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A Sound Education

For the Love of...

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"If our condition were truly happy, we would not seek diversion from it in order to make ourselves happy."

Blaise Pascal
French mathematician, physicist, inventor, philosopher, writer and Catholic theologian
(1623-1662)


Are you working in a job that you love? Are you doing a skill that comes naturally to you? Can you imagine doing anything else? If you answered Yes, Yes, and...Yes, then you must be insanely happy. It could be healthy to daydream of doing something else, or even partake in different kinds of productive activities that are wildly different from your career. Studies of scientists have shown that the more varied their hobbies, activities, and other professional pursuits are, the more important and numerous their breakthroughs may be. Performing the same task over and over again becomes drudgery, no matter if you're a widget stamper in a factory or a recombinant DNA engineer in a lab. Our minds need diversion in order to focus when it's important.

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Big Mac

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"Music's always been at the heart of Apple. It's deep in our DNA. We've sold Macs to musicians since the beginning of Macs."

Tim Cook



Twenty years ago this month, Apple officially launched OS X. Apple finally had a legitimate PC killer that would kick the Mac vs. Windows debate into overdrive. In 2001, many studios and video editing companies were already using Macs as the foundation for their digital production systems when OS X dropped, but it literally changed the game.

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♪ ♫ Hot Pockets ♪ ♫ ™

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"Simplicity makes me happy."

Alicia Keys


Comedian Jim Gaffigan has a classic gut-busting routine about Hot Pockets. After expounding on the unsophistication of eating them, he envisions the meeting with the jingle writer:

Do love that jangle.
Do you think they worked hard on that song?
"What do you got so far, Bill?"
"Uh... uh... (sings) hot pocket?"
"Thats good, thats very good.
The jingle is almost as good as your "By Mennen"


Our daily life has us ingesting "jangles" and other ear worms that have become part of our subconscious. Maybe you've heard these simple sounds over and over again:

"Liberty, Liberty, Li-berty, Liberty"
"Nationwide is on your side"
"Double-A, TOOT-TOOT, M C O"


These sounds are almost as familiar as a logo like the Facebook F, the Micheline Tire man, or the Disney mouse ears. These are all trademarked logos and visual advertising devices. Sounds can also be trademarked as well.

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The President's Speech

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"Well-timed silence hath more eloquence than speech."

Martin Farquhar Tupper


For the first century of our nation's existence, a very select few ever heard their president speak. 130 years ago, technology changed that.

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Crank Up the Old Gramo-Grapho-iPhone-a-Graph

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"It is easily overlooked that what is now called vintage was once brand new."

Tony Visconti


Which name will stick to a new technology? It's usually not the one given to it by the inventor.

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Messages From the Deeps

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- Lt. Werner: What's going on? Why are we diving?
- 2nd Lieutenant: Hydrophone check. At sea, even in a storm you can hear more down here than you can see up there.”

Das Boot



In the near future, submarines might be using sound waves to communicate through ocean waves.

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I Loke That Old Time Rock 'n' Scroll

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"Call me a relic, call me what you will
Say I'm old-fashioned, say I'm over the hill
Today' music ain't got the same soul
I like that old time rock 'n' roll."

Bob Seger


Digital media is doomed to disappear at some point. Records may outlast hard drives, CDs, tapes, and other formats we haven't dreamt up yet. But what about stone tablets? I take a look at some of the oldest surviving forms of written music. You might be surprised what some of them contain.

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Finch's FAX

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"I got a chain letter by fax. It's very simple. You just fax a dollar bill to everybody on the list."

Steven Wright


William G.H. Finch had a crazy idea. He liked efficiency, and he liked news. He imagined a future that would merge those together for the average American. Americans like Joe and Jane. When they woke up in the morning, this crazy idea goes, a box in their parlor had just printed out the latest news onto paper with stories and pictures, ready to be poured over while eating their breakfast. Wait – that kinda sounds like the here and now. What's crazy is that this brainchild was born in 1933.

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Free Music!

The Sound of a Lockdown

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"In radio, you have two tools. Sound and silence."

