Cohen Studio staff records Chautauqua from the library basement

Amanda Mainguy | Staff Photographer
Multimedia assistant Steve Rudman edits the footage from lectures and performances in the Cohen Recording Studio, located in the Alfreda J. Irwin Room in the basement of Smith Memorial Library.

Maggie Bonner stands at attention behind the high-definition JVC video camera in the Amphitheater, framing a shot of the podium. Backstage, Jake Walsh tweaks the volume settings on his soundboard as the voice of the morning’s speaker, Cynthia J. Truelove, booms from the speakers above his head. In the muted control room in the basement of the library, Matt Wilson and Steve Rudman finish up the edits on the DVD they’ve made of Patrick Griffin’s lecture from the day before.

Together, these four operate the Cohen Recording Studio that works behind the scenes to deliver the audio and video recordings of Chautauqua Institution’s events.

Established in 2006 with a donation from Wendy and Edward Cohen, the state-of-the-art studio operates as a branch of Chautauqua Institution’s Department of Marketing and Communications to produce audio and video recordings of the services, sermons and lectures occurring every day on the grounds. A typical day’s workload will have the studio producing recordings of the morning worship, morning lecture and the Interfaith Lecture at the Hall of Philosophy, as well as extra events added in throughout the season.

While many Chautauquans know that the bookstore’s gazebo in front of the Amp sells CDs and DVDs of lectures, they may not realize how those recordings come to be.

“Most people think they just show up every day,” said Wilson, manager of the Cohen Studio. “That’s why I want to get the word out. Chautauquans like to see how the sausage gets made, if you know what I mean.”

Amanda Mainguy | Staff Photographer
Jake Walsh keeps tabs on the soundboard in the back of the Amphitheater during programs to be used for recordings sold in the Gazebo outside the Amp.

The studio operates almost solely during the nine-week season, which makes working there the perfect summer job for Fredonia sound recording technology students. Bonner, Rudman and Walsh, the studio’s multimedia assistants, all come from this program, while Wilson — also a graduate of the school — teaches music technology courses at the university.

Bonner graduated from Fredonia with a degree in music performance in percussion, and is currently “loving” her second summer working the Cohen Studio. For students of music and recording, she said, having the opportunity to document world-renowned speakers like Tom Brokaw and Barton Seaver is a dream come true.

“We get a lot of experience in what goes on daily in the studio,” said her colleague, Rudman, a senior double majoring in sound recording and performance music. “We get the business end — like selling the CDs — on a daily basis. Plus, it’s really cool that you get to say you’ve recorded the big-name speakers, too.”

Wilson described the production process he and his assistants carry out every day. Audio is mixed live at the venue during the actual event, and the recording is broken down into track markers by whichever technician is on duty. The recordings are then sent back to the studio to be edited and burned onto CDs that have been custom engraved with a personalized Chautauqua design created by Ray Downey, the Institution’s multimedia manger and production manager at The Chautauquan Daily. The final step is to walk the finished product over to the Amp gazebo for sale.

“Audio-only CDs take us about 40 minutes to turn out,” Wilson said. “DVDs without a presentation that we have to add in take somewhere around two hours to finish.”

The studio is able to take a speaker’s visuals and actually edit them into the video so the viewer gets the entire lecture experience. This means DVDs take a good deal longer to produce than audio recordings. The studio’s videos are also available for viewing on their YouTube channel, CIWebVideos, about a week after the event.

In addition to Institution events, the Cohen Studio can be contacted via email to record or edit personal events like parties and memorial services. Bonner said she once helped a grandfather edit music for a video of his grandson’s bar mitzvah.

Having been with the studio since its inception in 2006, Wilson has seen it mature into the fully operational multimedia facility it is now. At its start, the Cohen Studio’s work was mostly podcasts produced through the President’s Office, in the special projects department. It then moved under the education department’s wing before settling into its current role in marketing.

Wilson also has big plans for the future that he hopes visiting speakers to Chautauqua will take part in.

“I’d really like to begin to explore the possibilities of video podcasting with the lecturers,” he said. “I want to film the video at different spots around the grounds so we can show off some of the beautiful scenery we have here, which beats recording in a dark studio room.”

Not unlike the fairytale elves that help the tired shoemaker, Wilson, Bonner, Rudman and Walsh work their magic behind the curtains and under the library to bring their audience the videos and CDs of Chautauquan goings-on.

This week, Wilson and his crew have been working double time in preparation for the premiere of the inter-arts collaboration Go West! The Cohen Studio’s video of the event is projected to debut sometime after Week Nine this fall.