Thursday, August 17, 2017

Money and Art

A few weeks ago, on summer evening, while I was enjoying a beautiful evening and ignoring a painfully loud and poorly mixed live music show at the outdoor performance theater in my hometown, I was again reminded of the connection between money and art. Mostly, I was reminded of how much money it takes to survive in the arts. Live music doesn’t require a lot of money, but musicians and venues will pick money over quality and talent every time. Concert riders are all about demanding a fair amount of money be spent to “earn” the right to suffer a collection of musicians’ egos. Venue budgets, especially publically financed venues, are all about building empires and bragging rights.

A feature of getting old is that everything reminds you of every other thing you’ve lived through. Listening to the mess of a mix that night reminded me of my first show in West Hollywood’s Roxy Theater. This is a bit of a convoluted memory, but most of mine are. Our band, Sum Fun, was scheduled to go on fairly early in the show and the house mixer was a little pissed that I wasn’t willing to let him do his usual damage to the band. There was no real sound check, since the audience was mostly there long before any of the bands showed up. The house FOH guy had removed the console’s labeling, with an eraser and fingernail polish remover, from every control on the console; as job security. I got through the show, but it wasn’t much fun. When we were loading out, after the last act played and the crowd went home, I saw the house sound guy climb into a new Mercedes and drive off. No way could he afford that on the pittance the Roxy paid him, but it is par for the course. You just have to assume that anyone who can afford to diddle with music for a living is either willing to live on the edge of catastrophe or is someone who has a pile of trust fund money as a security blanket. More often, these days, it’s the second case.

I’m not the only person thinking that rich kids are becoming the only people who can afford to be in the arts. Actual artists have been dropping out of the game for decades, leaving the field to those with trust funds and no real pressing need to create anything other than something to fill the time and ward off boredom. Making art is expensive, especially art that requires technology; like live sound. The problem with stuffing the arts with bored rich kids is that those kids are rarely particularly talented, motivated, or even interested in art. A typical artistic compromise is for an actual artist to marry someone with a paying gig. That “solution” has its own set of problems, of course.

Unfortunately, having money and having taste are rarely combined. Like that summer evening’s sonic disaster, the big bucks spent to acquire the necessary equipment to make the rider author happy did not result in a musical event. The combination did produce the usual boom-and-screech mess we used to call the “Peavey smile” theory of sonic madness. A combination of a speaker system with lots of 100-250Hz and the usual combination of harsh sounding horns and SM58’s that results in a 6-15dB peak at 3-6kHz often results in a kneejerk EQ response to supplement those characteristics with other non-musical frequencies. Most AM radios can do that job perfectly awfully, although you can usually understand the words on an AM radio.

I’m becoming convinced that the connection between money is negative. Artists are people who are driven to do something—things like play music, paint, sculpt, write, sing, dance, and even play sports—they will do those things with or without money; if they are artists. If they are just self-promoters, money is a requirement. That’s why you will often find some of the most amazing talent in the most obscure places; like small town open mic evenings. Likewise, characters like Kanye West or the vast and talentless array of posing, Auto-Tuned, lip-sync’ing metal and pop singers who, apparently, are swimming in money demonstrate no talent at all. Every time I hear someone claim some big money star is the “greatest [fill in the blank] ever,” I suspect that person doesn’t get out much.

I was reminded of this when a small Unitarian Universalist group my wife and I belonged to suddenly decided it need to “progress” beyond being a friendly group of like-minded people who got together to talk about life, the universe, and everything to an “organization” with salaries and financial committments from the members. Initially, the group was roughly formed around a retired UU minister who decided he wasn’t yet ready to retire because he still felt the need to “preach.” Some friends of his decided it would be ok to be an audience, so he wouldn’t feel like one of those crazy dudes on street corners in L.A. shouting about the Apocolypse or some such silly crap. After a few meetings, the retired minister decided he needed to be paid for talking to us. Minnesotans are notoriously passive-aggressive and while several people expressed disappointment that the group was morphing into something different than what they were hoping to build, most went along with the change. My wife and I decided that this wasn’t what we’d signed up for and we’re sort of drifting, community-wise. The problem with declaring that you “need to preach” (or play music or paint or dance or toss a football or catch one) is that your need does not inspire me to pull cash from my wallet. In fact, if you really need it, I just have to wait a bit and you’ll do it for free. [Just like anyone reading this blog realizes about my “need” to write. As a great American author once said, “I write for the same reason cows give milk.”]

