By Cory Choy
Austin’s SXSW is quite a conference, with pretty much something for everyone. I attended this year for three reasons: I’m co-producer and re-recording mixer on director Musa Syeed’s narrative feature film in competition, A Stray; I’m a member of the New York Post Alliance and was helping out at our trade show booth; and I’m a blogger and correspondent for this here online publication.
Given that my studio, Silver Sound in New York, has been doing a lot of sound for virtual reality recently, and with the mad scramble that every production company, agency and corporation has been in to make virtual reality content, I was pretty darn sure that my first post was going to be about VR (and don’t fear, I will be following up with one soon), but while I was checking out the new 360-degree video camera and rig offerings from Theta360 and 360Heros, and taking a good look at the new Micro Cinema Camera from Blackmagic, I noticed a pretty enthused and sizable crowd at one of the booths. The free Stella Artois beer samples were behind me, so I was pretty excited to go check out what I was sure must be the hip, new virtual reality demonstration, The Martian VR Experience.
To my surprise, the hot demo wasn’t for a new camera rig or stitching software. It was for a chair… sort of. Folks were gathered around a tall table playing with Legos while resting on the Mogo, the latest “leaning seat” offering from inventor Martin Keen’s company, Focal Upright. It’s kind of a mix between a monopod, a swivel stool and an exercise ball chair, and it comes in a neat little portable bag — have chair, will travel! Leaning chairs allow people to comfortably maintain good posture while at their workstations. They also encourage you to work in a position that, unlike most traditional chairs, allows for good blood flow through the legs.
They were raffling off one of those suckers, hence all the people around. I didn’t win, but I did have the opportunity to talk to Keen about his products — a full line of leaning chairs, standing desks and workstations. Keen’s a really nice fellow, and I’m going to follow-up with a more in-depth interview in the future. For now, though, the basics are that Keen’s company, Focal Upright, is one of several companies that have emerged to help folks who spend the majority of their days sitting (i.e. all of us post professionals) figure out a way to bring better posture and health back into their daily routines.
As a sound engineer, and therefore as someone who spends a whole lot of time every day at a console or mixing board, ergonomics is something I’ve had to pay a lot of attention to. So I thought I might share some of my, and my colleagues’, ergonomics experiences, thoughts and solutions.
Standing, Sitting and Posture
We’ve all been hearing about it for a while — sitting for extended periods of time can be bad for you. Sitting with bad posture can be even worse. My buddy and co-worker Luke Allen has been doing design and editing at a standing desk for the last couple of years, and he swears that it’s one of the best work decisions he’s ever made. After the first couple of months though, I noticed that he was complaining that his feet were getting tired and his knees hurt. In the same pickle? Luke solved his problem with a chef’s mat, like this one. Want to move around a little more at the standing desk? Check out the Level from FluidStance, another exhibitor at this year’s SXSW show. Not ready for a standing desk? Maybe try exploring a ball chair or fluid disc from physical therapy equipment manufacturer Isokinetics Inc.
Feel a little silly with that stuff? Instead, try getting up and walking around, or stretching every 20 minutes or so — 30 seconds to a minute should do. When I was getting started in this business, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to apprentice under sound master craftsman Bernie Hajdenberg. I first got to observe him working in the mix, and then after some time, I had the privilege of operating sessions with him. One of the things that struck me was that Bernie usually stood up for the majority of the mixing sessions, and he would pace while discussing changes. When I was operating for him, he had me sit in a seat with no arms that could be raised pretty high. He told me this was very important, and it’s something that I’ve continued throughout my career. And lo and behold, I now realize that part of what Bernie had me do was to make sure that I wasn’t cutting off the circulation in my legs by keeping them extended and a little in front of me. And the chair with no arms helped keep my back straight.
People who use their fingers a lot, whether typing or using a mouse, run the risk of developing a repetitive stress injury. Personally, I had a lot of wrist pain after my first year or so. What to do? First, make sure that your set-up isn’t forcing you to put your hands or wrists in an uncomfortable position. One of the things I did was elevate my mouse pad and keyboard. My buddy Tarcisio, and many others, use a trackball mouse. Try to break up your typing or mouse movements every couple of minutes with frequent, short bursts of finger stretches. After a few weeks of introducing stretching into my routine, my wrist and finger pain was alleviated greatly.
Cory Choy is an audio engineer and co-founder of Silver Sound Studios in New York City. He was recently nominated for an Emmy for “Outstanding Sound Mixing for Live Action” for Born To Explore.