Ira Glass


As the world holes up in their houses during this coronavirus, as we absorb media like never before, as we listen to the news coming out of our television and radio speakers, we see and hear just how serious most of us are taking this. Journalists are broadcasting from their backyards, their sources are interviewed over Skype or Zoom, and the news now looks and sounds less-than-polished. It's like Sunday afternoons on FaceTime with the family three states away. These are the choices we are having to make these days: quality of content over quality of sound and video. But we don't know how good we got it.

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The Documentary Sound Quandary

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In feature films the director is God; in documentary films God is the director.
Alfred Hitchcock

Should documentary sound be real? Manipulated? Fake? We dig into the controversy.

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The Soundtrack of the Prohibition

WC Fields

"Once, during Prohibition, I was forced to live for days on nothing but food and water."
W. C. Fields


100 years ago, a restrictive law popularized a new American art form. PLUS, find out what's been going on in the studios of Dynamix Productions.

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The Sound of Progress



"These fellows blow their horns just to see the people jump, I believe."

Chicago Mayor Carter Harrison, 1902

At the turn of last century, the automobile was poised to overtake the horse as the preferred mode of personal transportation. But there were detractors to the coming sea change. Much as we see driverless cars as a potential danger today, "horseless carriage" opponents saw the drivers themselves as dangerous. Many laws were passed to protect pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages that seem silly now, but these edicts were taken very seriously back then. For instance, a person was required to walk in front of a self-powered carriage waving a red flag; a motorist had to fire off a signal firework every mile; or a driver had to ring a bell or gong when approaching people or other vehicles.

In 1900, the race was on to find the best engine plant for these new-fangled contraptions. Most were noisy and smelly, particularly the steam-powered auto. The ubiquitous gasoline combustable engine wasn't quite developed or refined yet. From 1895 through 1905 the electric-powered vehicle (EV) was the best-selling automobile, partly because it was quiet, easy to operate with its shiftless transmission, and it didn't belch out smoke. But the noisy, smelly, and ultimately cheaper gasoline and diesel engines would win the race. EVs were expensive, technologically difficult, and recharging and range was limited because electric power grids were sparse and in their infancy.

That's a shame, because our world would be a much quieter place had EVs won out as the dominant transportation method. Imagine walking down Main Street USA and not hearing revving engines or loud buses and trucks. Imagine a NASCAR race where the pit crew wouldn't have to wear hearing protection. But would we be safer? Our ears would be, but maybe not our bodies.

In a recent study submitted to the British Parliament by the charity Guide Dogs, it was found that EVs and hybrids were 40% more likely to be involved in an accident that harmed a pedestrian. Blind and limited-sight people can be in real danger around EVs, not to mention all the distracted pedestrians staring down at their phones. I understand this problem because I once skirted serious injury from an electric vehicle. Downtown San Francisco has all-electric restored antique trolley coaches that ride on rubber tires and are very quiet. As I casually stepped off the curb, I just used my ears to "look" both ways. I stopped myself in the nick of time and within inches of a passing trolley coach.

The alarms, bells, gongs, and fireworks have been sounded regarding quiet cars. Starting this year in the European Union (and next year in the U.S.), EV and hybrid vehicles must make artificial noise under certain conditions. When traveling under 12 mph (18.6 mph in the U.S.) or backing up, these vehicles must produce a sound similar to a combustion engine, but no louder. The sound must also indicate speeding up or slowing down, comparable to what a combustion engine would do.

How are the manufacturers responding? Jaguar's first all-electric car, the I-Pace, has a very "Tron" like sound when it accelerates. Nissan's Canto "sings" as it drives. Mercedes-AMG is working with the rock band Linkin Park to find a sound for their luxury cars. And not to be outdone, Porsche offers a $500 option in their EV sports car Taycan called "Electric Sport Sound," which "enhances the vehicle’s own sound and makes it sound even more emotional — both outside and inside the vehicle."

The laws mandating that EVs sound like smog-belching, gas-guzzling cars has me wondering what EVs would be compelled to sound like if they had won the auto race a century ago. Would we be hearing a clopping and snorting Clydesdale? A stagecoach driver whistling and whooping? Time will tell if any of these new solutions work, otherwise we might have to go back to waving a red flag. In the meantime, I'll need to decide which sound my future driverless all-electric car will have. Right now it's a toss up between the Jetson's flying car sound and a horse-drawn carriage.

