Empathy for the Revel(ation)

So the Masthead Pic is the original, Old Skool MPC – Roger Linn’s Linn 9000. More info at Roger’s Museum Page.

I had one of these way back in the day, and it was a great combination of quality drum samples (with optional Sampling capability) and MIDI Sequencing in a fairly portable box that didn’t require you to lug around a computer to gigs. It also had a nasty tendency to crash at the most inopportune moments – usually right in the middle of a tracking session – and happily took all of your work with it unless you had managed to remember to save everything to floppy disk. The technology was so new at the time that the bugs killed Linn Electronics as a company. Roger was enticed by Akai to take his technology there to let their massive R&D Department work out the issues – the MPC 60 was the lovechild of this relationship.

I mostly used mine for traveling programming jobs, relying on my trusty Mac Plus running Passport’s Master Tracks Pro for everything else where the 9000 got relegated to ‘MIDI Triggered Drum Unit’. The Linn and the MPC’s that followed used Event List editing (single line text and gobbledegook for each MIDI note or function) to correct mistakes that the real-time Quantizing didn’t catch. It was slow and tedious compared to the linear sequencing that MTP gave me. If you use Logic or Cubase, or Pro Tools you are absolutely familiar with linear sequencing – it’s that common today for a majority of DAW’s. It also used the Pattern/Chain/Song technique for creating and organizing parts and fleshing them out into complete works. MPC’s still work like that to this day. I’m not a fan of this construction method having dealt with pre-MIDI (and even post-MIDI) sequencers and drum machines. Just not my speed when linear works so much better for me.

When the latest batch of MPC’s came out I took another (more on this shortly) shot at trying them out. I opted for the MPC One since it seemed to tick all the boxes (h/t AudioPilz) and then some. I also found it in great condition for a decent price on The Bay.

I don’t do reviews (that’s what The Tube of Yous is for) but compared to the MPC’s I’ve owned in the past (in numerical order: 60v2, 500, 1000, 2000, 2500) the One just looked like they had finally evolved: big color touchscreen, CV/Gate outs, USB MIDI, network capability, Virtual Effects and Instruments, and a matching (at additional cost) software version that would allow you to move and edit projects easily between machines.

There’s just one big problem – that big, bright, colorful touchscreen.

It provides a lot of information, yes. It makes using the sequencer so much easier, indeed. And it makes tracks and sample manipulation a joy compared to its older siblings. But it’s not like using an iPad or decent Android Tablet. You will make mistakes – a lot of them – because it doesn’t have the screen resolution haptics of those devices you are probably used to. Typing names always misses a character or three. Trying to edit a short note (or a single note out of a cluster of them) will drive you to a lengthy stream of cursing. Clicking on a box to change the value will have you pressing multiple times to ensure its selected. Yes, it’s a big leap above the multiple button presses and Data Knob twirling the older ones had, but it’s a real slowdown when you’re in the middle of The Creative Process. From what I’ve researched this is common across the entire One/Live/X range. You can connect a USB computer keyboard to alleviate the typing process, but it doesn’t allow for any other input device to select or choose things – plus I’m not giving up my lone USB port for this ‘convenience’ (yes, I know USB Hubs can be used but the potential for noise and interference increases with ’stacking’ USB devices).

So after a year of toying around with it I kind of gave up – until I had a revelation about a week ago: yeah, the sequencer is crap (to this day I still can’t find the damned Event List Editor on the thing), but the rest of it is actually very, very usable if you think about it as a ‘MIDI Triggered Sound Unit’ and ignore the internal Sequencing.

To accomplish this I initially thought to set it I could just drag Josephine over and just use Reaper or Logic to sequence it. But then the light bulbs started heating up as I realized that the thing I bought an iPad to do might actually be this thing… At first, the MPC as the centerpiece of my ‘analog setup’ triggering an ARP Odyssey module and a Behringer Pro-1 as sound sources while the MPC handled drums, sequencing, sampling, and audio inputs from the modules. Unfortunately, my small space here at APITE Labs meant I either had to get rid of things at the ‘Analog Station’ to make everything fit or rebuild my main ‘DAWspace’ to accommodate. The Odyssey got relegated to the back of the Junk Closet as I was not about to tackle redoing my main Workspace. Then the Pro-1 joined it as more light bulbs began arcing up. Yes, the iPad would be serviceable as a MIDI Sequencer based on the numerous Apps I had purchased over the years (certainly one of them would do the trick here) and the MPC would be the sole MIDI Sound Module. Simplicity at its finest…

Again, the MPC has built-in Virtual Instruments as well as Sampling and Multisampling (and Auto Sampling!) capabilities. It has an Odyssey, a Solina String Synth, a Mellotron, and it also has a really nice Drum Synth… So everything got relegated to the Junk Closet except the MPC, a MIDI Controller keyboard, and the iPad. The iPad is running a basic MIDI Sequencer (no AUV3’s or Audio Tracks to complicate things). A single $15 ‘1 In/1 Out’ MIDI Interface connects the MIDI Controller to the iPad to input MIDI notes into the Sequencer and sends the MIDI Data out to the MPC. In essence the MPC is a Multi-timbral MIDI Sound Module. I’ve set up Templates on both the Sequencer and MPC so all I need to do if fire them up, load the Templates into each and start creating. I also have a surprising amount of space left for future ‘expansion’ or dragging out a synth to use/sample.

Okay. Yeah, I hear you – that ‘Analog Station’ isn’t so Analog anymore, is it?

