Zen of Recording

NAMM That Tune!

The morning sun glances off the white-capped canvas of the Pacific Ocean in a refracted bouquet of peaches, pinks, jades, and cerulean blues. Glimpses of herons and houses hurtle past the window from right to left, a kaleidoscope of imagery over a clickity-clacking soundtrack of sand and steel. I can see why they call this train the Surfliner.

Spared the accompanying cold of the outer environs, I’m warm and cozy as I lean on the table and lazily consider my hoppy morning beer. I’m not an early drinker as a practice, but this is a rare occasion. I’m not driving and much of the day that follows will be spent in a socially conversational mode, discussing all of the wonderfully nerdy attributes, uses and specifications for a broad variety of tools for musicians and producers. There’s a lot more to it than that of course, but in my little world of words wonder, that will be my focus.

Besides, I like the club car. Rather than planted into their seats, fixated on their phones in quiet isolation, a variety of people amble through on a quest for coffee and snacks or conversation with familiar faces. A small group of commuters is in the middle of a heated business meeting nearby, while right next to them is a small family trying to contain their excitement for their trip to Disneyland. I‘m just the guy in the purple velvet blazer drinking beer and coffee and staring out the window.

Just prior to arriving at the train station, I schedule an Uber driver to pick me up and take me to the Anaheim Convention Center, which is again hosting the 2018 Winter NAMM Show. I should mention that I don’t really Uber. I mean I’ve done it, but always with someone else doing the scheduling. So the first thing I did was get into the wrong car. Halfway there, the intended passenger angrily calls and demands the driver return and pick them up. I ask their driver why they can’t just take my driver’s car. He replies politely, but his flustered exasperation makes it all come out as a single word: “Eetjusdoesn’tworklikethatmyfriend.”

Eventually the “correct” driver lets me off fairly near the check-in center and I spend most of that walk distractingly picking all of the white dog hair from his car’s backseat out of the previously mentioned purple velvet blazer. I get in line to pick up my badge and breathe a sigh of relief that at least my little hiccup was brief. A helpful young lady starts walking down the line, suggesting that attendees have their credentials and driver licenses out and ready to present. “Oh, shit.” I think to myself (and probably say out loud). My driver’s license has just been upgraded to a Class B Commercial one (yes, more on this in future columns) so I just have my temporary, which of course doesn’t have a picture. I explain this to her and she pulls me out of the line and takes me to her supervisor. He refers me to his supervisor. She refers me to her supervisor. “Nope. No way.” he says and hurriedly walks away. Damn.

On my way back to where I assume I’ll be directing my next Uber to pick me up and take to my train home, a security guard asks if I have a credit card. I say “Yes” and he says “That’ll do.” Problem suddenly solved. Okaaay.

The first thing I noticed once inside this NAMM show was just how much noticeably bigger this one was. I mean, it was sprawling, taking up more than two other huge buildings that nearly doubled its size and scope. This was because they folded in a whole other trade show, that of the AES or Audio Engineering Society. As a result, many of the usual “go-to” booths I usually stop by were located someplace else, making this more a march of serendipity. This turned out to be a great thing, as I found a number of cool new products to talk about here and in future issues.

The Soundwell DEK ($2499) is a perfect example. An outside-the-box approach to music that does away with “conventional” instrument performance and replaces it with a “multi-function controller” that maps software instruments to the key of any song. By analyzing a recording and assigning its pads to play single notes or chords that match the key of the song, it makes incorrect notes impossible. Its backlit “keys” are laid out in a linear, logical fashion, but there’s no denying the creative and extremely usable music it generates.
Visit vintageking.com/soundwell-dek to find out more.

The acoustic guitar prototype on display for HyVibe (HyVibe.Audio) was another seemingly left-field technology that was again rife with creative possibility. This instrument uses “actuators” to stimulate the guitar top “to create hybrid variations between natural guitar resonances and our processed vibrations.” What this actually means is that it doesn’t just sound like an acoustic guitar, but any pedals and effects processing you add becomes part of the acoustic sound it radiates. Even third-party audio and backing tracks can be blended into the acoustic output. I thought it sounded fantastically intimate and the performance possibilities are dizzying!

Then there’s the wonderfully impressive work of Marshall Terry (terryaudio.com) whose White Rabbit Deluxe ($275.00) dual-stage instrument and line-amp driver pedal made the guitar I played through it sing and sting, although it can be used for a wide variety of inputs and tones onstage and in the studio. Along with his “CEQ” Creative EQ dual passive and active six-band discrete eq both products offered a friendly, funky and infectiously fun sense of passion for audio, with a seriously deep and high fidelity feature set.

These and many more products I hope to evaluate in coming issues showed incredibly long strides in quality and innovation, leaving me with a great sense of optimism for the future of audio as I left the show and headed home.
If I only had enough room to tell you about my incredible journey back, replete with fallen power lines, cancelled trains, Greyhound buses, and faulty trolleys!

Sven-Erik Seaholm is an independent record producer, singer, songwriter, and commercial driver. www.kaspro.com

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