PopMark Media’s Confessions of a Small Working Studio: Bringing the Past Back to Life through Audio Restoration

PopMark Media’s Confessions of a Small Working Studio: Bringing the Past Back to Life through Audio Restoration

By Lisa Horan

Creative Audio Works is featured in Mix Online this month.  The original article can be found at MixOnline.com.

So much of our professional focus involves looking straight into the future, with little time devoted to what lies behind us. It’s good to plan, of course, but sometimes, a trip back in time is exactly what we need.

Keeping that in mind, this month’s “Confessions of a Small Working Studio” features studios that have built their businesses on mixing the old with the new. Specifically, they are using futuristic technology to breathe life into past recordings. Find out how audio restoration facilities are not only helping to restore vintage albums and other music-related media, but also historic audio for museums and libraries, and even forensic audio to help aid in criminal investigations.

Resurrecting the Past
Taking a glimpse at snapshots of people’s lives and restoring them: That’s the way Stewart Adam, the owner of Boston’s Creative Audio Works, characterizes what he does. In fact, his work resurrects memories for his clients that otherwise would have been lost forever. For him, that’s the best part of what he does.

“I’ve had many clients come to me with reels of family members who had passed away, and they just wanted to be able to hear that person’s voice again,” Adam says. “One guy came to my studio with eight reels of his father, who had died when he was 16. The recordings captured snippets of time—from the age of 2 talking into a mic, until he was 15 when he was playing trumpet and piano—and being able to restore these moments was really rewarding. I have to admit, it actually brought a tear to my eye.”

Many of the projects that Adam is hired to do involve taking recordings of family histories, cleaning up the quality, and creating a digital version of the recordings. In addition to families, universities and organizations call on Adam’s expertise when they discover recordings that need to be restored or digitized.

For instance, Harvard Medical School had in its possession an oral history of the famous psychiatrist, Carl Jung, as told over a three-year period through Jung’s work associates and family members. After spending two months digitizing and cleaning up the recordings, when all was said and done, Adam not only provided the client with an audibly superior recording, but he also had uncovered a few secrets about the psychiatrist’s past.

Another project that sticks out in Adam’s mind: a client whose father was a DJ during the 1950s through the early 1970s. He came to Adam with 20 tapes that contained recordings of his father interviewing such musical greats as Buddy Holly, Stan Kenton, Danny and the Juniors, and the Everly Brothers. “While in the Army Radio Corps, his assignments included interviews and commentary that were being recorded with the sounds of atomic bombs exploding in the background,” says Adam. “That’s one of the interesting aspects of my job. Sometimes, there are little treasures of unknown information that are contained within the recordings, and it’s pretty exciting to uncover them.”

Michael Graves, the owner of Atlanta’s Osiris Studio, has uncovered his fair share of hidden treasures—perhaps most notably a project that he worked on a few years ago when he began working with Art Rosenbaum, a retired professor of art at the University of Georgia. For the past 50 years Professor Rosenbaum has had a passion for field recording, capturing non-professional folk, gospel, blues, and bluegrass musicians with his portable reel-to-reel deck. The quality and condition of the recordings varied wildly and it was Graves’ job to make them sound like they belonged together in one cohesive group.

“The project was amazing to work on,” Graves says. “Not only did we get to hear great music and stories about how these recordings were made, along with little anecdotes about the artists, but the work we did actually earned us a 13-page article in The New Yorker magazine, along with other national newspapers.”

Ultimately, the Dust-to-Digital label released a boxed set of four CDs offering a collection of more than 100 songs taken from those tapes. Graves, Rosenbaum, and Dust-to-Digital’s Lance Ledbetter won a Grammy Award for Best Historical Album. “For a self-taught audio restoration engineer, to be standing next to Metallica at the Grammys, and then holding my own Grammy in my hand for my work, was a dream.”

Assisting in Criminal Investigations
Audio restoration is also used to aid in forensic investigations. Both Adam and Graves actually spend a chunk of their time working with police agencies and law firms to assist them in restoring audio that is associated with crimes being investigated.

“Typically, the recordings I work on for forensic purposes are extremely poor, and when you finally do clean them up enough to know what’s going on, the content tends to be pretty disheartening,” Adam says. “I once worked with a client who had received a voicemail from a caller whose cell phone went off in his pocket by accident just before he was attacked. The sound was garbled, but you could make out screaming and slapping.” Adam says that because of the very detailed nature of this work, he can work anywhere from five to 10 hours per minute of recording.

According to Graves, “In many of these recordings, there’s extreme clipping that has to be dealt with. I work with a lot of dash cam videos taken from police cruisers. Sometimes the recording devices are set improperly or the microphone is in a poor location. The result is heavily distorted voices. Additionally, there are often extraneous noises that have been captured, like tractor trailers passing by, and that muddies up the overall quality.” Graves admits that, in many cases, if the microphone wasn’t close enough to capture the targeted audio, there are limitations on the effectiveness of audio restoration techniques to correct that.

Combining Technology with Human Ears
 Of course, uncovering hidden clues in forensic recordings or family histories isn’t as easy as dusting for fingerprints. “The first step I take is to figure out what [tape] format we’re working with, and then I run the tapes through converters for importing,” says Adam, who uses Apple Logic or Bias Peak Pro. Once the tapes have been digitized, he goes back, removes any blank audio at the beginning, adjusts levels appropriately, and then deals with restoration.

