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My best friends and I grew up playing music in the middle of Iowa in a small town where there was a small college. We would play shows at this college as high school students and got to know a lot of the college kids at the time. We often went to the student-run radio station to hang out and play records and be stupid on the air. There was a back room to this radio station where there was a ton of vinyl and other odds and ends. We found this reel to reel in the back with just enough dust on it to claim it as our own. If we wouldn’t have stolen it, someone else would have and certainly nobody was using it at the time.
HOW IT WAS USED
At the time, it was the best sounding thing we had to record music on. This was in the mid-to-late-’90s and we were still pretty young and therefore poor. We were totally into the idea of using tape, but really didn’t understand why. The tape spun in circles like at real studios and we were sure there was extra warmth. I can remember listening to one of our practices trying to focus in on the sound of warmth; I feel like I found it for a second.
We held on to it and eventually, when we were recording our band Ticonderoga in the early-2000s, we started experimenting with it again. It was obviously not the best reel-to-reel on the market, but we found that through some nice John Hardy pre-amps it sounded great recording drums in the giant room. We also recorded straight into the computer, but when we A/B’d the computer with the 1/4″ tape, we unanimously chose the Fostex; there was just something special about the natural tape compression.
I have found that it is so much more appealing, aurally, and the experience of recording (and tinkering outside the computer rather than always trying to find a plug-in) is something cool.
I would say the modern equivalent is GarageBand. In that, the reel-to-reel was for people who were just discovering what fidelity means.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Phillip Moore is a vocalist/guitarist in a band called the Bowerbirds. For more, visit www.bowerbirds.org.
The World’s First Commercial Chorus Pedal – Boss CE-1 Chorus Pedal
Not only was the CE-1 was the first Boss fx pedal, it was also the first commercial chorus pedal built. It was based on the circuit from their Roland Jazz Chorus amplifier. It is known as the mother of all chorus pedals, and has two features, the first being the chorus and the second true pitch shifting vibrato.
HOW IT WAS USED
This box has been used on countless records. Andy Summers of The Police and Jeff Skunk Baxter of The Doobie Brothers quickly helped to make the CE-1 a classic for guitar players, while Herbie Hancock brought it in vogue for keyboard players. Chorus brings a spatial effect to sounds, making them feel deeper and wider. The vibrato makes the sound feel as though it’s rotating around the listener. Like the famous Brownface Fenders, this vibrato bends the pitch to help enhance the effect.
The Boss is known for its stereo features (mono in/mono or stereo out) and incredibly warm and rich tone. A sound can be given a gentle chorus or vibrato, or deeply affected extreme tones. Another aspect that separates this from many later pedals is how organically the unit affects the sound. It doesn’t sound like something was added on top of the sound, but rather completely integrated like a fine Bechamel sauce. I’ll run whatever my imagination tells me to through it: vocals, bass, guitar, keys, and percussion.
There are many chorus pedals on the market today, but the warmth of the CE-1 is hard to top. Universal Audio makes a nice plug-in version of the pedal, which is how I first found out about it.
This is the chorus that all other choruses are measured up to. There is a reason we all had to read Shakespeare, right?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eric Palmquist is the owner and Principal Engineer of Palmquist Studios (at Infrasonic Sound). Formerly known as Infrasonic Sound, Palmquist acquired the East L.A. recording studio earlier this year, transitioning from studio manager to studio owner. His discography reads as a “Who’s Who” of indie rock, including the critically acclaimed album Leave No Trace from Fool’s Gold, 119 – Trash Talk’s 2012 release via Odd Future Recordings and Life Sux by Wavves. He is always eager to work with new bands as both a producer and engineer. Find more info at www.infrasonicsound.com.
On Re-Adjusting to the Creative Process Through Constant Lineup Changes
A band from California and true to their Cali sound, The Orange Peels took the time to speak to Performer about their latest album, Sun Moon.
