AES LA Recap

Perhaps I was overly ambitious. I thought I could moderate a panel on archiving, catch a handful of other panels, walk the exhibition floor, meet up with friends and colleagues, tour Iron Mountain, take a shift at the Tape Op booth AND sleep. Alas, I could not do it all.

 Michael Graves, Cheryl Pawelski, Jessica Thompson, Steve Rosenthal, Jamie Howarth

Michael Graves, Cheryl Pawelski, Jessica Thompson, Steve Rosenthal, Jamie Howarth

I did moderate that panel (AES RP1) featuring the extraordinarily talented Jamie Howarth (Plangent Processes), Michael Graves (Osiris Studio), Cheryl Pawelski (Omnivore Recordings) and Steve Rosenthal (Magic Shop Studios, now known as Magic Shop Archiving and Restoration Services aka MARS). The experience and brain power on this panel was a marvel. We talked about collaboration between archives and record labels, working together to refine best practices around digitization both for preservation purposes and to please discerning music fans, navigating the technological challenges of archival collections that span decades and formats. One big takeaway: simply abiding by technical standards is not enough; we need skilled technicians, well maintained and calibrated playback machines and high quality A/D conversion in order to properly digitize and preserve audio recordings. We all know a 192k wav file can sound like a shadow of its analog self if the playback deck is out of alignment or caked in half a century of grime.

This also got me thinking about deepening my own skill set. I can calibrate an ATR-104 in my sleep, but I also know that there is much I don't know about adjusting headstacks to deal with unusual tape formats, curling tape, damaged tapes. Who is going to teach me this stuff? And, to put it bluntly, who's going to be around in another 10, 20, 30 years to teach anyone this stuff? There are videos tutorials available through ARSC, but nothing beats face-to-face, hands-on training. So... that's on my mind. Stay tuned.

Then I hopped a bus to tour Iron Mountain! We all signed NDAs and swore off our smart phones, so I have no pictures of the facility, the stunningly ornate Art Deco elevator doors, the vaults, the rows and rows and rows and rows and more rows of stored media. But I do have this picture of me and Steve Rosenthal on the roof with the Hollywood sign barely legible in the distance:

 Steve Rosenthal, Jessica Thompson

This is where my plans to see and do and learn and experience as much as possibly wholly derailed. But, then, sometimes the best part of AES is simply hanging out with fellow mastering engineers and talking about our work, our craft, our art. 

I was thrilled to reunite with the awesomely talented Sarah Register, (seriously, check out this woman's discography!), the engineer I assisted many years ago when I first dipped my toes in the mastering waters. We spent countless late nights together working on records, and what I learned from her formed the foundation of everything I do today. (Thanks, Sarah!) Once, we skipped out of work early - unheard of! - and bought last minute tickets to see Dolly Parton at Radio City Music Hall. Worth it. All of it. Here we are last Friday hanging at the Tape Op booth:

 Sarah Register, Jessica Thompson

Truly, it was great to run into so many familiar faces and hang with a crowd that's fluent in dither and azimuth. I left feeling inspired and invigorated, awed by the pink LA sunset and palm tree silhouettes, excited to demo the CEDAR Cambridge audio restoration plug-ins. Oh yeah. You know what's next on my gear wish list.