“The thing about audio restoration is, there’s no exact formula,” Adam says. “You’ve got to listen for the things that jump out at you first, which are commonly issues like hum, tape hiss, room rumble, distortion, clipping and what is known as sticky tape syndrome, a problem that often occurs with reel-to-reel tapes from the ’70s through the early ’90s that have sat on the shelf for too long and now make a squealing sound when played.”

To deal with these and other issues, Adam’s Mac-based studio includes modified converters and one of his favorite tools: Isotope RX Advanced and an ANR-B external box, which essentially performs noise reduction as it’s digitizing and is usually a good option for projects with tighter budgets.

Graves’ arsenal includes tape decks, de-click and de-crackle software, Steinberg WaveLab, lots of top-grade needles, and a Prism Sound ADA-8XR multichannel AD/DA converter, which is among the best in the world. (Consider this: The ADA-8XR was used to restore The Beatles’ catalog, and is also used by George Lucas and the Library of Congress.) “It may cost more than a car, but I’ve tried just about every tool out there, and nothing gets the noise out without harming the original sound as well as this product,” Graves says.

However, lofty price tags aside, technology alone can take a project only so far. Human ears play a crucial part in every restoration job. Take into consideration a project that involved multiple tapes of sermons that were captured using a handheld cassette recorder. Adam used his ears to figure out that the source of the noise on the recording was actually the recorder’s motor.

Graves says that in some cases, technology can actually be the downfall of a restoration project. “Sometimes people will push technology too hard and compromise the authentic quality of an old recording. You can get really ridiculously minute in terms of clean-up with the technology that’s available. While that can be great in some ways, it also causes you to run the risk of brushing away just a little too much of the natural qualities of a recording, which can ultimately undercut its integrity.

“What’s really satisfying to me is that not only am I turning people on to music that they never would have had access to before, but also, I’m working with recordings that are so rare that there are only one or two copies in existence. That makes me happy.”

Lisa Horan is a writer with more than 19 years of industry experience, and the executive director of PopMark Media, a unique partnership that offers creative and marketing services, custom music and music production, and audio post-production services to music, film, and business clients.

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The myths and reality of vinyl records vs.CDs.

Vinyl always sounds better than CD

As described below, despite decades of arguments, there is no technical proof of the sonic superiority of the vinyl medium compared to CD. One vinyl record may sound better than its equivalent CD for extremely specific reasons. That does not mean the medium as a whole is superior.

Many people do prefer listening to music to vinyl rather than on CD or digital formats. Many of those reasons have nothing to do with actual sound quality, and have more to do with the tactile characteristics of vinyl – its “feel” – like larger artwork and its required playback ritual. Others prefer listening to CDs for a different set of reasons. There is nothing wrong with preferring vinyl to CDs, as long as the preference is honestly stated on emotional terms, or is precisely quantified and tied to subjective experience, and not obscured with (fallacious) technical appeals.

Vinyl requires a better-sounding master because it is physically incapable of reproducing the hypercompressed sound mastered to CD

Different masters can substantially improve or reduce sound quality. Some have less background noise. Some alter the dynamic range. There are other mastering techniques that can also affect the sound.

There are documented instances of different masters being used on vinyl releases compared to CD releases. One notable example is The White Stripes’ Icky Thump. However, there are also many documented instances of the same masters being used on vinyl releases compared to CD releases. In fact, if you purchase an album produced in the last two decades on vinyl, it is logical to assume that the master will be no better than on CD unless evidence is found to the contrary. Alternative masters for vinyl cost money, and mastering is a significant cost of producing a record. It is very likely that some producers – believing in the myth that vinyl is an inherently superior medium, as mentioned in other myths described here – will simply use the CD master for the vinyl release, believing that it will automatically yield a superior sound.

The technical details behind this myth are as follows. The cutting heads used for creating the vinyl lacquer (or metal mother) are speaker-like electromechanical devices driven by an extremely powerful amplifier (several hundred watts). At extremely large/fast cutting head excursions, the cutting head coils may physically burn up, much like how a speaker’s voice coils may be destroyed by an excessive current. Also, the diamond cutting head stylus may prematurely wear or break. This places important constraints on the maximum levels that can be recorded to a record.

A very high power output is required to cut grooves with a high acceleration. Acceleration at the same signal amplitude is higher for higher-frequency signals. Heavily clipped and limited CDs in the modern mastering style have more high-frequency content than earlier masters. In general, increasing the perceived volume of a record – whether by increasing the recording level or by limiting/clipping/compression – raises the cutting head average power.

Additionally, during playback, the turntable’s stylus has limits on what grooves it can successfully track. Cartridges can only track grooves of a finite modulation width (measured in microns) that decreases in frequency. For instance, a cartridge may only be able to track a 300 µm-wide groove at 300 Hz, and yet only 50 µm at 20 kHz. This also places limits on the acceleration and velocity limits the record master can take.

The most obvious way to work around these issues is simply to reduce the recording level of the vinyl master. Multiband limiters exist for recording purposes that dynamically reduce the treble content of the master, to limit the cutting head power usage.

The vinyl surface is heated to several hundred degrees on playback, and repeat play of the same track should wait at least several hours until the vinyl has cooled

Professional estimates for the stylus surface temperature during playback are 300-500 °F. Obviously, the temperature of the record is at or close to room temperature except at the stylus contact point – otherwise the record would completely melt. Back-to-back playback will introduce slightly more distortion than a fresh play. This is believed to be a temporary effect and goes away after approx. 10 minutes.