The word “need” is often confused with “want.” The things we need are food, shelter, clothing, energy, medical care, and a very few other items in declining importance. Entertainment is a want item. We can not only live without entertainment, but we have no reason to do so since talent and inspiration lives all around us and is just waiting to find an audience. Maybe the whole idea of art for money is flawed at the core.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Too Hip for Words

I did a live sound gig last weekend and experienced the ultimate in sound guy silliness: an arrogant, hipster waltz and polka-playing accordian player.

92-1079-1420440008

music-accordion-musician-safe_words-safe_words-husbands-jdun919_low

cg4ee7fbe848647

Accordians may not be particularly musical, but they are funny. They are, however, a lot funnier if you don’t have to listen to them any longer than a typical ringtone.

Friday, August 11, 2017

It’s Not All the Same

One of the weird and unsatisfying things about being a tech(nologist) rather than a musician is that we’re supposed to be music-neutral. When artists come into our studios or live venues, we’re supposed to do the best job we can, regardless of how we feel about their art. When a luthier makes a guitar, there is no expectation from the guitarists as to whether the luthier believes the instrument he made is going to make horrible noises or be somewhat musical. When a technican is asked to build a recording studio, fix a piece of gear, or sort out some kind of electronic or mechanical mess a musician made with equipment, the tech is expected to be genre and quality-neutral.

But it doesn’t work that way, does it? Musicians and studio owners and clubs all bitch about the technicans they work with, “They just don’t seem to care.” In fact, they probably don’t. And they probably shouldn’t be expected to, either.

Back in the 70’s, when my partner and I were first starting up our music services business, we had a purpose for doing what we were trying to do. I wanted to record the area’s great, mostly jazz, musicians and he wanted to create the most transparent sound system possible and run it with the area’s terrific musicians as a sound source. Of course, all of that cost a small fortune and not having a trust fund to pay for it we ended up doing work for anyone who could and would pay the bills. For three years, he did two or three shows a week (along with his day job and assisting me weekends in the studio) and I assisted. I did that many sessions a weekend (along with my day job and assisting him on the live shows) or more when we were doing jingles. While that was going on, I was also doing tech and recording engineering work for two other studios in the area. Along with my day job. After three years, my partner had enough. He quit, got a better day job, and never looked back at music again.

I moved to a bigger city, got a day job doing something closer to music (manufacturing audio consoles), and found another partner who specialized in jingles and kept doing the tech and contract recording engineering work. Then, I moved to the biggest city (L.A.) and got a far more demanding day job and started going to school nights. If it hadn’t been for an accidental connection to a great band, I’d have been out of music (other than making equipment) for that whole decade. However, I lucked into a relationship with a really special, really talented band (The Sum Fun Band) and I worked with them anytime they played for about 8 years. If they hadn’t appeared in my life at that time, I might have never gone back to live music or, maybe, music in any way.

This show was recorded before I met these guys, but it’s a pretty good representation of what they did while I was their FOH and monitor system guy. Often, the band was a couple of pieces bigger, which only made it better. Which brings me to the point of this rant.

When I moved to California, I was tired of doing the jack-of-all-brands-of-music thing. During the past ten years, I’d recorded country, country and western, bluegrass, hillbilly, bubblegum pop, heavy metal, and probably a few other genres of “music,” all of which I hated or, at best, ridiculed. We did live shows for all of that crap, too. My partner left music forever, thanks to that experience. I wasn’t that smart or that flexible, whichever comes first. Like I used to tell my students, “If you want to stay in this business you have to do a little of everything.” The other message should have been, “If you want to end up hating your life in music, do a little of everything including the crap you despise.”