This whole experiment is part of that ‘Old School DAW’ concept I was talking about a while back. I had planned to use a few synth/drum modules with a simple Sequencer to see if there was anything to be had by going back several decades in music tech. I poked around with a few Arturia devices (both Beatstep and Keystep Pros) and the Analog modules and a Eurorack system. I didn’t take long for my little setup to become a mess of wires and teetering hardware and I was spending more time connecting things (and preventing them from falling over) than actually making anything useful. Argh.

I next decided to use the old Daniel Miller ‘one or two mono synths’ technique. That’s where the Odyssey and Pro-1 became the main focus for sound creation. The Arturia’s did the job well enough I guess (it’s that Pattern-based structure I don’t care for), but now I required a mixer to sum the audio, and getting anything usable off the Arturia’s into a DAW was cumbersome at best. The MPC was ushered back in to fill that void. It not only could sequence the modules, but record parts as audio or samples that could be saved to its SD Card and easily transferred to a computer. The first problem popped up when the MPC couldn’t be prized into mono-summing its audio inputs for monitoring (it’s just a stereo in and something plugged into the left channel will always be heard on the left – and ditto for the right channel) and after that the whole slew of inanity I ranted on above reared its ugly faces again, leading me to look to a more simplistic setup…

So this is where I’ve stopped, and for the time being I’m happy with it. When I can find time to build/modify the setup to hold more toys I will probably expand this into what I envisaged the ‘OLD Skool AnALoG DreAM SEtuP’ to be. But there are no real answers here at the moment. This is just cataloguing my continual Experiment Fail Learn Repeat method of breaking paradigms and trying new things, even if I’m robbing from the past to get there.

Everyone has a preferred way of creating and working, and this work in progress here might never come to to its true fruition. The winding road of finding simplicity has many a fork in it, although I still think it’s worth exploring as many of them as helps you find the path you need. That old Proverb of ‘It doesn’t matter how slow you go as long as you do not stop’ will be your guide. Keep searching.

Until next time!

Edit: as I was just about to post this WordPress is continually telling me that a cadre of Redditors has somehow found the last post on ‘Everything’s Been Done Already’ – crazy! A welcome to all and hope each and every one of you finds something thought-provoking and useful to your art scattered around here somewhere. Stay creative! 🙂

Everything’s Been Done Already – Time to Look for Something New…

Image Credit Lovingly put into the CC Zero/Public Domain Space and retrofitted by Yours Truly. 🙂

Sorry for the Clickbaity Title, but we need to talk. First though, a bit of housekeeping:

I posted the Featured Image over at the APITE Tumblr Spot. I pretty much have given up on the Tweet Machine® since the Current Incarnate of P.T. Barnum got involved. I do miss some of the people and info there, but after a few months I’d rather seek out their diatribes on better places with longer reads. I think all my Twaddle does these days in announce any postings from here.

Tumblr also allows me to put up ‘Random Nonsense’ quicker than one of the Screeds here, and I’ve found the community to be on the whole a lot nicer than other Social Medias. You can find us on The Tumble Machine® here.

In ‘The New Shiny-Shiny’ Land, Edsel and Josephine are still the workhorses as normal, except I am finding a few slowdowns in my DAW’s (and one of the reasons for this rant coming up) which I am hoping will be fixed with the latest MacOS coming up in the fall… The next post is a TNSS on this subject which I’m sure will be out by the time the new OS is out (I’m done giving excuses for lateness here – I’m just posting here when I feel it’s needed. Head to Tumblr for more habitual postings.)

Okay, about that Title.

For my Daily Hellscape over at EduCorp® I have to be fluent in like five Digital Audio Workstations (DAW’s):

I’ve been using Logic Pro since the late 90’s and am a Certified Pro, so I know it like the back of my hand.

I’ve poked around with Ableton Live since Version 3 so I know my way around, but would not call myself an ‘Expert’ by any means.

Slo Tools (sorry, Pro Tools) is an evil that thankfully the Company pays for, The latest version is the most stable I’ve use in a while, but it is *still* not Apple Silicon Native and has a tendency to show it. I’m not a fan of the Subscription Model they use, and I know there is much better value for your money in the market. Unfortunately way too many Very Important Companies have decided this is the standard so we have to teach it. I avoid it like the Current Heath Crisis if I can.

I’ve dabbled with Cubase over the years and admit that it’s a powerful program, but I find its interface and methodology overly complicated and tends to fill the screen with lots and lots of windows. I know a lot of Postproduction Kids use Nuendo (also by Steinberg) and rave about its capabilities. I’ll trust them with that since I can’t afford to even think about purchasing it… Also on the Steinberg Front I have used WaveLab a few times and it almost became by Grading DAW. It’s a highly regarded Mastering DAW, but I found it suffers from the same quirks that Cubase does, and is way overpriced for what it actually does in comparison to what I decided on using.

(For clarity, I also have UA’s Luna DAW, but it’s MIDI editing is worse than Slo Tools. Which is something I never thought I would say in my lifetime. I gave up on Digital Performer almost two decades ago since Logic did more and better IMO. I’ve used Reason off and on since its inception, but it’s always playing ‘catchup’ with the other Players in the space and just doesn’t fit in with my workflow).

I use Reaper as my Grading DAW. I’ve raved about it before and will here again in a future post, but I honestly think that it’s the best thing out there for a Digital Audio Workstation in today’s market. Stay tuned for more info here.