Repeated playback (no matter what the timeframe) carries the risk of permanent damage. Obviously, records are observed to wear out with repeated play. No published evidence exists of back-to-back playback causing any more permanent damage than if repeated plays are separated by any longer period of time.

Proper vinyl playback is click-free

Pops and clicks are often not audible during a song on a well-maintained record and should not distract from the listening experience. No evidence exists of a record that is shown to be played back with absolutely no pops or clicks whatsoever. They are introduced at virtually every stage of production, from cutting the lacquer to the pressing to the playback itself. Some pops and ticks are pressed into the record itself.

Some pops and ticks result from static discharges during playback. However, this may be mitigated by the use of topical treatments on the record.

Because of the lack of evidence for a tick-free record and the engineering factors making such a record extremely rare, it is quite likely that no record exists that is truly free from all pops and ticks.

Vinyl is better than CD because it reproduces higher frequencies than CD and avoids anti-aliasing filter issues at the frequencies CDs can reproduce

The recording/tracking ability of vinyl is easily at least 50 kHz and perhaps as high as 100 kHz. The most notably proof of this is the CD4 quadraphonic system which relied on a 45 kHz bandwidth to be accurately reproduced. That said, the high-frequency response accuracy of vinyl varies tremendously. Frequency deviations of 5-10 dB or greater are not uncommon in the 20 kHz range for many records.

Playback of ultrasound frequencies is still not guaranteed. Many MM cartridges have resonant peaks defined by the preamp loading, or stylus tip resonances defined by the cantilever, that attenuate high-frequency content.

When groove wear does occur, it occurs much faster at high frequencies than at low frequencies. For modern styli this is not as much of a concern, though.

There are rarely, if ever, any ultrasonic frequencies for vinyl to preserve. In audio recordings, such frequencies, when present, are normally low-energy noise imparted by electrical equipment and storage media used during recording, mixing, and mastering. Although some musical instruments can produce low-energy overtones in the ultrasonic range, they could only be on the vinyl if every piece of equipment and storage medium in the recording, mixing, and mastering stages was able to preserve them—which is unlikely even in modern recordings, since the average microphone or mixing console is designed only with audible frequencies in mind. Even if the overtones were preserved all the way to the mastering stage, mono and stereo lacquer cutting equipment typically includes a lowpass filter to avoid overheating the cutting head with ultrasonic frequencies.

Finally, on top of all of these issues, there is simply no scientific evidence that frequencies beyond the 22 kHz limit of CD audio are audible to any known group of people, or that such frequencies affect anyone’s perception of the audible range. There is no evidence that reconstruction and anti-aliasing issues are audible.

Vinyl is better than digital because the analog signal on the vinyl tracks the analog signal exactly, while digital is quantized into steps

PCM encoding (used on CDs and DVD-A) records audio data in a quantized format. Analog formats do not have a measurable time or signal resolution.

PCM is sometimes characterized as producing a jagged, “stair-step” waveform. This is only partially correct; analog-to-digital conversion (ADC) does indeed use a sample-and-hold circuit to measure an approximate, average amplitude across the duration of the sample, and digital-to-analog conversion (DAC) does the same kind of thing, generating a rectangular-ish waveform, but this output is always then subjected to additional filtering to smooth it out. Effectively, the ADC output sample values are interpreted as a series of points intersected by the waveform; the DAC output is a smooth curve, not a stair-step at all. Additionally, modern ADC and DAC chips are engineered to reduce below the threshold of audibility, if not completely eliminate, any other sources of noise in this conversion process, resulting in an extremely high correlation between the input and output signals.

PCM can encode time delays to any arbitrarily small length. Time delays of 1us or less – a tiny fraction of the sample rate – are easily achievable. The theoretical minimum delay is 1ns or less. (Proof here.)

With a correct implementation using dither, signal quantization (ie 16-bit or 24-bit) only adds wideband noise to the signal, not quantization distortion. If this dither noise is well below the already-present noise floor, it is inaudible.

Analog encoding still has many measurable and audible faults, potentially including harmonic distortion, noise and intermodulation distortion. These distortions have invariably measured higher than for digital formats, including CD.

The term “analog”, by definition, means that the signal is not and cannot be a perfect reproduction of the original – it is merely an “analogue” of the existing signal, corrupted in the process of encoding.

In short, by any numerical basis, vinyl is not as accurate as competing digital formats.

Vinyl has greater resolution than CD because its dynamic range is higher than for CD at the most audible frequencies

The dynamic range of vinyl, when evaluated as the ratio of a peak sinusoidal amplitude to the peak noise density at that sine wave frequency, is somewhere around 80 dB. Under theoretically ideal conditions, this could perhaps improve to 120 dB. The dynamic range of CDs, when evaluated on a frequency-dependent basis and performed with proper dithering and oversampling, is somewhere around 150 dB. Under no legitimate circumstances will the dynamic range of vinyl ever exceed the dynamic range of CD, under any frequency, given the wide performance gap and the physical limitations of vinyl playback.

Adding a penny to the headshell improves tracking/sound

The trackability of a cartridge is related to the mechanical parameters of the tonearm and stylus assembly. Adding weight to the headshell (and adjusting the counterweight to compensate) increases the effective mass of the tonearm and reduces its resonant frequency. If the resonant frequency is excessively high – 15-20 Hz as measured by a test record – the weight may improve trackability by moving the resonance out of the audible range. Otherwise, it will generally only reduce trackability.