Listening to Light

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"All that's to come
and everything under
the sun is in tune
but the sun
is eclipsed by the moon."

Roger Waters
from "Eclipse" on the 1973 LP release "Dark Side of the Moon"



For generations, humans have been trying to link sound and light together. We have succeeded.

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One Giant Leap for M_-_//_ _nd

Apollo11TV
"It's an interesting place to be. I recommend it."
Astronaut Neil Armstrong commenting about the moon



Every time I hear the timeless phrase Neil Armstrong uttered while stepping on the moon, I can't help but remember the first time I heard it. It was 50 years ago at about 11:00 PM on July 20, 1969. I was eight-years-old and had fallen asleep waiting for them to get out of their strange looking space craft. Our family was vacationing in a cabin on a lake in southern Ohio, and Dad had hauled our portable black-and-white TV from home. We had a lot of trouble getting any TV stations out in the country on that little box. I seem to remember him fiddling with the rabbit ear antennas and positioning all of us at different places in the room like chess pieces so the picture wouldn't flutter.

So, rubbing my sleep filled eyes, I watched a white Gumby-like figure bounce down a ladder and onto the surface of another world. The significance wasn't lost on a boy only eight years into life. Then Armstrong delivered what is probably the shortest, yet most famous speech in all of human history, "That's one small step for man...." We strained not only to see him, but to hear him. "One giant leap for," he continued, "m_-_//_ _nd." What? There was static at the end covering the last word. What did he say? Piece of crap TV we had. We always had to bang on its top to keep it tuned to a channel.

As much as I want to blame it on our TV, the static was in the broadcast from the moon. Even CBS's Walter Cronkite had trouble understanding it during his live coverage. “I didn’t understand,” he said, "'One small step for man.’ But I didn’t get the second phrase.” Communications had been a problem for much of NASA's early years. In the minutes leading up to the horrific fatal fire aboard Apollo 1 during a ground test, the crew was having trouble communicating with Mission Control. “How are we going to get to the moon if we can’t talk between three buildings?," Gus Grissom barked into his headset.

As the lunar module (LM) Eagle descended to the moon's surface that day, Mission Control in Houston had trouble receiving data from it. Just like Dad moving us around for a better TV signal, a switch to and reposition of a different antenna on the LM solved it. But they were beaming voice and data 240,000 miles, so there were bound to be problems. The Eagle had a variety of radios for different activities and purposes, but LM to earth transmissions while on the surface primarily used microwave that combined voice and data, at about the same rate as a telephone modem in the early days of the web. They also employed UHF simplex transmissions, but mostly between the LM and command module that Michael Collins was circling in overhead. Once Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were out of the LM, they deployed a larger dish antenna and pointed it at Houston for a stronger signal than what we heard Armstrong mutter his famous words on.

At the time, we all really knew what Armstrong said if we thought about it. But it seemed like there was another word missing. Armstrong always insisted that he said "That's one small step for (A) man,...," but nobody heard it at the time. The focus had always been on the scratchy part at the end of the speech. That one small word, "a," changes the meaning of the speech, if taken literally. "One small step for MAN" implies all of MANKIND in 1960s parlance, but we knew that he meant "one man" or "one mere human." Granted, Armstrong was exhausted and running on adrenaline at the time he said it. But studies have shown that it's entirely possible that he did say "A man," just very quickly. What's the last word? NASA's transcripts have the speech as "that’s one small step for (a) man,” so officially he said the "a." Maybe.

Our Sped Up Life

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"Radio is a hungry monster that eats very fast."
Tyler Joseph

Everything today seems to be sped up. We speed to work, we speed to pick up the kids, we speed home. And as if on cue, much of what we watch and listen to is also sped up. Find out more as well as what's been going on at Dynamix recently.

