Category Archives: Recordings

Magnecord PT6 c.1950 used in contemporary music production

It never ceases to amaze me how many people navigate to this website as a result of searching for Magnecord tape-machine information.  Until I bought a pair of PT6 machines last year, I had no awareness of them; since then, I am continually discovering more and more evidence of the role that Magnecord played in mid-twentieth century broadcasting and recording in the United States.  Moreover, my two machines (previously owned by the University of Connecticut; purchased by me last year for $25/each) now work great after I performed some restoration work.  This is no mean feat for sixty-year-old tape recorders which were subjected to the harsh treatment of student-recordists for untold decades.  Anyhow, you can hear some early test-recordings that I made with the PT6 shortly after I restored them:  listen here and here.    Since I recorded that version of “Hallelujah,”  my two PT6’s  have been parked in the entryway of our studio Gold Coast Recorders.    Clients often inquire about them, surprised to learn that they are in fact functional; but it was not until last week that they actually got used on a session.   Take a listen to the track below and you can hear some of the wonderful music of Keith Restaurant.  Keith’s been a frequent visitor to Gold Coast since we opened our doors in April and he makes music that you might call minimalist, or noise music, or process music;  it’s inherently impossible to categorize.  With this sort of ‘organized sound,’ every listener needs to find his/her own way in.  The following piece is from a set he recorded called ‘computer music.’  You are hearing a single live take of several performers manipulating the harddrives and power supplies of live laptop computers, amplified with induction mics and guitar amplifiers.  The Magnecord PT6 is the primary recording medium, and several generations of re-amping and re-tracking (via our UREI 809 studio playback monitors) in the big live room at Gold Coast were layered to create the overall piece.

LISTEN: KR_CmptrMx_Track2.mp3

Since the sounds that composer Keith Restaurant organize in this music have essentially no reference point (I.E., none of them are sounds that you or I would have heard before), every element of the production process is incredibly important in creating meaning.  In this way, the Magnecord PT6, with it’s peculiar frequency response, distortions, and flutter, is being used in a very significant way; it is a primary component of the sound, rather than an ‘effect.’  This contribution is intensified by the multiple-generations of recording and re-recording via the PT6.  It is also interesting to note than even in the longer (4:00) piece, the PT6 deviated less than 250ms over 4:00 relative to the Pro Tools safety copy.  This is great news for anyone who wants to fold one of these into their working process.

You can learn more about Keith Restaurant at his blog.

 

Winter 2011 Mixtape

It’s time for another compilation culled from the endless crate-digging.  This season’s harvest seems to have slant towards country-rock and psych-folk.  If you see me, ask me for a copy.

1. “Ohio River, She’s So Deep And Wide” by Winifred Smith.  From ‘Folk Songs Of The South’ by Winifred Smith.  RCA Victor #61100

2. “It Ain’t Easy” by Ron Davies.  From “Friends” A&M SP 8021

3. “Broken Hearted Blues” by T-Rex.  From “Tanx” Reprise 0598

4. “Dear Mary” by The Steve Miller Band. From ‘Sailor’ /Capitol ST 2984

5. ”Jamie” by Hedge & Donna.  From ‘The New Spirit Of Capitol’ Capitol #SNP-6

6. “Hope” by Mason Proffit.  From “Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream” Ampex A-10138

7. “Reflections” by The Chambers Brothers. From ‘New Generation’ Columbia C 30032

8. “Bad Night at the Whiskey” by The Byrds.  From ‘Dr Byrds and Mr Hyde’ Columbia CS 9755

9. “Innervenus Eyes” by The Bob Seger System.  From ‘The New Spirit Of Capitol’ Capitol #SNP-6

10. “In Your Life” by Tower.  From ‘Collecting Peppermint Clouds’ Technicolor Dream Records T.D.R. 002 (Originally a Decca b-side)

11. “Baal” by Exuma.  From “Exuma II (Air)” Mercury SR 61314

12. “The Joys Of Life” by Karen Beth.  From “The Joys of Life” Decca DL 75148

13. “Atlantis” by Donovan.  From ‘Barabajagal’ Epic BN 26481

14. “Take My Home Country Roads” by Olivia Newton-John.  From ‘Heavy Hits’, Adam VIII LTD # A-8010