A cartridge is permanently damaged and should be replaced if the stylus appears even slightly bent

Bent styli cause azimuth and alignment errors which may be audible. In extreme cases they can cause record damage. Cartridges are hand-built and always have some finite tolerance in their construction. No stylus is perfectly straight. That said, if a brand-new cartridge arrives visibly bent, it is probably a good idea to return it.

Belt-driven turntables are better than direct-drive turntables

Belt drives are far easier to implement than direct drives, easier to improve, and arguably easier to repair. Well built direct drives have speed and rumble tolerances as good or better than well built belt drives.

Subjective claims to the improved musicality and audio quality of belt drives are disputed and not well agreed upon by all listeners.

Belt drives hold their value just as poorly in the used market as direct drives.

Direct drive motors tend to last a very long time (some original-model SL1200s may still run without any maintenance). Belt drives need new belts on a semi-regular basis and tend to have noisier motors at the same price ranges as direct drives.

There is a common myth that a direct drive will “hunt” for the correct speed and cause audible speed variations. This has no basis in reality.

It is believed that direct drives are better at handling dynamic stylus friction than belt drives, except in cases of very poor direct drives or very good belt drives.

Some examples do exist of direct drives of inferior quality.

Stock tonearms on direct drives tend to be much less expensive than the tonearms that come with belt drives at similar price points.

via: Hydrogenaudio

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The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show Feb. 9, 1964


On this day in 1964, the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show for the first time, as teenage girls screamed hysterically in the audience and 73 million people watched from home — a record for American television at the time. Their appearance on the show is considered the beginning of the “British Invasion” of music in the United States. The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show the following two Sundays in a row, as well. On this first time, exactly 47 years ago today, they sang “All My Loving,” “Till There Was You,” “She Loves You,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” and finally “I Want to Hold Your Hand” — which had just hit No. 1 on the charts.

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Lindisfarne

Lindisfarne were a British folk/rock group from Newcastle upon Tyne established in 1970 (originally called Brethren and fronted by singer/songwriter Alan Hull. Their music combined a strong sense of yearning with an even stronger sense of fun. The original line-up comprised Alan Hull (vocals, guitar, piano), Ray Jackson (vocals, mandolin, harmonica), Simon Cowe (guitar, mandolin, banjo), Rod Clements (bass guitar, violin) and Ray Laidlaw (drums).

They are best known for the albums Nicely Out of Tune (1970), Fog on the Tyne (1971) and Back and Fourth (1978), also for the success of songs such as “Meet Me On The Corner”, “Lady Eleanor”, “Run For Home” and “We Can Swing Together”.

The group began as The Downtown Faction, led by Rod Clements, but soon changed their name to Brethren. In 1968, they were joined by Alan Hull and became Lindisfarne after the island of that name off the coast of Northumberland. In 1970 Tony Stratton-Smith signed them to Charisma Records and their debut album Nicely Out of Tune was released in 1970. This album defined their mixture of bright harmony and up tempo folk rock. Both singles released from the album “Clear White Light” and “Lady Eleanor” failed to chart, as did the album itself at first, however the band obtained a strong following from its popular live concerts.

Their second album Fog on the Tyne (1971), produced by Bob Johnston, began their commercial success. This album reached #1 in the UK charts the following year. The single “Meet me on the Corner” and a re-release of “Lady Eleanor” followed in 1972. The album Nicely Out Of Tune belatedly made the UK album chart Top 10 and the band began to attract a huge media following, with some calling Hull the greatest songwriter since Bob Dylan. The band were even referred to as the “1970s Beatles”.

in 1972 they recorded their third album, Dingly Dell. The band were unhappy with the initial production and remixed it themselves. It was released in September 1972. Though it entered the Top 10 in the first week of release, it received lukewarm reviews. The ecologically themed single “All Fall Down” was a UK Singles Chart #34 hit but the second single “Court in the Act” failed completely.

Internal tensions surfaced during a disappointing tour of Australia in early 1973. Hull initially considered leaving the band, but was persuaded to reconsider. It was agreed that he and Jackson would keep the group name while Cowe, Clements and Laidlaw left to form their own outfit Jack The Lad. They were replaced by Tommy Duffy (bass guitar), Kenny Craddock (keyboards), Charlie Harcourt (guitar) and Paul Nicholl (drums). The new line-up lacked the appeal of the original and with Hull also pursuing a solo career, the band’s next two albums Roll On Ruby and Happy Daze and the subsequent singles failed to chart. They disbanded in 1975.

The original band reformed in 1976 to perform a one-off gig in Newcastle City Hall, but the revival ultimately became permanent. They gained a new record deal with Mercury returned to the charts in 1978 with the UK chart top 10 hit “Run For Home”, an autobiographical song about the rigours of touring and relief at returning home. The song also gave them a US singles chart hit and the album Back and Fourth moved into the UK album chart top 30. Subsequent singles “Juke Box Gypsy” and “Warm Feeling” failed to sustain their newfound success. The next album The News (1979) failed to impress and the band lost their record deal.

The next decade witnessed various lineup changes and the band continued to release albums. They formed their own company Lindisfarne Musical Productions and recorded singles such as “I Must Stop Going To Parties” in the mid-1980s, as well as the album Sleepless Nights. In 1984 they supported Bob Dylan and Santana at St James’ Park. Saxophone player and vocalist Marty Craggs joined the group shortly afterwards. Throughout this period they played annual Christmas tours and released Dance Your Life Away(1986) and C’mon Everybody(1987) – the latter made up of covers of old rock’n’roll standards.

