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Tom’s Travels Through AES

What follows is excerpted from what I call my “name-dropping” column in the AES Show Daily.

After 30 years of attending AES as an editor at Mix, I’ve had a front row seat at the professional audio industry’s transformation from a predominantly analog enterprise to an overwhelmingly digital universe. I’ve seen the annual AES convention balloon to two halls at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City, then shrink back down to one. I’ve seen the three days transform from an emphasis on papers and presentations to a focus on personalities and trends.

AES 2019
Photo by John Staley

But the one thing that has remained constant, for the most part, are the people I run into. Many of them have moved from Company 1 to Company 2, and sometimes back to Company 1. Others have never left the partner who brought them to the dance. Inevitably, as I board a plane bound for JFK, my thoughts drift to the people and personalities I run into. Many of them colleagues, many of them friends. All of them with at least one story to tell from the past 12 months.

What follows is excerpted from what I call my “name-dropping” column in the AES Show Daily, produced by sister magazine Pro Sound News and its editors: Clive Young, David McGee, Anthony Savona, Katie Makal, and art director Nicole Cobban. They’re a fine group of folks, and I’m still amazed they are able to produce that much daily copy in between appointments and walking the aisles. So let’s get on with it.

For me, the official reunions began on Wednesday night with a semiprivate dinner hosted by master studio designer and near-household-name John Storyk, and his wife and life partner, interior designer Beth Walters, in celebration of 50 years in the business. Yes, Electric Lady Studios is now 50 years old, and so is the Storyk legend.

John Storyk is without doubt one of the icons of the modern recording industry, and not just because he helped to usher in the acoustics and design aesthetic we all take for granted today. He’s also a benefactor, an entrepreneur and a forward-thinking individual who always stayed ahead of the technology curve. He was at the forefront of the surround revolution, he maintained a client-centered focus and he expanded internationally by “partnering” with talented designers around the world rather than “hiring” an international staff.

And today, as he eases out of the day-to-day operations of the Walters-Storyk Design Group, he has implemented a plan to turn over majority ownership of the company to the team. Plus, he’s a genuinely nice guy, and a dinner with him and his friends is always a treat.

At the dinner, I had the pleasure of sitting next to Howard Schwartz, a post-production legend and a New Yorker to the core. He told stories going back to the early 1970s in Los Angeles—starting with Wally Heider, with Roger Nichols as his assistant, and then working two years with Crosby, Stills & Nash—which were priceless. He came back to NYC to open Howard Schwartz Recording in 1975 and the legend was born. I first met him when doing a story for Mix in 1990. Thanks for the entertainment, Howie! You’re one of a kind! But, before I even got to dinner…

On a visit to Muscle Shoals a few months back, in preparation of an upcoming Mix cover story on Glenn Rosenstein and the Hall family’s reconditioning of FAME Studios Studio 2, they kept asking me if I had been over to Capricorn Records in Macon, Ga., to see what they had been doing. No, I hadn’t, but…

In the first 15 minutes of the show opening, I stopped by the API booth to apologize for having to miss their 11 a.m. press conference. Dan Zimbelman said, “Hold on, have you heard about what they’re doing down at Capricorn Records? They’re here. They just bought the largest 2448 console we’ve ever built. That’s the press conference.”

So I was introduced to Larry Brumley, VP of Mercer University, which has become a partner, and informal owner, in the world-famous studio, and Steve Ivey, a Mercer grad who has served as studio adviser on the reconditioning. Rob Evans will be studio manager. Oh! And the console will be entirely solar-powered. For real. The grand opening is December 3, and Chuck Leavell will be there. Look for another Mix cover within the year!

After leaving the API booth, on my way to a meeting with Avid, I ran into John Loose, who runs the studio operations at Dolby. He was getting excited for the Wednesday night party down in SoHo at the 20,000 square-foot Dolby Experience Center, where, jointly with Avid, they’ll be celebrating 60 years of Island Records and running Dolby Atmos Music tracks all night long.

Dolby Atmos for Music is a big deal right now, with tracks already being released and a call for at least 3000 more from the Universal Music Group by the end of the year.

Speaking of which, my Avid appointment was with Rob D’Amico, and we talked about next month’s Pro Tools 2019 update, which will allow in-the-box mixing, along with multiple mixes in a single WAV file. Users can now send 130 channels from Pro Tools to the Dolby Atmos Renderer. It’s all about workflow, and the 4K video resolution and higher-resolution frame rates.

