Standing: Noah Simon, Bob Auld, Joel Spector, Albert Grundy, Harry Hirsch, David Bialik, David Prentice, Jerry Bruck. Seated: Ron Ajemian, Irv Joel, John ChesterNew York (April 25, 2011)–The Audio Engineering Society – New York Section recently featured the work and words of Irving Joel in a special evening’s presentation, An Evening with Irv Joel–The Man Behind the Scene.
Held April 12 at The New School, the event was hosted by Ron Ajemian of Owl Fiber Optics and featured special guests John Chester, Robert Auld and Albert Grundy. James Williamson, Chairman of the New York Section, welcomed the New School audience and introduced Ajemian, who worked with Joel on AES Standards Committees. Ajemian then turned the program over to Joel who, with the help of Chester’s support with pictures and audio clips, started at the beginning, talking about his work with Capitol Records and early experiments in stereo recording.
Picture a vintage VW microbus crammed with tube mics, all-tube mixer, tube tape recorder, and the batteries required to power all the above. That was the mobile recording facility put together by Joel and his colleagues in order to capture the new experience of stereo by recording the approach and passing of a train at a railroad crossing, the sound of Times Square on New Year’s Eve, and a trip on the Staten Island Ferry. The audio examples, originally released for promotion, still sound lifelike today.
Capitol Records, in the early years, released both mono and stereo records of the same session. After recording Ernest Toch’s Third Symphony in stereo with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Joel’s next big project was engineering in the stereo control room (mono recording was done in a separate control room) for the original Broadway cast recording of The Music Man. In an example of Joel’s attention to detail, the recording team studied the stage show and replicated Robert Preston’s movements on stage during the session by having Preston duplicate his moves during the stereo recording. And in playback, the recording still sounds wonderful. Popular music was also part of Capitol’s catalog and Irv recorded Tennessee Ernie Ford in a church in Bristol, TN with vocal support by “kinfolk.” The payments from the W2s represented more money than some of the singers were used to seeing in a year.
After 15 years with Capitol, Joel moved to A&R Recording as chief engineer for the established studio on 7th Avenue and their new construction on West 48th where he took delivery, under protest, of a Neumann recording console with built-in ashtrays and cigarette lighters. The console’s performance confirmed Joel’s worst fears until his discovery of an undocumented part on the channel modules. With adjustments and modifications, it eventually became a good sounding board. Joel’s recording work during this period included Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall and Liza Minelli’s Liza with a Z for television.
The AES has benefited from Joel’s many contributions, including work on Standards Committees, the Historical Committee, and his creation and support of the Oral History Project. He helped organize the very popular When Vinyl Ruled presentation during the 2000 AES convention with leading engineers (Ed Greene, Al Schmidt, David Baker and Bruce Swedien among others) speaking about their work during the early 1960’s, surrounded by equipment from vintage control rooms, playing tapes of their work and answering questions. The presentation was so successful, Joel was asked to organize a sequel for the 2001 convention, which ended with a “direct-to-disk” session with a live jazz band on stage, recording to a Neumann lathe operated by Al Grundy.
The Oral History Project, audio/video recordings of interviews with over 30 significant contributors to the art and science of recording, may be Joel’s most lasting contribution, with his interviews creating a significant first-person account of the recording community. Additional information about the Oral History Project and When Vinyl Ruled I &II is available at the Historical Committee website at http://www.aes.org/aeshc/
The AES NY Section was proud and honored to host Joel and the many attendees (including current Section chairman James Williamson, and four former chairs) thoroughly enjoyed the evening.
–Reviewed by David Prentice