15. “I’m Losing You” by Dwight Twilley.  From “Sincerely” Shelter SRL-52001

16. “My Love” by Paul McCartney.  From the 7” single Apple #1861

17. “August Day” by Hall & Oates.  B-side to “I don’t want to lose you” RCA PB-11424

18. “I Go Crazy” by Paul Davis. From the 7” single Bang # B-733

19. “Only With You” by The Beach Boys. From ‘Holland’ /  Captiol MS 2118

Follow the link for more information…

Continue reading Winter 2011 Mixtape

Bridgeport CT Punk Rock 1985 : : : update : : :

Came across this 1985  7″ at a yard sale this past summer.  The band is called ‘Rude Awakening’ and the A-side is “Teenage Suicide.”  The label tells us that it was recorded at Downstairs Studio, Bridgeport CT.  Label is Incas Records, whom I believe I had some contact with some years ago when I was scouting for some re-issue material for Anthology Recordings.   ‘Teenage Suicide’ is sort-of punk-opera with lots of different sections, changes, etc.  My pick is the B-side “Wanted” which has a classic Johnny Thunders vibe.  Check it out:

LISTEN: Wanted

Update: Tom Boudreau, writer of ‘Wanted’ and guitar-player for ‘Rude Awakening’ got in touch with PS.com.  Here’s a few words from Tom about the band and the studio:

“(re: the) Rude Awakening 45. That was a few lifetimes  ago. Roughly 25yrs later i can report that we sadly lost my brother / drummer in 05 due to complicated health issues / diabetes. I am still in contact with Joe Stoner (vocals).  Sean (bass) is still local and we have crossed paths over the years.  Joe wrote the A side and i wrote the B side of that record.  All 4 of us built the music. I do not have any contact with Sam Eckhardt who owned and opperated Downstairs Studio. This was an 8 track Tascam board, 388 1/2″ reel, 2 room facility in the basement of Davidsons Fabric in Downtown Bridgeport. A lot of bands recorded there in the mid-80’s. Currently i have a small project studio in my home.  I still have contact with Incas (Records). I have done some tape to cd transfer for them including ‘Ct Fun’ which was a compilation done with many bands from the times including Rude…

Tom Boudreau
www.boneheadstudio.com”

Thanks for getting in touch Tom!  The Davidsons building, btw, is still present in Downtown Bridgeport.  It’s just one of another abandoned buildings in the largely derelict downtown of this once-great city.  The huge painted ‘Davidsons’ signage is clearly visible to all who approach the bus/train station from the North.  I’ve asked Tom for some pics of  ‘Downstairs Studio’; if any arrive I will post them here.   BTW, nice to get a solid, concrete examples of one of the hundreds of busy, active Tascam-based project studios of the early 1980s.  See this previous post for more on the Tascam revolution.

The Sound of the Front

A friend recently asked me if I could digitize a record for him.

T’s  mother passed not long ago, and in her possessions he found a small record-album that a suitor had recorded for her while serving in WWII.

It seems that Pepsi-Co provided these machines for the use of GI’s.  There is small print on the disc itself that reads ‘Recordisc,’ which was a popular pro-sumer disc recording unit of the era.  I have not been able to determine exactly what the recording apparatus for these Pepsi-branded discs were, but I imagine it was not dissimilar to these:

(web source)

When T first asked me to do this transfer for him, he was very concerned with the recording deteriorating due to the playback.  For this reason, I captured the material on the first-pass.

I used my shitty little VESTAX ‘porta-trax’ or whatever player, as it is my only deck that does 78 RPM. Why did I assume 78 RPM?  Well, the 33.3 LP or the 45rpm 7″ were not in common use during WWII,  so 78b RPM was a safe guess.

The recording was actually quite good, aside from the surface noise.  Since the VESTAX applies an RIAA equalization curve (which was NOT used in 194X), I had to re-EQ the audio in Pro Tools.  I attempted to research the Recordisc machines in order to determine which pre-RIAA pre-emphasis EQ curve they used, but I could not find any information on this.  So I use my best judgment.  I used my ears.  I applied a 24db/oct lo-cut at about 200hz, a 12db/oct hi-cut at around 5k hz, and then boosted a bit at around 2200 to help the intelligibility.  Two stages of compression were then applied.

