It is January 1946. The war is over. Millions of young men and women in the United States are seeking peacetime employment. Massive global R+D efforts undertaken during the war have made available incredible amounts of new technologies, surplus materials, and personnel trained in communications work. I’m not exactly sure what the point of this article is, but it seems to be a call-to-action for young ppl to enter the field of broadcast engineering work, or at least define it as a career option. DL and check it out. Below: some highlights.
We’ve covered some fairly obscure + forgotten audio publications here at PS dot com, but this one takes the taart. RADIO EXPRES was a Nederlands DIY radio/audio magazine published from 1932 through 1939, and perhaps longer. Well, it was certainly published for the entire year 1939 (22) issues, since I’ve ended up with that pile of them here. As is typical of ‘radio’ publications in the pre hi-fidelity era, the emphasis is much more on RF than AF, but I still managed to find a few interesting articles of possible use to y’all audio-folk. First off: this cute lil 4-watt Grammafoon Versterker (that’s a phonograph amplifier, btw):
DOWNLOAD THE COMPLETE VERSTERKER ARTICLE (9M PDF):
The ‘Lampen,’ or ‘tubes’ used are an E99 high-gain triode input stage and an AL5 pentode output tube. Interestingly, these are both 4V filament tubes. The 4V filament is not seen in any US-manufacture audio tubes that I have ever come across.
The article, penned by one J. L. Leistra, spans two issues of Radio Expres and it is very thorough. It covers all of the theory involved in developing the circuit, and the second part gets into some pretty extensive detail regarding the feedback-based compensation filter. It wraps up with fabrication, layout, and wiring instruction. It’s all written in Dutch, btw.
The only other really interesting audio-bit that I could discern was this 3pp exposition of the then- ‘neu’ Phillips EL5 (incorrectly indicated as an ‘FL5’ in the above image) 18-watt output pentode. The EL5 seems like a tube worth exploring; it’s a high-power, 6.3v filamant audio output tube designed to run ona pretty low plate voltage (250- 275) for such a high powered tube. Could be useful in some situations. Anyone using EL5s? Here’s the whole article for you to…. look at. (unless you read Dutch, of course).
In NYC in the mid-seventies, an electronic-based band arose amongst all the guitar punks, a band that was known as much for their confrontational post-beatnik vocals as for the strange and intense sounds that emanated from their famously homemade electronic sound equipment. A band who has become, in the decades since, one of the few acts that is truly ‘required reading’ in the lexicon of avant-garde rock n pop. Or, as James Murphy so brilliantly puts it in his apocryphal tale of musical uber-taste, “I was there, in 1974, the first Suicide practices in a loft in New York City… I was working on the organ sounds…with much patience” (skip to 2:50… or, actually, don’t… this song kinda rules).
So yeah I am talking about Suicide. If you don’t know ’em, check ’em out… it is amazing+terrifying that this record came out in 1977… truly truly AOTT. And plainly awesome too. I really love this band, and they inspired me greatly in the early 2000s, when I was performing with a punk band in Brooklyn using an analog drum-machine rig based around some old Roland beatboxes, voltage controlled filters, and a CV-generating homemade theremin to control the whole thing.
This felt fairly fresh to me in the year 2001; so that fact that Suicide was doing this same thing 25 years early was mindblowing. I had to wonder; how the hell did these guys make all the stuff? Even in the year 2000, DIY’ing synth equipment was fairly unusual for rock musicians; but in 1975? That was like black magic! Well I think I found the grimoire.
NEways… kinda a long setup to what will be… the first OUT OF PRINT BOOK REPORT we’ve had in a while. And oh boy will there be more coming. I was recently at a really fascinating estate-sale somewhere in Marin County, California, where I met an elderly engineer who sold me a library of ancient audio-tech books and wished me luck on my travels… the pick of the litter was the above-depicted “Experimenting With Electronic Music,” by Robert Brown and Mark Olsen. Published in 1974, it is TAB books catalog number 666. No joke. This just keeps getting better.