Another album, Amigos, was released in 1989. In 1990 Lindisfarne introduced themselves to a younger generation with the duet “Fog on the Tyne Revisited” accompanied by footballer Paul Gascoigne, which reached #2 in the UK singles chart. Soon afterwards Jackson left the band. Cowe left in 1993, shortly after the recording of the album Elvis Lives On The Moon. Hull died on 17 November 1995, but the surviving members continued to use the name.

The band continued to play with a fluid line up, releasing two studio albums, Here Comes The Neighbourhood (1997) and Promenade (2002). A number of live albums were also released.

Lindisfarne finally broke up in late 2003, performing a final concert on 1 November 2003 at the Newcastle Opera House. The final line up as a band included Dave Hull-Denholm, Billy Mitchell, Rod Clements, Ian Thomson and Ray Laidlaw. Three members continued to tour under the name Lindisfarne Acoustic until May 2004.

On 19 November 2005 the friends and colleagues of Alan Hull held a memorial concert at Newcastle City Hall in honour of Hull and included musicians such as Alan Clark, Simon Cowe, Marty Craggs, Steve Cunningham, Steve Daggett, Tommy Duffy, Mike Elliot, Frankie Gibbon, Charlie Harcourt, Brendan Healy, Tim Healy, Ray Jackson, Ray Laidlaw, Finn McArdle, Ian McCallum, Billy Mitchell, Terry Morgan, The Motorettes, Jimmy Nail, Paul Nichols, Tom Pickard, Prelude, Bob Smeaton, Paul Smith and Kathryn Tickell. Proceeds from the concert were donated to The North East Young Musicians Fund. The Alan Hull Award for young musicians in the North East was set up a year later in response to the success of the concert.

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Deconstructing Dad is a documentary dedicated to Raymond Scott, one of the true geniuses of the past century. As (hopefully) most of you will know, he was an accomplished musician, a very original composer and the inventor of some revolutionary electronic musical instruments.

A detailed description of Raymond Scott’s work would take too much space here. I’d recommend having a look at the Wikipedia page and at the lovelyofficial site.

Deconstructing Dad, now available on dvd, is directed and produced by Stan Warnow, Raymond’s son from his first marriage. It’s a an act of love, a virtual reconciliation with someone who’s never been a perfect father. The documentary, while not extremely focused on musical or technical details, is a very interesting journey into Raymond Scott’s life and carreer.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogJlnNqSHt0&feature=player_embedded]

It’s cool to see the few rare clips of Raymond Scott’s bands in action, and to hear some phone conversations (yes, he used to record private conversations, that was part of his technology addiction). Also, the interviews with people like Jeff Winner (co-producer and founder of the official Raymond Scott Archives), Hal Willner, Don Byron, Williams, Herb Deutsch (Moog co-inventor) etc. help understanding Scott’s personality and approach to music.

There’s a passage in the movie which tells a lot about Scott’s approach and evolution: with his bands he was playing jazz, but it was not actually jazz. I mean, the instrumentation and the language could be defined as such, but the approach was completely different.
Control is the keyword here. He wanted to be in control. No improvisation, almost a sacrilege for jazz purists!
This clearly explains why later he fell in love with creating and using electronic instruments. In his lab (which looked incredible, by the way) he finally had complete control over the whole musical process. And, as far as we know, the tools he created were really unique and ahead of his time. In the fifties he had created a synthesizer, the Clavivox, and a polyphonic sequencer, before these words even existed.

But he wanted more, he was dreaming of an intelligent machine, able to automatically generate music. And he created one, the Electronium, which was also bought by Barry Gordy, Motown’s godfather (which hired Scott at Motown too, as researcher). Raymond Scott was definitely not interested in marketing his creatures. For him they were all a huge “work in progress”, he was constantly working to improve them, and that explains why years later he was fired by Gordy, tired of investing so much money on machines that were not ready to be shown to potential customers yet.
Raymond Scott to me is a sort of modern Leonardo Da Vinci: a perfect, rare, visionary mix of art and craft skills.

As said, this documentary is more about the man than about his music or his creations. While this leaves space to other, more specialized analysis of his work as composer and inventor, I’d definitely recommend watching Deconstructing Dad. It’s an excellent, intimate and original introduction to Raymond Scott’s genius.

Via:  Audio News Room

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The Wrecking Crew

 

I had a chance to see the documentary “The Wrecking Crew” a few weeks ago. This documentary is a is a journey back to an era in the music industry that will never come again.  I hope that you have a chance to view the movie or visit the website http://wreckingcrew.tv/

The Wrecking Crew was a nickname coined by the drummer Hal Blaine after the fact for a group of session musicians in Los Angeles, California, who earned wide acclaim in the 1960s. They backed dozens of popular singers, and were one of the most successful “groups” of studio musicians in music history. The Wrecking Crew were inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame on November 26, 2007.

The Wrecking Crew’s members typically had backgrounds in jazz or classical music, but were highly versatile. The talents of this group of ‘first call’ players were used on almost every style of recording, including television theme songs, film scores, advertising jingles and almost every genre of American popular music, from The Monkees to Bing Crosby. Notable artists employing the Wrecking Crew’s talents included Nancy Sinatra, Bobby Vee, The Partridge Family, The Mamas & the Papas, The Carpenters, The 5th Dimension, John Denver, The Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel, and Nat King Cole.

