"...And Make It Real Creative!" - November 2007

and-make-it-real-creative-logo-3By Trent Rentsch

I’m going to take another break from the world of computer synthesis and virtual noise-making this month. If you’re disappointed, you can blame it on the echo.

While Radio And Production is always first on my lips when people ask me what magazine is a must read for radio Creatives, I must admit that I do browse a few other audio trades (or as my dear wife calls them, “That damned pile of magazines in the bathroom!!!”). I was paging through a new one last week, when an ad took me time-traveling. The product is called an Echo Verb, and it is a tape-based echo and reverb unit. Yes, TAPED-BASED!

ECHOVERB-MAIN

While those of you who are on your own memory time trip at those words muse about the good old days, let me explain what this gizmo did… er, does, to the youngsters in the group. A piece of ¼ inch recording tape (that stuff on the reels gathering dust in the corner of your Prod room) is looped around a mechanical contraption that includes one or more recording and playback heads (you can see them on that reel to reel deck in the corner… the one the reels are stacked on). An audio signal is fed into this device and is recorded onto the tape… which then moves across the playback heads, causing an echo… or, a reverb of sorts, depending on how long the loop of tape is, which on some of the fancier machines, was variable. You could (can) also change the effect by changing the tape speed, and with more record and playback heads, you could come up with all sorts of interesting combinations of delay/echo/reverb of sorts. The Echo Verb boasts of a new design and 6 heads. The ad declares, “The glorious sound and feel of tape echo & reverb is back!” After that glowing sentiment and the description of this marvel of modern audio processing (circa, 1958), I’m sure both veterans and rookies are racing… back to their computer-based recording systems.

It’s sad, somehow. I won’t deny that I was one of the first to jump at the chance of using computers to record, process and generally make my noise, and goodness knows I’ve been all over the process of making virtual audio for nearly a year in this column. Still, I must admit that, for as squeaky clean the audio has become, for all the processing effects now available at the touch of a drop-down menu, there’s something missing from the old ways of producing — and I don’t just mean tape hiss (kids, ask your Program Director’s Mother).

The trip back in time I took via the Echo Verb ad dropped me in Brookings, South Dakota — Brookings High School, an evening in April, 1977, to be exact. It was the night of the yearly talent show, and some friends who were into Pink Floyd and King Crimson were about to “educate” the school as to what “progressive rock” was all about. As they prepared for the “experience,” they put a home reel-to-reel machine at one end of the aisle of the auditorium, another at the other end, stringing recording tape between them (by the way, kids, there wasn’t a reel to reel machine in every home back then; they had to do some heavy begging from the school’s Audio/Video Department. Do they still have those?).

Soon they took the stage and began to create their own brand of audio magic — mostly power chords and shouted lyrics. What was amazing was that after a short time, this “wall of noise” was repeated, and they “played” more sound on top of it. It was my first experience at seeing tape echo in action, and it was revolutionary, especially to our principal who shut them down after about 47 seconds of “that God-awful racket.”

As I messed around with bands and later producing audio at my first radio station, I realized that there were units like the Echo Verb that made these special effects somewhat easier to use. Lacking one at the first station I worked at, I also found out that if you had two reel-to-reels and played the same audio on both of them at the same time, slowing one reel down a bit with your finger, you could get some great chorus and flanging effects. Want to sound like you’re in a cave? Lower the mic into the bottom of a waste basket. Want to sound like a chipmunk? Record the audio at 7 ½ i.p.s. and play it back at 15 i.p.s. (“inches per sound” kiddies). Have a certain sound in your head? Lord knows the station barely has one working reel-to-reel. It’s time to think it through, and through trial and error, create a solution.

Okay, back to November 2007, and even those of you who have spliced 1000s of miles of tape in your career are wondering how I can be so nostalgic for all those old, time-consuming analog tricks. I really can’t say that computer-generated versions can’t reproduce the sound, not anymore; that line blurred sometime ago. I can’t say that I’m unhappy with the lack of machinery breakdowns; the worst technical issue I’ve had the past few months was fixed by rebooting the computer. And I also can’t say that I’m disappointed at the ever lowering price point of ever improving digital sound; I now have audio production tools in my computer that rival the majority of radio station production rooms I’ve ever worked in.

What’s missing then? I think I mentioned it a paragraph ago. Without all the wonderful gear that has been reduced to computer short cuts today, Creatives were forced to think about what they were creating. As I mentioned before, most stations were damned lucky to have something as “technical” as a tape echo machine in the building; many were just thrilled to have one reel-to-reel machine that worked. No processing, no multi-tracking, and NO COMPUTER. Yet, somehow, we managed to come up with some tasty audio Creative… true theatre of the mind, which could rival anything that can be duplicated in a virtual set-up today.

There was something to be said for the feeling of satisfaction that came from really “hand-crafting” your audio, a connection between man and machine that is missing today. Although I still don’t miss the skip in the one sound effect I needed off an LP (sigh… go ask your Grandma. I probably dated her in high school).

