Please tell us about yourself
The next time you croon along with your favourite band and marvel at the sonic experience in some of the country’s best live music and clubbing venues, tip your hat to the guru of acoustics, Andy Munro and his team, spearheaded in India by audio and acoustic consultant Kapil Thirwani.
From designing acoustics for private studios for some of the best musicians and celebrities globally — think U2, Sting, Coldplay, AR Rahman, Salim- Sulaiman, Kailash Kher, and Farhan Akhtar (for his preview theatre Light Box) — to handling upcoming mega projects like a state-of-the-art multichannel environment for the Dolby Digital headquarters in Mumbai, Playboy nightclubs in Hyderabad and Mumbai, Blue Frog Pune and Hyderabad, and more — they are doing it all.
“I’m handling 15 to 20 projects right now. Outside India, there’s the Ali Zafar Studio in Lahore and a music studio in Los Angeles,” says 34-yearold Kapil, who juggles acoustic designing in international projects along with the entire operations in India.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
Kapil says audio was always part of his agenda. “My father sold audio systems for three decades and it started as a business with my grandpa who was active in Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai. I was very good in school and had the usual aspirations of becoming an engineer, accountant or doctor. A lot of things happened as I stepped into electronic engineering. I even became a DJ, though not a very good one, and wore yellow pants.”
That’s when he decided to take stock of his future. “I decided to study acoustics in the University of Salford in Manchester and became the first Indian to graduate from the niche college. What encouraged me was a project during the study where I designed a crewguard headset acoustically for a company which got selected by the Ministry of Defence.”
Coming back to India for work, however, proved to be a different ball game altogether. No one, not even audio stalwarts like Bose, wanted to hire an acoustician. “Sales, not Research & Development, was priority,” says Kapil, who moved back to the UK and shortly after, was handpicked by Andy. “Andy is a class apart. I’m always learning something from him,” says Kapil.
“Though I specialised in acoustics, people thought I was a DJ so I went back to the UK and worked under Andy Munroe for BBC, and other studios,” says Kapil. His leap into an acoustics design career began there. “However, a lot of the design projects, especially the ones in India, needed to be done on the spot. So we started an office in the country that has gone up in leaps and bounds with loads of projects here and in Pakistan.”
So how is designing a club different from designing a private studio?
“Acoustics is primarily about space and the client’s requirements. So when I’m doing AR Rahman’s studio, it’s in an apartment. The main challenge there is isolation, so the music does not reach his neighbours.
For Kailash Kher, it was the ground floor of a bungalow. So it involved completely different logistics. I also had to consider the different range of music the artistes practise. On the other hand, a club has to reproduce quality music for 500 people.
It involves a lot of architectural challenges for the acoustics,” he says. Andy adds: “Good acoustics is often described as letting sound breathe. This is the ability of a room to reflect energy so that it blends with the source to create an ensemble. A commercial project does not require as intensive designing as a private studio, but there are elements that must be considered with the same, analytical approach.
A studio might need 70dB of isolation, whereas a meeting room in a bank might expect 50dB. That means one is 100 times better than the other!” Munro Acoustics’s celeb clients, of course, have faith in the quality of their work. Says Bollywood music composer Salim Merchant, “I’d played in Mumbai’s Galactica Studio (designed by Munro) many years ago and was absolutely amazed at the quality of the sound.
It made me realise the importance of acoustics. I met Andy 15 years ago. We had a meal together and he liked my music. He built my studio in Juhu at a huge discount.
I still look forward to the sonic experience of the music I create in that studio.” And Andy’s advice to budding acousticians? “Get as wide an education as possible in both engineering subjects and sound technology. Architects train for six years and acoustics is the same in terms of skills required. Above all, be patient and take advice from those who have real project experience,” he signs off.
Can you tell us about the basics of acoustic designing?
Acoustics is the interface between sound and buildings, performers and audience. If a building needs to perform functions involving communicating speech with a high degree of intelligibility and comfort, acoustics should be part of the design process.
Specs differ for a private music studio to that of a film mix studio. We get inputs about the kind of equipment going in… and conduct acoustic tests to measure existing isolation. After the client and local authorities accept the plans, we make construction drawings and specifications. At certain stages, we conduct isolation tests to check the performance of the evolving structure. Calibrated testing is the best way to verify performance.
The recording studio is a controlled environment, where music is created and captured in an intensive process that pushes acoustic design to the limit. In one room, an engineer is listening to anything up to 100 tracks and mixing them into a single form that is both faultless in terms of clicks, hums or distortion. The room must be silent, and at the same time, cool and ventilated.
The low frequency resonances that exist in all rooms must be tamed and balanced, so that sound can translate to the outside world. Meanwhile, a rock band might be playing at 120dB in the next room and, yet, must remain unheard.
What is the scope for acoustics design?
Kapil loves what he’s doing. “It’s a mix of destiny and hard work. Career is something you can’t take lightly. After the hard work, the perks of the job is meeting the coolest guys in the industry.”
There is a lot of scope, assures Kapil. “Though it’s become easier to do, I’d rather have people go through what I went through because I feel the journey is important. A lot of people have the background today, but it’s the experience that counts. Personally, I have to thank my stars to be able to say that at the age of 34, I’ve had an awesome journey and worked with Mark Knofler, U2, Coldplay and Indian bigwigs.”
Is there a need for courses like the ones he did? If there is a demand then yes, says Kapil. “There is a need to understand it first. Everyone knows what good sound is. Today is the mp3 generation. But people need to know music is not about raving through the subwoofer. It’s the silence between sounds. Venues like the ones I work on will help them understand this concept since spreading music in its purest form is important.”
Looking ahead, Kapil aspires to share his knowledge with musicians and aspiring designers.
“We live in a noisy world and there is a need for inner peace, especially if you are writing music. Helping people get good spaces to create music is where I can impart my knowledge. Let’s do something meaningful together.”