Here’s the result.

LISTEN: AudioLetter_WWII_serviceman_to_ladyfriend

This is powerful for a few reasons.  Generally, when we hear voices like this, it is in the context of a film or radio news program of the period.  Although this GI is reading from a piece of paper (it sounds like), he is not an actor, and he is not acting; this is intended for an audience of one.

In case you were wondering: the woman in the photographs is in fact the addressee of this recorded message.  This man did come home after the war. He did not marry the woman that he is addressing, although they did remain in touch; and he is not T’s father.

Spring Reverb Defines a Mythic Space Where The Legends of Rock Live

Listen to this audio.

Gtr_Amp_Close_up

You don’t need me to tell you that this is the sound of an electric guitar playing through a guitar amp (speaker).  You would believe me if I told you this was what you were hearing.

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But what about the space that this happening in?  And what does the sonic event of this speaker-movement sound like in that space?  I can show you.

GtrAmp_in_a_room

…And you would believe me that this is the space in which this event is taking place.

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Humans are pretty good at using our ears/brain to evaluate a sound and judge the space in which that sound is occurring.  We never had to do this much until about 100 years ago, because until we had technology to record/transmit and playback sound as audio, the only way to hear a sound was to be physically present where the sound was being generated.  So baring blindness or blindfold, if you heard a sound, you did in fact have good direct knowledge of the space in which the sound was occurring.  But we now have the technology to capture and reproduce sounds divorced from their origin in time and/or space.  And we also have devised technologies to synthesize the sound of spaces.  We can synthesize very good imitations of real physical spaces that we have experienced in the flesh.  And we can also synthesize the effect of imaginary and unreal spaces.

Listen to the guitar performance again.

GtrAmp_DigitalReverb_Church

I have taken the close-mic’d guitar-audio you listened to initially and ‘placed it’ into a ‘church-space’ by processing it with a computer-reverb program.  There is no actual physical space captured here, other than the 2-inches between the microphone and the speaker.  But, if we suspend that knowledge, I think that we can all reasonably accept that yes it does in fact sound like the guitar-performance is taking place here:

(web source)

Many generations of computer-programmers have labored for decades to create that sonic illusion, and they have done a pretty good job at it.   Even the cheapest pieces of audio-hardware nowadays come with these digital-reverb programs built-in, and there are generally dozens of ‘spaces’ on offer, from Halls to Churches to Rooms etc.  And most of the time, these reverb-programs are effectively able to convince us of the spaces that their names suggest.

But what about spring reverb?  AKA., guitar-amp-reverb?  AKA, the reverb knob on your old Fender (or whatever…) amp?  Exactly what space is defined there?

Let’s take a listen.  Here’s the same close-mic’d guitar performance you heard earlier; this time, though, I have turned on the reverb knob on the amp.

GtrAmpSpringReverb

It’s evocative, right?  But of what?  And more importantly, of where?  Our brain is telling us that the guitar is now in some sort of space.  But what is that space?  Well, literally, it’s the space and the springs inside this little 9-inch steel can in the back of the guitar amp.

(web source)

But emotionally, we don’t feel like we’re hearing the sound of this little sardine can.  Instead, the guitar-performance (and our imaginations) have been transported to some sort of mythic Rock-Legend-Space.  How is this possible?  Because we have heard this same goddamn accutronics-reverb-tank sound a million trillion times since were little kids.  Because nearly every good-quality guitar amplifier made in this country or any other between the years 1965 and 2000 had one of these little mechanisms in it.  Furthermore, we never heard the sound of this ‘space’ when we were walking down the street, or to the kitchen in the middle of the night to get a snack (crunchy carrots).  We have heard this space a zillion times always and only in context of Rock and Roll.  Either on record, on the radio, or in a club watching a band on an elevated stage.  Through these millions of associations, the sound created by that little metal can has come to represent a sort-of Mount Olympus of Rock and Roll.

(web source)

Or, if you like, the Hall Of Justice of Rock.

(web source)

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Have you ever read Rock Dreams by Peelaert and Cohn?  It’s a collection of illustrations (with some explanatory text) that attempts to visualize the legends and myths that we associate with various Rock and Soul performers.

