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Maintaining Historical Perspective

As we review each month’s issue, the technological playground we live in often plays against my memories of previous realities.

We’re entering the fall of the year, which in my world means a steadily intensifying focus on the upcoming Audio Engineering Society Convention — this year’s 129th AES Convention is slated for November 4-7 in San Francisco. AES, in local section activities, in its conventions and in general as an organization is unique in its capacity to connect the past, present and future of the professional audio industry. Such linkage is quite relevant to me; as we review each month’s issue of Pro Audio Review, the technological playground we live in often plays against my memories of previous realities, prompting reflection in this space.

At the local level, individual AES sections often produce events that provide historical perspective. My home section in Nashville recently held an event, hosted by the deliberately analog Welcome to 1979 Studios, featuring local engineer Ernie Winfrey who revisited his 1974 Nashville sessions with Paul McCartney and his then-new band, Wings. The evening included playback of multitrack safeties of the sessions and a steady stream of reminisces ranging from session details to the local inspiration behind tunes like “Junior’s Farm” and “Sally G.”

The AES NY Section last month hosted a retrospective event commemorating Electric Lady Studio’s 40th anniversary with a panel of industry luminaries who have ties to the facility. While the event gave insight into the unique facility’s history and a number of its many noteworthy sessions, the event played to a wider audience through the use of thoroughly modern internet streaming.

Though we work in a world shaped by contemporary technology, much can be gained by embracing our future from a stance grounded on a knowledge and appreciation of the past. It’s both interesting and heartening to watch the students in attendance at such events raise a question about some aspect of production in the “primitive” past. You can almost see the light bulb go off above their heads as they make connections between information they’ve “learned” and its practical application. Setups and signal flows may have been simpler in the pioneering recording sessions of the past, but that very simplicity meant that art and science had to be carefully applied to achieve results that have stood the test of time.

At one of AES Nashville’s “Legends in the Round” series of historical events, an engineer had related how he always put Patsy Cline’s vocal mic stand a certain number of floor tiles from the front and side walls. When a student used to sessions with plenty of source isolation (either physically or over time) asked the engineer why he chose that particular spot for the mic, the deadpan answer was, “Because that’s where the null was in the kick drum.” A light-bulb moment.

If you are not an AES member, I encourage you to get involved with your local section. Even if you are a seasoned professional, you’ll learn something new, and you’ll have the opportunity to share your own experience and knowledge. If you’ve never attended an AES Convention, you owe it to yourself and your professional development to attend and to immerse yourself in all the events offer both in the technical program and on the exhibition floor. Here’s hoping to see you in San Francisco.