Faculty Spotlight: Benjamin Kanters
April 3, 2012
By Sean McEntee (’14)
Benjamin Kanters, associate chair and professor in the Audio Arts and Acoustics department, said we take better care of our feet than our ears.
Kanters explained that people are subjecting their ears to damage without even realizing it: Sporting events, loud music, snowmobiles, and jetskis are all examples of noise that can impair hearing. He said it’s his job to help people understand how to protect their ears because people just aren't sensitized to it.
Teaching hearing to audio students and engineers and musicians has been Kanters' focus for the past 10 years. In the same way that photographers and painters use their eyes to comprehend color and composition, those involved in the audio industry rely on their ears as their main tool, he said.
“Musicians and audio engineers don’t think about the fact that they are risking their livelihood because they are damaging their hearing, so then they’re ready to be taught,” Kanters said.
He teaches a course titled Studies in Hearing, or hearing physiology, that is required for all Audio Arts and Acoustics majors. The physiology course is combined with courses in psychoacoustics and cognition, and Kanters said Columbia’s audio department is the only one that teaches this material as part of the core curriculum.
Kanters said it only makes sense for students to understand how hearing and the ear function if they are going to pursue careers in the audio field.
“For me personally, the coolest thing is that kids who come in to be recording engineers end up going on to graduate school to become audiologists and study audiology,” he said.
Kanters’ work in the classroom with Columbia students inspired HearTomorrow, a workshop Kanters presents all over the country.
He said the idea came to him back in 2007 when he was in a meeting focused on hearing conservation and realized he could take his course and create a two-hour seminar. The original concept of the seminar was similar to the course—using the terminology and language of audio and music to teach hearing to audio and music people.
However, Kanters said he discovered he was being invited to do just the opposite: use the language of hearing to teach audio to hearing professionals.
“I was talking hearing in a whole new way that got them interested in what I was doing and got them reconnected to what they were doing,” he said. “People were coming up to me and saying, ‘This is changing the way I approach my patients.’”
Kanters said he became aware of the necessity for hearing conservation after spending years in the audio and music industry.
For 10 years, Kanters co-owned and operated Evanston's Studiomedia, which handled everything from recording and producing music to commercials to audio publishing. In the ’70s, he ran a club named Amazingrace for six years, which featured live music that Kanters described as “folka-jazz.”
While operating the studio in Evanston, Kanters also taught as an adjunct faculty member at Northwestern University and began to make the transition out of studio life due to a growing family.
He became a full-time faculty member at Columbia in 1999.
In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Kanters directs the audio design and production program and is the acting director of the audio for visual media concentration.