The figures most often associated with the Wrecking Crew are producer Phil Spector (who used the Crew to create his trademark “Wall of Sound”), and Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson, who used the Crew’s talents on many of his mid-1960s productions including the songs “Good Vibrations”, “California Girls”, the acclaimed album Pet Sounds, and the original recordings for Smile. Members of the Wrecking Crew played on the first Byrds single recording, “Mr. Tambourine Man”, because Columbia Records did not trust the skills of Byrd musicians except for Roger McGuinn. Further recordings of the Byrds were conditional on the success of the single. All of the Byrds played on their subsequent recordings. Spector used the Wrecking Crew on Leonard Cohen’s fifth album, Death of a Ladies’ Man.

According to Blaine, the name “The Wrecking Crew” was derived from the impression that he and the younger studio musicians made on the business’s older generation, who felt that they were going to wreck the music industry.

Members

Members of ‘The Wrecking Crew’ included:

▪   guitar: Glen Campbell, Barney Kessel, Tommy Tedesco, Al Casey, Carol Kaye, Billy Strange, Don Peake, Howard Roberts, James Burton, Jerry Cole, Bill Aken, Mike Deasy, Doug Bartenfeld, Ray Pohlman, Bill Pitman, Irv Rubins

▪   saxophone: Steve Douglas, Jay Migliori, Jim Horn, Plas Johnson, Nino Tempo, Gene Cipriano

▪   trumpet: Roy Caton (contractor), Tony Terran, Ollie Mitchell

▪   trombone: Lou Blackburn, Richard “Slyde” Hyde, Lew McCreary

▪   keyboards: Leon Russell, Mac Rebennack (aka Dr. John), Mike Melvoin, Don Randi, Larry Knechtel, Al Delory, Mike (Michel) Rubini

▪   bass: Carol Kaye, Joe Osborn, Max Bennett, Chuck Berghofer, Ray Pohlman, Larry Knechtel, Lyle Ritz, Jimmy Bond (007), Bill Pitman

▪   drums: Hal Blaine, Earl Palmer, Jim Gordon

▪   percussion: Julius Wechter, Gary L. Coleman, Frank Capp (contractor)

▪   conductor/arranger: Jack Nitzsche

▪   harmonica: Tommy Morgan

▪   The Ron Hicklin Singers often performed backup vocals on many of the same songs on which The Wrecking Crew had played instrumental tracks.

Though not an official member, Sonny Bono did hang out and contribute to sessions recorded by the Crew.

Glen Campbell later achieved solo fame as a singer-guitarist in the 1960s and 1970s, and Leon Russell and Mac Rebennack (as Dr. John) both went on to be successful songwriters and had hit singles and albums. Also, Nino Tempo with his sister Carol (under her stage name April Stevens) had a U.S. #1 hit song in 1963, “Deep Purple”. Otherwise, the best-known ‘members’ of this unofficial group are bassist/guitarist Carol Kaye, one of the few female instrumentalists to achieve success in the recording industry at the time; and drummer Hal Blaine, who has played on tens of thousands of recording sessions, including Sinatra’s, and is believed by some to be the most recorded drummer in history. Among his vast list of recordings, Blaine is credited with having played on at least forty U.S. #1 hits and more than 150 Top Ten records.

Al Casey worked for many years as a session musician. Jim Gordon also drummed on many well known recording sessions and was the drummer in the groups Derek and the Dominos, and Traffic. Ray Pohlman doubled on both bass and guitar, and started heading sessions in the 1950s with a regular group of musicians including, Mel Pollen, Earl Palmer, Bill Aken (aka Zane Ashton), Al Casey, and others. Pohlman would also become the musical director for the TV show Shindig, while Aken became musical director on “Shock Theatre,” both shows being nationally televised. Aken was also musical director on the critically acclaimed syndicated radio show “The Country Call Line” in the mid 1980s. Aken also conceived, arranged, and produced the music for the very first ‘Farm-Aid’ radio special in collaboration with Willie Nelson and LeRoy Van Dyke.

The Wrecking Crew worked long hours and 15-hour days were not unusual, although the rewards were great — Carol Kaye has commented that during her peak as a session musician, she earned more per year than the President.

The Wrecking Crew were featured in the 95-minute 2008 film The Wrecking Crew directed by Tommy Tedesco’s son, Denny Tedesco. The film has screened at several festivals and was featured on National Public Radio, but it has not yet been commercially released.

The Wrecking Crew, or at least part of it, was the house band for 1964’s The T.A.M.I. Show.

Via Wikipedia

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From the Collections, Sound Recordings Heard for the First Time

With help from scientists and preservation specialists, the National Museum of American History recovers sound from recordings that have been silenced for over a century

One March morning in 2008, Carlene Stephens, curator of the National Museum of American History’s division of work and industry, was reading the New York Times when a drawing caught her eye. She recognized it as a phonautograph, a device held in the museum’s collections. Credited to a Frenchman named Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville in 1857, the phonautograph recorded sound waves as squiggles on soot-covered paper, but could not play those sounds back.

The article reported that scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, had managed the seemingly impossible. They played back the sounds. Using equipment housed at the Library of Congress, Carl Haber, a senior scientist in the lab’s physics division, took high resolution digital images of a phonautogram found in a Paris archive. Using computer software, Haber analyzed the images and extracted from the recording a 10-second clip of the French folk song “Au Clair de la Lune.” Made on April 9, 1860, the sound snippet predates the oldest known playable sound recording— Handel’s oratorio, made by Thomas Edison and his associates in 1888.

