On warm summer nights (almost 15 years ago) at around 7:00PM, I would load up my sound gear and head for my friend Tom’s house. He’d be home for the summer from college, and neither of us apparently had much going on. I was working 3rd shift, and he was just a night owl. We’d keep ourselves going on freshly ground flavored coffee his parents had picked up in New Orleans that year. And over the rising steam of blueberry tinged mugs, we would record.
As the morning sun found us, I would be packing up my stuff and heading out. But I would not be leaving without a fresh cassette tape from our midnight toil. Many of those tapes are probably long lost. Several only Tom had–we kept them in the “sound library” for later background tracks. How I wish I had a copy of the “Death Calliope”…uh…long story. Somehow, though, one has survived in my possession.
This particular collection actually spanned 2 or 3 recording sessions and feature my just purchased digital effects processor. It was an ART Multiverb Alpha, and cost me about $400.00 at the time. We were so enamored with the capabilities of this box that we started to try all kinds of craziness. So much so that after I left, Tom had become disgusted with our “over-reliance” on this technology and scrawled “All Tech, No Brains” on the tape.
I remember being insulted. Tom later recanted, saying, “It’s better than I thought!”
Create a Masterpiece
Anyway, if I can remember all the of the components, this was track was primarily made with:
- Tom’s Brain: The libretto–yes, we actually called it that…
- Yamaha BB300: My first bass…no attack, no sustain, but it was cheap. Which was alright, since I couldn’t play very well.
- ART Multiverb Alpha: Sampler, digital stereo effects, and equalization. Mine looks a bit different from the picture, but pretty close.
- ADA Bass Preamp: I didn’t know why I wanted this…Vic Wooten played one, though! I later become frustrated and sold it.
- Glass of Water and Straw: Yep. Bubbles.
- Portable Guitar Tuner: Hey, this thing has a built in microphone!
- Radio Shack Audio Mixer: Oh, the hiss this thing imparted…
- Any of a handful of boom boxes and cassette recorders…
To make the audio, I sampled Tom blowing air bubbles into a glass of water with the Alpha and put it on infinite repeat. That was patched into the mixer with my bass through the ADA preamp on a really ugly tube distortion. Here is where I’m a little sketchy–I can hear both of us talking in the background. Maybe we had an entire tape of the bubble noise? And while that was being recorded, we had an open mic? Whatever it was got slapped into a tape player and we recorded Tom over the top. Sounds like we had a flanger and a panner on Tom’s voice.
Yeah, it was pretty much the best I know of… 🙂
And Now, Clean It Up
So, I have a tape from 1993-ish that has been hanging around in box full of cassettes for at least 10 years. It is old, brittle, and full of wow and flutter. Really, it didn’t sound that great to begin with, as we hadn’t figured out how to set a level on a tape. Key concept that I didn’t know back then: Get the levels as hot as the media can stand, so the listener doesn’t have to crank the volume to hear it, thereby increasing the inherent noise level. Duh.
To clean up a file like this, you need some hardware and tools. For hardware, I ran the headphones out of an old tape player (does it really matter?) into a the line-in of a Sound Blaster Extigy. This is an slightly older device, but Windows Vista has built-in drivers and it works like a CHAMP! The recording was at 48000KHz sampling anda depth of 24-bit. So, while it may not be a professional interface, did a great job here. One my motivating factors in the purchase of the Extigy was to externalize my sound inputs. Internal sound cards will never be as “clean” as an external interface. Too much electrical interference going on inside the computer itself.
Software wise, Audacity is free, but the plug-ins are limiting. However, they were good enough for this project. I took out the hiss first, then added a little compression to fatten it up. There really wasn’t much to EQ on this trash–the recording level was extremely low on the source cassette. Remember to get a good sample of noise only to teach the hiss plug-in what you do not want.
On the high end, one might use Cakewalk Sonar and Waves plug-ins. X-Hiss from Waves is one of the best noise removers I’ve ever heard, but it is also one of the most expensive packages out there. So, I guess you do what you can with what you have.
Everything comes down to how much you tweak it. Or in other words, time spent.
If I remember correctly, the point of this particular “work” was to make fun of modern French poetry. Which poetry is especially virulent when translated poorly into English. I think you get the picture. And please remember, I am a Christian now–so, while I’ll let you listen to the end result; it was made years ago. Not that it’s bad or nasty or anything…I just can’t imagine revisiting this kind of silliness in my present life.
Just so you know.
Oh yeah, before I forget, the little flash player utility adds some hiss to the playback because it samples down for streaming. If you download the file, it is much cleaner.
Warning: All views or concepts expressed in these recordings are meant to spoof, poke fun at, or in some way make ridiculous those who take themselves too seriously. You have been warned…
Title: Thursday Morning
Album: All Tech No Brains
Artists: Tom Murray and Joseph Baxter
Target: French Poetry
I’m a little proud of this and a little repulsed all at the same time. But since this is a blog, and one of the themes is creativity, I thought these recordings should be referenced. I’m actually rather hoping that Tom will find them and get in touch with me. I haven’t heard from him in almost as many years.