My friend, Scott Jarrett, used to say, “If you can imagine making a living any way but through music, you should.” There is an aspect of desperation to that statement that I did not get for a long time. There are many ways to make a living that do not require ignoring your own opinions and tastes. Working at the technology end of music is not one of those. I remember being backstage at an Iron Maiden show in Irvine and listening to the roadies describe how much they despised the band and how “I could play better than these blokes with ten busted fingers.” I remember all of the country and bluegrass concerts and festivals where I wished I could experience total, but temporary, deafness for a few hours. (Earplugs don’t even get close to doing that job.) I remember spending hours tweaking a record for “artists” who would not be able to reproduce anything resembling that music on their own and wondering, not just would they notice my work, but would I even get paid?

I retired in 2013 and “retirement,” for me, meant no longer having to do unappreciated, uninteresting work. For the first year or two, when someone asked what I’d charge to record their music, I’d tell them, “I have to hear it first. If I like it, I’m cheap. If I don’t, you can’t afford me.” I need to progress from that to either “no” or “hell yes.” I’m slowing integrating into the music community in my new home and getting asked to do more live shows and, even with my current lightweight recording rig and borrowed facilities, more recording gigs. 50 years of saying “yes” to everything is making this transition difficult. However, disobeying this rule can mean that I do one crap gig and I don’t want to do another one for a couple of years; if ever again.

The thing that is hard to sell to musicans and venues is that, at this point, I have finally arrived where my partner laneded 35 years ago. If I don’t love the music, I don’t have any reason on earth to hear it. If I never hear another Beatle, Stones, Led Zep, Eagles, REO, Skynard, Dylan, Bill Monroe, etc. cover again, it would be a much better world for me. I don’t want to hear any of that geezer crap on the radio, either. Honestly, I’d go through a lot to get to tech, live or recorded, some really interesting acoustic jazz, world music, R&B, jazzy acoustic folk, or reasonably complicated original pop music.

So, after musing over this for about a week, I told the owner of one venue I have worked with that I wanted to be more focused on the type of music I worked on than just the venue’s needs and the response was, “Ok, no pressure on the Sept shows. I will do my best to fill them and, if I can't, I'll let you know. Sound ok? I know you are doing sound here, in part, to help us and we appreciate you a ton.”

Aw, now I’m back to saying “yes” to everything. Not really, but I do feel like the work I put into make a show sound the best it can is appreciated and that I’m on the right track here. Now, I’m going out into the backyard where I can practice saying “no” and “hell yes” until I can do both without choking.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Isolation from the Audience

Live sound goofballs do a lot of dumb things—from lousy gain structure to creating mixes that more resemble heavy equipment in operation than any sort of musical expression—but one of the most abused parts of a live sound system is, and probably will always be, the stage monitor system. The purpose of monitor systems is to give the performers some additional subtle feedback regarding timing, pitch, and balance beyond what they should be hearing from the FOH system. That purpose was lost sometime at least 40 years ago, when sound companies realized that most performers don’t give a good shit what the FOH system sounds like and could care less what their audience hears once those suckers have paid good money for an awful experience.

The the standard setup procedure, today, is to “wring out the monitors” as the band is setting up. That means some doofus will make huffing and plosive noises into various microphones until the monitor engineer has obtained the loudest, least musical possible sound from the monitor system. By the time the monitors are setup in this manner, the FOH system is usually unnecessary, volume-wise, and the FOH engineer is left to try to provide a micron of clarity to the mess that is blasting off of the stage. Usually, that underpaid and untalented soundclown takes that job slightly less seriously than the effort expended by a minimum wage private “security guard” at an abandoned Detroit public school building. The result is what we’ve all come to expect from most live music performances; even people in the industry are amazed at how awful live music sounds.