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Audio Letters to Home

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"It was easier just to say it out on a tape than trying to write it because it will take a lot of writing paper in order to get it straight."
Private First Class Frank A. Kowalczyk
Long Binh Post, Vietnam, 1969

Back when it was expensive, or impossible, to call someone long distance, friends and family members would send messages on records and tapes to each other through the mail. Not only was it more affordable, it was a more personal way to stay in touch with each other and have some fun doing it. When I digitize some of these audio letters for customers, and feel like I'm transported back in time that a way that a letter can't take me.

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Retro Rewind

Shortwaves, Long Memories

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"TV gives everyone an image, but radio gives birth to a million images in a million brains."
Peggy Nooman


The recent presidential elections in Nigeria and Senegal stirred fond memories of my childhood. Specifically the "sounds" of Africa I remember growing up with. I haven't had the good fortune to go to Africa, but I've listened to it from afar. In the 1960s and 70s, radio was perhaps at its peak. AM radio stations played the hits, FM radio played the albums, and CB radios were in kitchens and cars. A lot of homes also had a shortwave radio. Today it's the internet that ties us all together. Back then, CBs connected us with our friends, AM and FM connected us with the country, and shortwave connected us with the world.

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The Loudest Sound

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My favorite saying is, 'If it's too loud, turn it up.'

Tori Amos

You often hear the phrase "The shot heard 'round the world," referring to the first shot fired of the American Revolution in Lexington, Massachusetts. Or for us baseball fans, Bobby Thompson's dramatic game-winning home run when the New York Giants beat the Brooklyn Dodgers for a trip to the 1951 World Series. Both of these pale in comparison to the 1883 explosion of the Krakatoa volcano. Dubbed as the loudest sound in history, it was also the farthest traveled.

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Calling All Cars

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10:40 p.m. “I got about 2,000 college students coming from Walnut Street to 30th to Center City.”
10:46 p.m. “It’s endless, chief. Endless.”
11:11 p.m. “They’re on top of trash trucks. There is to be no one on top of trash trucks, guys.”
11:14 p.m. “We have multiple people on Broad Street swinging on light poles.”
11:20 p.m. “Climbing the trash trucks at 13th and Market.”
11:25 p.m. “I need to get the fire extinguisher out of my trunk. I got a fire on Broad Street just south of South. Someone lit a Christmas tree on fire.”

Philadelphia Police radio transcripts after the Eagles won the 2018 Super Bowl

Do you remember the old movies from the 1930s when a radio in a police car would blare out "Calling all cars! Calling all cars!" The diligent policemen would zoom away in their car with the siren screaming. The dispatcher had no idea if the radio cars heard the frantic call because two-way radios were uncommon and expensive. So from the late 1920s until after World War II, most police departments relied on their cruisers having radio receivers only. Today, police use digital radio systems that carry data, video, and other information.


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The Birth of Home Recording

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"I bought a Dutch barge and turned it into a recording studio. My plan was to go to Paris and record rolling down the Seine."
Pete Townshend, The Who


I'm conflicted on the topic of recording music at home. The business part of me frets about studios losing out on billable hours. The musician part of me relishes creating art in a non-pressure environment. But the history of artists recording radio-ready songs in their humble abodes goes back further than you might imagine. Let's explore how affordable home music recording for the masses came to be, but also look back at the origins of this revolution in recording.

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11th Hour Message

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"Hostilities will cease along the whole front from 11 November at 11 o'clock."
Marshal Foch, the French commander of the Allied forces via radio atop the Eiffel Tower.

This week marks 100 years since the end of the war to end all wars, known today as World War One. In 1918, on the 11th hour, on the 11th day of the 11th month, 1,500 days of fighting came to an end. The armistice was agreed upon just six hours earlier in a railway car halfway between Paris and the Western Front. What's remarkable is the speed at which most troops were informed of the impending armistice. This war, like in so many other ways, forever changed the world of communication.

Older, established methods of communications such as semaphore, flags, signal lamps, pigeons, and dogs were used throughout the war. But electronic communications, especially radio, rapidly advanced from wagon loads of equipment to merely bulky gear by war's end. Wired telephony and telegraph were still the primary communications devices, but there were major advances in those as well.

