"An army of maggots eating flesh."
The expression on my face is priceless, and my mouth could catch flies. I scrunch my eyebrows and swallow slowly, thinking about the next appropriate thing to say, but I'm rendered speechless. There's a twinkle in his eye and his lips curl into a grin. We both laugh.
David Sluberski has been teaching in the Sound Department of the School of Film and Animation in the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences for 12 years. With 25 years of industry experience under his belt, Sluberski takes sound appreciation to a whole new level. He isn't an audiophile, and he is quick to clarify: He's a sound engineer. He'll also be the first to admit that he "hears things differently than others."
Imagine taping a documentary interview in a Long Island field. Nearby, dozens of sheep are feeding on the crisp grass. The rustling, pulling and chomping fills the space between your subject's words. What do you hear? Potential. "Take 50 sheep eating grass, add a little manipulation, and you have an army of maggots eating flesh," stated Sluberski. That's how he deals with sound.
Sluberski's approach is unconventional, but it forces his students to think out of the box. When your professor walks into the room and says, "Okay, folks. We've got two hours. Let's make the sound of a four-foot zit exploding," creativity is the only option, and exploration is the only process. This is a concept that Sluberski has nailed down with practice.
"My mom got us [Sluberski and his two siblings] a little tape recorder to play with when we were kids," Sluberski recalled. "We would take apart TV sets, grab speakers and wires, and try to make little sound systems. We'd record our voices, record sounds, and just manipulate them and have a blast." That was the beginning of Sluberski's passion for sound, but what really sealed the deal was music.
While your prepubescent years may have involved spending time watching television and playing video games, a young Sluberski was mastering the trumpet. By 13, he was playing in polka bands and making money in Buffalo. Limited opportunities in the genre found Sluberski trading in his brass aerophone for the electric bass, which he remembers fondly. "I bought my first bass guitar off of a buddy for 15 bucks. No name. Just 15 bucks," recalled Sluberski before quickly pointing out that the same friend had just contacted him via Facebook about an upcoming high school reunion.
That 15-dollar purchase not only served as a significant road marker on his fated path, but it was also his golden ticket. Sluberski eventually enrolled at SUNY Fredonia where he combined courses from the recording and broadcasting programs to create his self-designed major: "audio for media." To pay for his education, Sluberski, along with his two younger siblings, formed a band that specialized in wedding music.
Although his younger brother decided to pursue greener pastures and the wedding band played their final gig on Valentine's Day of 1981, Sluberski's days as a performer were far from over. Joining forces with his roommate and a few mutual friends, Sluberski tried his hand at the country music scene.
Six months and a few lineup changes later, he found himself in a good ol' southern rock band. Before he knew it, graduation had come and gone, and Sluberski had an open road in front of him. He paid his final tuition bill in cash — a whopping $550 — before taking off to live the dream. "We had a road truck and three roadies, and we played four or five nights a week for about two years to pay the bills," Sluberski said.
It was the early '80s, and Michael Jackson and David Bowie had taken over the airwaves. "Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi" had just brought the original trilogy to a close. Live music in a smoky bar was a regular nightly occurrence. "That was the draw, to go see a live band," explained Sluberski. "Then, the DWI and MTV killed the rock band."
Sluberski reasoned that the creation of driving while intoxicated laws started roadblocks in the bar scene. "The bar owners couldn't make money because everyone was getting arrested for the DWI," he asserted. Instead, patrons started flocking to clubs that had installed TVs and projectors that aired MTV. In Sluberski's words, "The live music scene completely changed. The drinking age changed. Everything changed."
That same year — 1984 — Sluberski's life changed. He got a gig working as an audio engineer for WXXI in Rochester, and found himself giving up his rock 'n' roll lifestyle. After only three days on the job, he was covering Ronald Reagan. This would be merely the first of the hundreds of politicians, musicians and celebrities that he would have the opportunity to work with and record.
In his time at WXXI, Sluberski recorded and produced over 1,500 recordings for television and radio — hundreds of which were aired on NPR and PBS affiliated sessions. He received the George Foster Peabody Award — which he describes as "the Pulitzer Prize for Broadcasting" — for his work on the one-hour radio essay, "Fascinating Rhythm." Sluberski also won a number of Telly awards, Gabriel awards and a New York State Emmy. And by the end of it, it seemed as if broadcasting could offer nothing more for this senior audio technologist.
"In 2009, it looked like I had done everything in broadcasting. Broadcasting was changing quite a bit, and I was offered the opportunity to go full-time at RIT and help this program," said Sluberski. He accepted the position, keeping two goals in mind. First, to encourage his students to be as creative as they can be while maintaining technical proficiency; and second, to help RIT become well known in the film and animation world.
"This is a new direction and much more fun. I love being an educator and it's different everyday that I come here."