And in a couple of side notes, Avid has become an official member of the Netflix Post Technology Alliance, Avid Link is up to 400,000 members (adding roughly 2000 a day). And the Avid Play music streaming service, whereby for a small fee of $5 a track or $20 for 20 tracks, they will distribute to all streaming services, properly formatted, and the artist gets 100 percent of the scrilla.

Then came a Facebook Live Stream with a look at Prodigy MP, the new Swiss Army Knife multifunction processor from DirectOut Technologies. It’s quite a box.

One more thing. At 8 a.m. on the first day, at a press conference way too early for a West Coaster, it was announced that Phil Wagner, after 10 years, is back at SSL, which just released the Origin analog console. Congratulations, Phil! More on the $49,999 Origin in our Best of Show column next month.

Thursday morning started off bright and early with a 9 a.m. meeting with the good folks from Celestion, Bjorn Kolbrek and Mark Dodd. They are in town for a couple of presentations, including one today, on “Horn Driver DNA.” Celestion, it turns out, is now 95 years old! And Kolbrek and Thomas Dunker have written a magnificent book entitled High Quality Horn Loudspeaker Systems.

It’s hard to describe the breadth of research that went into this 1000-page tome, complete with turn-of-the century photography, early horn illustrations, mathematical equations, etc. The authors started the project in 2005, spending extensive time in university libraries across Europe and the States, the AT&T archives, Bell Labs…it’s a must-have for any engineer, student, researcher or lay person with a bent for the science. Just go to Amazon. It’s brilliant.

Meanwhile, back on the floor, I ran by Cranborne Audio, where Sean took me through the company’s USB and ADAT 500 Series chassis, with Camden inside. Figuring out the linear power on these Lunchbox-style cases is not simple. These ones are super-clean and designed for the project studio and traveling pro. Very cool.

Then it was over to Yamaha and Steinberg, where I got the rundown on the highly versatile Nexo P12 monitor, which specs out at a whopping 140 dB SPL—not that anyone wants to go that far, but the available headroom is certainly a draw. At the other end, the company was showing the new STAGEPAS 1k, a stick-like sub/speaker combo for music and speech that incorporates ten 1.5-inch compression drivers in a super-slim profile, with power and coverage for everything from corporate events to hotel ballrooms to coffee houses and small theaters. And it packs up quite nicely in a small roll-around bag.

Then I stepped next door to Steinberg, where Marcel took me through Nuage 2.1 and the coming integration with SPAT Revolution, a spatialization tool from a small company in France that worked with IRCAM research on a way to promote custom immersive configurations for live performance and fixed installations, regardless of speaker type. It’s visual immersive at its finest.

Along the way I ran into James McKinney, Leslie Ann Jones, Jimmy Douglass, Chuck Ainlay, Chris Lord-Alge, Elliot Scheiner, John McBride and many of the mix heroes, many of them in town for presentations at Mix With the Masters, Waves, or the AES Project/Recording Stage. George Massenburg stopped me in an aisle to say that the Mix Sound for Film & Television event at Sony in late September was one of his favorite gatherings of audio folks in recent years. I couldn’t imagine a higher compliment.

Then, Thursday night, I headed to Sony Hall on West 46th to celebrate with API as they wind down their own 50th anniversary celebration.

API is a one-of-a-kind company, with 50 years of analog innovation in a largely digital world, and still going strong as ever. From the early days under Saul Walker, through the invention of the Lunchbox, and now nearly three decades under the stewardship of the humble yet driven Larry Droppa, API has thrived.

A few months back, on the August cover of Mix, we profiled Dave Trumfio and Gold Diggers Studios, with the first installation of the API 2448 console. For the issue at the show, Mix featured Strange Weather out of Brooklyn, who a few years back took delivery of the first Legacy AXS console. The company is vital, strong, inventive and steeped in the concept of musical electronics.

And they know how to throw a party. Last time they did something like this, Sonny Landreth and Bob Weir showed up to play for a couple of hours at the Roseland Ballroom. This time it was Victor Wooten and band, The Fab Faux, led by Will Lee, a guy who plays a mean stringed-shovel, and a guest appearance by Steve Miller.

But the highlight of the night was when the daughters of the late Saul Walker took the stage to present the late Saul Walker’s recent Technical Grammy to Droppa and his team. Again, very humbly and with a hint of tears, Droppa pledged to “maintain his guardianship of the trophy for Saul.” Congratulations, Larry.