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From the Editor: Immersive … Charlie Butten … and a Thank You

Tom Kenny reflects on immersive audio techniques at Innovative Post Solutions, Charlie Butten's influence on Clear-Com, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and Mix technical editor Kevin Becka.

Every month, for more than a decade, I’ve spent odd moments at odd times of the day thinking about an appropriate theme for this opening space. It might come to me in the shower, on the BART train. It’s harder than it might look, trust me. The theme might be tied to the cover story, the time of year, a breaking technology or simply something I’ve encountered in my travels around pro audio. This month I kept coming back to words like mélange, hodgepodge and mashup, as a few disconnected events came my way, with no easy way to unite them. So here they are.

First: Immersive. How quickly we forget that true three-dimensional sound is still in its infancy, in both picture and sound. It may seem like Atmos has been out for a while, but six years isn’t that long. 3D film isn’t really immersive, and will likely be remembered as a stopgap gimmick on the way to virtual and augmented reality, both of which hold tremendous promise. Audio, at this point, seems to be ahead of video in terms of the true 360°, spherical experience. Jim Cerrotta at IPS knows this, and he’s building a business based partly on remastering the catalog again, sound and picture. But this time the high-res Atmos tracks and Dolby Vision picture will be streamed to everyone. Made easier, part of your subscription to Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, and you can take it with you wherever you go.

Related: Innovative Post Solutions, Remixing the Past for Immersive Sound and Picture, by Steve Harvey, Mix, April 3, 2018

Second: Charlie Butten. Damn, what a character! I’ve lived in Oakland since 1988, working at Mix, and I’m ashamed to admit how little I knew about the Bay Area’s many and varied contributions to the birth of the modern live sound industry, particularly the role of Charlie Butten. I’d heard the name, knew there was once a place called Butten Sound, and was aware that he co-founded Clear-Com. Then I got to sit down with him and I realized right away that he deserves much more credit than he has ever received for being a true pioneer in the modern live sound/event production paradigm.

Related: Charlie Butten and Clear-Com: 50 Years of Excellence, by Tom Kenny, Mix, April 2, 2018

Clear-Com turns 50 this month, and Charlie has been there all 18,250 days. He’s the mad genius in the back room blowing up speakers, testing milliwatt variances and figuring out how to solve real-world problems through analog electronics. He has an original James B. Lansing Signature Series speaker, and he tells great stories about Marshall and Fender amps, about both the schematics and those who played them. He also has a touch of your fun, crazy uncle who tells a great story and laughs loudly, sometimes at odd moments. He is a strict adherent to Keeping It Simple Stupid, and he will remind you that Proper Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance. I really got a kick out of the guy. More people should know about him.

Finally, I want to send out a thank you to Kevin Becka, the Mix technical editor these past 15 years. On the back page, you’ll find his farewell “Tech Talk” column, as he’s moving on to other things, while continuing his day gig as co-director of The Blackbird Academy in Nashville. Fifteen years is a good run in any profession. As a writer who writes about technology, that’s equivalent to about six generations, considering the way things move so fast. It’s not easy to look at complex technologies and then explain them in simple terms that make sense to everyone. Kevin made it look simple.

Related: Tech Talk: Moving Forward, the Next Chapter, by Kevin Becka, Mix, April 3, 2018

But more than that, Kevin is a friend. When in Nashville, I stay at his house and visit with him and his wife, Helen, and their constant flow of rescue and foster dogs. I’ve traveled with him as an editor to cities around the world, and I’ve stayed up many a late night having a beer (he has red wine) and telling stories. I’ve even come to admire his sometimes obsessive-compulsive nature and his overwhelming need to worry way too much about things he doesn’t really need to worry about.

I wish you well, Kevin, as both a colleague and a friend.