So – I have all of these on Josephine and save for one (Spoiler Alert – Reaper) I’ve noticed a few things:

1) They all copy the same features. This may take a Version or two between them to parity, but they pretty much all do the same things.

2) They fill your Hard Drive with crap you will probably never need or use – Samples, Loops, MIDI Files, etc.

3) ‘Style Over Substance’ – slick interfaces with skeuomorphic designs that harken back to an era of recording that only geezers like me remember (and really don’t want to see again) and younguns think are ‘legit’.

4) Silly expensive on their own and (for the most part) require additional Plugins to do modern audio production. 

5) They haven’t really innovated in years.

All of the above is easy to understand for people in the Music Creation Space and most current users stick with what they have been using forever because they know how to make it work for them. It takes a lot of time and effort into understanding your tools and how they work, and switching to a different system can be an uphill climb of trial and error to get them to do what you need them to do.

I’m not here to criticize your choice of technology, but I want to concentrate on #5 though – and how it might be holding you back from Moving Forward.

Essentially, all DAW’s do the same thing: record and edit (MIDI and Audio). They can cut/copy/paste bits around. They host Virtual Instruments and Audio Gizmos. They can stretch and mangle audio. They have basic video-syncing capabilities. They allow you to build music or audio structures and then render those to a deliverable format. That’s about it if you really think about it.

But what was the last truly amazing inclusion that supercharged your workflow, or sparked your creative abilities?

For me, Logic’s revamping of the venerable EXS24 into the Sampler and Simple Sampler instruments – but’s that’s not really ‘game changing’ is it? Before that was FlexTime and FlexPitch, or the ability to change tempo and pitch of an audio file to match the current Session. I don’t use they feature a lot these days, since I have Plugins that do it better. Before that (way back in 2003 as I recall) was the elimination of having to use the Environment to set everything before you could record anything. I love working with Logic, but looking back at the timeline I see a lot of change, but not a lot that shows me they are moving the ball forward in recent years. Logic is a very powerful DAW with a lot of included doodads that cover just about any type of of musical style or genre and I still use it quite a bit – but again those 3rd Party additions are what make it usable for me. Pro Tools, Cubase, and perhaps even Live do not include nearly as much relying on you to fill the void with additional expenditures on top of their already steep price tags. (I will say that Live did shift the paradigm for music creation, but it seems to be falling in line with everyone else since then – see Bitwig’s ’splintering’ off as an example here). 

With that in mind, let’s talk about those 3rd Party Plugins since they suffer from a lot of the same stagnation as the DAW’s do… I cut my teeth making music in the 80’s, so I loves me some analog goodness, but honestly how many Minimoog VST’s do we need in the space? How many Wavetable synths, FM synths, Samplers, and ‘Retro’ Drum Machines? How many 1176 Compressor clones or LA2A emulations, or Ancient Console-based Channel Strips? It’s staggering to me how many Devs are just factories for making digital copies of gear 99.9% of modern musicians have never seen, much less used. I have used quite a few of these toys in my day, and the software counterparts do sound identical, if not better that their hardware cousins. They are cheaper, recallable, portable (just bits and bytes and not massive metal contraptions), and you can probably add hundreds of them to every single session.

But I’ll tell you a secret – no one is going to give a shit about what you used on a recording. And no one can tell the difference between an EQ or a compressor that’s built-in to your DAW and the one you paid hundreds of dollars for. No one cares if the bass line was created on a real Oberheim or a software recreation. 

All they care about is do they like the song and does it bring out some emotion in them. Period. All this smoke and mirrors about this is best for that and that is best for this is a distraction from those two points. A song made with great players will need very little in the way of processing (if at all!) – but no amount of hardware or software can fix a lackluster song or a mediocre performance. 

Oh, and don’t get me started on Loops and Sample Packs of all the crusty old genres that are a part of the upcycling of today’s music because no one wants to admit that everything has been done already and it’s time to move on to something new. Yes, there are companies making great experimental sounds and effects – but they are the exception, not the norm, and they are sadly ignored by the masses in a vain attempt to ‘follow the leaders’ in whatever sound is the flavor of the day, week, or month. We have got to get away from this insanity…

(Yes, I understand that Libraries are a boon to creators who have to do a lot of ‘turnaround’ work for video and other media, but when this has become an excuse for ‘cheat coding’ songs across genres you know we’re doing something wrong here.)

Music Technology drives Musical Innovation. Hitting log drums with bones millennia ago, blowing into reed tubes, or mimicking bird and animal calls evolved with technology into the instruments and styles we have today. Next time you get a chance, take a good long look at a piano or a saxophone or even a guitar. Wonder at the technology that went into perfecting that instrument and how many countless hours and incredible failures went into making it. Think about at what point did that technology become ‘The Standard’ and was widely used and just stopped innovating any more. Why did that happen? Did it reach ‘perfection’? Or was it just a usable tool for a particular style that languished into commonality?

The ‘Electronics Boom’ of the early 20th Century developed into the microphones, amplification, multi-track recorders, and electronic instruments we all take for granted today. The ‘Computer Revolution’ of the 1970’s onward accelerated this into what we have today. Digital Synthesizers, Samplers, Virtual Instrument, Effects, and DAW’s are the fruits of that revolution and drove the musical styles of the 80’s, 90’s, and early Aughts.

