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Fast Lane Remembered

During Stephen St.Croix's 18 years as a Mix columnist, we received more letters in reaction to his column each month than about any other topic or article.

During Stephen St.Croix’s 18 years as a Mix columnist, we received more letters in reaction to his column each month than about any other topic or article. So, as a fitting farewell to our dear, creative, brilliant colleague, we are sharing some of the tributes we’ve received since his passing in May, as well as a timeline made of excerpts from his columns. Read more of this heartfelt, ongoing eulogy on our Website ( and feel free to add your thoughts.

What can you possibly say about Mr. Marshall that he didn’t already say about himself…in print, no less! That he picked a favorite island to rename himself? That he’d been there and done that? Probably all true, too. Well, 99.68357%. (He’d like that number, but might want a few more decimal places.) That for 18 years he laid his soul bare for the readers of Mix in what were indisputably the most entertaining articles in all of pro audio…while being incisive, informative, always ahead of the curve and, yes, just a bit opinionated. But Stephen was nothing if not passionate about the things he loved (bikes, cars, music, technology) and hated (well, you read the articles).

I’m fortunate enough to have walked away with the last three 5402 Modulators and AR300 Tape Eliminators he built back in the mid-’80s. Wonderful analog toys, so timeless, we regularly threatened to get them back into production 20 years later. I regret that we never got around to it, but I’ll always smile when I twist a knob.
Richard Rose, Hot House Audio

Stephen and I had an intermittent, but very close relationship. During peak periods, we spoke several times a day, and sometimes it was years between contacts. But like all “real” friendships, it spanned time and space. But through all of the years that we both wore our “whoever dies with the most toys wins” T-shirts, and lived by that motto, and for all the years he pushed the limits both in audio, technology and his life…in the end Stephen did win. But it was not from all of the toys that he had at his disposal. He won because, in the end, he had come to understand that the toys and all of the fun stuff did not really matter. He had found his life center in his wife, Teresa. The transformation in Stephen was remarkable. Finally, all things made sense to him. In Teresa he had found the meaning to his life, and that is why he hung on for so long. Not chasing the fastest motorcycle or even the Nixon tapes, but simply enjoying his time with Teresa (and the cats), enjoying life to a degree that even he did not think was possible. His death is a tragic loss for all of us. But his life, for him and for us, was miraculous. Godspeed, Stephen.
Michael Tapes

Stephen St.Croix was one of the most generous men I have ever known; generous with his friendship, his time and his intellect. I first happened upon him some 29 years ago at the 56th AES Convention in Paris during his first overseas outing with the remarkable Marshall Time Modulator. As I approached, Steve looked up — his eyes were not immediately friendly. Hostile enough, in fact, to stop me pretty much in my tracks. Sensing that I had witnessed an ugly scene that was not of my making, Stephen immediately reformed his appearance and smiled. And what a warm and inviting smile. “Crap,” I recall him saying quickly in the quick diction for which he was famous, “can you maybe come back when this thing is behaving itself?”

There are three important facts I learned from Steve. One, that honesty is the Number One human virtue of all time, and the other nine are nothing in comparison. Two, that guns are totally addictive. And, finally, that it is physically and intellectually impossible within our 4-dimensional world for seven people to agree on a place to eat dinner and then successfully achieve that goal. Gonna miss him.
Mel Lambert

Since meeting Stephen in 1984, I would visit his home on occasion; tuning the studio, playing with guns, eating raw fish and seeing what amazing project he was involved in on any given visit. He was a true renaissance man, able to analyze and conceptualize solutions to projects in a wide variety of industries. But I think mostly he enjoyed the projects involving things that went very fast.

We also enjoyed hanging out in Laguna Beach at his mom’s house. There it was strictly fun and relaxing. I treasure those times as the group was always close friends and family, and Stephen gathered about him a very interesting group of friends.

