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AES Section Meeting Reports

New York - May 14, 2013

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Summary

Host Doron Schachter framed the evening with three jumping off points, and the panelists enlarged on these with personal recollections, slides, as well as audio and video clips.

First up: "How did you get started" in this form of the audio world? While in high school Ed Haber was listening to concerts on WLIR and WBAI. He began working at his college radio station, which led him to a position at WBAI. For that station he produced a series of broadcasts which required him to get club mixes to air using a Shure mixer and a mono Nagra recorder. We heard an excerpt from his first show, featuring synths and vocals. He had to learn on the job, blending in audience reaction along with the music mix. Ed graduated to two home-built boards and eventually moved to WNYC. He added supervising remote and recording ops to his duties and now has the additional responsibilities of the same work for WQXR, which was acquired by WNYC some time ago.

David Hewitt was an engineer at the Philadelphia branch of Bob Liftin's Regent Sound Studios. His remote gear included a pickup truck with an Ampex MM-1000. When presented with the challenge of recording a 26-piece orchestra at the Academy of Music he called Chris Stone at Record Plant who sent along his "Wally Heider Truck" and crew. "What a professional experience working with such a great crew" who easily dealt with the one-day location work schedule. David realized he could have a career on the road without having to do any ad agency "stuff". He was then invited up to Record Plant in New York City, where he was dragooned to Cincinnati to record a concert with the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Aerosmith, quickly followed by a gig in Boston for The Pops. He was hooked on "the magic of live performance."

Kooster McAllister's recording career "fell in his lap." He had been playing in a bluegrass band in Colorado and was a founder of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. A friend of his from Record Plant was able to introduce him to David Hewitt and he switched from being a gigging musician to engineering on the road. He lived at Record Plant for three weeks "on evaluation", then was hired and paid for those three weeks. His technical knowledge was in P. A. systems, but not recording. David and Phil Gitomer (who still works with Hewitt) taught him to "get it right the first time" as they built all their own cables and boxes for "The Black Truck".
He eventually bought that truck from Record Plant. The 1970's vintage truck is still on the road, owned by others now.

David showed photos of interior and exterior views of several trucks, "Black", "White" and 1990's "Silver," all analog trucks.

Steve Remote started with a high school electronic music course, and at its conclusion he became an intern at Sear Sound. Walter Sear drilled his mantra into Steve's head: "Everything has to sound great!" Steve's philosophy was based on his desire to be the Barney character on "Mission: Impossible: — the fellow in the truck who "makes it happen" with technology. He wanted to build a rental truck but had to learn about session audio first. Rather than spending money on courses he decided to buy the gear and teach himself. His initial 1976 collection of gear included a Sony MX-20 mixer, a Revox A67 2-track recorder, eight assorted mics and Koss headphones. At the tender age of 18 he was thus equipped to record Punk bands. He founded Aurasonic with a partner's money and was always modifying gear. He bought out his partner's initial $5,000 investment and over the years has built six mobile recording trucks. He usually hands off the original media to others to mix, so he believes that "How you position a mic is more important than which mic you use." "Fixing it on the spot" saves hours of trying to "fix it in the mix." In the absence of in-ear monitors, the proper placement of foldback monitors can really save a mix. By the way, he still watches "Mission: Impossible."

Second question: How have rigs changed over the years?

Ed Haber, working in the "portable world", builds control rooms for each job; he doesn't use trucks. Most of his work is direct to 2-track without a multitrack backup. One job covered music on three floors all mixed together. Of course there was no elevator in that building! His collection of gear has included Studer mixers both large and small, racks of Millennium preamps and DA-78s. He now has a 48-channel RADAR and two Tascam X-48 recorders. He is pleased with the move away from tapes, which can wear out. However, disk media must be recorded on multiple drives for safety. ISDN interface boxes are used frequently to send the live feed back to WNYC or WQXR. . He uses 12 to 16 mics, and says that "everyone wants everything NOW." He is sometimes asked to just take a feed from the event audio and add two audience reaction mics. This he will not do, as so many of those feeds just sound bad.

Steve Remote, working in the "truck world", builds "environments" in his open-plan trucks with gear in portable racks. His core elements (routers, monitors, etc.) are always available and any consoles and additional gear can be arranged as needed in his vehicles. We saw photos and a video of a job in which he divided one of the trucks into a performing stage, drum booth and recording room. He was experimenting with a reality show concept (possibly as a streamed webcast) which would include a multi-city tour in search of the next great band. Up to 15 GoPro video cameras were employed to give detailed views of the performers and tech world.

Kooster McAllister discussed the move from analog to digital. We saw photos of his heavily modified API 54 by 48 analog console. The high-quality recording of live music in large trucks is being phased out. Many well-known bands have their own ProTools rigs and want to do the job themselves. However, live-to-air is bigger than ever, and Kooster specializes in these projects. "People care about price, not quality" he says, and so he now uses a 37-foot RV with digital consoles fed from Light Viper digital converters on stage. The RV is divided into three sections: Front lounge or video control room; Middle engineering area with two 48-channel mixers so he can see all inputs on one level (page); Rear tape-op position with four Tascam X-48 recorders, synced together. There is an AES patch bay. A vocal booth can be set up inside the truck. On a nostalgic note he played a Telluride performance by Mary Chapin Carpenter.

Third question: Any insights on the future of remote recording?

David Hewitt had no answer; he is now in a studio doing jazz records and broadcasts — "live, with no overdubs and no Autotune."

Kooster McAllister: "Our industry has been decimated." Clients usually look for the cheapest way to promote their music. The internet killed this business, but is has made the music itself available to many more musicians and artists. Young musicians can now buy a cheap digital console for $7,000 and a ProTools or MBox rig and "go for it." But, they don't understand what should happen in production (time code, sync, reference lock) or in post-production.

Steve Remote saw the advent of computer recording technology in the late 19i90's with the growth of Digital Audio Workstations. "How to compete? It's about the eye and the ear. No more glamour — only results.
DSLR cameras are remarkable. We must adapt to these essential elements to stay in the game. " Some years ago he did an experiment to record a gig with Garage Band software. He fooled all of his listeners. "A generation of deaf people is developing now, so how can we pitch good quality?"

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AES - Audio Engineering Society