20170805_131950This weekend, I went to an outdoor show in town. The performance was hampered by being partially enclosed in a polyester PVC-coated stretched tents, which are pretty effective mid-range and above audio reflectors, but that didn’t explain how awful the sound was. The group was a 3-piece, very young, pop band with an over-achieving drummer who hammered the snare as if it were a tent post needing to be drilled deep into the asphalt. That set some kind of baseline for the monitor setup, since the drummer was (for once) the first guy on stage to be ready for the sound check. From there, everything went downhill fast. [You can tell by the stage picture, at left, that the sound company had a lot more monitor volume capacity than FOH capabilities.] I watched the sound check, but other than bumping monitor gains up until hitting the gain-before-feedback limits, I didn’t hear any output from the mains during the sound check. Honestly, I couldn’t tell if the mains ever made a contribution to the overall sound; even well into the show.

Obviously, there was zero intelligability from the system. Regardless of where I sat or stood, I couldn’t understand a word coming from the stage. They might as well been speaking French or Chinese, or both. Toward the end of the performance, I walked behind the stage and found (to no surprise at all) that the on-stage volume was substantially louder than the FOH output. While the on-stage sound quality was somewhat better than the FOH, it was mostly deafeningly loud. Probably so loud that the FOH mixer was already past the allowed volume for the venue (an outdoor festival).

For a few hours after leaving that show, I thought about the purpose of stage monitors in the current context. As best I can figure, monitor systems are intended to create acoustic space and physical distance between musicians and their audience. Not to bring the two together in a shared musical experience, but to drive a sonic wedge between the musicians, their fears and and insecurities and frustrations, and the overly-tolerant (and shrinking) audiences who are clearly not particularly discriminating because they put up with this abuse.

20170729_212142Earlier in the week, I was the FOH tech for a small venue performance. When I set up the system and stage, I took advantage of the fact that the performers didn’t list “monitors” in their equipment rider and left the monitors to the side where I could set them up if I needed them. Lucky for me and the audience, when the performers started testing their mics and instruments they were satisfied with the main’s spill and decided to go sans-monitors. The difference between the communication these musicians had with their audience, obviously aided by the close physical proximity, and the performance I saw later in the week was night-and-day. That physical proximity thing isn’t just a function of the venue setup, though. The loud group didn’t provide any high fidelity place for their audience to hear their music. Close or distant, it sounded muffled and distorted everywhere. In contrast, the acoustic/electric duo pictured next to this paragraph sounded clear, present, and natural everywhere in the room.

There has to be some sort of compromise louder acts can make to provide their audience with a decent aural experience. While most bands sound like crap, not all do. Not all bands that sound musical start with the mains, either, but they do make an effort to get out front and listen to the mains sometime before the show or early in the show. And when it sounds like crap, they do what it takes to fix it. One solution for the monitor mess is in-ear monitors, but that provides another level of isolation between the musicians and the audience; especially if the FOH system is overbearing. In-ears or traditional monitors, someone has to care what the audience is hearing and no artist worth listening to will leave that to a hired hand.

Monday, July 10, 2017

He Never Returned . . . Almost

I recently took a train trip from my Minnesota home to Detroit, MI. Mostly, it was a pleasant experience and I’d recommend Amtrak to anyone not in a hurry or, like me, about as interested in submitting to the TSA bullshit as being sold into prostitution. The problem with going east from practically anywere civilized is Chicago. In particular, Chicago’s Union Station.Chicago is, in general, where ergonomics of any sort goes to die, but Union Station is the sort of organizational disaster usually described in Terry Gilliam movies or the noisy, disorderly hell-hole depicted in dysfunctional post-apocolypic movies where Donald Trump was elected President of the USA and human society collapsed into a drug-infested shooting gallery.

IMG_8385The station, itself, is a gothic cathedral sort of place with tunnels, alleys, and subteranian shopping malls all coupled, acoustically, with an excessive amount of echo and reverberation. It is noisy as hell, but half as pleasant. In a facility like this, you’d hope that public address audio would be abandoned as a useful medium to transfer information. You’d be disappointed. There are mumbling, distorted “messages” IMG_8388being broadcast constantly; including a feminine computer voice endlessly repeating “Track number 17, track number 17. . . “ Even in the waiting areas for specific train gates, useless information is regularly broadcast while the video screens are either filled with pointless TSA messages or are blank. Even stranger, there is elevator music straining to be heard, sometimes above, the pointless and unintelligable “directions,” arrival, and departure information.

