Well, I guess everyone can assume by now that RoughmixDon is an overdub freak, in addition to being an actual music and recording freak. In another post I mentioned about 227 voices on America The Beautiful, and that was in 2003.
Adding a voice a year now puts me up to 237 voices in 2013. I was hoping for doing it by July 4. But it’s not going to happen..
My very first interest in recording occurred back in grade school. I don’t remember too much about the times, but I was singing when I was seven and they told me I could sing 50 songs at that time. My sister played the piano and we had a weekly program on AM station KRIC in Beaumont, Texas. My greatest fascination, I recall, was to watch them make recordings in the back room. Then one day, the engineer dropped one and it shattered. They were glass discs coated with something black that spun around while being cut with a needle. Not too many years later I was still singing and learned the guitar and was in a country band that played on the same station. There they were, recording on the same machine, I guess, but on aluminum with the black stuff. Acetate, I guess.
Sometime in high school, before tape was introduced, our director obtained a wire recorder, where a long piece of steel wire ran through a machine, like a tape recorder and recorded magnetically. It wasn’t great fidelity as we know it today, but what a thrill it was to sit and watch this little thin piece of wire play back our choir. That is, until one day after recording a wonderful choral performance of the Hallelujah Chorus, the wire broke. What to do? On top of getting tangled in a big mess on the reel no one knew what to do with fixing it so I got out the book and studied it.
A wire recorder from the late ’40s
First of all, unlike tape recorders, the jackasses who made these things provided no take-up reel, so you had to rewind the whole long wire onto the fixed reel before you could even use the machine again on something else. There was a roll of tangled wire on each little reel. The instructions for a break were to tie the ends together. I was assigned the task. Just how much sound would we lose? With the wire running at 24 inches per second, we’d need at least 2 inches for a good square knot, and then trim the ends. Maybe I can do it with 1 inch, I thought. So, they got me a pair of tweezers and that was my very first edit. It wasn’t so bad. So, we lost about a 15th of a second, heard a little bump as it went through and I was the hero.
I was a soloist in the choir and also sang tenor. I completely memorized the tenor part to the Hallelujah Chorus, and through the years I would sing it at times. I’ll be telling of how I recorded myself doing all the voices as a chorus of one. The interest in recording stayed with me for a long time, especially, since I was a singer-songwriter and played bass and guitar, and couldn’t afford to pay studio rates to record my demos. So while I was studying radio and television at RCA Institutes in New York City in the middle ’50s, I decided that audio and recording was my thing.
With the advent of four track (quarter track) on a quarter inch tape machine, (two tracks one way and two the other way by flipping the tape) I decided to reinvent the system for myself. I had a two track machine so I bought some of those quarter track heads and mounted a record head to record two track normally, and mounted a playback head next to it to record the other two tracks. I jury-rigged it so I could record on all four tracks one at a time in one direction. As if that wasn’t enough, I had to buy another machine so I could mix the 4 tracks. Long story short, I could record three tracks of instruments and my voice and mix that to the other machine. I would then take the tape over to Charlie Brave’s Allegro Studio on Broadway and have him cut an acetate. That’s what your ten inch 78 was called, which was an aluminum coated with acetate. They weren’t the greatest recordings but it was a start. Later, I bought a Presto disc cutter that I could cut my own demos. The problem with that machine was what was recorded would play back from the inside out, like CDs do now. Ten years later I would be mixing an album with Les Paul at Columbia and sharing some stories of our early recording days, and playing bass on several of his recordings in the mix room.