“When I read the article, I thought, oh my gosh,” says Stephens. The American History Museum has about 400 of the earliest audio recordings ever made. Pioneers (and competitors) Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and Emile Berliner donated the recordings and other documentation to the Smithsonian in the late 19th century. The inventors conducted experiments from 1878 to 1898, and stashed their research notes and materials at the Smithsonian, in part to establish a body of evidence should their patents ever be disputed.

There are a few cryptic inscriptions on the wax discs and cylinders and some notes from past curators. But historians did not have the means to play them. Stephens realized that a breakthrough was at hand.

“I have been taking care of these silent recordings for decades. Maybe finally we could get some sound out,” says Stephens.

So she contacted Haber and Peter Alyea, a digital conversion specialist at the Library of Congress. Stephens called their attention to a group of recordings made in the 1880s by Alexander Graham Bell, his cousin Chichester Bell and another associate Charles Sumner Tainter. The team had created an early R&D facility at Washington, D.C.’s Dupont Circle, called Volta Laboratory. (Today, the site is home to Julia’s Empanadas at 1221 Connecticut Avenue.)

“From 1881 to 1885, they were recording sound mechanically. They recorded sound magnetically. They recorded sound optically, with light. They tried to reproduce sound with mechanical tools, also with jets of air and liquid. It was an explosion of ideas that they tried,” says Haber. “There are periods of time when a certain group of people end up in a certain place and a lot of music gets created, or art—Paris in the 1920s and ’30s. There are these magic moments, and I think that historians and scholars of technology and invention are viewing Washington in the 1880s as being one of those moments.”

Eager to hear the content, Haber and Alyea selected six recordings—some wax discs with cardboard backing, others wax on metal and glass discs with photographically recorded sound—for a pilot project.

“We tried to choose examples that highlighted the diversity of the collection,” says Haber. In the last year, they have put the recordings through their sound recovery process, and on Tuesday, at the Library of Congress, the pair shared a first listen with a small audience of researchers and journalists.

The snippets are crude and somewhat garbled, but with a little help from Haber, who has spent hours and hours studying them, those of us in the room could make out what was being said. “To be or not to be, that is the question,” declared a speaker, who proceeded to deliver a portion of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy on one disc. A male voice repeated a trill sound as a sound check of sorts and counted to six on another. From one recorded in 1884, a man enunciated the word “barometer” five times. And on yet another, a voice states the date—”It’s the 11th day of March 1885″—and repeats some verses of “Mary had a little lamb.”

In fact, during one recitation of the nursery rhyme, the recorders experience some sort of technical difficulty, made obvious by a somewhat indiscernible exclamation of frustration. “It is probably the first recorded example of someone being disappointed,” jokes Haber.

The National Museum of American History hopes to continue this partnership with Lawrence Berkeley and the Library of Congress so that more of the sound experiments captured on early recordings can be made audible. At this point, the voices on the newly revealed recordings are unknown. But Stephens thinks that as researchers listen to more, they may be able to identify the speakers. In its collection, the museum has a transcript of a recording made by Alexander Graham Bell himself. Could the inventor’s voice be on one of the 200 Volta recordings?

“It is possible,” says Stephens.

 

via From the Collections, Sound Recordings Heard for the First Time.

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Eight Track Museum opens in Dallas to display 1960s music cartridge relics

With compact discs going the way of cassettes, it’s unlikely that anyone under the age of, say, 40 even knows what an eight-track tape is. But those who remember–or are just plain curious–will have a place to gather on Valentine’s Day when the Eight Track Museum opens in Dallas’s Deep Ellum arts district.

On display in the museum’s inaugural Conceived In Cars/Birth Of The Eight Track 1965 exhibition will be hundreds of eight-track cartridges, including all Beatles albums released in the format. Also featured is the extremely rare folding eight-track–a variation introduced in response to the audiocassette and marketed for only a few months in 1970.

The museum’s Deep Ellum Foundation building location on East Commerce Street will also house the Cloud 8 Gift Shop, which will offer museum t-shirts, vintage LPs and CDs, and of course, eight-tracks.

Cloud 8 is the name of colorful museum founder Bucks Burnett’s “dead format” eight-track only label. He has now renamed his three-year-old Earotica Music retail store, located in the Dolly Python complex on Haskell Avenue, Cloud 8–“in solidarity” with the museum’s retail division.

Burnett came up with the idea for the museum 20 years ago.

“I had a used record store called 14 Records and sold eight-tracks initially as a novelty,” recalls Burnett, whose other timeless endeavors include the launch of the Mister Ed Fan Club in 1975 (the members of Monty Python were its first members, with Andy Warhol and Alice Cooper joining later) and organizing the Edstock Festival in 1984 (Alan Young, who played Wilbur, was there, and Joe Ely, T Bone Burnett [no relation] and Tiny Tim–whom Bucks produced and managed–performed).

“But they started selling–and actually quite well,” he continues. “I set up a whole eight-track display area because I was the only game in town. This was pre-eBay–the early ’90s–and when I closed the store in ’95, I jokingly said I’d start an eight-track museum.”

By then, of course, the eight-track audiotape configuration was long extinct. The approximately 5 1/4 x 4 x 4/5-in. format became wildly popular in cars after their 1965 debut, but had long since fallen out of favor by its demise in 1989–thanks to the audiocassette tape’s smaller size and easier portability.

“It was sort of a joke, but I kind of meant it when I said it–and 20 years later I’m finally doing it!” Burnett says of his museum concept. “When I first bought the eight-track Beatles White Album in 1988 at a garage sale, I fell in love with it as an outdated but cool relic–and an official Beatles product even if it was an eight-track. Five years later I had a complete Beatles eight-track collection! I had to actually go painstakingly to thrift stores and flea markets back then to be an eight-track collector, whereas now it’s a few clicks on eBay–though even on eBay some stuff doesn’t turn up, or it’s very expensive because eight-tracks have risen in value over the past 15 years.”

