time I started working at the Digital Cupboard I wasn’t completely oblivious to what was going on so it wasn’t long before I had progressed from basic tea boy and tracking guy to a little bit more in control. Often projects would begin with me as tea boy and end with me mastering them and Miriam Makeba’s Reflections album, on which I was only supposed to work on the pre-production, was one of them. That was the first album I really started functioning on and I ended up being nominated for Best Engineer at the SAMAs.

All this time were you still working in live sound?

I think it initially started when I subbed for Dave Seagull because he was unavailable and because I was more available than the other guys I got a chance to do a lot of touring with bands like Stimela and Marcus Wyatt. At the time there were a lot of opportunities in the live music festival scene. There were big festivals happening every weekend so it was quite lucrative to be a studio engineer during the week and then a live engineer on the weekend.