Combining Sound and Engineering at the Capitol: Bill Lowe ’81
Music, Music Alumni | June 09, 2011
Like many music alumni Bill Lowe ′81 pursued a music degree in addition to studying in another area at Colorado State University. With combined degrees in electrical engineering, music and a minor in math, Lowe lived in two academic environments.
“Going back and forth between the two worlds that I lived in is what I remember most about my time at CSU. There was the engineering world and the music world, each a different group of with people who were different from each other in a lot of ways. If the rigor of the engineering side got to be too much, I would hang out with the music majors because they liked to have fun,” says Lowe.
As a euphonium and trombone player in the wind ensemble, pep band and jazz band, Lowe’s journey at CSU began in the music program but changed course after he found himself to be the only music major in what was the engineering dorm at the time- Allison Hall.
After graduating with a B.S. in engineering and a B.A. in music, Lowe moved to California to break into the emerging field of digital audio engineering. Lowe worked with Compusonics, the first company to record audio to a floppy disk, and then DigiDesign, the company that created the first affordable Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) for the Macintosh, revolutionizing the way the music industry created, recorded and edited music.
“Digidesign was the first to have something major and inexpensive in the audio editing business,” says Lowe. “Instead of recording audio on tape, slicing it and piecing the tape back together; audio engineers were now recording audio onto computer hard disks. They really changed the audio engineering industry.”
In 1993, Lowe moved back to Colorado to work for Peak Audio in Boulder. While at Peak Audio, Lowe was a central figure in the conversion of an analog sound system to a digital sound system in the more than two centuries old U.S. Senate Chamber. In 2004, Lowe went back to the Capitol to upgrade the system, designing a combined power and digital data source streaming to and from the microphone and speaker housed under each senator’s desk. Today, his design is used in other buildings around Washington D.C. where committee meetings and hearings are held.
Lowe credits some of his success in the audio engineering and sound reinforcement industry to the music program at CSU, but remembers the music program as an outlet from his busy academic schedule.
“Although you approach sound generation from a very different viewpoint in audio engineering, the most important thing, as with any audio in the final analysis, is how does it sound. I really learned how to listen critically in the music program, and that was a big help when listening to my designs” says Lowe, “but the memory of going to practice to just clear my brain and play remains. The music was a kind of salve, it had healing properties.”