EARS History in a Lobby... Blaise Barton in the entrance to JoyRide, replete with a painting of EARS founder Mike Rasfeld, the Mix cover featuring Mike's ACME recording, where Blaise got his start, and of course the Dylan box set he worked on.
We as engineers deal in stories. Most of the absolute best stories Ive ever heard have come from engineers; be they teachers, colleagues or our membership. Some are horror stories. Some involve names we all recognize. Others are stories of innovation and pure creativity. And really, this all makes perfect sense. We facilitate storytelling with sound, and every sound tells a story. A man much wiser than myself once said that if a picture is worth a thousand words, then a sound is worth a thousand pictures. This months meeting was the perfect encapsulation of this maxim, as Joyride owner/engineer Blaise Barton connected us here in EARS present with its past.
Blaises intersection with EARS began back when he first mentioned to his dads friend that hed been thinking about getting involved with studio work. As coincidence would have it, Blaises fathers friend would soon wind up running into an old schoolmate of his, one Mike Rasfeld, founding father of the organization publishing these very words you are reading and owner and engineer at Acme Recording. The crazy thing besides the timing of this chance meeting was that Rasfeld didnt at all recognize his old schoolmate. It took another completely random meeting for it to sink in, but once it did, Blaises dads friend told Mike that Blaise was seriously interested in working at a studio. As it happened, Mike was indeed looking for an intern. Blaise stopped by Acme one day and killed some time waiting for Michael to show up for the meeting by noodling around on a piano in the studio. A man showed up and began whistling along with the tune and they jammed for awhile before Rasfeld introduced himself. Blaise knew right away that theyd get along just fine.
Rasfeld was so busy at Acme that Blaise never really got to do the typical intern busy-work of scrubbing floors and cleaning bathrooms. When Michael sadly passed, Blaise and longtime ACME engineer Paul Smith stepped in to take care of his clients. They knew many of these clients well already, so the transition was pretty seamless. Michael Rasfeld passed away in 89, but his family and friends threw Michael a helluva going-away party at Smart Bar with everyone who loved him in attendance.
Michaels brother Jim Rasfeld's first career choice was never running a studio, even though Jim had been managing ACME for several years already. So he and the Rasfeld family decided it would be worth while to move the studio to Ashland and Belmont... all the ACME staff chipped in alongside the contractor. One day, singer/songwriter/stringed instrument virtuoso David Bromberg came by to scout the studio for, as he put it, a huge, important artist. Bromberg did some recording at ACME with Michael in the late 70's/ early 80's and Mike liked his music so much, that he gave Bromberg some free studio time just so Mike could hear more of his music. Bromberg stated that he always remembered this kind gesture and as such ACME was on his short list of studios to audition. This huge, important artist Bromberg spoke of desired of a studio three things: natural daylight, a one-story building with no elevators, and it had to be overlooking a wheat field. Well, Acme had two out of three of those prerequisites going for it, so Bromberg stated that hed be back to book some time with one Mr. Bob Dylan. Blaise and Jim Rasfeld looked at each other in utter disbelief, but told David theyd be happy to accommodate Bob Dylan.
Bromberg returned to ACME in June of 1992 with his large band from New York for a week's rehearsal with Dylan scheduled to show up at the end of the week on Sunday. Meanwhile, there were several Dylan sightings around Chicago that week, one at Wise Fools Pub, another at Blue Chicago on Clark. The band tirelessly rehearsed all the songs to a tee, some songs written by Bromberg and some very old folk and spiritual songs that Dylan wanted to record. Finally around 4 oclock on Sunday, ACME receptionist Sharon Panos called back to the studio to say there was a strange hooded person attempting to gain access to the studio. Bewildered as to his identity, they nonetheless let him in. The hooded man stormed into the studio without saying a word to anyone and immediately sat down and began playing on the piano. The mans hood was so tightly drawn to a small circle, and the shadows just so, as to completely obscure his identity. Blaise and his assistant Dan White looked at each other quizzically and started setting up some mics on the piano. No one was sure if it was really Dylan or not. As soon as they got mics on the piano, the hooded stranger got up, picked up an acoustic guitar and started picking away. Bromberg finally came from the control room and greeted his friend, and Mr. Dylan revealed his likeness, though did not remove the hood completely for the next 3 days. (Headphones were worn over the hood). It became apparent that this is Dylan's first line of defense from being mobbed by people who would recognize him on the street. After getting comfortable with the band and studio staff, the hood came down. Besides Bromberg, Dylan recognized Bromberg's drummer Richard Crooks who had played some tracks on Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks" many years before.