And that’s where we got stuck – endlessly reiterating the ‘Classics’ instead of pushing the proverbial envelopes. Anyone remember Roland’s tagline from the 80’s and 90’s? It was ‘We Design The Future’. That has now been coded into ’The Future-Redefined’ (which in my opinion is a lame, lazy, and just outright abomination of the original). For the past several Decades they have been churning out Behringer-esque copies of their Greatest Hits of the past with minimal effort put into new techniques and new processes. You can look at Korg, Yamaha, or pretty much any other Electronic Music Manufacturer and see the same trend. It’s really quite sad, and maddening to me since they could be making trends instead of chasing them.

Want to make your mark out there? Stop buying the retreads. Stop giving into the Marketing Machinery that’s taken over the Design Labs and Record Labels and Media. Seek out the new, the weird, the different, the ones trying to push things in another direction. These were the things that made music so interesting in my day (insert Old Man voice here, but I’ll bet you think the same thing when music and pop culture started becoming relevant in your life) was the fact that it felt, looked, and sounded different from the typical guitars and drums and voicing and style that were so prevalent in Popular Music at the time. It was new, exciting, and unexpected. It was that unique mythical creature that not everyone else was hip to… It demanded that I explore and create – not rehash and recycle.

The picture at the top of this post is true – that computer you have right this very moment is the best thing you own creatively. Someone out there has made some really interesting ways (Apps, Scripts, whatever) to make it do things you both want it to do and have never imagined, and if you really want to you can create (code) whatever you want – and there are a lot of people like you out there who can help. But you will not find this from the Major Players in the market – all they care about is Line Goes Up and they will cobble together anything lying around to make that happen. Ignore them.

And this is one of the beautiful things about Pop Culture – it’s always driven by the innovators until it becomes commonplace and a commodity and is then replaced by another iteration or mutation by a new batch of innovators. Be one of those innovators, because it’s the only way to Move Forward. 

Until next time!

TNSS: Hammer into Anvil

MacOS Monterey (aka MacOS 12.0.1 as of this writing) dropped yesterday afternoon here. I took the plunge and used Josephine as the Guinea Pig. Sizable update with about an hour total install time, but no hitches or glitches or witches (it’s Halloween Season too – so of course had to put that in here.) 🙂

I have been slowly prepping the Josephine for the update over the past few weeks. I went through the process of getting the Universal Audio software installed since they say it’s now usable with Big Sur (MacOS 11), and did a hefty round of both software and plugin updates to match what was already on Edsel. Everything was checked for usability with Big Sur before Monterey was due for release, and I found nothing other than the ‘usual’ problems I’ve had with Bug Sure® over the past year, the biggest two are talked about below. 

The Banner Pic above was my biggest problem. That’s supposed to be GForce Software’s Oddity2 ARP Odyssey emulation. It’s one of the first Plugins I purchased way back when and has always been one of my absolute favorites (just like the real hardware). No matter what I tried (reinstallation, Rosetta mode, waving chicken bones over the computer) it would produce sound as normal, but the graphics were gobbledegook – meaning no adjustments could be made to the on-screen controls. Although I have a few Presets for it as ‘starting points’ I like to tweak and create. Whatever was happening here made this impossible…

So this morning I tried opening Oddity on Josephine in ’standalone’ mode. Holy Cats It Works Again!!!! I closed the App and launched Logic, which was still in ‘Rosetta Mode’ to authorize the UA and IK Multimedia Plugins that prefer to be AU Validated that way. Sure enough, Oddity looked as it did before Bog Sore®. I quickly created a MIDI Pattern in Logic and let it run while I twiddled with knobs and sliders – it was so good to have it back again…

Out of all those updates I did before prepping Josephine for MantaRay®, Oddity2 was not one of them. I did update to the latest Logic Pro (10.7), so wondering if that fixed it I opened Logic on Edsel which is still running Blag Sour®. Nope – even with the Logic 10.7 update (and the 11.6.1 ‘Security Update’ that came out yesterday) Oddity still has the graphics issue. Not sure what Monterey Jack® did, but this is great news. However, I tried to install d16 Group’s Nepheton (another old fave) on Josephine and it unfortunately still crashed Logic when I tried to Authorize it. In their defense, the d16 Crew states they are aware of this issue and a fix will happen sometime. Insert Sad Trombone sounds here because I use these a lot too…

D16 Error

I will check the few other Plugin issues I had and put those results in a future post. For now I’m just happy that I have my beloved Oddity back in action. I got the Korg Odyssey as a part of their Collection 3 Bundle Upgrade, and although it’s a great little synth, it just doesn’t have the sound the GForce version has. I tried to match sounds I’d created in Oddity2 on the Korg, and although I could get close, the Oddity just runs rings around it as far as I’m concerned. 

The other major annoyance I had with Bag Slur® is this:

DMG Eject

This would happen on the odd Installation, and there is no way to get the damned thing to eject other than a User Log Out (which might bring up the Force Eject Dialog Box to allow you to get rid of the Disk Image once you log back in) or just doing a Restart which guaranteed its removal. Again, no amount of shenanigans and goings-on I tried would alter either of these two solutions, and it didn’t happen with every .DMG – just plain unrepeatable and weird. I have yet to encounter this on MacOS 12 as of yet, and will let you know if I do.

As for everything else I have no complaints. My Productivity Apps continue to allow me to be productive, and what few Utilities I’ve needed have performed as expected. Would I recommend you update before the ‘Recommended Point One’ version?

Not really.

