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…

Amazon Music Loudness Normalization Arrives

From Saint Ian’s website – caught this on the Tweet Machine this morning:

Amazon Music Loudness Normalization Arrives – Production Advice

In related news I was dropped this the other day. The takeaway quote:

The least predictable (but not entirely surprising) resistance to externally mandated loudness controls seems to come from new, emerging “producers” and “mastering engineers.” In this new production paradigm/workflow—one mostly lacking a traditional professional infrastructure of managers or “gatekeepers”—these new “mastering” practitioners interact only with their respective artists. Many decisions in these relationships are invariably one-sided.

And that’s the disconnect: It’s not an overreach to say that artists are preternaturally insecure. After all, their job, if you will, is to absorb the heartbeat of the current culture … to translate this matrix of influences, not limited to affairs of the heart and politics, and blend in ideas, often abstract and ephemeral, then render it all musically. Does “accountability” have a place in the artistic zeitgeist? Does actual technical competence? What about an artist doing technical advocacy?

Loudness Normalization is the new Normal, so not making your mixes conform will only work against you and your art in the long run.

Learn, practice, and understand your craft if you want to have lasting appeal and longevity in the game.

Or just go for the Brass Ring, turn everything up to 11, diversify into anything and everything, and bitch about why you’re broke and unsuccessful after a year or so. The choice is yours.

Welcome to the Crossroads

Woke up this morning, ordered the last bit for the Modular system because of a nice sale over at Perfect Circuit Audio, made some coffee, and found this waiting in my Tube of Yous feed…

And it makes for a perfect addendum to Dynamic Range Day yesterday. 🙂

Rick Beato is another Saint here in the APITE Pavilion of Greatness. My Saints are those who give up a lot of their time and experience for free to pass on the baton of enlightenment to those that want to stop by and listen. He’s worth watching and following if you’ve even remotely interested in making or listening to music.

One of these days I’ll do entire post on Saints.

But for now go watch the video. I’ll wait – it’s less than 10 minutes.

Did you catch the ‘Junk Food’ analogy? Kinda fitting, isn’t it?

I tell my students over at EduCorp® that you have two choices in today’s musical landscape: you can play the Pop game by its rules and its changing goalposts and maybe, just maybe, you’ll make it up the foodchain to ’stardom’ and ‘fame’. 

Or you can strike out on your own and donor art the way you want to.

Because there’s never been a better time to do just that. From creation to distribution to promotion, you have access to it all for next to nothing thanks to the power of technology and The Interwebz®. Just add your ideas.

But just like the proverbial Crossroads, you better make that choice wisely – AI is already figuring out how to duplicate what the ‘roomful of scientists’ are doing in Popland (and other Genres was well), and soon they’ll be able to flood the airwaves with sugar-coated addictive earworms targeted directly at the psychometrics of any given demographic market. This will be here sooner that you think, so if you want to ride out the rest of this train and try to collect some sweet, sweet cash before it comes to an abrupt stop, then you had better start yesterday. And good luck – you’ll need plenty of it.

Oh, and one more thing: don’t think you can play ‘both sides’ of the game. The chances of putting something out yourself and getting picked up by the machine for big dollas are ancient history. And even if you do manage that one-in-a-billion chance, you’re going to have to play by their rules anyway, so you might as well just play their game from the get-go.

Ian Shepherd started Dynamic Range Day to get the word out that even though digital recording and the the underlying technology behind it is a boon for musicians and engineers (higher quality recording, much less noise and artifacts, and can be easily mass-produced making it more affordable to the masses) it caused us to push the limits to the point where we were sacrificing dynamics for sheer loudness to be heard over the rest of the herd.

As humans, we like dynamics in our audio. And an ever-growing cadre or musicians and engineers is fighting to get that back.

Rick Beato is essentially saying the same thing with this video. It sounds great. It’s been recorded and produced to perfection using the same digital technology stated above. It’s catchy and addictive. It even has dynamics…

But it’s still Junk Food…

And just as the experts are telling us that too much of it is not good for our health, Rick cautiously warns that too much ‘overproduced’ pop can be hazardous to your creativity as well. Like Rick, I admire the production. The perfection. The absolute attention to detail. But ultimately it rings hollow to my ears – I know it’s going to be replaced by something else coming down the production line very soon. 

As humans, we like imperfections in our audio. And there are artists out there fighting to get that back too.