IMG_8389This is a place where audio of any sort is nothing more than pollution. From the squeltching noises of the various police and security personnel to loud and confusing conversations to the P.A. system bullshit, no audio information of any sort is likely to be useful. However, the noise level everywhere I explored was well above industrial OSHA limits; often as high as 105dBSPL-A on a constant basis. However, where there were video displays with arrival and departure information, they were often placed where you couldn’t get close enough to read them or they were displaying information about every gate but the one they were near.

IMG_8387I managed to walk off without my 6-year-old Android tablet while I was trying to confirm the information on the Chicago Union Station’s website that said I needed a special boarding permit to get into any of the station’s waiting areas. That turned out to be untrue, but none of the Amtrak or Union Station employees seemed to know the website was incorrect. In all, my interactions with Union Station were miserable and among the dumbest I’ve experienced in my 69 years.

Chicago, you and Rahm Emanuel deserve each other.

Friday, June 9, 2017

If [insert technical person’s name here] Can Do it, It Must Be Easy

One of the many entertaining aspects of a technical career is that the many mismanagement, sales, and marketing numskulls who consider themselves to be “visionary” and who couldn’t turn on a water tap without assistance are convinced that we are a dime a dozen. Society, in fact, makes that same general assumption; that there will always be technical people available to make things work so that they can go about their mindless lives thoughtlessly and without a clue of how or why anything they depend on works.

The United States, in its rush to create a royalty class, is demonstrating this in every election, in every corporate takeover, in its tax policy, and in almost ever office in the country. One of many consequences for this is that more than 50% of our university STEM graduates are non-US citizens and the overwhelming majority of those graduates plan to return to their country of origin with the skills they have attained. The US, on the other hand is cranking MBA and Finance degrees like those “skills” are actually going to be useful in some mythical, non-productive future. Better hurry, kiddies. Once the current batch of banksters have sold off the nation’s assets, there won’t be much demand for people to mismanage the country’s remaining spare change.

phdsElecting a collection of trust fund brats and hedge fund banksters guarantees at least one more generation of our best and brightest being sucked out of useful work and into “finance” and other criminal activities. Since Reagan, the country has steadily lost technical and scientific capacity and time, science, and progress wait for no one.

Looking up references for some of the points I wanted to make in this essay, I ran into a collection of alternative Google searches and links such as “STEM graduates are SOOOO arrogant” and “STEM graduates aren’t as smart as they think they are.” [Look at the chart on the left and, if you have the math skills necessary to read it, try to justify that argument.] All pretty funny, since it’s pretty well established that STEM programs are dramatically more difficult and relevant than liberal arts and STEM graduates are consistently more employable. The skills and disipline necessary to get through a typical STEM degree isn’t something you can just “pick up when I need it,” like management, accounting, or philosphy. The difference between the usual party animal degree (anything from Business to Law Enforcement to any of the dozens of programs that do not require mathematics, science, and technology as core to the degree) and a STEM degree is not just a matter of intelligence, but of time and energy committment and competition. The rest of the world is pretty clear on this, along with US immigration policy. Try to immigrate to Canada, Austrailia, Europe, or any other 1st world country with your liberal arts degree as a credential: you might as well argue that your hair color matters. Offer any of those countries your technical expertise as an experienced engineer, scientist, medical doctor, or a mathematician and doors fly open.

Of course, there are “engineers” and there are engineers. When I read or hear about a 20-something electrical or mechanical engineer who can’t find employment in his/her field, my first though is “Make something, dumbass.” The whole point in becoming an engineer is obtaining the background to become inventive, creative, and self-sufficient. Simply getting through a degree program isn’t even a serious first step in a technical life. I know of at least a half-dozen engineers who are not college graduates, even though they have made excellent incomes for a long portion of their lives employeed as “engineers.” I was one, in fact.