The book starts with some fairly uninteresting discussion of various commercially-available synthesizers circa ’74, but soon gets into a wealth of both schematics and ideas regarding DIY’d audio electronic circuits. Here’s the TOC:
There’s a ton of great stuff in here, and while I honestly have no idea whether or not the particular transistors spec’d in these circuits are still available, I would imagine that there are subs available… even if you never build anything from the book, I think anyone with an interest in early electronic music will find it fascinating. Here’s a few projects that I plan to do at some point:
“Experimenting with Electronic music” is available from a few sellers on Abe Books. It ain’t cheap, but I’ve been digging for these sorta books for 20 years now and this is the first copy I ever came across.
Items of apparent concern to readers of this publication (see image above): Nuclear power; package size; dangerous-computers; hegemonic reproduction via linguistic conventions; sports cars; converting to Quad.
In addition, the advertising content of the magazine seems to reveal other hot-button -issues of the day:
Broadly stated, these issues could be cataloged as: ‘Too Soon’; ‘Getting Everything That You Have Coming To You’;’Being Impressive’; waterbeds, wigs, and Satan (sexy version).
I bought a beautiful NAD 7020 receiver and Optonica tape deck the other day from a home that I am pretty sure once belonged to Ron Burgundy. The receiver and tape deck were part of a very nice system, one of the better circa 1980’s hifis I have come across lately. The house was pretty much like a circa 1975 men’s magazine exploded inside a suburban raised ranch, spraying all the walls with sexy ‘art posters,’ mahogany paneling, and Rich Leather. Behind the bar (full bar in the enormous den, natch) was this single, solitary issue of Bob Guccis famous mag. You’ll have to take my word for this, but as my eyes fell upon this ‘book,’ the first thing that I thought was: I bet this is the ‘stereo issue.’ And guess what.
One final note: from the ‘credit-where-credit’s-due’ dep’t: as the cover promises, no less than Charles Berlitz presents a straightforward explanation of how linguistic systems and conventions at work throughout the world serve to reproduce and reinforce male hegemony. The ideas in this two-page article are pretty much straight out of every semiotics, women’s studies, and queer studies class taught in the past 40 years and stand in complete opposition to the smug, complacent, and generally sexist discourse evident on the other 98 pages of this publication. Proving nothing other than the fact the 1970s were a crazy fucking decade.
Audio. From children’s toy to naval communication device to home entertainment to art, all within one lifetime. What has changed significantly in our conception of the role of audio technology since 1953? As this article makes clear, in 1953 ‘fidelity,’ or verisimilitude to some supposed acoustic event, was the ‘state of the art’ in audio, and contemporary technology such as the U47 mic and the Ampex tape machine was finally making this verisimilitude possible. We now no longer have the expectation that a piece of audio ‘represents’ or ‘stand-in-for’ any actual acoustic event that ever happened in the physical world (Katy Perry track? Or Sgt Peppers?), but what have we gained? What new expectations/demands do we have?
PS dot com reader Paul R. was kind enough to send us a scan of “Audio Anthology,” (ed. C.G. McProud) a 124pp softcover published in 1950. “Audio Anthology” (hf. ‘AA’) is a collection of project-construction articles aimed at hi-fi (rather than pro audio) enthusiasts. All of the material had been previously published in Audio Engineering magazine during its first four years of publication (1947 -1950). See here, here, here, here, here, and here for previous 1940’s AUDIO ENGINEERING MAGAZINE coverage on PreservationSound.
Above, an interesting boost-EQ stage that could be helpful in an instrument or mic amplifier. Can any of our helpful readers advise which caps or resistors in this circuit could be modified (and within what range) to alter the turnover frequency of the two filters at work here? I am guessing that the answer is: all four caps that follow the input DC blocking cap… which would basically get us back to this piece, which i swore i would never build again…
Above, the most complicated tube amp I have ever seen. Kinda feel like Shadow Hills Engineering must have come across this image at some point. Dynamic noise suppressor, phono pre, two eq controls, visual feedback of high and low frequency drive, variable metering, tons of input switching… talk about the kitchen sink. This project is organized around the very interesting 6AS7G dual-triode power amplifier tube: basically two 2A3s in one glass envelope with a 6V heater supply. This is potentially some useful information, especially when you consider that a 6As7G is only about $13 from AES (priced out 2A3s lately?). I think that there could be a unique new guitar amplifier in the works soon…
My lord. At least they didn’t try to thrown in an AM/FM tuner. Follow the link at the end of the this post for schematics and parts lists for some 6AS7G amplifiers.