All of the personages represented in the illustrations are real, actual people who were born, lived, and died (or will).  But they have been placed in settings which are simultaneously unreal and yet totally expected.  The scenes depicted in the images are not actual places where these people ever set foot.  Instead they are spaces that we have created in our collective imaginations.  And they are very fitting.

I think the spring-reverb box in the guitar amp has come to define such a space.  Not a space of inches and miles, walls and ceilings, tiles and columns; but an imagined space where Rock and Roll lives; an imagined space that we all imagine with uncanny similarity.

Mixtape: Fall 2010

I buy records.  I don’t seek out particular titles or pay more than a buck or two per LP; I go to estate sales and flea markets and dig and dig and dig for stuff that i have not heard yet (or not heard in years).  I pick up a few hundred per year.  It gets more difficult  (but also more rewarding) with each passing year to find music that i have not heard.  I generally look for rock and soul recorded between 1965 and 1975.

I like this way of experiencing new music because there is a bit of a folk-music quality to it.  As in: whether I like it or not, I am limited to listening to music that other people in my community were listening to some time ago.  It’s all music that shaped the hearts and minds of people who drove these same streets, lived in these same houses, played in the bars of my town many years ago.  Anyhow, of the 800 LPs that i buy each year, 60 will have a track that I like.

Those 60 end up on these seasonal compilations.  Tracks gets transferred from LP through a Proton  preamp and into Protools for trimmin.’   I use a Benz MC20E2 cartridge, which I highly recommend if yr in the market for a new cartridge.

Here’s the list for this season.  Link through for the details…

Cochise “Home Again”

Alive and Kicking “Tighter, Tighter”

Fairport Convention “Meet on the ledge”

Mark-Almond “Speak Easy It’s a Whisky Scene”

Dave Mason “We just disagree”

Mel and Tim “Starting all over again”

Jay and the Americans “Since I don’t have you”

Marvin Gaye “Troubleman”

Bobby Whitlock “Song for Paula”

Flaming Ember “Westbound #9”

Sandy Denny “It’ll Take A Long Time”

Macondo “Never thought I’d See You Go”

David Lannan “Morning”

Otis Clay “A House Ain’t a Home”

Steve Marcus “Tomorrow Never Knows”

Tufano-Giammarese “I’m a Loser”

Kevin John Agosti “Lighthouse Madness”

Jerry Jeff Walker “LA Freeway”

Al Green “Together again”

Gene Clark “1975”

Continue reading Mixtape: Fall 2010

RECORDINGS: the appeal of demos

If you are a musician or serious rock music fan, you will know what the term ‘demo’ refers to in the context of recorded music.  ‘Demo’ is shorthand for ‘demonstration record(ing).’  IE., a recording which is not intended for public commercial exploitation, but rather to demonstrate the assets of the various artists involved to the industry.  Which various artists?  Generally speaking, demos are made by bands (musical performers with or without vocals), solo or group vocalists, and songwriters.  Demos are made in the hope of getting the attention of record labels, song publishers, other artists who are looking for new songs to record, club and concert bookers, etc.  Demos are generally ‘rougher’ and ‘less produced’ than commercial masters.  This is for a few reasons:  first off, demos are usually part of the process involved in GETTING a paying deal or getting a paying project green-lit, so there will be less money behind them.  Another reason is that since demos are made for an audience that is supposedly experienced and knowledgeable, demos can be a little ‘rougher’ since this special audience should be able to ‘hear past’ the rough quality and easily imagine what the band/singer/song will sound like once someone puts more time (and money) behind it.  This ability to correctly see ahead, past the performance flaws and technical imperfections of a ‘demo,’ is what will allow a record company scout, talent agent, or song publisher to key into top-quality talent early, thereby potentially getting themselves a better deal on this new property.

There is a lot of mystique and even superstition surrounding demos in the music/recording world.  People will speak of ‘demo love,’ AKA the condition wherein the commercial master can’t seem to eclipse the emotional impact that the demo manages to achieve.  On the other hand, some people will tend to apologize for their demos, even though their particular demo may be the best recording achievable on their budget, and even though it is the job of those in The Industry to ‘hear past’ the demo.  Anyhow, I am not interested so much in the operation of demos in their contemporary context, but rather, the special qualities that we can experience in the demos of the past.