2-horse

Some inventions that sped up the miniaturization of radios included the valve (vacuum tube), amplifier, and the superheterodyne receiver (a more precise way to tune in distant frequencies). As radios grew smaller, they moved around with the troops on the ground, went to sea, and took to the air. Transmitters were placed in dirigibles and airplanes for pilots to relay back battle conditions. By the end of the war two-way communications between airplanes and the ground, and from pilot-to-pilot was possible. To give pilots freedom, and to reduce the sound of the airplane's engines, a cap with a throat microphone and earpiece was developed. This was the world's first hands-free device. To control chaos at busy military airstrips, the British developed the earliest air traffic control.

3-field ops

But most ground communications was through wires. Many, many men lost their lives running cable in battle zones. The lines were often severed during bombings, requiring deeper trenches to bury them. Ladder-type runs were also employed to ensure that if one strand were broken, the other parallel strand would carry the signal. And early on many of these signals were intercepted by the enemy through induction from the electromagnetic field. Thus, insulation was invented to shield orders from enemy ears. Enemies could also tap in to lines to pick up morse code transmissions, so the fullerphone, a quasi-encryption device, was employed. This electronically changed the way morse code signals were relayed and required special equipment on each end.

4-phones

Voice transmission was quicker than morse code, but noisy lines and battle sounds tended to obscure the messages. A phonetic alphabet was perfected to aid in distinguishing letters. For instance, my name Neil would be spelled "November Echo India Lima" in the current alphabet. It changed many times over the years and varied between countries and military branches until it was standardized in 1957. That's probably good. During WWI my name would be phonetically spelled "Nan Easy Item Love." Sounds more like a proposition than military communication.

5-pigeon

The advanced communications developments weren't enough to prevent catastrophes, however. The famous "Lost Battalion" had to rely on their last carrier pigeon to stop friendly fire on their position. Cher Ami, shot down by German troops, returned to flight and delivered the desperate message to headquarters that pleaded "For heavens sake stop it." Cher Ami would be saved by Army medics despite being shot through the breast, blinded in one eye, and losing a leg. She was awarded many honors and is on display at the Smithsonian Institution.

As with most prolonged wars, technology advances at meteoric speeds, often benefiting civilization during peace time. Some inventions and improvements that came out of WWI that trickled into everyday use include the wristwatch, the compact camera, drones, zippers, stainless steel, plastic surgery, the sun lamp, and portable x-ray machines.

A hundred years seems so far off when you think about how far technology has advanced since then. But a lot of us have a direct connection to it. My grandpa fought in the last major battle alongside 1.2 million other doughboys in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive - just a month before the armistice. He was badly injured and disabled by bullets, shrapnel, and gas. A day earlier in a nearby forest, American hero Sergeant Alvin York singlehandedly killed or captured an entire German machine gun battalion. Since this Veterans Day marks the end of World War One, let's salute the soldiers who put their lives on the line running cable, hoisting giant antennas, lugging heavy equipment into battle zones, flying in airplanes and dirigibles to radio back information, and crawling through battlefields to telegraph enemy positions. And let's not forget the pigeons, dogs, and horses that continued a long tradition of carrying battle communiques and equipment in hellish conditions.

More information on technology and communications in World War One

First World War communications and the tele-net of things.

A history of first World War technology in 11 objects

Telecommunications in war

The science of World War I communications

Northern Ireland, the first to hear of the armistice via radio from Paris

A PDF of WWI military communications from the US Marine Corps Museum

The final hours of World War I



Video on Vinyl and Other Turntable Transgressions

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"Hello from the children of Planet Earth"
From the gold records aboard the twin Voyager spacecraft

Vinyl is the format that won't die. It'll probably still be around after humans are extinct and our sun has gone supernova. Perhaps in eons, Voyager spacecraft with the golden records aboard will meet distant stars and future vinyl lovers. But in this eon, people will not stop pushing vinyl to its limits. Mad scientists and crazy artists like putting something other than music on it - or in it. More on that later.

