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Nineteen (or so) New York Stories By Eddie Ciletti
The AES show is about gear, baby, new and exciting products, blah, blah, blah… But exit polls after several recent tradeshows all yielded similar ho-hum comments with few exceptions. Perhaps we have become jaded, or addicted to rapid growth or haven't stopped long enough to realize that progress is still being made fresh daily.

There's nothing like a little reflection to help put things into perspective. I tried to find a sonic mile-marker and/or professional growth spurt for each of my nineteen years in Manhattan, 1980~1999, because so much happened during that time. So, if you haven't yet run into an old friend but need to find your way out from the gear fog, sit back, enjoy the latte and have Sherman set the Way Back Machine to 1-9-8-0.

63 Valiant
Figure-1: The stock 1963 Plymouth Valiant was equipped with a 220 cubic-inch slant-six engine, push button automatic transmission and an AM radio with Class-A output amplifier. Fuel consumption was at least 20-MPG highway (click image for larger view).
I arrived in New York City twenty-one years ago with cassettes of my best work, a duffel bag of clothes, a small tool case and a 1963 Plymouth Valiant (see Figure-1). No matter how big my dreams, New York City had a way of narrowing the focus to the essentials - like eating and paying the rent. Regardless of the number of audio career choices that may have been available then - certainly there are many more options now - my perspective was narrowed by the desire to engineer and produce the ever elusive "hit record."

At first I avoided exploiting my technical skills, but geek pay was so much better than engineering sessions that it eventually became hard to resist.

1980:Take good care of your feet, Pete! On "Easter Monday" of 1980, NYC was in the middle of a transit strike. To cover a mere 50 blocks took several hours by car, reducing the potential number of job interviews per day as well as the number of brain cells from the fumes.

Lesson one: New York City was made for walking. Be Flexible. Learn how to make the most of challenging situations. Ditch the car. Bring comfortable shoes and extra socks. Most of the time it is not the resume that gets the job but being in the right place at the right time. Same with finding a cool restaurant away from the tourist traps. Eat well for less.

1981: Depth of Field Nothing puts pressure on a free-lance engineer like a studio full of musicians while the clock is ticking. In an unfamiliar control room, focusing more on balance than EQ can yield rough mixes that sound better on more systems than sessions where more tweak time is afforded.

Before MIDI and samples, engineers were always made to feel responsible - if not guilty - especially for drum sounds. On one memorable date, session drummer Andy Newmark sat down in front of the same "house" kit I had tuned and used on countless sessions. Within fifteen minutes the tape was rolling. The drums were as consistent while tracking as they were when getting sounds. My jaw was on the floor in amazement stepping up to the glass to observe his technique - it looked as if the skins were barely being touched yet, as Michael MacDonald of Algorhythms Mastering recalls, the drums being hit very hard. (Michael was my assistant on the date, which was at the now defunct Skyline Studios.)

Lesson two: Less is more. Better sound sources require less tweaking, a humble acknowledgement to the great musicians who make our jobs easier. Aim high!

1982 Lato-A: Audio Armageddon On the flip side of that coin, recording a few power-metal pop bands led me down a dark and mysterious path, each subsequent referral becoming heavier and heavier until I was finishing a Plasmatics record and "did sound" for them on Tom Snyder's Tomorrow show.

1. An electric chainsaw with a contact pickup sounds just like a vacuum cleaner similarly outfitted.
2. A real "floating wall" moves when explosives on the other side blow off the hood of a car. Not your average union TV gig.
3. Contrary to her wild and ferocious stage persona, the late Wendy O. Williams was as gentle as a kitten in the studio. I once bumped into her at a health food store.

Reprinted with permission from Eddie Ciletti, Tangible Technology, 2001
© 2001 by Eddie Ciletti, All Rights Reserved

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Related Keywords:AES, sonic, audio, engineer

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