Here’s a songwriting demo from Jim Ford, an obscure soul songwriter most active in the early 70s.  Several collections of his songwriting demos (demos created to ‘pitch’ his new compositions to artists who might potentially record them, thereby earning Ford and his publisher royalties on the recordings) were released in recent years by Bear Family, a German record company.  It’s sloppy and crazy and messy and my god.  It is cool.

16 Go Through Sunday

We generally agree that a demo is a ‘less produced’ recording.  OK.  but what does ‘produced’ mean?  Record production is an art that involves a great many details, many of them incredibly specific to particular genres and trends and microtrends that may last for brief years or even months.  Generally speaking, though, producing a commercial recording featuring some musical performers and a vocalist will involve, at minimum:

*)Some sort of dedicated recording space with the relevant tools and technology available (aka a ‘studio’).

*)The ability to capture multiple takes of a song, and edit between them if necessary.

*)A ‘producer’ who’s main minimum responsibility is essentially that of quality control – IE., someone with the authority and experience to say, “that’s the one.”

*)And, finally, time.  Enough time to set up the equipment properly. Dither around with all the knobs and positions and instruments until the desired effect is truly achieved.  And then do as many takes as needed, and afterwards, edit and mix and re-process all the various recorded audio signals until everyone who is invested in the project can say ‘what up, DONE?’

Let’s consider a typical example of a production task.  Music production of  instruments and especially vocals generally involves various electronic processes intended to enhance the sound of the performance.  For instance:  no one likes to hear a vocal that is not as well on pitch as the singer had intended.  But if the singer just can’t nail it, what do you do?  As an audio operator, you will employ various processes to either draw attention away from the flawed performance or even to correct the flaws.  Until 1965 or so, this was done by adding reverberation and/or echo in order to ‘smooth out’ rough transitions between notes.  (Try singing in the shower, or some other reverberant space, and you will notice that your signing sounds better!)   Moving on, in the late 60s/1970s, aiding a pitchy-y vocal was often done by recording multiple takes of the same part and layering them on top of each other (a.k.a. ‘double tracking’ -made feasible because now you could have 16 or 24 separate tracks on a multitrack tape rather than just 4 or 8 tracks).  by the early 80s and the advent of readily-available digital audio technology, you suddenly had the ability to ‘sample’ off pitch notes, correct the pitch, and then re-insert the corrected note into the performance.  By the early 1990s and the dawn of the Digital Audio Workstation era, you had the ability to manipulate the performance basically however you wanted to.  ANYTHING was ‘fixable’ given you had enough time and skill.  And finally, by the late 1990s, we were given the technology commonly referred to as Auto Tune, by which a performance could be pitch-corrected nearly automatically, with very little skill or experience required even on the part of the audio operator.

So that’s the broad strokes, and one macro example, of music production.  Back to my earlier line of inquiry:  If a demo is a less-produced recording, then, a demo is basically a recording that is less manipulated.  It has been subjected to less human-time spent modifying the audio.  It is more simply the product of the performances and the physicality of the microphones, recording environment, and  instruments that created the performances.  Also, randomness and chance likely will play a bigger part in the finished result.  None of what i am saying are absolutes – these are just generalizations.  But in general, when we hear a demo from, say, 1970, we are given the chance to peer back in time in a way that produced commercial recordings don’t always allow us to.  We can hear the way that an actual human drummer played a take In The Year 1970, as opposed to 7 recorded takes that were edited together and oh btw we tape-edited the drums in the bridge to really make it groove there.  Is this better or worse?  Neither.  it’s different.  It’s a matter of what you like.  But, the demo will likely offer closer access to the performances and the actual sounds of the instruments/microphones/studio spaces that were used in ‘those days,’ whatever those days may be.   I think in general, most people would associate ‘demo’ with ‘Lo Fidelity’ and ‘Studio Master’ with ‘Hi Fidelity,’  but when you think about it, a demo (so long as the recording equipment used was of decent quality) will actually bear much more fidelity to the actual acoustic event than a commercial master.  We could get on a major sidetrack here about the quality of the equipment did matter back in the day/still matters today, but you catch my drift.

