The Wilshire/Western district is one of the few neighborhoods in Los Angeles with Manhattan-style energy and foot traffic. Packed with Art Deco landmarks, Korean businesses, bustling cafes and high-rise offices, it's also home to the studio of Victor “XMAN” Taylor, a writer/producer/bassist with a very full plate.
Taylor, who's worked with Ice Cube, KRS-One and Prince, among others, has also contributed music to the soundtracks for Be Cool, Set It Off and Bowfinger, and television projects for the Wayan Brothers, ESPN and NY Undercover. He's still pursuing those endeavors, but recently, he's taken a left turn into what he calls “Rhythm and Rhyme,” co-producing (with keyboardist/mixer John Myers) the poetry compilation Spreading Love-n-Spoken Word.
Taylor has record production in his genes: His father owned a recording studio in Compton that hosted such musical greats as Marvin Gaye, George Clinton and The Crusaders. “It was CASH Recorders — Compton Audio Specialists Headquarters — the first 24-track room in Compton,” Taylor relates. “My first exposure to music was there listening to the heavyweights. My older brother played bass. When he wasn't home, I'd play his instrument and listen to the music he had around, which was also a lot of heavyweight stuff by jazz greats like Stanley Clarke. By the time I was nine, I was playing advanced jazz/fusion bass. I thought that's how everybody played!”
Stints with bands ensued, but Taylor soon caught the producing and recording bug. “Once I understood how much went into making a great record,” he says, “that became my primary focus. I saw the studio as a means to an end, an empty canvas that was a way to get my point across. Writing and producing music enabled me to get things out of my head that had been there all the time.”
Pursuing socially conscious lyrics, Taylor hooked up with the Leimert Park Poets, a contingent of African American spoken word artists coalesced around South Central L.A.'s Leimert Park Village. A cultural Mecca since 1989, when drummer Billy Higgins and poet Kamau Daáood opened the World Stage storefront performance gallery there, Leimert Park is an Afro-centric haven for art, dance, theater, music and spoken word. After attending readings at the World Stage and at 5th Street Dick's Coffee House, Taylor was inspired to compose music to accompany the poetry.
“I write lyrics, so I've always been a poet,” he explains. “But when I went down to Leimert Park, I began to see people with such amazing talent. Their words touched me and I wanted to work with them.”
The poets were recorded a cappella first. Most of the performances were cut in the studio to Pro Tools, but several pieces were captured live to a Roland 1680 using an AKG C414 mic at Magic Johnson's Starbucks/Ladera open mic series.
The music is, for the most part, simple: Beats and melodies enhance the words but stay out of the way. Instrumentation is also simple: Akai MPC 2000 and MPC 60 drum samples, a Fender Rhodes, acoustic and electric guitar, some live drums, percussion, flute, trumpet and Taylor's pre-CBS vintage Fender Precision bass.
The 13 poets on Spreading Love-n-Spoken Word (the title is also the name of the Magic Johnson Starbucks series, organized by several of the CD's featured poets) are uniformly excellent. While they don't practice slam verse a lá Russell Simmons' HBO show Def Poetry Jam (where poets battle head-to-head with rhyme), their chops have obviously been honed by competition.
“We've got schoolteachers, scholars, street poets and an ex-gang member named Mr. Foster, who is a profound performer,” enumerates Taylor. “We've also got some radio-friendly pieces. There's African stuff, world and street stuff, and some pieces just about the glory of being a person. We spent a lot of time watching how the audiences responded — that's how we decided which poems to put on the album. It's our goal to take the poetry out of the coffeehouse and put it on CD so people can take it with them wherever they go.”
SLNSW is out on Taylor's Cyber Street Records. Look out: Cyber Street's aim is to change the world, one poem at a time.
You probably ought to have Dale Manquen's contact info (805/529-2496, www.manquen.net) in your database. A key resource for keeping all kinds of consoles alive and well, he's now the sole source for Penny & Giles faders and fader parts. And as one of the original designers of Flying Faders® automation, he's also the go-to guy for FF repairs and retrofits.
Manquen is also an analog tape machine expert. Back in the day, he designed tape recorders for 3M, including the revolutionary Model 56 16-track, the first machine that — rather than merely comprising a collection of single-channel electronics modules — incorporated multiple circuit boards into a single chassis controlled from a single remote-control module.
Part scholar, part inventor, all engineer, Manquen — who holds degrees as an electrical engineer and has taught at Cal State Northridge — is just plain fascinated with making things work, especially audio-related things. He's also worked for Ampex Corporation creating recording products, including the MM1100 multitracks; for Disney's Epcot Center; Warner Bros. Studios; and on optical disk recorders at Burroughs Corp.
In the mid-'80s, Manquen went to work with Joe Martinson at Martinsound, where he was responsible for the design of several aspects of Flying Faders hardware. (Manquen and Martinson jointly hold the Flying Faders patents.)
“The faders came about because we were working to come up with a software-designed virtual console — what's now known as a control console,” Manquen explains. “We finally decided the P&G fader was the best approach. That led, with the help of four or five other people, including Morgan Martin and Sean Michael, to Flying Faders. We delivered the first system around 1988.”
Recognizing a good match for its consoles, it wasn't long before Neve bought the exclusive rights to manufacture Flying Faders. “They controlled the product for 10 years,” continues Manquen, “and we went into doing support and building custom systems for consoles like at Todd-AO that weren't Neve and needed different hardware.”
Manquen estimates that approximately 250 to 300 systems were ultimately built. No longer in manufacture, they're still prized, although the actual computer components are becoming increasingly hard to find.
According to Manquen, Martinson has for several years been working on an updated replacement system, however no release date is scheduled for the new version. Meanwhile, Manquen, who retired from Martinsound in 1999, accepted an offer from Penny & Giles to take over its fader parts-related business in North America. “They wanted to concentrate on their bigger clients,” he explains, “aerospace, industrial transportation, et cetera. P&G's big product now is joysticks.”
Now in charge of fader (manual and motorized) and rotary pots for audio, video and lighting consoles, Manquen keeps inventory and a wealth of technical reference information on hand that helps him identify customer needs. He also refurbishes and retrofits faders and consults on fader automation design (most recently for Digidesign and API).
“A lot of young people are picking up analog consoles to refurbish,” he comments. “But they don't know a lot about how to maintain them, so I do a lot of mentoring. I also get calls from all over the country, from recording studios, manufacturers, radio stations, et cetera. When people find me, they're often extremely relieved! They're happy to realize that they can still get support and parts for their old faders.”
Got L.A. stories? E-mailMaureendroney@aol.com.