The funniest comments on “useless” STEM degrees comes from examples of computer science grads who can’t find work. I worked for a biomed company in the 1990’s and their biggest engineering hiring problem was finding competent software/firmware engineers. I’d just come from a company that had made some pretty large strides in audio communications software, but that company had a secret weapon: only hire programmers who can slow evidence of their accomplishments (The Microsoft Rule.) and don’t worry about their pedigree. That wasn’t an option for the medical devices company because they received some federal corporate welfare based on the “credentials” of their “research” departments. Of course, any software developer with a lick of ability would be off designing software and getting rich long before wasting time acquiring a Masters or PhD in software engineering, which left the credential addicts with slim pickin’s, in the talent territory. As you’d expect, the company’s software was buggy, slow, and insecure and those weaknesses were regularly exposed in the field. (If you think Diebold’s electronic voting machines are easy to hack, you don’t even want to think about how easy it is to blow up a pacemaker or implantable defibrillator.)

None of that changes the point of this rant, however. The goofy inept characters who populate business and liberal arts programs too often gravitate to the head of corporations because nothing measurable ever gets in their way. If you can’t do anything useful, it’s hard to make a mistake anyone will notice. Since crawling to the head of the class, leaving a trail of bodies and betrayal, was so easy for them, how hard can any other activity be?

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Because?

The explaination that I have disliked the most for 99% of my life is, “Because everyone else does it this way.” An adopted (from Bertrand Russell) mantra of my life has been, “The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more often likely to be foolish than sensible." I absolutely believe that statement: regarding subjects from technology to economics to politics to community/religion. I will always assume that “everyone else” is probably a moron, especially if the thing we’re talking about has any aspect of opinion involved. Often, it turns out that I’m wrong. Sometimes the reason people have done something the same way for a long time is that it is the most efficient, practical, easiest, and even effective way to do that thing. Sometimes I’m right and the reason people have been doing something the same way for a 1,000 years is because they are lazy, superstitious, ignorant, timid/conservative, and/or mentally challenged. With only one life to live and a limited amount of time, energy, and patience with which to live it, I am often uninspired to spend much effort worrying about why things “have always beend one this way.” That is not always (or even often) a strength, it’s just a thing, a personality glitch.

IMG_8123So, when it came time to design an electric guitar (a bass, in my case), I decided to blow off a lot of convention and explore my inner designer. Andf I learned a few things: some useful, some I could have spared myself by going with “conventional wiseom,” and some were outright surprises.

For example, I put a lot of thought and effort into creating the smallest body design possible and still retain “balance.” I started with thicker material than I expected to need and installed a 1/2” cap over the wiring routing holes, creating an instrument from which I expected to carve a lot from the back to create a slight “wrap-around” feel. As the body approached completion and the neck was finished enough to attach, I started fooling with finding the point where the strap pins could be installed to make the instrument hang in a neutral, balanced, position. To my mind, that sounded more comfortable than the body-heavy designs of most guitars.

2017-05-01 Bass (3)I was wrong. It turns out that a slight bias toward body-heavy is more comfortable, at least for my playing position. I tend to play with the instrument high and the neck much higher; probably due to short arms or some such handicapped characteristic.

It also turned out that the sculpting I intended to do was unnecessary. My body design conformed so well that additional wood-removal was pointless. It would, however, have been a good exercise. So, I might build another bass using the same general design but taking the body-shaping further.

I also blew off the trait most of my fellow students had for pickup selection. First, it’s a bass and, second, this instrument is one I built purely for my own enjoyment and playing. I’m not a particularly complicated bass player. I don’t solo, ever. I like being part of the rhythm section, in the background, just filling in the bottom. The pickup on my bass has a fairly simple task: provide as much fundamental as possible with as little noise as possible. I went for a Chinese knockoff of a Gibson humbucker design, primarily because the pickup came with individual coil wiring. When I received the pickup, I tested the two coils and found that one had slightly (10%) higher impedance and resistance. So, I unwrapped the coils and pulled wire off of that coil until it was very close to the other coil. I reassembled the pickup, soaking the winding in wax before retaping it, coated the pickup pocket and wiring channels in magnetic paint, and hooked up the pickup for series and parallel operation with a single DPDT switch. Add a volume control and a jack and that’s all I need; along with a mostly-midpoint pickup position. I never use the bridge pickup, so why install one?

