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Penn & Teller Composer Upgrades Studio to Digital Gear

For Emmy Award-nominated composer Gary Stockdale, working on Penn & Teller's Bulls--t! TV show is an exercise in every musical genre, “from Mozart to ’60s porno music” that calls for a large number of cues, changes in mix configurations and a combination of new and vintage gear.

For Emmy Award-nominated composer Gary Stockdale, working on Penn& Teller’s Bulls–t! TV show is an exercise in every musicalgenre, “from Mozart to ’60s porno music” that callsfor a large number of cues, changes in mix configurations and acombination of new and vintage gear.

“Penn & Teller never go for the easy trick,” saidStockdale, who has been associated with the duo for more than 15 years.“For this show, most of the scoring is done in post-production.Since it’s documentary-format, they’ll shoot a bunch offootage and edit it down, and then I’ll write the type of musicthat best helps get the message across. As the composer, I’msimply adding an extra level of editorializing to the show.”

Since meeting the duo in 1989, Stockdale has written and performedoriginal music for their NBC TV special, Don’t Try This at Home,the Broadway show Penn & Teller Rot In Hell, the ABCprime-time special Home Invasions, their current exclusiveengagement at the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas, and the television varietyseries, Penn & Teller’s Sin City Spectacular, which earnedStockdale his first two Emmy nominations for his work as composer,music director and bandleader. Although his composition tools include anumber of vintage keyboards and effects, he has transitioned tocomputer-based recording and scoring, with some recent acquisitionsthat include a Yamaha 02R96 digital mixing console and a hard diskrecording system.

“Though the object of our show is to point out scams whereverthey exist, there’s no B.S. with the 02R96,” Stockdalesaid. “It’s a great tool. Going to hard drive video andadding the 02R96 has really simplified things. The weak link in mydigital audio chain was working with an analog mixer, as well aslocking up a VTR with my sequencer by SMPTE. My engineer, Bob Kearney,would say, ‘Get hard drive video! Are you crazy?’ We bothagreed that the old mixer wasn’t giving us enough‘punch.’ Bob had been working around L.A. on digitalboards, specifically 02Rs, where you could save mixes, so he was a biginfluence in my getting the 02R96. There’s something to be saidfor analog, but it all gets heard in digital eventually, especiallywith TV production. I really like the fact that with the 02R96, you caninstantly save any setup that you’re working on and download orupload it; that’s especially helpful for someone like me whenI’m doing a lot of different cues.

“We’re using our Apogee Rosetta AD/DA converters less now thatwe have the 02R96, and we’re also using the console’sonboard effects. We’re running everything off word clock from theRosettas and everything seems to be working perfectly; there were nosync problems when the board was installed. The MOTU audiosystem/Digital Performer combo is my main hard disk recording system,and there are a number of different digital sources like SPDIF and AESgoing right into the 02R96—almost all the connections areLightpipe, and it handles everything smoothly. The sonic quality hasdefinitely increased. Everything seems bigger andcrisper-sounding.”

Stockdale’s facility in Los Angeles includes a live room andan electronics room housing two Tascam Gigastudios that are pluggeddirectly into the 02R96, plus various Mac G Series computers, Genelec1029A near-field monitors and a 1091A subwoofer. “Besides all thedifferent plug-ins I have,” he said, “I also use a lot ofmore ‘vintage’ gear. Since we’re using a Gigastudioand plug-ins, we’ve been able to sell off lot of chip-basedsynths, since everything is being duplicated so well on the computersthese days. Most of my keyboard modules are now in the Mac, but I havean 88-key Fender Rhodes.

“Even though Penn & Teller are called‘magicians,’ the truth is, they were drawn together bytheir mutual hatred of magic,” Stockdale concluded, “sothere has always been an element of seriousness and some very strongartistic and intellectual concepts behind their work. As a result,I’ve never had to write music to fill time while people pullrabbits out of their hats. They always have ideas that are wellthought-out and play against expectations, which is also good formusic. The best scores are those that are a little bit surprising andtake you into an area that you weren’t expecting. They’vealways kept me challenged, and as a result, I’ve written some ofmy best stuff for them.”

For more information on the Yamaha 02R96, visit For more information onStockdale, visit