If you’ve been reading this series then you know the drill: if what you have is working the way you need it to, don’t upgrade until you can take the time to work out the problems or you have another machine to test on. However, if you are having the same kind of Plugin issues that I was having with the Oddity, it might be worth the hassle. Not sure what Apple did here, but kudos to the Programming Team. 

So I did have a question asking if I was going to upgrade to one of the newer MacBook Pros with the M1x/M1Max chipsets. The simple answer is ‘Sure, I’d like to have one, but not right now.’ From everything I’ve read so far they are incredible computers, but honestly I’m still impressed by the power of the original M1’s in both Edsel and Josephine. That 14’ is the sweet spot for me, but my MacBook Air is really close to that size now.

The Dolby Atmos® and Spacial Audio updates in Logic Pro might require a future upgrade (thinking a year or so) but both of my machines handle these just fine in the simple tests I’ve done. I also have other things I need to take care of beforehand with my pittance of savings…

I’ll call it here for now. Monterey (what – no snarky Portmanteau?) works, fixes some annoyances (at least on my devices), and other than (again) resetting every one of my Mission Control Desktops to a retina-searing color scheme (easily fixed) is so far a better version of Big Sur (yep – snark over…) – very similar to the old Lion/Mountain Lion upgrades of yore.

At least for the time being. 🙂

Until next time…

The Soul Sounds of Ma Bell: An Interview with Evan Doorbell

(Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Telephone_Booth_Klamath_California.jpg. Ellin Beltz / Public domain)

Hello everyone and my apologies for being absent for a while – told you after the Holidaze® were the busiest time of the year… 🙂

I have an awesome make-up gift though! Through a chance meeting on the Tweet Machine I have been granted an interview with Evan Doorbell.

‘Evan Who?’ you might be saying right now…

Okay, let me back up a bit. Anyone who knows me also knows that I have a passion for all types of technology and especially those who use and understand it to true Mastery. I will happily babble on about Audiocasters and YouTubers who keep it personal, approachable, educational, and entertaining. I’ll watch my pal Brent work in his garage even though I have no interest in cars. Andrew Camarata’s skills will leave me daydreaming of driving skid steers and wanting to build things out of shipping containers – even though it’s miles away from my audio wheelhouse. Over the years I have found so many people creating content that delight and inspire (including many that I’ve linked to on this Blog). But Evan is pretty much where I began this particular journey.

About a decade or so ago I was looking for some telephone sounds to use in a production. While digging in the crates of the Interwebz® I found Evan’s tapes. I listened to a couple and was so floored by his content (the sounds and descriptions of the old phone system were haunting and just silly fun to explore) that I downloaded about half a dozen and listened to them when I got home. I’ve been hooked ever since, and find myself regularly floating back to his pages to grab anything new to enjoy on my limited downtime.

Fast-Forward to late last year when Evan Tweeted he was having an audio issue, and I was happy to step in to see if I could assist. In return he was gracious enough to answer a few questions for me, which I’m very excited to share with all of you. His commitment to The Phone Tapes is something that will inspire and fascinate you in this era where artists and creators jump from project to project, hotbed to hotbed to try and remain relevant. Oh, and he’s never charged a single dime for any of his content. It’s an absolute definition of a Labor of Love and something (IMO) this world needs more of.

With that in mind, enjoy some digging into Evan’s history and currency.

A Poke In The Ear: In your ‘How to Be a Phone Phreak’ series, you describe how you used a piano to match the tones for various telephone company functions. Later on, you used bells and/or whistles for the various tones (and then the ARP Odyssey, but we’ll get more into that in a bit…) I’m assuming you had formal music training in your early days, correct?

Evan Doorbell: Well yes, I took piano lessons for a few years. Also my mom taught me to identify intervals by ear. That started something which just snowballed by itself. Had I had YouTube back then I would’ve learned a hell of a lot more.

APITE: Agreed! Listening to the tapes I’m pretty sure that you have Perfect Pitch (or really good Relative Pitch) – am I correct in thinking this? If you do, it’s a rare and wonderful gift and would explain how you could figure out the TelCo sounds as well as pick out various background sounds later in compiling the various tapes…

Evan: I don’t have perfect pitch except for the sound of a modern dial tone, and that comes from my working with the tapes for the last 20 years.

Whenever I recall a song from the past, it plays in my head almost always one to one and a half whole steps flat.

APITE: When did you start recording phone sounds?

Evan: I started recording on the phone in 1970. The first tape was just a collection of recordings, mostly from tandems, recorded with a microphone held up to the earpiece.

APITE: You mentioned there was a reel-to-reel recorder in your house, and you used cassettes as well. Although I do remember them from the early 70’s, I recall them being a bit of a luxury item (quite expensive for both recorder and tapes). Did you have a job or use allowance money to ‘feed your habit’ so to say?

Evan: Money for cassettes was a problem until I became employed. I don’t recall thinking that because cassettes were expensive.

APITE: When did you get the ARP Odyssey synthesizer? Was it new or second-hand?

Evan: I got the Odyssey new in August 1972. That happened shortly before I went to the Commune, where numerous musical collaborations occurred starting in September 1972 all the way through the Spring of 1976.

APITE: Was the ARP purely for ‘Phone Phreak’ sounds or did you play with bands too?

Evan: I was never in a band but I often acted as the recording engineer and synthesizer programmer for someone’s music project at the Commune.

APITE: How long did it take to understand the ARP’s functions? Was it natural to you or did it take a lot of effort to get what you wanted?