I’m going to take another break from the world of computer synthesis and virtual noise-making this month. If you’re disappointed, you can blame it on the echo.

While Radio And Production is always first on my lips when people ask me what magazine is a must read for radio Creatives, I must admit that I do browse a few other audio trades (or as my dear wife calls them, “That damned pile of magazines in the bathroom!!!”). I was paging through a new one last week, when an ad took me time-traveling. The product is called an Echo Verb, and it is a tape-based echo and reverb unit. Yes, TAPED-BASED!

While those of you who are on your own memory time trip at those words muse about the good old days, let me explain what this gizmo did… er, does, to the youngsters in the group. A piece of ¼ inch recording tape (that stuff on the reels gathering dust in the corner of your Prod room) is looped around a mechanical contraption that includes one or more recording and playback heads (you can see them on that reel to reel deck in the corner… the one the reels are stacked on). An audio signal is fed into this device and is recorded onto the tape… which then moves across the playback heads, causing an echo… or, a reverb of sorts, depending on how long the loop of tape is, which on some of the fancier machines, was variable. You could (can) also change the effect by changing the tape speed, and with more record and playback heads, you could come up with all sorts of interesting combinations of delay/echo/reverb of sorts. The Echo Verb boasts of a new design and 6 heads. The ad declares, “The glorious sound and feel of tape echo & reverb is back!” After that glowing sentiment and the description of this marvel of modern audio processing (circa, 1958), I’m sure both veterans and rookies are racing… back to their computer-based recording systems.

It’s sad, somehow. I won’t deny that I was one of the first to jump at the chance of using computers to record, process and generally make my noise, and goodness knows I’ve been all over the process of making virtual audio for nearly a year in this column. Still, I must admit that, for as squeaky clean the audio has become, for all the processing effects now available at the touch of a drop-down menu, there’s something missing from the old ways of producing — and I don’t just mean tape hiss (kids, ask your Program Director’s Mother).

The trip back in time I took via the Echo Verb ad dropped me in Brookings, South Dakota — Brookings High School, an evening in April, 1977, to be exact. It was the night of the yearly talent show, and some friends who were into Pink Floyd and King Crimson were about to “educate” the school as to what “progressive rock” was all about. As they prepared for the “experience,” they put a home reel-to-reel machine at one end of the aisle of the auditorium, another at the other end, stringing recording tape between them (by the way, kids, there wasn’t a reel to reel machine in every home back then; they had to do some heavy begging from the school’s Audio/Video Department. Do they still have those?).

Soon they took the stage and began to create their own brand of audio magic — mostly power chords and shouted lyrics. What was amazing was that after a short time, this “wall of noise” was repeated, and they “played” more sound on top of it. It was my first experience at seeing tape echo in action, and it was revolutionary, especially to our principal who shut them down after about 47 seconds of “that God-awful racket.”

As I messed around with bands and later producing audio at my first radio station, I realized that there were units like the Echo Verb that made these special effects somewhat easier to use. Lacking one at the first station I worked at, I also found out that if you had two reel-to-reels and played the same audio on both of them at the same time, slowing one reel down a bit with your finger, you could get some great chorus and flanging effects. Want to sound like you’re in a cave? Lower the mic into the bottom of a waste basket. Want to sound like a chipmunk? Record the audio at 7 ½ i.p.s. and play it back at 15 i.p.s. (“inches per sound” kiddies). Have a certain sound in your head? Lord knows the station barely has one working reel-to-reel. It’s time to think it through, and through trial and error, create a solution.

Okay, back to November 2007, and even those of you who have spliced 1000s of miles of tape in your career are wondering how I can be so nostalgic for all those old, time-consuming analog tricks. I really can’t say that computer-generated versions can’t reproduce the sound, not anymore; that line blurred sometime ago. I can’t say that I’m unhappy with the lack of machinery breakdowns; the worst technical issue I’ve had the past few months was fixed by rebooting the computer. And I also can’t say that I’m disappointed at the ever lowering price point of ever improving digital sound; I now have audio production tools in my computer that rival the majority of radio station production rooms I’ve ever worked in.

What’s missing then? I think I mentioned it a paragraph ago. Without all the wonderful gear that has been reduced to computer short cuts today, Creatives were forced to think about what they were creating. As I mentioned before, most stations were damned lucky to have something as “technical” as a tape echo machine in the building; many were just thrilled to have one reel-to-reel machine that worked. No processing, no multi-tracking, and NO COMPUTER. Yet, somehow, we managed to come up with some tasty audio Creative… true theatre of the mind, which could rival anything that can be duplicated in a virtual set-up today.

There was something to be said for the feeling of satisfaction that came from really “hand-crafting” your audio, a connection between man and machine that is missing today. Although I still don’t miss the skip in the one sound effect I needed off an LP (sigh… go ask your Grandma. I probably dated her in high school).