Blaise recalls that session as some of the most demanding yet rewarding work ever. There was an arrangement of the spiritual "I May Be Down" that was the largest setup hes ever assembled. He had musicians just about everywhere they would fit. There was a 25 member south-side women's chorus with a conductor in the big room with live foldback, 3 horns in the kitchen, drums and bass in the reception area, Bromberg's guitar amp in the basement, and bassist Butch Amiot, Hambone and his B3, and Glen's guitar in the live room and a myriad of other musicians tucked into other rooms. They recorded the luscious arrangement, and Dylan seemed very enthusiastic about it all. They did 7 or 8 takes of the 2 choral songs, each better than the previous. Over the next three weeks of the recording project Dylan was starting to lose some enthusiasm for a few of the songs. Sometimes immediately after recording a song, he wanted it scrapped, but Dylan wasnt satisfied with just saying so. He wanted the song erased, right then, right there. And not bulk erased, but each track armed on the Studer A-80, so that he would know that the song would be erased from existence forever. Being one of the most bootlegged artists ever, Dylan evidently didnt want any more bootlegs out there floating around. As directed, Blaise would rewind the tape, arming each track and hitting record with Dylan standing next to him watching it happen.
One day during the session, Dylan asked Bromberg who he thought the better guitarist was: Carlos Santana or Jerry Garcia. Bromberg said thats an easy one: Santana, by far. Dylan was shocked upon hearing this opinion, and it became a running topic through most of the day; there would be a lull after a couple hours and Dylan would suddenly interject, Man, I cant believe you think Santanas a better guitar player than Garcia.
Dylan likes to work fast and with minimal takes of a song... two takes, rarely more than three. As was mentioned earlier in this recap, the New York band came in a week early with Bromberg to rehearse songs that Dylan and Bromberg had picked out. Once in the studio, Dylan practically ignored that list (and consequently the week long rehearsal) and pulled out from recollection some of the traditional folk songs he's played and performed over the years. Sometimes, there would be no count-in when the tape was rolling. The first take was often the rehearsal and the second would be the take. These were all top notch musicians and players, so they caught on fast and the way they did it so fast blew Blaises mind. As a result, a huge volume of music was recorded this way, with close to 32 songs tracked, some who's existence was cut short by the erase head on the Studer. Oh, and for those of you keeping score at home, Blaise Barton recorded Robert Zimmerman, a.k.a. Bob Dylan, in 1992. Blaise was 28. This revelation was a What Have I Done with My Life moment for me.
Blaises partner in crime at Joyride, producer/ engineer Brian Leach, trades off a lot of sessions with Blaise, now that Blaise is enjoying spending time with his 2 young daughters, Violet and Lily. Brian has recorded, produced, played and toured with many groups over the years including his current group The Great Crusades and Life On Mars, (both on Parasol Records) Katie Todd, Slash (yes, from G n'R) and his power pop band Last Gentleman which got a record deal from BMG/Zoo entertainment in 1992. Among many other projects, Brians mixed a dozen or so Guitar Hero songs for Victory Record's bands at JoyRide and more recently some for "Rock Band". In fact, one day, his teenage niece was playing Guitar Hero in the next room when Brian heard one of the tracks and thought, 'where have I heard that before?'. When he went in it dawned on him, and he tried to try to impress her by saying he mixed the song on the very game she was playing. His niece, getting excited, asked if he got to meet the band. When he said no, just the mixing, she simply went back to playing the game, unimpressed.
Dan Scalpone and Matt Edgar of GC Pro also had a mini-shootout between a standard-issue Hafler P-3000, rated at 125W per channel at 8 Ohms and a Thrive Amp rated at 150W per channel at 8 Ohms. I noticed that the Thrive felt like it had a greater dynamic range, and because of the huge caps the amp uses, there was about a 3 second lapse between Matt yanking out the power cable and sound ceasing to pass through the amp. The stereo imaging of the program material also seemed to open up with the Thrive.
Blaise and Brian have a great thing going, and much thanks to them for their hospitality. A very special thanks also is in order to Dan Scalpone and Matt Edgar, for bringing in the amps for the shootout as well as Matt's phono color-coded NS-10s. A very heart-felt thank you to Blaise Barton for helping to bridge the time thats elapsed since the founding of EARS. As someone who wasnt there at the beginning of things, and has only heard stories from our humble beginnings, it was great to have a more complete picture, and a well-painted one at that.