Includes advertisements for Yamaha MT2X, DX100, and RX17 drum machine; Akai MG614 four-track machine, Tascam Porta2 4-track, Fostex 160, the Boss Micro-Rack series (RDD-20 delay, RPS-10 pitch shifter, RCL-10 compressor, RRV-10 reverb, plus a ton more), and KORG’s multieffects.
First-things-first: I have no idea if the ‘John Peel’ to whom this book is credited is theJohn Peel, he of legendary status as a DJ and taste-maker for an entire generation of rock and pop music. There is nothing whatsoever in this 98pp paperback volume (found in a Manchester OXFAM back in the early 00’s) that offers any indication pro or con. A third option would seem to be the ghostwriter scenario. Anyhow. “Making 4-Track Music” (h.f. “M4TM”) is an A5-sized paperback that attempts to introduce readers to the equipment and processes of using 4-track recorders.
The 4-track recorder, for those unfamiliar, is a category of product first introduced by the TASCAM corporation in 1979 with their model 144.
The 1979 TASCAM 144. Bruce Springsteen recorded his greatest album on this small plastic machine, believe-it-or-not. (Image source)
TASCAM already dominated the home-recording market with their 3440 1/4″ open reel tape recorder and the associated mixer-units that were marketed alongside it. These systems had a rather high cost of entry, though: they cost much more than a good used car. The 144 brought the basic concept of multi-track audio recording and mixing to a far lower price-point by using consumer cassette tape rather than 1/4″ open reel tape as the recording media, and by combining the audio-recording device and the audio-mixing apparatus into one single item. This made for a much more affordable system and it also made for easier use: no wires to hook up, no redundant or unnecessary features. Just the basic technology needed to record a performance and then add 3 additional performances in perfect synchronization while retaining the ability to control relative volumes and treatments of each track. With a creative user, the 4-track machine is capable of much more, but this is the basic concept.
“M4TM” covers all of this, and more; there is an explanation of the various recording and mixing features that the consumer would encounter in the marketplace, plus good treatment of the various types of additional processing equipment that a 4-track owner might like: digital time-based effects (delay, etc), compressors, gates, EQs., etc.
The aesthetics/art of making recordings is not really considered at all; there is a lot of talk about money, costs, (e.g., KORG’s above-depicted rainmaking) and the improved ‘recording quality’ that such expenditures can deliver but no mention of improving the presentation of songs and sonic ideas via any of this technology. Here’s a typical passage:
As someone who’s work is largely based on the commercial recording studio that I own and operate, I find it rather… alarming/offensive that the prime benefit of making a recording in a pro studio is the sound-quality, to extent that this benefit could be completely undone by several generations of tape-duplication. Jesus. I like to hope that I give my clients something more than a good signal-noise ratio and even frequency response. The passage above kind of makes it seem like it’s the EQUIPMENT in a studio that is doing the work, rather than the engineer… is this how most musicians feel about studios? Is this how I used to feel about studios, when I was 4-tracking at home at age 19?
Furthermore, M4TM does not even entertain the aesthetic or artistic possibilities of all of this ‘4-track’ equipment. Rather, the emphasis is very much on ‘making-a-demo’ en route to possibly getting a ‘record deal,’ and all that this will entail (presumably the “Riches and Fame” for which you will have KORG to thank). The idea of possibly creating a compelling piece of artwork with this equipment is simply absent.
I wonder when this changed. By the time I started recording heavily on a four 4-track machine, a mere 8 years later (1995), musicians like Bill Callahan (aka SMOG) and Jeff Mangum (aka Neutral Milk Hotel) were already getting attention specifically as masters of 4-track recording. These guys did not appear too interested in making a ‘real record’ in a ‘pro studio.’ The 4-track medium, with its attendant tape hiss, awkward usage once you went past four tracks, and total absence of any sort of editing ability, was a huge part of the artwork that they created. Artwork that has truly endured.