Surprisingly, Mabel McVey has an acoustic version of ‘Don’t Call Me Up’ that features just her voice and acoustic guitar. But unfortunately it’s not a demo or a live version performed in a small venue. It’s a textbook confection of Pro Tools and Melodyne and Autotune – professionally corrected and perfected to the Nth degree.

Same potato chips, slightly different flavor.

I loves me some technology, but I’m also playing for Team Human  and I know good and well that the tech is simply tools for people to use – for good or bad.

So we can either race towards perfection until the machinery does it for us better and cheaper and easier, or we can run in the other direction with all of its uncertainty and messiness and frailties and childishness.

Welcome to the Crossroads.

Such a Shame…

Earlier this year I posted ‘Life’s What You Make It’ as a bit of inspiration for 2019.

Yesterday (although I did everything I could to not believe it) we found out that the composer of that song, Mark Hollis, had died.

Such a Shame.

Although it’s hard to bid farewell to those that have influenced and enlightened us, it’s worth remembering that it’s been over 20 years since he graced us with his music.

Mark lived pretty much by his own rules, and after his solo release in 1998 perhaps he was tired of the chaos and uncertainty of our Industry.

Or he just wanted to spend his time with family and friends.

Maybe he had said all he wanted to say.

Honestly we will never know, and that’s okay. 

Because his legacy lives on through the art he produced, and will continue to influence those still with us and countless more yet to come.

We should all strive to have this as a part of our Curriculum Vitae.

Thank you Mr. Hollis.

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.

Roland Boutique TR-08: The Missing Manual

Having owned four of the original TR-808’s, I can tell you that the original manual was packed with information and explanation. Today’s trend of poster-sized, multi-fold, multi-lingual instruction sheets pales by comparison. Even a downloadable PDF from the website is better than what comes in the box (usually…) 🙂

Sure, you can head over to the Tube of You’s and dig for some visual info and tips and tricks (and twelve gazillion unboxing videos), but having a well-crafted quick and handy guide to look if you get stuck or don’t understand something is an absolute necessity with a lot of music (and tech) gear.

I love my little TR-08, and although it operates very much like it’s older brother it does have some new tricks up its sleeve so I have to dig out that poster to remember what they do and how to get them to function. This will become my new go-to for that – thanks Sunshine Jones!

Go here for the manual, and you can also click the ‘non-fiction’ tab in his Nav Bar to find more Missing Manuals and other goodies. What great gifts to the community.

Kudos to Matrixsynth for the find.

The Secretive Genius (Redux)

In honor of the Scottworks Festival starting today in Los Angeles, I’m reposting this from my old Squarespace site. As a great admirer of Raymond Scott I really wish I could be out there for this, but just couldn’t find the time to break away. Hopefully can make the next one… 🙂

The Secretive Genius

Around 30 years ago, we did not have the Alexandrian Library that we call the Intertubes. Back then (aka The Stone Ages) we had to rely on face-to-face meetings, phone calls, and Trade Mags to collect and share information. As a young programmer and engineer I would spend pretty much all my downtime pouring through Mix, EQ, Electronic Musician, and Keyboard Magazine checking out the latest gear, deciphering DIY projects, and hyperexamining studio and stage setups for any tidbits I could apply to my work. Like Scotty reading technical manuals for relaxtion in the original Star Trek series, this was my decompression, my centering, my moments to breathe. I still do this today. 🙂

But I digress… One of the more interesting things to be found was Keyboard Mag’s Soundpages. These were Flexi-Disc records attached to the middle of the rag with excerpts of artists’ work or some product or effect processor demo tracks (nice listing here, and Peter Kirn talks about the Flexi-Discs here). They were a nice accompaniment to a featured article or a product review, and at least from me garnered a quick listen before being tossed into the dustbin. But one month changed my musical life significantly.

I knew about all of the big players in the Electronic Music Industry – Moog, Buchla, Oberheim, Smith, Linn, Palm, Rossum and Wedge, and a good bit about the musicians themselves – Walter/Wendy Carlos, Vladimir Ussachevsky, Stockhausen, Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis, as well as the modern wave of Rhodes, Clarke, Gore/Wilder, et. al., so I figured I had a pretty good handle on the ‘Scene’ so to speak. But with this particular Soundpage I was introduced to someone I had never heard of before. And I wasn’t alone.