Allen Clapp, who first started recording with a four-track recorder, formed a band around a few songs he’d recorded early on. Since then, The Orange Peels have gained a name, a record deal, and have recorded an album about every four years. They’ve also taken on a new sound with each record they release, an interesting feat for any group these days. They have an ever-evolving lineup that leaves each record with a different feel. With music that is intended to transmit an atmosphere to the listener, the band has one that matures with each album, and with a name like theirs, they attract fans that evolve with them.
Each album has a different lineup – can you explain how that affects the record-making process?
Well, it all started in 1996, with just a four-track recorder and me. I called myself Allen Clapp and His Orchestra, which was a joke because it was just me. I made an album like that and it ended up being famous and I started to get offers to be signed. I put a band together to play the songs; at that point it was my wife, Jill Pries, Larry Winther who used to be in The Mummies, and Bob Vickers. We started recording under Allen Clapp and His Orchestra, but then it became obvious that it was more of a band, so we decided to really become a band and get a name.
We live in San Francisco, and no one really has any idea of how to be in a band and live in San Francisco. It’s expensive, and people move a lot because they can’t afford it. Each time we put out a record, we have a grace period where we tour on that album, then the band disintegrates. So we always form another band and record with them. As a result, each album has a new sound, even though people sometimes come back.
Each time we put out a record, we almost do an informal evaluation, and move on from the sound of each record. Ever record evolves into something beyond the original California sound, even though that’s the root. There are lots of similarities, but a lot of differences. We continually evolve, just like the things we listen to. When I think about our new album, we focused more on the approach to songwriting than our past album. I don’t know where it’s coming from, except that it’s coming from the four of us all at once. I used to write most of the material and bring it to the group, but this is different because we just showed up with no idea what we wanted to do. A lot of the songs happened in an hour and we recorded it really quick.
When did you buy your first guitar and what model was it?
The first instrument I ever played was a piano in my parents’ house. I did have a synthesizer in the ’80s – an analogue synthesizer with knobs and sliders on it and I still use it. But the first instrument I ever bought was a guitar. It was a mid-’60s Harmony Rocket, six strings. Harmony made knock-offs of Fender and Gibson guitars in the ’60s, but this guitar is perfect for me because it’s not a showpiece. It’s a cheap knock-off that happens to sound good. I’m more of a singer/songwriter/producer, not really concerned with the sound as much.
What sort of gear do you use now? Are you into vintage gear?
It’s a combination of keeping updated and using vintage gear. We’re all using Ampeg amps from the mid-’60s – all the same make, for our guitar sound. It has amazing reverb, and you can get some great vintage tones without too much effort. Jill plays an Ampeg bass amp. It has a flip top and is just easier to travel with. Our drummer, Gabriel Coan, uses three old drum kits. He buys them for cheap and restores them. He has his one vintage drum set from the mid-’60s. We stick with this stuff because it’s easier to record if you have things that sound good already.
I have a Fender Rhodes that I use in the studio and a Nord too, that I just got. That’s handling all my electric piano, string synthesizer and Mellotron, which I use for live shows now.
Can you tell me a bit about your artistic approach to songwriting?
For me, it’s got to be something that transmits an atmosphere or a feeling to the listener. I’m not sure how that happens, but if we’re working on something that I feel like isn’t doing that, we’ll stop working on it. I think the songwriting, lyrics, chord progression, ambience, mixing and recording itself has to support that mission.
How does writing typically work within the group?
It’s always been predominantly me writing the songs, but there have been one or two things on each record that other people have written. This album, we split the music four different ways, but I’d come up with the lyrics later. There was more of a division of labor and more collaborative this time around.
Does the lyric or the tune come first?
Definitely the music comes first. The way we were writing it, the band would be together and I’d just say, “Hey, I don’t have anything today, but we’re all here so let’s just work on it until it seems like it’s a song.” I’d usually go back out there later in the week and try to sing on it and figure out what the message of the song would be.
What is your favorite song off of the new album to perform live?
The last song, “Yonder,” was fun to record for the same reason that it’s fun to play. It starts off simply and it’s the kind of song that always feels like it’s going somewhere, and that’s how you feel when you’re playing it. In the middle of the song where it takes off, we transition into this modulation, and [it] kicks into this high gear.
What are your touring plans for this release?
We are in promotion and publicity gear right now, so we are rehearsing for live shows and whatnot. We have tours coming up in San Fran and LA. There’s a band that’s been around for a while, Ocean Blue, that just released an album, and we’re playing with them in San Francisco then going east to DC, Philly, New York. In the middle of the summer, we’re hitting Portland, Seattle, and hopefully late summer going to the Midwest.
If you could open for any group, who would it be?
I’d have to say the very first version of Pink Floyd headed by Syd Barrett.
Anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
Make the recordings and songs that you want to make for whatever reason that is. Don’t try and figure out where that fits in, or if it fits into a specific genre. Don’t even try to sound like another band; make the music you want to make. I had success with my four-track, which was weird to me, because I just thought that these songs would be so much better if I recorded [them] properly, but that wasn’t how I was supposed to get out there. I was supposed to get out there with a four-track recorder. It’s changed my way of thinking about music.
photos by Harry Gregory
“Fitted with custom tube electronics built by Esoteric Audio Research”
Originally built in the 1970s
This unit was originally built by Ampex – they were known as some of the best 2-track recorders and the best sounding machines. The specific ATR-102 that I used belongs to Paul Stubblebine – a colleague and great mastering engineer located in San Francisco.
In general, this particular type of tape machine was used for mixing down to stereo mixes. Nowadays, there are people that still exclusively use tape in their recording projects, but they’re also used as an effect – almost like a plug-in. You can loop material through it just to impart the quality of sound that you get from tape. Tape is basically a kind of compression. It deals with transients like drums and percussion and smooths it out in a very musical way. So using [this machine] is a way to get back to this sound that many agree is the most musical way of dealing with compression. It’s much nicer than listening to a Waves L3 ultramaximizer. Continue reading
Category: Enhanced Signal Processor
Background: The Lexicon PCM 42 was designed by Gary Hall in the early 1980s and is still one of the most prized and sought-after delay processors. They are no longer made and still sell for between $700-1,000 used. It is a mono unit that offers up to 2.4 seconds of delay (4.8s if you have the added memory). It has a very distinct sound, due to the proprietary A/D converters used by Lexicon as well as the two stages of limiters on the input. PCM 42s are most commonly used on vocals, but also sound amazing on guitars.
How It’s Used: The PCM 42 especially shines on vocals. If you push the input, the limiters on the input really add a distinct character and if you engage the x2 button, this lowers the bandwidth and makes it almost sound like a tape echo. There is really no other delay like it.
Modern Equivalent: PSP makes a plug-in version of the PCM 42, but it just doesn’t capture the tone imparted by the hardware version’s dual stage limiter on the input.
About the Author:
Terri Winston is the Founder and Executive Director of Women’s Audio Mission, a San Francisco-based non-profit dedicated to the advancement of women in music production and the recording arts. Dissatisfied with the representation of women in pro audio (less than 5%) Winston established WAM in 2003 during her tenure as a professor and Director of the Sound Recording Arts Program at City College of San Francisco.
Today, WAM seeks to “change the face of sound” by providing hands-on training at their San Francisco studio, as well as experience, career counseling and job placement to women and girls in media technology for music, radio, film, television and the Internet. For more information, visit www.womensaudiomission.com
Upon first hearing buzz about mixtapes and The Walkman, many would grow nostalgic with images of something central to their youth, although some of those images may involve twirling a pen around the inner spool of the cassette to realign the tape.
The more desired memories involve recording “tape letters” and splicing together clips from various songs as a message to a teenage crush. Above all, the tactile imagery created when remembering what it felt like to dig through a box of swollen and partially cracked tapes to find that one evokes a fond ache. Most are glad this has become only memory, though.
That oh-so-stylish hallmark of the ’80s has been rumored to be ‘making a comeback’ in the indie universe, but are cassette tapes really coming back into to the mainstream or is it more of a fad for collectors, nostalgics, and those who would like to save money on production and distribution costs?
The irony of various websites and blogs reporting on this so-called “comeback” lies in the October 25 statement by Sony that the company will no longer manufacture or market the cassette Walkman. This decision to kill the product after 30 years is due to the obsolescence of the format and the rise of the iPod and other digital devices.
Still, in the midst of audiences dependent on digital media and online access, a growing following of cassette enthusiasts exists. These fans are either collectors or artists who wish to give something special to their devoted fanbase. Something a little different and unique, where a plain old CD would not suffice. Let’s also not count out the “ironic hipster” factor when discussing the apparent resurgence of anything even remotely “vintage.” Keep in mind that the majority of modern tape releases are likely just collector’s items, as most fans probably no longer own the proper equipment to play back the format.
For today’s general population, where most people would more quickly do a Google search for cassette tape replication than actually travel to a local store, several sites offer replication service for anywhere from under $1.00 to just over $2.00 per tape depending on quantity ordered and length of cassette time (30 minutes is the standard). Such service providers include Tape Services, Inc., Amtech, and World Class Tapes, to name a few.
If you are planning a tape release, look for Church A/V suppliers, as well, since there is still a small niche market for cassettes in the Christian and Gospel music communities. You could also invest in a cassette duplicator and blank media (still readily available at the retail level), and just copy a short run yourself. Of course this is time consuming, but it’s the most DIY method. As far as the artistic quality of the insert, anything from a photocopied J-Card to original or one-off artwork will suffice. This adds to the DIY aesthetic of a piece of art to be passed along or treasured.
In 2008, Atlanta’s Deerhunter offered 100 copies of Island on cassette for those in attendance at their release party. This release was not made available in any other digital format. Even more recent releases of cassette material can be found from artists like Washed Out, another Georgia-based act who released High Times (2009) through the cassette label Mirror Universe.
Even grunge giants Pearl Jam re-issued their debut Ten in 2009 and included a replica of a three-song, “Momma-Son” demo cassette with Eddie Vedder’s original vocal dubs as part of the Super Deluxe Edition. This original demo served to unite the founding members of Pearl Jam and solidified their decision to meet in-person and work together.
When asked about the idea of the ‘comeback of the cassette’ and how it relates to the business of independent labels, Ron Scalzo, owner and founder of Bald Freak Music, responded, “CDs and cassettes just don’t capture that extra element that made albums like Deep Purple’s Burn, The Edgar Winter Group’s They Only Come Out At Night or Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon that much more interesting to me. Cassettes were created strictly for convenience purposes and that convenience has been trumped countless times over by compact discs and then the dawn of the digital age. Vinyl is much sexier – it’s big and slim, it’s not plastic and stubby. Aesthetically, a record is a portrait – the care put into album artwork is the thing I truly miss most in the digital age.”
Because Scalzo has the added perspective of an artist and musician, he was able to further comment on the idea of releasing more economical versions of recorded material: “As an artist, I could see how the effect of releasing a professional ‘demo’ could be appealing to a music purist or a vintage junkie, but not beyond that. A cassette is essentially an 8-track’s sexy niece, but now she’s going gray, she’s lost her looks and has six kids and chain smokes.” Simply put, it’s not a listener’s format anymore, but as suspected, mostly just a collectable for die-hard fans.
The vintage market and hype will carry the supply while the artistic element of creating and marketing one-of-a-kind inserts makes releasing music on cassette a plausible DIY endeavor. Those who enjoy the freedom and creativity of making and distributing cassettes will continue to keep this stylish, if not low-fi, form of music alive and in hand. As a unique keepsake for an artist’s fans, the tape has certainly re-emerged as a contender in the past few years. But a true comeback? Not quite.