Wildman, genius, frenetic, driven, fearless and a lover of life and cats — that was my friend Stephen.
Bob Hodas

I first met Stephen [when we had both been] writing for RE/P for some time. The conversation, as everyone who ever talked with Stephen experienced, ranged far and wide, touching on areas I had no idea he was involved with and couldn’t imagine he had any knowledge of — but which I was later able to confirm he was indeed an expert in. When we finally came to the subject of why he was giving up on RE/P, he put down his fork and stared at me. “You trained as a writer, right?” he demanded. I hadn’t really, but I wasn’t going to disagree at that moment. “So you think through what you write, and you’re very careful to be clear and dispassionate. Well, I don’t do that. I write fast and get all of it out at once, and say what I feel I have to say. That’s my voice. And you know what those people want to do?” he almost screamed. “No, what?” I replied meekly.

“They want to edit me!”
Paul D. Lehrman, “Insider Audio”

There’s something a bit ludicrous about eulogizing Stephen St.Croix. After all, he seemed positively larger than life — at least 120 percent of a normal person. Stephen, you meant a lot to me. I have fond memories of you, your writing style, your ideas, your unpredictability, your edge-of-danger persona, your unbelievable luck/experience/karma fusion. I think of you always as someone who has made the world a better place. And, somewhat like Andy Kaufman and Elvis before you, we may never be sure whether you actually passed on or just changed dimensions.
David Schwartz, co-founder, Mix

One of my most memorable times with Steve he took me with him to St. Croix, where he taught me the fine points of dealing with “no-see-ems” and how to totally destroy a small rental car in four days. Truly, Steve was one of the great men of our industry.
Tom Oberheim

In the mid-1960s, Steve blew into Baltimore fresh from the desert Southwest to take the town by storm. For us preppy Park Schoolers, Steve was our Hell’s Angel, surfer, beat poet, exotic sports car enthusiast and heavy metal guitarist rolled into one.
Bob Bradford

Most folks are aware of the great musical and electronic contributions Steve made to the world. Most folks do not know that Steve was an intense patriot. After 9/11, Steve called me and told me he wanted to get involved. I put him in touch with a number of people and his contribution has made a great difference. We had the opportunity to work together in a number of areas, and he brought his expertise and energy to every one. Steve St.Croix was a true warrior-poet.
Jeff “Skunk” Baxter

Long before I became publisher of Mix, I used to phone up this entrepreneurial signal processing company with the daunting task of convincing this guy Stephen St.Croix that Mix was a worthwhile place to advertise his Marshall Time Modulator. I didn’t get very far with the advertising concept, and I often wondered why he even took my phone call; Mix was way below his radar and not up to his standards at the time. During those conversations, I repeatedly asked him to consider writing for Mix, but his loyalty to RE/P and Mel Lambert (former editor of RE/P) was paramount.

Thank you, Stephen, for the conversations, your respect, your knowledge and for making Mix a better publication.
Jeff Turner

If I had to pick an all time-favorite [column] to remember him by, it would be the one about the helicopter tour in Hawaii. It was about how music, the right music, is such an important part of our peak experiences. My heart goes out to all who new him.
Ike Zimbel, Zimbel Audio Productions

I met Steve on my first trip to the U.S. in 1977 to exhibit my latest product, the Synton Syntovox 221 vocoder. Steve actually became the guy to show me around — me, this first-time exhibiting hick from Holland — and introduce me to his friends. We formed this little group of cronies, having drinks and dinners together, talking about our products and our dreams. [He shared] a few brilliant stories related to his school years.

At an event when students, teachers and professors were gathered in the hallway, an accomplice of Steve’s opened the doors on one side and Steve thundered in on his Harley Davidson, roared through the hallway at full speed, while at the other end another accomplice opened the doors to let him out.

At a medical checkup, a traveling team would make thorax X-rays of all pupils. Steve had prepared for the occasion. Out of thin sheet lead, he cut arrows and letters and glued them inside his T-shirt. The words on the X-rays said, Heart, Lungs, Liver, and the arrows indicated these particular organs.

Steve was one of the most remarkable persons I’ve known in the industry. You either loved him, or you hated him.
Felix Visser

Stephen St.Croix has left the building.

18 Years in the “Fast Lane”

We have all heard that an infinite number of monkeys, typing on an infinite number of typewriters, for an infinite length of time will write every Shakespearian play again, and more. And this is of course with no rules controlling them.

It is not wise to make the assumption that the little digital monkeys inside your computers would not soon produce some truly impressive compositions, given about half an hour with these new controlling rules. You can be sure that today’s screen jockeys are evolving those rules even as you read this.

How can it be that the leading edge of technology brings us DAT machines that were apparently designed while the analog engineers were on vacation? Or are there any analog engineers working on these projects? We have machines with amazing transports from tomorrow and analog circuitry from five years ago. Truly, the worst converters, filters and general signal handling ideas that I have heard in years are in these things. What’s going on?

On two separate occasions in Arizona I saw a rather rare phenomenon known as ball lightning. One was about the size of a baseball, lasted 30 seconds and then happily popped out of existence. The other was as big as a beach ball, came out of a cool gray post-storm sky, slid along a power line for about a city block, jumped off, bounced down the street, careened off a few cars and buildings on the way, sizzled, popped and fried, and finally tore off into the open desert.

When I was a kid, my very own Mr. Wizard (we called him Dad) showed me that great old tuning fork trick. Oh, come on now, you remember this one: You get two 440s, strike one and hold it near the other for a couple of seconds. Then you sit on the one you hit so that it stops ringing, and amazingly, the one that was merely near that one is now ringing on its own. You remember now, don’t you? Sympathetic resonance; what your entire control room (and the components of your speakers themselves) wants to do more than anything.

Even today, hardly a Davidson goes by that doesn’t immediately evoke vivid memories of desert highways, hot sun refracting through 20 coats of hand-rubbed transparent tangerine over another 10 of candy black cherry, over metalflake gold. With the smell of its exhaust come the smells of all the Western diners I used to live in. With the unmuffled symphony of that outrageous uneven firing American twin come the sounds of all those songs.

So back to this organic soup. There are only two kinds: split-pea (green) cynanine and chicken (yellow-gold) phthalocyanine. Almost all CD-Rs are some version of the cyanine split-pea formula, which I am rapidly losing faith in. Certain manufacturers have admitted to me that this dye family can have a virgin (raw unrecorded) shelf life of as little as one year and a date-integrity life of only five years.

Some time ago, I did a series of columns that were, in a way, similar to this recent CD-R series. You probably know what I’m talking about. In those columns, as in the CD-R series, I refrained from mentioning the company names of the offenders on that particular issue. And an interesting thing happened…One company that I didn’t even know was one of the offenders and went completely ballistic, claiming I had aimed the column at them. Hey, if the shoe fits…

Fifteen years ago, the only people who dared to even dream the digital dream were its own developers. Then around 10 years ago, this elite 8-bit club grew to (a somewhat generously named) 16 bits and included a token handful of bleeding-edge artists and studios. Remember the Sony 601 PCM converter for video transports? How about the Nakamichi DMP-100 integrated same-thing? Simply a reworked video deck for recording PCM digital audio data instead of Star Trek.

And so I predict, with a lowered head and sad eyes, that each year we will see less and less true pro gear, made by us for us. Instead, we will be buying more and more of the best “prosumer” gear, with its dramatically better interface and tools and shockingly better price/performance ratios, even with its insanely wide spread of actual audio quality. Brave New World and all that.

Reality is in the mind of the beholder. And if I be holdin’ four or five choice virtual instruments, I just might be able to build a reality that those who be buying might behold as real. If you fake it, they will come. And buy. It’s either disturbingly cool or disturbingly horrible. Maybe both.

I know a lot of you personally, others by working with you and still others by reputation. And we as a group certainly cover the whole range, from angel to asshole.

As a regular guy who just took stock of his entire life, I offer you the same experience. Find out who you are and decide if that’s who you really want to be.

Ten years ago I first did this, and decided that what I was, was not in fact what I wanted to be. I worked hard since then, and now I am pretty close. Just in time.