Raymond Scott was a composer and bandleader who had quite a bit of success from the 1930’s to the 1950’s, and most likely would have been relegated to subchapters of the history books for just that if it weren’t for one tiny little other thing: he was creating and implementing electronics for music creation as far back as the mid 1940’s. I can’t even begin to dig into Raymond’s incredible life in this Post, so go check the official source and poke around if you want a lot more information. There is a lot of it.
This particular Keyboard Soundpage was showing off one of Scott’s most impressive creations, The Electronium (that’s it in the picture at the top – gorgeous, isn’t it?) The Electronium was not just some ‘bloop and bleep’ noisemaker as was common for electronic instruments at the time – it was an automated composition station as well. Take a moment and think about that for a bit. Scott had dreamed up and was developing – in 1959 – what our Industry took for granted just 30 years later with our MIDI modules and sequencers and still utilize with computers and DAW’s today. This alone is just completely mind-blowing, and when the article went on to talk about the many, many other inventions he had developed, I was hooked. Who was this guy and why am I finding out about this now? It wasn’t just the sounds that came off that Soundpage that beguiled me, but his musical style did too. I had to know more, but back then there wasn’t much to find.

Thanks to Jeff, Irwin, and Gert-Jan over at the Raymond Scott Archives, his music and history have become much more known to the masses thanks to their website and tireless devotion to all things Raymond Scott (thanks for all you do kids), but with all of the information and recordings and patents and writings that they have uncovered throughout these many years, there is still one big unanswered question to me: Why there was someone actively forging the future of music, and yet it took until after his death for any of this to come to light? Why was Raymond Scott such the Secretive Genius?

Although Scott himself expressed regret about this in his writings (he admitted that he was probably ‘too secretive’ and ‘worried about people stealing his ideas’), I personally believe that he was so enamored by the technology of it all – the ‘what-if’s’, the tinkering, the endless possibilities, that the very idea of finishing something and getting it out there just wasn’t as exciting to him. 

I think a lot of Artists have the same issues.

Just imagine what might have been if Scott had put The Electronuim on the market. Or the Clavivox (which he advertised for sale, but I don’t think any were actually sold), Or the Fascination Series (2018 Update: Rebel Technologies is making one! Give to Daddy!). Or his Circle Machine Sequencer. Would Electronic Music have been as commonplace in the 1960’s as it is today? What would his ideas have spawned in the minds of creators like Dave Smith or Ikutaro Kakehashi? (Raymond worked with Bob Moog, so we can safely assume that some of his ideas found their way there, however miniscule they might have been.) What we create and listen to today might be radically different, yet surprisingly familiar.

Nice thought experiment, and well worth thinking about this regarding your own work. Are you a Secretive Genius too? Are you too worried about others ‘stealing your ideas’ or too caught up in the tinkering that getting things out is the last thing in your mind? I know I’m guilty…

Yes, there’s always the possibility that after you slip off This Mortal Coil that your archives will be heralded as the work of ‘forward-thinking brilliance’ just as much as it could be panned as ‘run-of-the-mill insipidness’. Neither of which would matter, as you are neither there to bask in the adulation nor defend your body of work. 
As I’ve said before, you are currently in the perfect time to be an Artist. Stop being so clever and just get it out there – your audience is waiting. Would Raymond Scott agree? From the regret he expressed in his later years, I believe he would.

This Post was inspired by the release of Raymond Scott’s Three Willow Park on June 30th (2017) on CD, Vinyl (!?!) and most Streaming Services. 3WP (like its predecessor Manhattan Research, Inc.) is absolute joy to listen to not only for the achievements of Raymond’s engineering and musical prowess, but for how much he predicted the electronic music that would follow. Again, keep in mind that it’s very likely that nobody heard what Scott was doing (other than a few 50s/60s era commercials or Warner Brothers cartoon adaptations by Carl Stalling), so if you hear a bit of Devo, or Metamatic-era John Foxx, or early Techno, then just smile and think of what could have been… 🙂

Now that’s a name I’ve not heard in a long, long time…

Some Old Fossils (like yours truly) may remember that back in the ‘90’s and early 2000’s I was creating music under the moniker Pimp Daddy Nash. Not the best choice in tags for current times, but it’s just a name (not an occupation) and as a part of my history I can’t completely disassociate myself from it. So why the Star Wars reference in the title?

Let’s rewind to Tuesday morning (post-Laborious Day hangover) as I set the coffeemaker to ‘stun’ and check my phone for any updated audiocasts as per my usually early morning routine.

A new Space Javelin – cool.