Burnett partly blames himself for the increase in respect and corresponding price of eight-track tapes as collectible artifacts–some selling for $100 and up at auction.

“I got a lot of publicity 20 years ago just for selling them as collectibles, and raised prices on classic Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd eight-tracks from $5 to $20,” he acknowledges. “Pink Floyd’s The Wall CD is $20, but the eight-track should be $25. I sold a Sex Pistols eight-track in ’92 for $100 and it went out as a wire story and got picked up nationally and in Goldmine Magazine, and I actually got hate mail from eight-track collectors saying, ‘Thanks! My eight-track days are over.’ But I figure it was good for the Sex Pistols’ career.”

Burnett eventually got an astonished Johnny Rotten to autograph a Sex Pistols eight-track. After closing 14 Records (named, he says, because the number 14 “sounded like a lot of records–more than you can count on two hands”), he found he missed being “an important member of the eight-track community.”

He staged a first exhibit of eight-tracks from his private collection in October, 2009, at the prestigious Barry Whistler Gallery, and drew 300 people opening night–with another 50 to 100 showing up for each of the event’s following three days. A second exhibit was held last March near the town square in Denton, Texas, and featured a special celebration of the 35th anniversary of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music.

“Eight-tracks are still considered a joke–and I’m having a good laugh myself–but at the same time, with the success of the art gallery exhibit I knew I’d get phone calls,” he tells a reporter. “You’re one of them!”

Burnett held a one-day “soft” opening for the museum on Christmas as a test, and says that 150 people showed in six hours.

“We sold a ton of t-shirts,” he says, noting that the Cloud 8 Gift Shop also sells all formats of music, books and “rock junk of any kind.” The museum itself displays all audio formats from wax cylinders to iPods, in addition to over 2,000 eight-tracks.

The Valentine’s Day grand opening will be highlighted by performances by Dallas band The O’s, whose new album Between The Two will be released in a Cloud 8 limited edition eight-track version, and Dallas songwriter Stu Dicious. Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz, the nucleus of Talking Heads offshoot Tom Tom Club, will be present to sign Cloud 8’s version of their latest album Genius Of Live, being released in a special 30-piece eight-track edition in commemoration of the legendary band’s 30th anniversary.

“We feel inspired and astonished that in our thirtieth year, Genius of Live will be available through a technology platform that is clearly on the rebound from obscurity to its rightful place as the transcendent format of the 21st century,” states Weymouth and Frantz.

Burnett has made a “video guided tour” of the museum to let people know that the Eight Track Museum is for real, and is wrapping up a documentary about eight-tracks, Spinal Tape, that he began filming in 1992 and will include commentary from Jimmy Page, Tiny Tim, Talking Heads, the Velvet Underground’s Sterling Morrison and Black Oak Arkansas’ frontman Jim “Dandy” Mangrum. He’s also writing a book about the tape format.

“We want to introduce the concept of the eight-track as a limited-edition collector’s item format with the goal of having release parties for artists, who sign and number them and sell them out literally overnight,” says Burnett. “It creates a buzz for the bands and the museum.”

Although “you can buy really great working players on eBay any day of the week,” Burnett is not starting Cloud 8 for people to play eight-tracks so much as collect them.

“I don’t even play eight-tracks,” he says. “I just collect. I think they’re cool artistic relics. Think of how great Led Zeppelin album covers are, and imagine lining up all 10 eight-tracks side-by-side, with all the different-color plastics backing up that great cover art. They look cooler than LPs, and they’re harder to get!”

By  Baby Boomer Entertainment Examine February 3, 2011

Continue reading on Examiner.com

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History is added to Creative Audio Works

Creative Audio Works recently acquired 2 channels of Ampex 350 electronics for use in our new mix/mastering suite, which is expected to come online in March.  The Ampex 350 electronics came with the original estimate addressed to Milton Yakus of Ace Recording Studio, Boston, MA.  Milton Yakus was best known for co-writing the song “Old Cape Cod” along with writers Claire Rothrock, and Allan Jeffrey, made famous by Patti Page peaking at number 3 on the Billboard 100 list in 1957.

Milton Yakus’s son Shelly is considered one of the best engineers and mixers in the music industry. Formerly chief engineer and vice president of A&M Records. Yakus’ engineering work has help sell in excess of one hundred million records, equaling over one billion dollars in sales. He was nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.

Shelly Yakus has engineered recordings for many performers, including John Lennon, The Ramones, U2, Tom Petty, Van Morrison, Alice Cooper, The Band, Blue Öyster Cult, Dire Straits, Don Henley, Madonna, Stevie Nicks, The Pointer Sisters, Lou Reed, Bob Seger, Patti Smith, Suzanne Vega, and Warren Zevon. He acted as Assistant Engineer (1967–1969) for recordings by Dionne Warwick, Peter, Paul & Mary, Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, Count Basie & His Orchestra, and Frank Sinatra.

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20,000 Watts, 1976 style

Every audiophile including myself has sometimes fantasized about the components he’d or she would get if unlimited funds where available, the most knowledgeable design engineers to serve him, and a couple of highly qualified technicians for construction and installation. But that’s where it ends for most of us–as an occasional fantasy.

Please check out the Dick Burwen home audio system from 1976

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