-Chris Cwiak, EARS Secretary (with editorial assistance from Blaise Barton)
Keep that last Tuesday, the 30th of June, open. If meeting plans necessitate a different date, we'll let you know with plenty of notice. We've got some great things lining up! - KJH
Warning to Chicago Audio Engineers
Hudson Fair passed along this warning. Have any further info on this? Let us know and we'll put the word out. - KJH
Next Thursday, the 28th, AES has a good one in store for us that I think would be of interest. Check the Chicago Chapter's page for more info. I also highly recommend getting on their mailing list to find out about these things sooner. You can do so by simply emailing email@example.com with "Mailing List" in the subject line. AES has a lot of great things going on here in Chicago. I also serve on the planning committee and while it has a little different focus than us in EARS, it's always exceptionally interesting. Sign up. You never know what you might be missing! - KJH
Where's the Beef? (The sacred cow is safe another month.)
Thanks again to Messrs. Powell, Leake, and Terry for their recent submissions and do know that we're glad to receive any content you'd like to offer. -KJH
MT's Magical Mystery Tip
Magical Mystery Tip #2, Part 2:
Speaker Magnets and Magnets in General
So, last month I went on and on about the general differences in speaker cones and voice coils. Different voice coils have different weights and therefore sensitivities (I'd love to do a big project illustrating the affected frequencies at different SPL's). Similarly, the weight of the cone plays a part, too. I forgot to mention how ribs in the cone affect tone - they increase the treble frequencies and also disperse them more diffusely. A smooth cone will be 'warmer', and a very ribbed cone will be brighter. The size of the rib will also speak to what kind of frequency gets the 'boost' - bigger ribs might live in the upper mids, while small, numerous ribs might be better classified as 'presence' or 'crispness'.
Despite these differences, the core (no pun intended) of the speaker's sound comes from the magnet or magnetic field that drives it. The magnet itself doesn't produce sound, of course - but rather the voltage applied across that voice coil mentioned last article gets massively repelled and/or attracted by the magnetic field produced by the magnet. The cone makes that repulsion act like a spring, and causes a vibration. Vibrating air means sound!
So, if we're thinking about efficiency and accuracy in regards to the magnet, it's safe to say that the stronger the magnetic field is, the more sensitive and powerful the speaker *can* be (given that the cone and voice coil are lightweight and made well).
We've talked about harmonic detail - now let's talk about bass.
Sparing a long physics explanation, a hypothetically very 'linear' loudspeaker putting out a sine wave at a set volume (it doesn't matter what the volume is) will require more power reproducing a bass frequency (150hz and below) than a treble frequency (5k and above). You can say that the lower the frequency, the more power needed to reproduce it. Think about it - the speaker cone REALLY MOVES when bass notes are hit! That's why bass cabinets and amplifiers put out great bass when they're high wattage, and the speakers can take the high wattage. More power means a greater definition of the bass wave. Power is force over time. More force in the loudspeaker comes from a greater magnet strength.
On that note, here's a small list of the general maximum magnetic strength of the most common speaker magnets:
AlNiCo - 1.20 tesla (T)
Ferrite/Ceramic - 0.35 T
Neodymium - 1.38 T
Samarium-Cobalt - 1.05 T
Hey! So, according to this, Neo magnets are the strongest, AlNiCo is a close second, and Ceramic trails way behind! Well, there's a little more to the story. This magnetic strength is related to the size of the magnet. So, it's safe to assume that if you had one ounce of a Neo magnet, it would take you at least 4 ounces of Ferrite to get close to the same field. We also know that magnetism depends on how far away you are to the magnet. A small, powerful magnet concentrates it's field easier than a giant, low power magnet.
It makes sense now why Neo, Alnico and Sa-Co speakers are expensive, and ceramic is very cheap - also, why ceramic speakers are heavy, and AlNiCo is light - much less AlNiCo is needed to get the same field strength (and therefore sound and bass definition) as ceramic. It's simply bang-for-your-buck. Or, really, magnetic-field-per-your-magnet-size.
There's one big achilles heel for AlNiCo. Magnets can be demagnetized and remagnetized, much like the magnetic strip on your credit card can be erased. Ceramic and especially Neo magnets can hold their magnetism very will - however, AlNiCo can be partially demagnetized when a large field is nearby - but, most notably, when the speaker is played loud, the field created by the voice coil can actually 'smooth' the speaker out by causing speaker compression - a gentle demagnetization of the AlNiCo magnet on sharp transients.
It's common to know that as we compress primary frequencies, harmonics become louder. Therefore, is AlNiCo accurate? No! If anything, at louder volumes, the speaker adds it's own compression and enhancement of harmonics. At low volumes, this isn't a concern, and they perform as a top notch loudspeaker.
So, while for guitarists it's the holy grail - attack compression with loudness, and increased harmonics, oh my! - for studio mains, it's not an accurate representation at loud levels. But it sure is musical!!