You can see that my body shape is unconventional. It works beautifully, by the way. It is comfortable standing or sitting and the “handle” is a lot more useful than a horn.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

“I Have Heard It with My Own Ears”

One of many reasons the music business is being left to the spoiled children of the 1% is that there is so much non-stop bullshit in the marketing of audio and audio equipment. This month’s Prosound News ProAudio Review, contains one of many hillarious reviews of a grossly overpriced four channel microphone preamplifier with minimal features, maginal function (only 55dB of gain) and more bullshit marketing words that translate to no information whatsoever: “punchy, fat, rich and full of character” for example. “As [Bret] Teegarden himself offers, ‘The biggest feature is, it doesn't have a boat-load of features. Nothing gets in the way of the sound!’"

“Key features of the Magic Pre 4100 include 55 dB of gain, Sifam VU meters, -20 dB pad (complete bypass in off position), and +48v phantom power (decoupling completely from the transformer).” In other words, it couldn’t have been easier to “design” this product because it doesn’t achieve a single difficult engineering task. In the magazine’s sidebar, “Why No Polarity Switch,” Teegarden describes his miraculous capability to hear the distortion introduced by the polarity switch, although he probably doesn’t know how many places that task could be accomplished where the switch would be at a point where the signal voltage is significant and where it’s introduction would only marginally complicate the design. “There are many electronic engineers out there who will debate this idea of switches affecting audio quality, but I have heard it with my own ears. So, they can argue aboput it all they want; they can buyikld the features into their preamps for marketing’s sake. . . “  Blah, blah, blah. This is the high cost of working in a field where money only exists if you inherited it. Rich kids marketing bullshit to other rich kids and, obviously, no one cares enough to verify any aspect of this product’s claims.

Our ears are the blunt tool of senses. I have long since abandoned any hope that anyone over 20 has hearing capabilities and Teegarden has been making pop recordings for “more than 35 years,” according to his own propaganda page. The cool thing about a nutty claim like this one is the only way to verify or debunk Teegarden’s claim would be with an ABX test (which he would surely fail), but he can always claim the tester switching masked the phase switch distortion.

I have one question for everyone who claims golden ear status, “Do use a cellphone or a hard line phone?” If you can tolerate the godawful quality of a cellphone transmission, it’s obvious to me that your demanding criteria for an electric guitar microphone preamp is a poor joke.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Giving Up the Ghost

January 2017

A half-dozen years ago, during a 20-year long argument about practically everything in life, society, and our imaginations a good friend finished her email with “You are a natural born teacher chafing at the unnatural constraints & idiocy of the classroom.” Since, at the time I was seriously considering abandoning my teaching job and blowing off whatever demented thing in my head that makes me want to explore how people think and make decisions and intentionally avoid facing reality.

Oddly, I took what she’d said as sort of a compliment, even though I was convinced that teaching was a frustrating, painful, frustrating exercise in futility. Being in a classroom for 14 weeks was too often a demonstration of non-existence. Especially in the last couple of years, it felt (especially when I graded exams) that I’d been completely invisible. Looking at the experience logically, if I’d been talking about a subject, demonstrating concepts and principles, and supervising experiments about the subject for 14 weeks at at the end of that period of time the things I’d been attempting to teach were tested and many-to-most of the students’ answers were no more informed than if they’d shown up on test day as if it were the first day of class, it logically follows that I was either invisible and inaudible or non-existent altogether.

This week, I discovered this old and dear friend is dying and one of her tumors is causing her memory of our friendship to intermittently fail. So, in the end non-existence is my fate. One of the few people who recognized whatever it was that drove me to try and pass on hard-earned experience and whatever passes for knowledge I’ve aquired over the last 68 years is dying and that puts me one step closer to non-existence.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Wirebender Audio Rants

Over the dozen years I taught audio engineering at Musictech College and McNally Smith College of Music, I accumulated a lot of material that might be useful to all sorts of budding audio techs and musicians. This site will include comments and questions about professional audio standards, practices, and equipment. I will add occasional product reviews with as many objective and irrational opinions as possible.