Graham John Thirkell, Audio Pioneer. 1937 – 2010 (4)


Graham’s interest in acoustics had been wakened in the seventies, when he was involved in the construction and fitout of Bill Armstrong’s new Bank Street studios. Peter Brown was the studio architect, and with acoustics for music recording studios being such a fledgling and arcane discipline, Peter was having to “invent” solutions on-the-fly. Soon they were brainstorming issues and solutions.

This relatively unknown field fascinated Graham, who started actively researching variable acoustic solutions. Peter Brown commented that ”once GT got interested in something, that was it – he was like a dog with a bone”.

Graham pioneered the use of Time Delay Spectrometry – being the first in the country to employ a TEF™  Anaylser (Time-Energy-Frequency) for acoustic analysis and diagnostics.

He also championed the use of the quadratic residue (Schroeder™) diffuser.

Peter recalls that Graham did all the work for their signature Schroeder diffusers, and that he even developed a computer program for their design.

He also introduced Tube Traps to Australia, and for a period manufactured both Schroeder Diffusers and Tube Traps under licence in this country.

Graham became involved with the acoustic designs of Armstrongs’ later expansions and renovations, even collaborating with Kent Duncan on the Westlake enhancements to the Armstrong studios.

By the mid-seventies Graham was collaborating with Peter Brown on a range of other projects involving broadcast and major music studios.

Peter Brown recalls that they decided in the mid-80’s that they should do a world tour together to check out studios around the world to see how their work compared – and came back understanding that their work was in advance of anything they’d seen. Working in isolation in Australia they had come up with superior solutions to acoustic challenges, compared to the rest of the world.

In the late seventies Optronics was bought out by the David Syme company, the publishers of the Age newspaper and new owners of Bill Armstrong Studios.

At this time Optronics had sold the rights to the tape recorder design to IEM in the US, and Graham spent quite a bit of time over there involved in the technology transfer.

Before travelling, Graham and Katherine set up a computer store, The Byte Shop, selling IMSAI and other S100 bus computers and peripherals; which Katherine ran in his absence.

This highlights Graham’s fascination with computers, a trait that carried over to his son Gerrard, who began programming the computers from an early age. Gerrard’s software development skills would later became critical to the operation as the later Sontron/Editron products had such a significant software component.

The Editron came “into the mix” of Graham’s achievements in 1979, when renowned film mixer Roger Savage was mixing the first Mad Max film using multi-track tape and a rudimentary Ecco synchronizer. He enlisted Graham’s help in getting it all working effectively, but in typical style Graham immediately saw how it could be all done better.

As an aside, with this film Roger is widely credited with mixing the first major-release motion picture wholly on multi-track tape anywhere in the world – it was mixed at Armstrongs Studios in Melbourne, Australia.

With this experience, Graham refined his Editron design, which up to that point had been a simple device for synchronizing multiple videotape machines.

Using Roger’s input he turned it into an extraordinarily flexible multi-device synchronizer supporting all manner of audiotape, videotape, and sprocketed film devices. The key improvement on existing devices was syncing an audio machine using varispeed.

Roger recalls spending many hours with Graham, and his son Gerrard who was doing the software development, fine-tuning the Editron design, with Murray Robinson and Peter Cherny.

Before long Editrons were to be found in every local film mixing theatre. The Editron synchronizers were also exported, with several units sold to studios in the US.

Although it’s 1980’s technology, they are still highly regarded and in use in some facilities to this day.

In the late eighties, Graham suffered a major health setback, which required a long period of convalescence and rehabilitation.

It was a tribute to Graham’s resilience and mental strength that he recovered as well as he did.

After this experience Graham concentrated on acoustics work, establishing Acoustisearch to provide acoustic design services.

He continued to collaborate with Peter Brown on many studio acoustic designs.

Peter recalls that he and Graham had worked together on 100 to 150 rooms together – and Peter acknowledges that all of his later solo work was affected by Graham. Graham was the main driver at the development stage of the principles and techniques Peter Brown is still using to this day.

Graham, and Acoustisearch also became involved in several theatre and performance space projects.

He designed and built event-triggered digital sound stores and digitally controlled amplifiers for the Australian Bicentennial “First State 88” display at Darling Harbour in Sydney – and a special purpose film theatre in the display for John Wiley. He followed this up with several other projects with John Wiley culminating in the DTS Audio equipped Edge Theatre at Katoomba. This was the first large format (70mm) theatre in the world to use DTS audio, leading to the formation of the large format division of DTS.

Around the same time he built the digital playback equipment for The Stockmans Hall of Fame at Longreach.

His association with Tom Holman had seen him travel to the US and undergo the THX Certification Training allowing him to design and certify all aspects of the THX Theatre Audio Program.

In 2002 he carried out the THX design and certification for the ACMI Theatres at Federation Square. The ACMI Cinema was the only multi-format cinema, including large format, in the Southern Hemisphere at that time.

Graham designed, specified, and tested the acoustics and electronic facilities for the cinemas. The multi-format and multi-use nature of these cinemas made this a particularly challenging project.

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Links to other pages:

GT’s Clippings’Photos’n’Stuff    

The Rola Days 1 – Graham’s photos.    The Rola Days 2 – The Magnetic Drum products.