With this, there isn't any 'glory' in old AlNiCo speakers. Neo seems to be the way to go - a balance of strength and a hearty resistance to any kind of demagnetization during normal circumstances. Ceramic does the trick as well, but the magnets have to be much larger, and still reach limits on how strong they can be. Samarium-Cobalt was mentioned due to it's recent inclusion to many audiophiles, and it's to be noted it holds it's magnetism better than all others at very high temperatures, yet is extremely brittle and delicate. It has it's use, but it doesn't seem to be cost effective to impliment it over Neodymium in any studio monitor situation over personal color preference.
Of course, the engineer knowing his speakers and his room is the biggest task. Lots of great records were created and mixed on AlNiCo monitors. Fantastic, different sounding guitar amps have had new voices through ceramic, neo, and AlNiCo speaker cabinets. In the new age of engineering that's surfaced with the advent of digital, we seem to strive for a strange balance of accuracy and clarity, yet since great listening environments don't exist everywhere, we subject our mixes to sound good through a small ceramic speaker with a cardboard cone (I'm talking about the infamous NS-10's here) - which does what it does - defines the epitomy of a limited range, inaccurate speaker with the definitions of loudspeaker parts defined here.
Everything has a purpose, though. That's what makes engineering an art - the choice of what best suits the purpose of the audio we're creating, and how we create it. - Marshall Terry
There are endless good reasons to band together here as EARS. It can be whatever we want it to be. If you have any ideas for the EARdrum, our website, or future meetings, please email us. We still have a lot of great meeting plans lining up, some website plans, and a lot of good fresh energy and hopes for a more vibrant, participatory EARS, so of course we're very interested in your input on everything EARS. Please! :) - KJH
Our Archives are again up to date. Check out the website for that and more EARS info. Also, I'd like to complete our files with the pre-2001 EARdrums. By my calculations we're missing the first 16 years! (Now minus that first one.) I know Timothy Powell has a year or so on his Metro-Mobile website but that still leaves a lot missing. If you happen to have your old paper copies or files you could get to me, I would love to get them online for posterity. Let me know. - KJH
Notes about our Website, and our Logo
We've noticed that the website doesn't auto update in some web browsers. If you're looking for something (such as the latest EARdrum) and it looks like old info, try reloading the page. Also, I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking that it's time for a bit of updating. We think EARS deserves a bit of a makeover and can't help but wonder who among us might actually double as a professional designer but with the necessary sensitivity to our audio world. Drop us a note if you'd like to consider helping us out with a new look for the website, logo, etc. -KJH
Thanks to all who support EARS through paying their dues. Just as a reminder, they're due yearly by the October meeting and this is a prerequisite for voting and joining us for the Holiday Party and BBQ in August (and occasionally things like the Grammy Party), but they're always welcome. Dues checks (or cash, but no credit cards) for $25.00 can be made out to EARS and given to any of our officers or sent to the following address:
Engineering and Recording Society of Chicago, C/O Eric Roth, Treasurer, PO Box 98, Highland Park, IL 60035-0098 - KJH
A (few) (more) word(s) from the Prez...
or The Science Student and the High Sheriff's Lady
Hey Hey! Well, last month was a great meeting. Nice turnout, absolutely great to get to know Blaise, Brian, and their other partners-in-crime, and then an absolute delight to see people coming out of the woodwork to join up or even just ask to be added to the mailing list. Somehow JoyRide just seems to be connected to a part of the local community that just hasn't been very connected to EARS until now. A big welcome to all those who've joined the mailing list and especially to those who we'll be seeing at this and future meetings.