Haven’t heard of Space Javelin? Neither had I until a few weeks back at the recommendation of a friend.

As a reader of this blurg you know that Music is what I do and most of what I read and listen to and write about revolves around that. But I also keep up with a lot of technology. Modern music (and pretty much everything else) is completely tech-reliant, so you need to know how (and why) your tools work. Teaching music and music technology ups that ante, so I have to stay as informed as I can. We never stop learning.

I’m also a Mac Geek. Have been since the mid-80’s. I’ve used Windows and other OS’s, but the Mac is what I know best so I just go with it until it doesn’t do what I want it to so anymore (which has yet to show up). So call me a FanBoii if you want…

I love Audiocasts in general, and I’ve gone through a lot of Apple-based ones over the years. And I’ve grown tired of most of them. John Gruber’s interviews are always fantastic and his reporting is thoughtful and deliberate – he doesn’t go in for hype, always stays professional, and has been an inspiration to Casters and Bloggers alike (myself included). Rene Richie does excellent work over at iMore, but his Vector audiocast is what I prefer from him – concise, well-crafted dailies of what happened today in Techland along with the odd long-listen interview. Both I highly recommend if you need info from that sphere.

The others (and it’s got to be in the dozens) have been dumped into the ‘Unsubscribe’ bin because I either tired of the schtick (i.e. ‘why won’t they just do what I want them to because I know what I’m doing better than a half-century old trillion-dollar corporation’) or they just sounded better when I was passively listening while doing something else – I wasn’t actively engaged with what they were talking about, it was just noise in the background. This last one is the real problem out there, and not just on the tech side. Creativity is hard, and making it work over the long haul with quality and integrity without sacrificing your soul to mediocrity takes skill. 

Hmm… kinda sounds like a lot of the modern music business, but that’s a topic for another time. 🙂

Everyone’s time is valuable and everyone’s interests vary wildly, but the power of audiocasts (much like radio) is that it can be an active or passive medium. Video, on the other hand, pretty much demands your complete attention – it’s hard to vacuum the house and binge watch at the same time. So I have a few shows that I put on for those ‘passive’ moments or just some quick entertainment, but when I want to be informed I want content that is not only as accurate as possible, but has been well thought out and presented without spin, or subversive personal bias, or attention-robbing fluff. I want to commit my time to those – to listen, to think, to understand.

Like Gruber and Richie, Space Javelin is one of those that fits all of the above on the Mothership® side. Charles and Mike have their opinions of course, but they temper them with common sense and technical expertise. That they also entertain on top of this makes for an hour of easy to listen to and easy to understand info on (mostly) Apple and Mac-based Technology. Because of this it’s now become my 3rd ‘permanent’ Mac Audiocast, and I highly recommend it if you’re looking for some weekly analysis that is smart and topical on that front.

So where was I again?

Oh yeah… If you listen to Episode 102 of Space Javelin, you’ll hear a shoutout to yours truly, although in that Nom de Musique I almost never use and rarely hear these days. I almost spit out that first swig of java when I heard it mentioned, and actually started the whole thing from the beginning to make sure I wasn’t having one of those lucid dreams you hear about.

Nope, it was there. Plain as the fast-rising sun here in Disneyhell. 🙂

Which leads to the big question: exactly why they mentioned me (or at least a facet of me) was a bit of a mystery. Perhaps some crazy new technology that allows personal podcasts? Had they hacked my player? Did that latest update of Castro do something they weren’t talking about? Some more Facetiousbook® lunacy?!!?? 

Uh, no. But still quite clever. 🙂

Once I checked out SJ about a week or so ago, I did go back into their archives and listened to a lot of the past episodes since that gives me a good sense of their style , substance, and most of all – are they consistent? (Spoiler: Yes. Yes they are.) So I’m sure their logs showing a bunch of listens from this part of the globe triggered some crazy data spikes. But there are a lot of people in this ‘burg – how could you narrow that down to a single person?

Well, Charles was very much a part of the Orlando music tribe way back 20ish years ago, and although I don’t formally recall him I’m sure I our paths crossed a few times. I’m sure we had mutual friends back then as well.

Charles was (and perhaps still is) a graphic designer. I know this because the person who gave me the reference to Space Javelin is also a graphic designer. I also know many other GD’s in town and scattered across the globe. Like my friend who gave me the listening recommendation. 

So the answer is that it’s a Small planet. And also a bit of clever networking. 