(Drop needle onto record, scratchy gramophone sound effect)
Let's start in 1927 with Scottish inventor John Logie Baird, the first person to demonstrate television. Logie, as he probably didn't like being called, was looking for a way to record and play back video. He turned to gramophone records, the kind that Duke Ellington and Rudy Valentino were on. We think of the 1950s as being the birth of video recordings, which were on magnetic tape. But the 1920s were right in the middle of the mechanical recording age, and it only seemed natural for Baird to attempt to capture this infant technology to a mature format. Ultimately he failed to play back video, but he was successful in capturing it to disc, a process he called Phonovision. Half a century later, Donald McLean rescued the images, as well as other video-to-disc recordings from that era.
(Heralding trumpet sound)

In the mid 60s through the 70s, RCA tried to put video on discs. Making a Capacitance Electronic Disc (CED) was a very difficult process that involved cutting grooves 10 times denser than conventional LPs and coating the disc with a thin layer of metal and silicone lubricant. Each side of this fragile CED held 1 hour of video, had limited playback life, and had inferior quality to VHS. By the time of its release in 1981, VHS was winning over consumers.
(Sad trombone wah-wah-wah)

And speaking of Voyager, NASA and Dr. Carl Sagan ("Billions and billions" sound clip) crammed 115 images plus 90 minutes of voices and music onto gold-plated lacquer discs. They included a cartridge, needle, and instructions on how to play it back. One spacecraft is headed to a star called AC +79 3888, the other to Sirius. Let's hope whoever finds it has ears.
(Drum kit "bucket-of-fish")

But experimenters weren't done trying to squeeze more than grooves into grooves. Austrian artist Gebhard Sengmüller created the VinylVideo format in the 1990s, and it has been revived today by the German company Supersense. For about $225, you can buy a decoder that converts VinylVideo on a special release LP into a video signal. There are four discs available ($21), one from Motorhead, and one from the Courettes, which feature a really creepy dancing skeleton with a top hat. The video quality is...ahem...artsy at best. One reviewer recommended watching only "if you hate your eyes."
(Psycho violin stabs)

In the 1980s, a few artists and bands such as Chris Sievy, Pete Shelley, The Thompson Twins, and Shaky Stevens put software on vinyl. These were usually simple programs that contained lyrics, games, pictures, or crude video that supported the music. The idea of digital data as audio was not a new idea, as home computers used cassette decks to store and retrieve data, and phone lines carried data back and forth via modems.
(Pac-Man sound effect)

Other interesting vinyl mods over the years include pictures and holograms on the surface, hidden tracks, backwards-playing hidden messages, double-grooved sides with two programs, and clear or colored vinyl. Consumers love things that are different, and some artists have pushed the envelope to satisfy their fan base.
(Ta-da music cue)

We've talked about trying new things on the record, but what about "in" the record? Several artists have attempted, with some success, to put liquids inside the vinyl, essentially manufacturing a clear LP with a cavity under the grooves that contain injected liquid. Jack White put blue liquid in his "Sixteen Salteens" album; Worthless put red and green inside their "Greener Grass" LP; the "Friday the 13th" soundtrack album had blood-colored liquid inside; and not to be outdone, the Flaming Lips put real blood inside the "Heady Fwends" album. All of these were limited-release, and thank God only ten blood-filled albums were ever pressed.
(Evil laugh sound effect with echo)

With vinyl records selling very well to new audiences, what will some enterprising artist try next? Putting their live Instagram feed on the label? Projecting 3D holograms from the grooves? Communicating with vinyl lovers on a planet orbiting Sirius?
(Morse code sound effect, fade out)

As Seen on TV

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"Treat the recording studio as a laboratory for conceptual thinking — rather than as a mere tool."
Brian Eno

When I was young in the...cough...60s and 70s, the only real glimpses I got inside a recording studio was through television and movies. There was a smattering of documentaries and behind-the-scenes footage of studios and radio stations. I was always straining to see the control board and tape machines, or marveling at the cavernous studio on the other side of the glass. It was absolutely riveting to peek inside them and see how a record was made. The 8-foot long mixing console was often shot through a fisheye lens. Long-haired musicians were sunk down into a couch smoking cigarettes (?) and listening to their masterpiece. And there were close-up shots of that big fat 2-inch tape rolling past the heads of the recorder.

