36 Years Ago

36 Years Ago, Vienna 1971—A Student Journal

Day 082: Techie day—recording and editing sound


Vienna 1971—A Student Journal
A year of music, study, travel, sightseeing & friends.

Day 82 — Techie day—recording and editing sound
23-October-1971 (Sat.)


Morning—doing electronic music work (splicing tape). It took a long time and this is one of the problems of electronic music—it takes so long because of its complications.

Practiced a little guitar. I enjoyed it and hope I can do it more often.

Got letters from Lenny and Anjali. I enjoyed writing to them and I enjoy reading their letters also.


Today’s post is mostly for music techies, music majors, and composition majors who might be interested in a look back at the vintage techniques of music concrète and music composition. If this is not you, then skip ahead to tomorrow.

The basic tape studio. On Saturday, I’m back in the electronic music lab working on learning the lab techniques. I mention “splicing tape.” I should explain a little bit about the actual equipment. The lab had, I believe, four commercial-class tape recorders. These used 1/4” magnetic tape and 15” reels. There were microphones, a mixer, a patchbay, audio equipment for equalization and filtering, and, I believe, possibly a reverb unit. (Not certain.) Certainly, there was other equipment as well.

Classic tape splicing. After recording sounds onto tape, you isolate them by splicing the tape—using a razor blade, a splicing block, and splicing tape, separating the sounds with plastic tape leader. You take the 1/4” tape, place it in the splicing block and make a diagonal cut (ha—the diagonal cut was a type of “micro-fade in” to avoid pops). You did the same to other splice points. To join pieces together, you place the adjoining ends in the splicing block and join them with a piece of tape. Laborious, but it worked. I think I may still even have my splicing block somewhere. Happy

The recording-editing process. The process of recording and editing sound involves (1) recording sounds, (2) creating a library of sounds, (2) manipulating and splicing sounds into motives, rhythms, fragments, layers, textures, and other musical constructs, (3) modifying sounds with filtering and effects (perhaps reverb), (4) recording new combinations of sounds, and so on. The composing process was creating, editing, manipulating, and organizing all of this “sound” into a composition. It was a time consuming process. It was a creative process. It was exciting to meet the challenge.

This is the same process in which audio tapes had to be spliced for the old recording and film studios.

Here is more detail on the recording-editing process back in 1971:

• A microphone is connected to a preamp, which is connected to an amplifier. The output of the amplifier is patched to the tape recorder input.

• Sound is recorded from the microphone to the tape recorder. (During recording, speakers must be off to avoid feedback.)

• Audition the tape by playing it back, through speakers or headphones.

• Begin the editing and organizing process, using tape splicing.

• Continue to create new sounds and textures by layering, filtering, changing the speed of the tape recorder and manipulating the sounds. Use editing to “chop up” sounds and reorganize them. For example, playing a sound backwards.

• Continue the composing process by continually splicing, layering, organizing, structuring, and combining sounds to create musical textures, layers, rhythms, melodic fragments, and so on.

Today’s world. In today’s world, musique concrète and electronic music techniques have been replaced by digital processes, software, hardware, and sophisticated keyboards. In universities, some composers create computer music, writing programs to have the computer generate the sound and the music.

In a school environment, these techniques can be a tremendous teaching tool to discover musical concepts and musical composition. At all grade levels, even in elementary school.

Teaching with tape. After Vienna, in my teaching career, I purchase two 1/4” home tape recorders (Sony), one professional 15” tape recorder (Tascam), microphones (Electrovoice), a mixer, and other audio equipment (with my own money) to supplement my teaching grant for electronic music. The students learned and performed the same techniques mentioned above. In our program we used a non-keyboard synthesizer (ElectroComp). Students were very carefully supervised when editing. Thankfully, today, splicing is not required—everything is done in audio editing software, digitally.

Caution. The primary caution when recording with microphones is to only use headphones, and to turn off your speakers. This is why you always see singers in recording studios with headphones on. This avoids “feedback” which is dangerous to your hearing and your speakers. In modern software, if your recording input is set to “microphone,” “monitoring” should be set to OFF. Use caution and common sense.

Moving on.

Lenny’s Letter. Lenny, my best friend, sends me a letter. He is my friend from junior high school age onward, even to today. He is a talented sax player (and computer programmer) and has written a song that won a Billboard song competition. Lenny has a great sense of humor and I can credit him with perhaps making me a bit more outgoing. At Montclair State College, he was popular and kept the music school alive. We have played in pop/rock bands together for many, many years, starting from Jr. high school. A Lenny letter is fun.

Anjali’s letter. Anjali and I are writing. Yes. I remember how I looked forward to reading her letters and then responding back. We wrote many, many times. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. There’s some truth to this saying. I remember that our letters were normal, funny, and innocent. They were fun to read and write.

After I got married, I found many old letters from friends and from old girlfriends in the attic. I threw away almost all of these letters.
Now, I am sorry. I could have used them in this journal. They would have brought a smile to my face.

I did find one letter from Anjali in the journal itself, from a few years after Vienna. I haven’t yet read it. I will do so, after this year’s blog is finished.

Enjoy. Until tomorrow.


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