Students enrolled in Northwestern’s Sound Arts and Industries program will have the opportunity to take a new course on the acoustics of sound next quarter. We caught up with the course instructor, Ryan Biziorek, Arup Associate and Acoustics, Audio Visual, Theatre Consulting Leader (Chicago), to talk about his new venture into teaching, what students can expect and his own sound education.
Q: You work for Arup, a global engineering and consulting firm in Chicago. Can you talk a bit about your role there?
A: The aural environment is very subjective. I often compare acoustics to tastes and preferences for food. Some people want to hear the energy of a space, while others desire quiet and privacy from the same space, and some don’t know what they need or want. Our team deciphers these requirements, often reviewing multiple elements (like acoustic measurements, existing spaces, code requirements, subjective feedback, cost, etc.) to determine appropriate requirements and solutions for the project.
We work collaboratively with the design team. Acoustics is an invisible element of a building, but it touches so many elements of the design including the architecture, structure, mechanical, electrical, plumbing and more. Our recommendations are integrated into the design team’s drawings and documentation that get issued to a contractor to build.
Q: You have a BA in Physics, Economics and Mathematics. How did that educational background lead to a career in sound?
A: In my undergraduate program, I was interested in audio recording and production, but unfortunately, my college didn’t offer a course. The chair of the music department promised me he could create a class if I could find three other students to join me. I held up my end of the bargain and so did he.
I spent four years learning about audio recording and production, led by a local recording engineer whose house was his recording studio. He was very good at not only introducing techniques, but mixing his knowledge of the physics of sound with the instrument or technique being applied. This led me to secure two summer internships – one with an architectural acoustic consulting firm and another with Bose Corporation researching loudspeaker performance parameters. While both were great experiences, the former was more rewarding, as it combined people, science and culture to find solutions for the built environment.
Q: You’ve had some experience giving guest lectures. Have you ever taught a course?
A: I really enjoy guest lecturing but have never had the opportunity to teach a full course. I incorporate many visual and experiential tools in my lectures to demonstrate the fundamentals of acoustics and provoke thought and intrigue. Teaching a full course will be a new challenge for me, but I’m excited to tackle it.
Q: How did this opportunity to teach at Northwestern come about?
A: [Founder and Director of the Master of Arts in Sound Arts and Industries program] Jacob Smith contacted me via a mutual acquaintance in the industry. We began discussing how Arup could contribute to the program content. Last fall, we hosted the students in our office to give them an introduction to acoustic consulting and one of our instrumental tools – the Arup SoundLab, a 3D listening environment where you can hear an existing or yet-to-be-realized design. The students enjoyed the experience, and Jacob and I began chatting about how we could expand the content and Arup’s involvement in the program. Teaching a more in-depth course was the next natural step.
Q: What do you hope students walk away with from your acoustics class?
A: I’m hoping they will walk away with an appreciation for the acoustic environment and that they will think with more clarity about how it affects their work from many aspects – selection of equipment for a production, recording location, the environment in which they do post-production and how the final product represents the acoustic environment they recorded in or are trying to emulate.