Think about that last sentence for a second.

Have you figured it out?

It’s Networking kids.

I got a quick blurb on their audiocast and now they get me to evangelize for them on my blog. 

Can you make that happen with what you do? (Spoiler: Yes. Yes you can.)

So check Space Javelin out – they’ve earned it. 🙂

Bonus: SJ also has a ‘sister’ audiocast on All Things Gaming and non-Apple tech called The Hammercast that pops up in their feed as well, so that might be more up your alley and worthy of checking them out if you’re a different kind of Fanboii. 🙂

Until next time…

Welcome back to pokeintheear.com! (finally!)

pexels-photo-125457Photo by Mabel Amber from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/nature-sky-sunny-clouds-125457/

Looks like WordPress, Hover, and Squarespace have made nice and my web addy now happily redirects to the new home. Took some time, but I have to say that WordPress made it pretty easy to accomplish.

Okay, so with a ‘new’ site comes a new post: a ‘What I Did Over My Summer Vacation’ catchup piece. Enjoy. 🙂

So the new Course here at EduCorp® is running smoothly, and my cadre of engineers are doing surprisingly well mixing a song over a few weeks, and then trying their hands at mastering for the remaining fortnight. Of course there are the usual suspects of mixing solely on headphones so the bass is close to nonexistant (they get decent monitors as a part of the program, btw), and many of them are pushing the highs to swishy, eardrum-dissolving nastiness (all hail the EDM 10k Bubble!). And there are also still a few who believe that hypercompression and pushing the bus processing into sausage-factory mode is the way  great songs are made.

But in all honesty, I am amazed that most of them keep the levels pretty low and the dynamics mostly intact for their mixes. It’s the vast majority of what I get back.

Since we are the second to last class in the Program, I know they have some experience doing what I’m asking them to (they even get a passing glimpse at mastering half way through) and my being the Top Banana in the Shock Department, banging the drum for LU and Dynamics, and chanting ‘Death to Overcompression’ at every company function has (hopefully) pushed the needle with some of my colleagues into understanding the absolute necessity of bringing music back to a listenable (dare I say ‘enjoyable’?) state again.

And from the back end of it all, I can say that it looks like it’s working…

Mastering is a completely different animal though, and although I continue with the ‘Experiment Fail Learn Repeat’ model that I use with mixing, even passing expecations of making one of them persue mastering as a career choice is limited at best and wishful thinking at most. I try to demystify the process, show them the very basics of how to do it (with limited processing – the ‘Old School Way’), and what the outcomes should be in case they have to do it themselves. The Prime Directives are always first, always get a Mastering Engineer and second, if you have to master it yourself then keep the artists intent as gold and just make it sound the best it can. Simple and honest. Thanks per usual to Saint Ian for showing me the way forward on this. 🙂

And they’ve all been doing a seriously great job here. After letting them go crazy with whatever they want on the first pass, the second try after they see that just simple gain, EQ, and compression are all they (mostly) need is eye opening, and the very definition of ‘less is more’.

For those interested, I’m enforcing the -1.0 dbTPFS point for secondary (corrected) mix and master peak levels, and have settled on the -14 to -16 LUFS range (Integrated) for overall level. Saint Ian and Jon Tidey just did a podcast on mixing for LU where they say that -14 is *not* the level to aim for, but my reasoning is 1) we are only working on a single song destined for streaming (a.k.a ‘single’) and 2) we are still getting students up to speed with the LU concept. My cohorts here at EduCorp® are using -16 LUFS for their delivery specs, and I want to keep that familarity but also allow them to ‘stretch’ a bit by beign able to take the overall loudness up a few dBLU if they choose. Just that ability can show them how to change as specifications and standards so often do. Once you understand the rules of the game and how to get there (good metering and lots of listening) you can take the level to wherever it needs to go. As this will fluctuate a bit more before it settles into a ‘standard’, working at a unified target level across an entire program helps retention. And as that ‘standard’ moves, we can just as easily. 🙂

Again, I’m super impressed with how the course is doing, and just how dedicated and determined the students are. I am expecting great things from a lot of them, and hope to be hat-tipping a few of them here in the coming months and years.

That’s all for now everyone. I’m off to do a bit of maintenance and backup and then take a stab at trying a bunch of these new software goodies I’ve acquired over the past few months. Now that my ‘cold, flu, and busy season’ is over I’ve got a bit of time to catch up on technology.

Welcome back!