I went to see Jeff Mangum perform last week here in CT. He did a solo set at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven. Jeff Mangum has not released a major album of his own in 13 years. The Shubert was nearly sold-out to it’s 1591 capacity.
Have a listen (above) to “Naomi” from Neutral Milk Hotel’s 1996 4-track masterpiece “On Avery Island.” Would these songs have been rendered any more compelling had they been tracked and mixed in a studio? I think we all know the answer to that… Ultimately, though, what Mangum’s solo-acoustic-gtr-and-voice performance at the Shubert last week demonstrated to me was more the fact that it probably honestly didn’t matter how he had made those seminal recordings: the songs themselves are so good and his voice and affect are so well-wrought that their properties can impress regardless of the presentation.
Perhaps I am reading into this all too much…perhaps my ideas and taste are a bit ‘off’ and therefore I have ‘niche’ values. Mangum seems, to me, to be a very straightforward singer/songwriter.. but perhaps my appreciation for artists like Jeff Mangum simply indicates that I have ‘weird’ taste, that I am out-of-step with ‘mainstream’ values… Goggle seems to think so. Here’s what you will see if you play a Neutral Milk Hotel song on Youtube:
Is your significant-other cheating on you? Maybe you need to lose those glasses: improve yr appeal? Fuck it, man, you’re a GEEK. Face it. Geek geek geek. Date another geek.
I am so confused.
1987/2012: Maybe our John Peel simply wrote “M4TM” in a lost era, simple as that… an era when there still was a vigorous economic basis for the music-recording-industry and therefore the idea of recording music as INDUSTRY rather than EXPLOIT was still the dominant theme. It’s also interesting to consider that around the time of the first Neutral Milk Hotel album we also saw the introduction of Tape Op magazine, the first (that I am aware of…) widely-distributed publication that embraced the ethos of home-recording as a serious art form. And all of this happened just-in-time for the introduction of the first affordable DAWs (e.g., Pro Tools LE), which completely changed both the technique and the aesthetics of audio recording forever. You still need to be able to write a good song though. That much hasn’t changed.
Very much along the lines of “Electric Rock” (1971) and “Starting Your Own Band” (1980), “Professional Rock And Roll” (h.f. “PRR”) is especially interesting in that it was published a mere three years after The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan, an event which is widely considered to have marked the beginning of The Sixties Rock Era. In such a short span of time, enough of an industry and codified set of working-practices seems to have formed around young teen-oriented electric-guitar-based groups to have resulted in the large paperback that I now hold in my hand.
“PRR” parses the idea of what it takes to be a ‘professional rock and roll band’ in some interesting ways. There is the chapter on PA equipment, with the various above-illustrated items discussed (BTW, I still regularly find most of these items at the estates+fleas, so points to the author for accuracy), as well as a chapter each on Electric Guitars and Keyboards.
Above: the three types of Electric guitar: ‘Early,’ ‘Solid Body,’ and ‘With Accessories.’
Above: The Rock Organ Player
We also get chapters on putting a band together, chords, songwriting, lead-singing, hitting-the-road, and managers/agents/publishers. Somewhat more surprising is the in-depth chapter on how to locate and buy stage-clothing and the chapter on light-shows.
I think it’s somewhat interesting to learn how important the idea of visual-accompaniment-to-music was in those early years of the Rock industry. We’ve been told so often how MTV changed the visual/sonic balance of musical-signification so drastically, to such varied effect as manufacturers’ increasing the size of their logos on equipment (E.G., Zildjian Cymbals) and even the barring of rock-stardom to homely female performers (I.E., the Janis-Joplin-wouldn’t-have-made-it-today assertion). I can’t really say that this changes the argument, but it’s worth consideration.