Blaise's stories of Dylan really got me thinking and I've been going through my records and adding all the videos I can find to my Netflix queue. It had been a while since I've seen most of these things. The '65 Press Conference in San Francisco was amazing on so many levels. The production value/style was so... from another era, and the audience and it's questions felt so... a world away, and Dylan himself, absolutely captivating. Delightful. The Other Side of the Mirror, featuring all his performances from the '63 - '65 Newport Folk Festivals reveals so much more than just the notorious 'gone electric' moment. You can watch as in a single day in 1963 young Bob Dylan begins shyly, if not quietly, and by nightfall begins to realize his command of the scene. In '64 he's more than come into his own, enjoying every moment of it and laughing it up. And then the notorious '65 electrification of his sound, his genre, and the anxiously watching world. The weight of it is palpable, even all these years later in simple, sometimes rough black and white footage. And then of course there's Don't Look Back. The whole thing is priceless, but there's been so much focus on "The Science Student" and most simple interpretations seem to want to look down on Mr. Dylan for mocking this young man, Terry Ellis, who went on to co-found Chrysalis Records. Well, let's be honest, he's in the middle of a tour, JUST before a huge performance, with the world struggling to understand his new directions, not to mention that of culture in general, mid-sixties. His words are getting twisted in interviews, he's surrounded by mobs of people all wanting something from him: material things, guilt by association, "a chick" :) and even answers to the biggest and most important questions humankind can ask. I think the key, the most honest thing said there is "I don't think you know when you're liked!". I think Dylan's actually enjoying this guy's ability to stick right there with him, back and forth on these basic questions. Sure, he's toying with him, he's clearly the star and the one in charge there, and sure, this guy's at a handicap by simply being associated with the press, but nonetheless he seems to be enjoying the exchange and actually doesn't want the guy to leave. Maybe he's enjoying the sounding board for his own thoughts, thinking out loud as he solidifies his own ideas. What/who are real friends? What do we want from each other? What do we have in common? What makes us different? What's our attitude toward life and each other? What can we learn from each other? What's expected of us? What is our purpose in this world?
I got the idea from Blaise that he might be interested in what exactly got put 'in print' with regard to his Dylan story. We talked a bit about the fact that it seems everything gets back to Dylan. He seems to have an informal network of people all over the world who somehow get word back to him about what's said about him. Of course Blaise wouldn't want his story misrepresented and it getting back to Dylan. I guess that's the difference between Blaise and myself. It's a different matter if you've actually worked with the man. He's been up that mountain and wouldn't want to burn any bridges on the way back. Me? I wouldn't mind Dylan being mad at me. I'd just be delighted to think that I had even crossed his mind! :)
But what would Bob Dylan say about EARS? If our organization were subjected to the kind of exchange "The Science Student" went through, what would it look like? I think he'd ask if we all know why we're getting together at all. Certainly everyone wants different things from each other and from each meeting, but wouldn't we all want to agree on some ground rules, some parameters from which we could gauge whether different things we're doing further us along toward our goals? Some would want EARS to be exclusive to studio owners and other full-time engineers and the like. Others would want it to be mostly the typically younger crowd of home studios being run on the side by otherwise non-professionals, often just out of school. But I think if we just step back and look at the bigger picture, as I think Dylan would, it's easy to see that both sides of that particular demilitarized zone stand to benefit greatly from each other, for their commonalities AND their differences.
Did you happen to hear that NAPRS (Nashville Association of Professional Recording Studios) p/k/a "Record Nashville", an organization similar in some ways to ours, called it a day? One of our members sent me a note, encouraging me to make sure EARS doesn't follow suit. Check out the article here.
It's sad how hopelessly defensive that article sounds in parts... Begrudging home studios, even at the level of a big name producer having their own work space at home as not playing fair, well, this article reads like NAPRS was just burying it's head in the sand.
EARS is not limited by the big studios doing big label work. EARS doesn't even have "Professional" in it's name. Engineering, Recording, Society, and the all important "And". It sounds like Nashville's still stuck with an "Or" attitude, an "us or them" mentality. It's kind of odd, actually, because in general I get the idea that New York, L.A., and Nashville are largely known for being more cooperative, helpful, and supportive than us here in Chicago. I hear this all the time.
Chicago is listed in the latest Mix as in fifth place in the nation with respect to Independent Music. Texas hits first (no surprise) followed by the usual big three music cities and then there's us. Frankly, I find that encouraging. I'm not sure where we rank on "Non-Independent Music", but it's a delight to know that in the expanding, energetic realm of Indy music we're right up there with the big dogs.
So I don't think EARS is going away anytime soon. What EARS IS doing is providing a place where people can meet and mingle. Whether you're Johnny K celebrating his Producer of the Year award or John Doe preparing to graduate from Columbia and hoping for an internship, you can come to EARS and just hang out with current, past, or potential comrades, enjoying, learning from, or even keeping them in check.
We've certainly got some characters in EARS, but whether you're our version of Robert Zimmerman, his entourage, his fans in the audience (or on the street), or simply "a science student" doing an interview on the side with perhaps a thought toward a future in the business, I'm sure you've got something to bring to the table and I think if you're ears are open, you'll be delighted to find others bringing things to the table you couldn't find anywhere else.
"Now let's try and understand each other, shall we? (That wouldn't be a bad idea.) Now, you can ask your first question. Go ahead. You got a question to ask? Come on. You haven't got any questions? I think somebody's calling for you. (You want me to go? I'll go.) No, you don't have to go."
Cue the High Sheriff's Lady and her three boys: David, Steven, and Steven.
See ya at Studio 11...
At your service,
Kerry J Haps