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Listening to the Enemy

Ghost Whispers

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"I have been at work for some time building an apparatus to see if it is possible for personalities which have left this earth to communicate with us."

Thomas Edison, 1920


What if you nonchalantly recorded something around your house, let's say a music practice session. Then when you played it back, you clearly hear someone whispering. You didn't hear it when you recorded it, so what was it? Many unfamiliar sounds throughout history can be attributed to nature, machinery, and even hoaxes. As our post-industrial society grows, so does the list of unexplained sounds, like trumpet sounds from the sky, humming cities, and ocean whistles. The proliferation of audio and video technology has generated its own tally of the strange. Specifically, weird voices that have been inadvertently and unknowingly captured. These recordings and transmissions sound eerie but have a very unsexy-sounding name: "Electronic Voice Phenomenon," or EVP.

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Pots & Pans: Cooking Up Stereo

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"Cooking is like music: you can tell when someone puts love into it.”
Taylor Hicks

The transition from mono to stereo music recordings in the late 1950s had its challenges. Find out how Rudy Van Gelder and other recording engineers worked out the details.

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Is the Mix Tape Back in the MIx?

The Rebirth of AM Radio?

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"I hate modern car radios. In my car, I don't even have a push-button radio. It's just got a dial and two knobs. Just AM."

Chris Isaak

Maybe you haven't noticed, but AM radio has pretty much sucked the last twenty years or so. Maybe you didn't notice because you weren't listening. A lot of people aren't, and the FCC is out to change that. The FCC? You bet – this isn't your father's FCC. We're so used to hearing "FCC" and "restrictions" in the same breath, that broadcasters were pleasantly surprised last October when the FCC announced an "AM Revitalization" initiative.

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Ring in the Old Year

AGBell

"Before anything else, preparation is the key to success."

Alexander Graham Bell

Ring in the Old Year

A new year always brings excitement and great expectations. What will happen? Will there be a big event that will shape the world for generations? What new technology will come? The 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2015) has already promised us a 3D-printed titanium bicycle, super thin 4K TV sets, realistic robots, and a plethora of miniature drones with cameras. And everybody's wanting to lay eyes on the first Apple Watch. One hundred years ago, people were just as intrigued with the promise of new technology.

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HELLO...Hello...hello

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"Any effects created before 1975 were done with either tape or echo chambers or some kind of acoustic treatment. No magic black boxes!"

Alan Parsons

HELLO...Hello...hello


Echo, reverb, delay, and ambience. There's a difference between them (see "Tech Notes" below) and they're often confused with each other or used incorrectly. But each one has an important place in recording with technology often dictating their use. Reverb/echo/delay can make or break a recording. Thanks to the American Legion Hall in New York City, Decca Records found the perfect effect for Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock." Columbia Records built their own "echo chamber" for such hits as Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" and Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue." And U2's Edge has created a patented sound for his guitar with electronic delay.

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Leftover Beethoven

WIth the recent news that the Library of Congress is inducting 25 entries into the Library of Congress National Recording Registry, I was excited to see U2, Linda Ronstadt, and Isaac Hayes get their due. Perusing the list, I saw a very influential (at least personally) album - Copland Conducts Copland: Appalachian Spring (1974).

I was a music major in college and always found Aaron Copland to be the quintessential American composer. He seemed to capture what Americans idolize about America: hope, boldness, charm, intrepidness, looking forward but not forgetting the past. Read More...

The BIrth of Recording

When Recording Writes the Music

When commercial radio really took off in the 1920's and 30's, it was fueled by advances in recording. You could even say that each drove the other. Early music recordings were mostly documents of what was already being played to live audiences - classical, early jazz, folk, etc. As bands got bigger and louder, the music got more exciting. Dixieland was new, records were all the rage, and radio was just beginning to transport the new sounds across the country, just like the transcontinental railway brought the ideas of the gilded age to America a half-century earlier. Read More...

Surround Sound

The quest to create a 3D visual experience has revved up, sputtered, and stalled for almost a century. But the journey for a 3D experience in sound has steadily evolved for more than eight decades. Read More...
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