Evan: I used the making of Group Bell jingles as a means to learn about the ARP Odyssey. It was a natural explorative process.

APITE: For the Group Bell jingles and other recordings (like the ‘Dom Tuffy’ vignettes) – how were they recorded? Did you have access to multitrack recording or were you using Sound on Sound techniques (or something else entirely)? Also, did you do any tape editing (splicing) or just fly things in in real-time?

Evan: The Dom Tuffy tapes were produced on an open-reel machine using material mostly sourced from cassettes. Pausing the tape, Sound on Sound, and splicing were all used in the production of those.

APITE: What was your studio like at the time?

Evan: My ‘studio’ for many years consisted of just the Odyssey and a Sony tape deck with its (built-in) microphones. The Sony could do Sound on Sound recording.

APITE: Some of the jingles sound like they have ‘sequenced’ elements in them. Did you have a sequencer or was that just clever use of the Odyssey’s Repeat function (or just damned tight playing)?

Evan: I never had a sequencer during the years I was making Jingles. Sometimes I recorded notes at half or quarter speed on an open-reel tape recorder and speeded them up. That might sound like a sequencer…

APITE: Where did you learn the techniques for recording? Trial and error? Magazines or books? Friends or other people?

Evan: I learned my recording techniques by hands-on experience. Analog tape was remarkably forgiving when it comes to recording. It had a way of smoothing things out that digital doesn’t do.

APITE: In the Atlanta Centrex tapes you mention that you upgraded to a Yamaha DX-7 synthesizer. Did you find the transition from analog (with the Odyssey) to digital (with the DX) confusing? I personally *hated* programming the DX series back then although I find it surprisingly fun today…

Evan: Learning to program the DX-7 was just super cool to me. I jumped in with both feet, having not yet realized that by 1986, over 70% of the sounds it was capable of made it making had pretty much all been discovered.

My best patch for the DX is one that I have sadly lost. It was unique: a bell sound based upon my harmonic analysis of the Big Ben chimes. It was quite beautiful and I’m really sorry I lost it.

APITE: Do you still have (and use) any of the old synths today? Have you bought anything new(er) recently?

Evan: Nowadays I’m not doing anything with music, there’s just no pleasure in it for me including listening these days. I hope that changes.

APITE: It’s also obvious you have a bit of Electronics knowledge (wiring amplifiers to the phone network to make your voice louder early on certainly stands out). Like the question above, how did you acquire this knowledge?

Evan: I was always interested in electronics as a young child. Once when I was four years old I went into a TV repair store where there was an obvious electrolytic capacitor hanging over the desk. The guy at the repair shop was surprised to hear a four-year-old boy say “that’s an electrolytic capacitor.“

APITE: I should also get into your computer programming skills (modding the Apple II to understand voices is absolutely brilliant) with ‘demon dialing’ and analyzing phone calls. How did you find your way into it?

Evan: My learning to program in Apple machine code began while I was waiting for the manager of a Disco to show up with whom I was going to ask for a job. I brought my 6502 (Apple’s Machine Code (or ‘Assembly Language’) protocol from the early 1980’s) book and waited him out. I got the job and was also on my way to programming in Apple II’s Machine Code.

The AutoJan program is what led to the other telephone inventions with the Apple II. George followed pretty quickly it was only a natural progression for me. (Check out his Early 80’s’ Programs1 through 3 for more info on these systems)

Eva, an invention which I haven’t made the program to explain yet, Was a device that made a super high-capacity talk line using the Bell Systems’ new transfer feature. That turned into a small business which ran from 1984 through 2004. What ended that business was changes in the industry enabling competitors to compete with us for no charge to the users. You can’t compete with free except by doing it free, which we couldn’t do because our business had a completely different model.

APITE: I may have missed this in the tapes (I’ve listened to a lot, but there is just so much I haven’t heard!) but did you ever actually work for a TelCo? Seems like you would have been an amazing technician/engineer for one of them…

Evan: Never worked for any telcos.

APITE: Is there anything about your early recording/editing that has influenced what you have done career-wise since then?

Evan: I’ve never had a career involving editing sound or producing audio. I can say that once you start working with sound, that awareness and skill just snowballs. I don’t think I would want a career producing audio, because currently I have a volunteer project (the Phone Tapes series) which pretty much uses up my entire capacity for audio production.

Voiceover work is completely unpleasant and very difficult. I’m constantly dealing with phlegm, hoarseness, mouth clicks, And a general inability to control my voice. I’m constantly having to spit into a rag and edit every two or three words together. It sucks.

Being a Club DJ was the best career I ever had. The only reason I left business is because the music started sucking. There is absolutely nothing like it. I was a natural for mixing, and about a year into my career, Steve (DJ Friend and Mentor) and I worked out a system for programming music that has never been surpassed.

I was the first DJ in Atlanta to use a computer in the DJ booth. But the computer was just a library system containing all the records, their tempos, musical keys, and transitions that had previously been identified. It doesn’t really help in the science of music programming – that’s more a matter of being very sensitive and analytical about the music and I have really high standards.

APITE: Can you estimate how many tapes you have recorded (or acquired) over the years?

Evan: There are about 53 open-reel tapes on 7 inch reels. Most are recorded at 3-3/4 IPS, 1800 feet, Four tracks per tape.

There are approximately 1415 cassettes, most of which are C-60’s, many are C-90’s. (60 and 90 minutes total run time, respectively.)