“PRR” also has a number of charming anachronisms, such as the diagram above. The authors felt it necessary to explain how a group should properly stage their gear on BOTH of the common types of stages: the theatre-type stage (band faces the audience) and, of course, the round stage. Wow. Were rock-shows on round-stages really that common in 1967? I’ve performed probably a thousand shows since the early 1990s, in venues as small as basements and as big as 10,000+ festivals, and never once on a round stage with the audience on all sides. Crazy.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about “PRR” is the subject that it totally omits: there is nothing offered on the subject of recording. Not demo recording, not studio recording. No mention. Also lacking is a chapter on promotion and publicity. To most musical groups today, these seem to be the central issues that occupy most of their energy: thanks to all of the incredible, affordable audio-recording equipment and software we have now, recording and composing music have effectively become the same task; they are inseperble activities. Likewise, the public promotion, marketing, and branding of a musical project can now begin as soon as the first track is mixed down.
*Is there a similar book to “PRR” published for the modern musical era?
*If a high-school age band were today to study and implement the ideas in “PRR,” could they generate a 1968-type garage-rock group?
*Did anyone reading this purchase “PRR” as a young musician? Did you find it helpful?
Next up in this series: “Making Four Track Music,” John Peel, 1987.
Image Source (n.b.: clicking link will initiate PDF download)
The Bottlehead Company is a long-running fixture of the DIY tube audio world. If you’ve spent any amount of time Googling-about for tube-audio related themes you have probably come across their forum, or mention of their products in some other forum. Bottlehead’s primary businesses seem to be some fairly inventive, reasonably priced tube audio kits (they also build a bespoke tube phono preamp and tape-head preamp, which is a pretty cool idea for a useful if niche pro-audio product) and “The Tape Project,” which is a series of $300 reissues of classic-and-audiophile albums released on 1/4″ 15 IPS analog audio tape. 15 IPS 1/4″ analog audio tape was a standard recording-studio master format for decades so this makes a lot of sense… and if anyone thinks that $300 seems like a lot of money for an album reissue, all I can say is: you probably haven’t spent much time dealing with the business-affairs folks at a major label. There is a lot, a LOT of work involved with bringing a low-numbers reissue of, say, a Credence Clearwater Revival album to market,,, and triple that if you actually need access to an original stereo mix master. I cannot even imagine how much effort must have gone into this.
Anyways… suffice to say… these seem like passionate people with a real dedication to music, audio and the technologies used to bring it to life. In the 1990s Bottlehead published a fanzine called “VALVE.” They have very generously made it available for free download, in good quality, at their website. Visit this link to download any or all of the dozens of issues on offer. If you are frequent reader of PS dot com, and especially if you were interested in checking out Sound Practices Zine archive disc (but reluctant to spend the $30…), I have no doubt you will enjoy VALVE.
I was checking out this bro’s blog (or bros’ blog? lots of chick pics) recently and I came across an endorsement of the PDF version of Sound Practices magazine. I had never seen an actual issue of Sound Practices (it ceased publication a couple of years before I built my first tube amp), but I had read a few articles that had been put online, and I had encountered much discussion of it in various online chat groups. Seemed worth taking a look at. I purchased a $30 (delivered) CDR containing all sixteen issues as a giant PDF from eBay seller n5Kat. Not cheap, but all this scanning does take some time, plus the PDF has some useful navigation features built in.
Anyhow… it arrived and $30 well spent. You can see a list of some of the various articles contained within at this link. Sound Practices is aimed squarely at enthusiasts of vintage hi-fi, experiementers, and hobbyist builders, rather than the much more electrical-engineering-oriented Audio Amateur/Audio Electronics, another publication from the same period which frankly tends to confuse me half the time. Let’s put it this way,,, there’s not a lot of math in Sound Practices.
On a closing note… an unexpected bonus for me was discovering that one of my favorite writers on the subject of vintage audio-gear was a regular contributor. I refer to one Vincent Gallo. I’ll end with a bit from his first piece in the zine, surprisingly free from the (albeit hilarious) hostility that usually marks his writing: what follows truly gets to the heart of why-antique-audio-equipment-matters, as well as a fundamental relationship between sound on the one hand and audio on the other: