Summer News

I started this post analog-style while camping over the July 4th weekend. Woke up at 6am, and the whole campground was still sound asleep, so I had coffee and blueberries and wrote while the birds chirped and the sun slipped through the leaves.

Two upcoming events:

On Friday, July 7th, I join Jonathan Wyner (M-Works Mastering, iZotope) to talk about audio restoration and repair. Our discussion will be moderated by Coast Mastering's Michael Romanowski and takes place at Fantasy Recording Studios and is sponsored by the San Francisco Chapter of the Audio Engineering Society. There will be excellent examples of noises and demos about how to remove them, moderate them, love them, but mostly remove them.

On Saturday, July 8th, Jonathan, Michael and I will do our best to Demystify Mastering in two intimate sessions at Coast. We promise not to dwell on loudness but, rather, to cover preparing mixes for mastering, the art and craft of sonic sculpting, deliverables and more.

A few choice mastering & restoration projects:

Umoja's 707 is sure to liven your summer dance parties! This classic 1988 South African bubblegum pop record is out now on Awesome Tapes From Africa.

Ron Pope's Work drops next month. Truly a pleasure to work with this talented musician and with prolific engineer Ted Young. (Seriously, check out this guy's discography!) These songs are moving, intimate, fun, warm. Catch Ron on his Dancing Days world tour this fall.

Congratulations to Philly's Man About a Horse, whose self-titled album debuted at #11 on the BIllboard bluegrass charts! (You may remember their excellent and timely cover of Radiohead's Electioneering.) Exciting to work again with Matt Werden on this one. (We also worked together on Michael Daves's Orchids and Violence).

The Container's Self-Contained is a collection of early demos from James A. Smith of the Beach Bullies. These songs are hooky, swaggery and sweet, and I especially fell for "Rita's Legs." So glad these tapes were found, restored and remastered (by me), and released by Manufactured Recordings.

Rabasi Joss recently released her debut Heliotrope, a collection of jazz/soul/folk/genre-spanning songs produced by Baba Israel and featuring Soul Inscribed. I take full credit for convincing her to record a cover of Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic"!

In case you missed it, I also published this zine - Save Your Stuff! Beginner's Archiving For Musicians - with illustrator/graphic designer/musician/mother of two Kelley Vaughn-Kauffman. I used it in a workshop I led for Women's Audio Mission in June and (hopefully) inspired a room full of women to adopt file naming conventions and back up their hard drives. The first printing was gone in a matter of days but we printed a second batch. If you would like a hard copy, please donate $4 (to cover printing and shipping) and we'll send you one! Digital version coming soon... 

Acetate Acquaintences

I used the Finder to search my laptop for a jpg I made that illustrates, visually, the frequency spectrum available in 192 kHz wav files compared to 44.1 kHz wav files compared to 160 kbps mp3s. Couldn't find it. Instead, I discovered this: a paper I wrote in graduate school in which I speculated whether Theodor Adorno would spend $500 on a 40GB iPod. HAHAHAHA! Those were the days.

Acetate Acquaintances & Passive Regressive Listening: Theodor W. Adorno on Music and Technology

“There is no longer beauty or consolation except in the gaze falling on horror, withstanding it, and in unalleviated consciousness of negativity holding fast to the possibility of what is better.” - Theordor Adorno in Minima Moralia

Would Theodor Adorno buy an iPod?  What would he put on it?

If he had lived into the twenty-first century, long enough to plug a quarter into a jukebox and pull up a string of lonely country songs, to peel open the shrink wrap on the first pressing of Sympathy For The Devil, to witness Ozzy, Devo, Madonna; if Adorno had been able to see The Kronos Quartet perform “Purple Haze” followed by a Steve Reich string quartet, or download an illegal mp3 of Dangermouse’s mash-up of The Beatles and Jay-Z; if Adorno had the opportunity to look back on the first century of recorded music, what would he make of it?  And what would he make of the record players, boomboxes and iPods, vinyl, cassettes and CDs – the artifacts - that litter living rooms and hide in backpacks and coat pockets?  Would he throw up his hands in frustration at the ostensible distancing of artist and audience?  Or would he begrudgingly shell out five hundred dollars for a 40 gigabyte iPod and load in Beethoven’s entire works? 

That image I was looking for? Found it. Take a gander at a visual representation of what goes missing when you down sample and compress your audio.

Yellow No. 5: A College Radio Love Story

Of course I clicked on this link: Fuck Algorithms, College Radio Is a Reminder of How Great Music Can Be When Nobody's Trying to Make Money

My time on the airwaves of 88.1 FM WESU Middletown not only cemented my love of freeform broadcasting, weird, late night radio shows, and avant-garde music; it also launched my career. I can trace a direct line from WESU to my current job as an audio mastering and restoration engineer and audio archivist.

I called my radio show Yellow No. 5, and I took the Thursday drive time 5-7pm slot on 88.1 FM WESU, Wesleyan University's low power freeform radio station. My time slot (and show name) shifted over my three years on the air at WESU, and my playlists evolved and diversified. I even started a radio journalism class my senior year that used a Stereolab song as its intro theme. 

WESU was located in the basement of Clark Hall. It was dirty, rundown and filled with energy. Our board was so old, the potentiometers were knobs, not the more familiar sliders. The stacks held records and CDs in equal number, though the new releases were mostly on CD.

This was the mid-90s, before podcasts, streaming, Napster, Shazaam, ProTools, iPhones. If I wanted to discover new music, I had to pull records or CDs off the shelf and queue them up, or browse record stores and flea markets, gambling on purchases based on record label, associated personnel, cover art, or get word-of-mouth recommendations from fellow DJs and crate diggers. I stumbled upon - and fell in love with - Paul de Marinis and Cornelius Cardew recordings from a compilation put out by the Leonardo Music Journal, published by MIT Press. I coveted my Maggi Payne and "Blue" Gene Tyranny 7-inches from a collection put out by Lovely Records. (In fact, "Blue" Gene Tyranny's Out of the Blue was the first LP I ever bought online!) The music directors at WESU led me to Momus, the Divine Comedy, Blonde Redhead, Melt Banana, and everything John Zorn was releasing on Tzadik. My boyfriend at the time turned me on to Alvin Lucier and Sonic Youth. That same boyfriend had a radio show too, and he liked to mix ambient records with spoken word, found sounds, field recordings and other random things. Another DJ referred to it as "aural laxative;" the sounds of his radio show made her want to shit. This is college radio.

When I wanted to make an on-air promo cart, I recorded it onto a literal cart(ridge), making crude but creative cuts with a razor blade on 1/4" analog tape in order to mix down the dialog, music and sound effects. (Later, at WGBH in Boston, all interstitial promos were stored digitally but deployed using a faux "cart" graphic display on the computer.)

College radio was live and amateurish, and the DJs were ambitious and passionate, if not necessarily destined for careers in broadcasting. There was dead air. There were awkward transitions, miscued records, accidental f-bombs, but it was all ethereal. Mistakes vanished. DJs pulled out of nose dives and recovered to spin again. Contrast that with podcasting, which is planned, pre-recorded and permanent, and thus lacks the danger of being live and on the air. College radio is a tightrope without a net. If you fuck up, you don't get a redo, you simply keep talking or press play. Maybe no one's listening. But potentially, you're reaching one, or many, and potentially, you can make a connection, convince someone that they should love a song you love, that, by putting things in the right musical context, you are creating new meaning. You're communicating.

A DJ in the weeds is exciting and engaging. You might root for her as she drops CD cases on the floor, presses play on the wrong deck, shuffles papers around trying to find something articulate to say; or you might give up and spin the dial, but at least you know she is real. A lousy podcast is just lazy, and because it's recorded and exists in the digital realm, it's laziness is fixed. A fuck-up on a podcast will haunt you again and again. 

My first job straight out of college was on the air at WGBH 89.7 FM, one of Boston public radio stations. Ask me about it. I can still repeat the call sign, the local weather, a grantor credit and forward promote the next show in a perfect 30 second window. My potential audience at WGBH was much larger, but I was still just a voice in the night, reminding you that the music you were listening to was made possible by your annual membership support. I was on the air for around three years before I discovered the brick wall that is public radio on-air talent. I was never going to get my own show. I moved into production, realized I loved manipulating audio, moved to New York City to go back to school, and found mastering.

I haven't been on the air in over a decade, and I still - still! - have radio anxiety dreams. The music library is locked and I don't have enough records to play! I can't find my copy and I have nothing to say! There is a hamburger on the turntable, and the stylus is digging into the sesame seed bun!  

See, there was something about being live, on the air, that infused what I was doing with potentiality and meaning. There was chance. Maybe someone would listen and connect, maybe not. Maybe I would put together a series of songs that were greater than the sum of their parts. Maybe I'd put on some crazy noisy shit and everyone would spin the dial on up to the classic rock and lite FM stations. The point is, I couldn't know. There were no listener's statistics, likes, shares or download data. In fact, the only way I'd know if anyone was listening was if someone called in a request, which didn't happen that often. College radio was an unknowable risk, which enabled us DJs to push the envelope, push ourselves.

Once, I decided to do a Valentine's Day Love Phones knock-off All-Request show, but, instead of requesting, like, Seal and Jewel songs, I'd play Merzbow for your loved one. I was serving a niche audience. I might have a cassette of that broadcast in a box somewhere, negating my earlier point that the beauty and joy of college radio is that it is impermanent and ephemeral. Then again, I'm an audio archivist and have not digitized my own old radio show cassettes, so maybe it is.