APITE: How many of the tapes have survived quality-wise over the years? We’ve always heard about tape deteriorating over time and I’m curious if you’ve had to resort to anything like creative editing, or even having to bake a tape to get it to unstick…

Evan: Only one of the tapes was noticeably damaged and that was because it was one that was stored in an un-airconditioned room in New York for many years. Other than that one, there were no noticeable degradation of the tapes.

There were some tapes that I had to bake, but those were defective from the start and baking really did help.

As we all suspected would be the case, the cassette tapes made by TDK show no deterioration of any kind whatsoever. The Maxell cassettes also fared well, however they tended to print-through loud dial tones rings and busy signals right from the get go.

The Scotch brand tapes were flawless, but only the actual tape itself. The pressure pads (which keep the tape pressed against the playback head on the cassette player) all deteriorated requiring me to break open the shells, which were not secured with screws. (some cassette shells can be opened by removing 4 or 5 screws, while some are physically glued together.) There are still little blue shards of Scotch cassette shells hidden in various corners of this room…

ED Tape Xfers

APITE: Are the tapes pretty well cataloged or do you have to listen through and take notes to find out what’s on them?

Evan: The thorough cataloging won’t be done until long after I’m gone. However since most of the tapes were a single subject, I do know what each of those are. There are probably less than 20 cassettes recorded by Ben (Decibel) that have multiple subjects and would need to be gone through for me to know exactly everything that’s on them, but I don’t expect to find any big surprises. Or I should say I don’t expect that any big surprises will be found in this tape collection.

APITE: Do you digitize tapes first before listening/cataloging or do you just take them one at time?

Evan: The digitization process started in 1999 and ended in 2017. The cassettes were all digitized using a freestanding CD burner made by Tascam. Various methods were used to make sure everything was done right. At the very least, I’ve looked at every waveform display to make sure there were no abnormalities. Most of the tapes were manually set to the correct speed when digitized. I’m talking about minor speed variations which would make dial tones, etc. off pitch. Some of the cassettes were recorded by more than one cassette machine and have speed variations within the tape. Those will have to be speed corrected later. I have a whole set of reference tones that I use to get the speed exactly right.

APITE: How long does it take to make an episode, from subject(s), research, scripting, editing, etc.?

Evan: It takes longer than you would ever imagine to produce a narrated tape. The fastest ones to produce are the short phone trip stops, each of which takes about a week of full-time work. The ones that take the longest are the ‘How I Became a Phreak’ series, the first of which took me four years to complete. Actually, it didn’t take four years of full-time work, it just took me four years to get through my cognitive difficulties involved in making it happen. That began in 1998 and it wasn’t until 2002 that I figured out how to end it.

Generally, these take about three months of full-time work. Episode 10 was the most efficient. I think I got that done in less than a month – it was a miracle.

APITE: Let’s talk about how you edit the tapes. You’ve talked about computers (and computer issues – like all of us!) so it’s clear you’re compiling and editing there. Which software are you you using? Have you switched programs over the years?

Evan: I got locked into Adobe Audition when Cool Edit Pro was bought up by Adobe unfortunately. That company (Adobe) shows a contempt for their users in the way they design things but I don’t feel like bitching about that right now. I have to stay with Audition because over the past 20 years I’ve learned to remove extraneous hum from the tapes using its algorithms. Removing hum from the phone tapes is totally an art, and anyone who tries to do it is going to screw things up royally and it would be better to not even try.

Hopefully I’ll have time to put out some how to videos before I die. I don’t expect to die anytime soon but you never know… Any processing of these tapes that produces a result that could not have been recorded in the 1970s is a no-no as far as I’m concerned. I mean if it’s full of digital artifacts, what the hell have you got when you have one of these recordings? You don’t have anything. Better to leave the hum in then fuck it up into some sort of abomination that doesn’t represent anything that ever happened anyway.

I highly recommend Evan’s ‘How I Became a Phone Phreak’ series if you want a great starting point into his Phone Tapes. He goes into exquisite detail of how he got started doing these recordings and it’s just a great tour of telephone history and and enjoyable listening experience as well.

If you liked what you read here, please click the links I’ve highlighted above and spread the word to anyone you think might find these interesting You can find much, much more over at his Soundcloud page. Consider it his ‘Audiobiography’. 🙂

Thanks again to Evan for his time and patience with my queries, and until next time…

…This Weird Trick

Here’s a Thought Experiment based on some of Laurie Santos’ work. You can find more like this at her audiocast The Happiness Lab. Well worth checking out…

Step One: Think about all of the things in your technology world that are actively trying to eliminate personal interaction with other living breathing Human Beings. We’re talking in-person, face-to-face, actually having to speak to another one of us here.

Step Two: If you can’t eradicate that technology because reasons, then how can you disrupt that technology so you can personally communicate IRL? 

You’ll be amazed at how deep that Rabbit Hole goes…

Permission to Play

I’ve been digging through the gadgets and gizmos show at the Winter NAMM Show (or as I usually call it HotNAMM) trying to show all of you some cool new toys that were announced, and came up with a whole bunch of nothing. 

The was nothing really new. I didn’t find anything moving the needle forward. 

It’s honestly been like this for years.

The MIDI 2 Spec (if it takes hold) might push makers and manufacturers to change things, but that could be many years down the road.

It seems the idea well has run dry, and we might as well just pack it up and become Accountants or something, right?

Wrong.

Nobody knows what’s going on right now.