Have you ever seen ‘Shadows’ or any of the Cassevettes films?  I was really struck by ‘Shadows’ when i first saw it at maybe age 18.  My god, i had never heard people talk like that!  Or move like that!  Cassevettes as a director really relied on his actors to improvise, and therefore, I think his films offer us a better view into how people actually behaved back then.  Sort of like what documentary films can offer.   Granted, his ‘people’ were generally trained actors, but still.  It’s less the work of a committee and more the work of One Person In Front Of A Camera.  And for this reason, i feel like it gives me better access to that actual historical moment in which the film was made.  I feel the same way about old demos.  Here’s a really obscure recording from around 1970 that i found on a cut-rate compilation LP called ‘the now sounds.’  The LP contains recordings of various pop hits of the day, credited to basically anonymous vocalists.  There is no information to be had on ‘jerry walsh’ or this recording.  I imagine that it may have been recorded as a demo for this singer.  Probably not for the band backing him, as there is a bad tape edit (or lack of an edit!) going into the guitar solo where the beat gets lost.  If this had been created to the satisfaction of the band, the drummer would have likely not found this to be satisfactory.  On the other hand, if the drummer was just hired to back up ‘Jerry’ that day, well…

04 Let It Be

Anyhow, yeah this is all conjecture on my part.  Nonetheless, when i hear this recording, i feel like i am really getting a good sense of what it would have been like to hear an average singer, fronting an average band, in some average bar, anywhere in America in 1970.  I’m not hearing The Entertainment Industry (which i have heard a million times, and it usually pretty much sounds the same).  I ‘m just hearing some guys making a demo.  And it’s evocative.

Does anyone  out there collect and compile ancient publishing company demo recordings?

Is Jerry Walsh out there somewhere?  Was this made as a demo?

RECORDINGS: Steve Douglas “the music of cheops”

Steve Douglas was a studio session saxophone player who performed on countless hits of the 60s and 70s.  Allmusic.com has a write-up and credit list for Douglas if yr curious.   In the mid-seventies, Douglas apparently went to Egypt and got permission to record some improvised music in the Kings Chamber of the Great Pyramid of Cheops.  Here’s an example:

09 Track 09

According to the liner notes, the whole thing was taped live by his buddy to 2-track Nagra tape deck (a Nagra is a high-end Swiss-made tape recorder which was generally used on film and television shoots in the era before DAT tape decks).  I am not sure how to explain the polyphony (IE multiple notes occurring at the same time), but it’s possible that Douglas was playing two saxes at once, a trick i have seen myself many times.

From what i can gather, this was originally a private press LP that was soon picked up by Takoma, the avant-garde/folk label.

This recording really illustrates how much information there is in simply hearing the sound of a room.  How much can be added to a recording by putting the performer in the right space.  The room sound of the chamber is the real content of this album.  Douglas brings this point home by including some brief ‘street noise/Cairo’ bits on the record; it lets us know that we are in for a largely sonic (as opposed to largely musical) experience.  I was in Cairo recently and it is a very visceral place.  noisy, crowded, smoky, strong smells everywhere- it’s overwhelming.  Even the pyramid park is stressful.  Cops with machine guns circle and extort money from tourists (yes for real).  In contrast to all of this is the inner quiet of the pyramid chambers.  Silence, darkness, no motion.  Check out this clip where we hear a percussive piece that seems to be wholly constructed from the valve and pad noises of the saxophone.

Cheops_ValvePiece

Douglas was not a really a jazz musician (although there are certainly ‘jazzy’ passages and scales on the record), and i think that’s part of why i like this album so much.   Jazz musicians tend to focus their energy on certain kinds of expression:  usually personal ’emotional’ expression, or some expression of their thoughts on jazz idioms and jazz form.  CHEOPS, though, is an audio expression of the physicality of an incredible place.  It is really just about the sound, and it’s beautiful.  I transferred this album from LP.  It’s available on Amazon (with a really terrible new cover), and if you like Eno, Budd, etc., i think you will dig this.

http://www.amazon.com/Music-Cheops-Steve-Douglas/dp/B00020EXME

Does anyone know anything else about this record?  What sound effect units he is using?

Any similar records out there to hear?