Styles and Genres are Decadal Influences are being rapidly sucked up in a vain attempt to create something that resonates with listeners. Spotify and Apple Music have opened up the entire catalog of recorded music for the kids to explore and plunder.

Gear I lusted over 35 years ago is being rehashed as the panacea for all our musical woes. Nostalgia is winning over futurism.

To that above statement let’s not forget about the return to vinyl and various tape formats…

And anything popular might as well be created by AI, because certainly sounds like it is.

The great ‘powers that be’ in our Industry have recovered from their digital desert and returned to actually profitability.

Are they investing in new talent?

Hell no.

They have no idea what’s going on right now either.

So we have a couple of ways of looking at this:

1) Everything stinks and we should just become Accountants or something.

2) This is a golden opportunity.

(Spoiler: it’s number two.)

Why?

Because when everything sounds the same, or looks the same, or just seems the same, doing something – anything –  off the beaten track perks up our eyes and ears.

And our imaginations.

Do something bizarre. Make something you know isn’t even close to popular. Run in the other direction.

You have Permission to Play – because nobody really knows what’s going on anyway. 🙂

 

Life’s What You Make It

A long time ago I read a quote on the Talk Talk song Life’s What You Make It. I’m paraphrasing here, but it went something like ‘I love a song that makes me feel invincible

I had always adored the song (and it’s still one of my all-time favorites), but after reading that line I appreciated it even more.

So here we are at the daybreak of a brand new year. You may have already broken a good portion of your New Year’s Resolutions. You might be filled with the relief of purging a bad 2018, hoping for the best but expecting the worst (another song lyric) that 2019 will not be as bad. You might not really have any feelings except remembering to put ‘2019’ instead of ‘2018’ after any date for the next few weeks until it’s committed to memory.

But while I was perusing the Tweet Machine this morning I was struck with just how many are glad to see the past 365 days done and dusted.

I’m not.

I’m very proud of what I accomplished last year.

And I will do more and better this annum.

—–

Want to change the world?

Make every year, month, day, hour, and second count for yourself and those around you.

Because Life’s What You Make It.

The Theatre of the Mind

Happy Post-Thanksgiving everyone! Hope yours was deliciously food-comatastic and every conversation was thought-provoking and positive. 🙂

Every Thanksgiving I have to watch ‘Turkeys Away’ from the classic TV show WKRP In Cincinnati. Much like the MST3K Turkey Day Marathon has become, it’s a holiday classic before the traditional holiday classics, and something to put a lot of giggles into your day while waiting for the graze-fest to begin.

After I watched the episode (and man is it still a laugh riot after almost 40 years) I did a bit of a deep-dive into some WKRP history and trivia and in the process found something very cool: http://wkrp-relived.blogspot.com. Roy Penney goes episode-by-episode of the Complete Box Set DVD’s, does a quick rundown for the uninitiated, and adds some analysis and twinkly-eyed nostalgia for those in the know. This is another reason why the Interwebz® are worth rooting around every so often to find the gems in the ever-growing pile of dirt.

Anyway, as I was looking up his account of the Turkeys Away episode, I found this statement:

“The second important aspect is that the magic of this episode mirrors the magic of radio itself: it’s all about the theatre of the mind. Radio is a medium that paints pictures with words. We see it performed in spectacular fashion on three separate occasions, kicking off the second half of the show.”

Wow. Never thought of this before, and as an Old Time Radio nerd I really should have. In that sentence he encapsulated why I have loved this show after all these years, and have always considered it one of the best television programs both written and performed. So I popped in one of my AirPods, cued up Turkeys Away, and just listened to it as I would any other OTR show, and it totally works as an audiocast.

Yeah, there are a few sight gags that get lost in translation, but to hear a show that was designed for a purely visual medium work comedically as audio alone is a testament to the producers, writers, and the actors. I can’t tell you if that was the idea the writers had initially, but if it was then it’s sheer genius. Even if it wasn’t intentional, it’s still an impressive feat and just fills my mind with ideas on how I can implement this into what I do in Audioland. And of course, now I have to see how well some of the other episodes (and possibly any other series’ as well) work as ‘radioplays’. Like I don’t have enough to do already… 🙂

Regardless, it just fortifies the concept of ‘The Theatre of the Mind’ and why I am so compelled towards creating and manipulating music and sound. Not only because of the camaraderie and creativity, but because it’s such a perfect way to impact the most powerful resource we have as emotional beings – our imaginations. Being able to turn physical auditory vibrations into feelings of deep sadness, resounding joy, or unseen landscapes full of awe and wonder is a positively magical thing. Arthur William Edgar O’Shaughnessy so eloquently put this into words some 150 years ago:

”We are the music-makers,

And we are the dreamers of dreams,

Wandering by lone sea-breakers,

And sitting by desolate streams.

World-losers and world-forsakers,

Upon whom the pale moon gleams;

Yet we are the movers and shakers,

Of the world forever, it seems.

With wonderful deathless ditties

We build up the world’s great cities,

And out of a fabulous story

We fashion an empire’s glory:

One man with a dream, at pleasure,

Shall go forth and conquer a crown;

And three with a new song’s measure

Can trample an empire down.

We, in the ages lying

In the buried past of the earth,

Built Nineveh with our sighing,

And Babel itself with our mirth;

And o’erthrew them with prophesying

To the old of the new world’s worth;

For each age is a dream that is dying,

Or one that is coming to birth.”

Our world here in music and sound is a powerful force, so how are you going to affect people with your Theatre of the Mind today?