Friday, October 28, 2005


I was all excited when I got home last night - this week's issue of "Time Out New York" had arrived, and boy was I eager to see the "Tedstock" listing in the music section.

Well, turns out that Sunday night at Trash features the Andy Rock Band, Happy Boy, Symmetrical Jeans, Via Skyway, the X's, Figo, and Microdot, for $6.

I guess this is referring to Tedstock, although neither that name nor the fact that it was a benefit were listed. They did get 4 of the 10 bands right.

Kind of a bummer. Not that TONY is the pinnacle of music journalism, or any journalism for that matter, but their listings are definitely important.


Yes, Mr. Sulu is gay.


If he was good enough to drive the Enterprise, then it's OK with me.

Guess that explains why Shat got all the girls.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


The series is over, and it's time for congratulations.

First of all, to the manager. No one thought he could do it. I bet a lot of people didn't even know he was trying.

For the first time, a foreigner has managed a team that won the Japanese World Series.

That manager, of course, is former Mets skipper Bobby Valentine.

Now that his Marines have swept the series, he'd like to put the "World" in "World Series."

Bobby believes his team is as good as these guys.

They may well be. But I saw the footage, and they jump up and down differently at the end of games over there. They all jump at the same time, in synch, as opposed to randomly, like MLB players do.

Isn't the world strange?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

I wrote a long entry, Internet Explorer froze up, and I lost it.

Have I mentioned lately that Windows is a piece of crap?

Anyhow - back to our regularly scheduled post.


Last Friday, Pat (aka Tony Alva) recorded the Taize Choir at a Catholic High School in Georgia as part of the ongoing partnership between Smoke and Mirrors and Pat's Grey Cat Sound. Originally, Ted (aka Jackson) was scheduled to make the trip down to assist, but at the last minute he got an emergency call from a pharmaceutical company. Turns out there were some drug salesmen that needed some information to sell drugs STAT, so Ted headed for Newport while I headed to the post office to overnight a mic (the beloved Studio Projects C1) to Georgia.

The tapes (and mic) came to NY yesterday, and we spent some time listening to and loading the contents last night.

These kids can freaking sing, to my very untrained ears. The music is powerful, emotional, and inspirational (especially considering my atheistic slant); my favorite parts are those sung in Latin, or Italian, or French. (I think those are the languages. There may be some Spanish in there as well.) In English it's a bit too literal. I like my praise vague.

But what about all the technical minutiae, you say. Do not fear!

The recording quality is quite good, although it was done on blackface ADAT and has the limitations inherent in the medium (timecode dropouts are always an issue with those machines, and they're 16 bit). The C1's (mine and Pat's) worked well as a stereo pair. There was an AC running for most of the session - it was the old AC vs. Comatose Performers conundrum - which is audible on the quiet parts and masked on the loud parts.

And man, are there quiet and loud parts. A choir has an enormous dynamic range, already above the limit of a 16 bit medium (with a theoretical dynamic range of 96dB) and not far from the limit of 24 bit (ideally 144dB).

So there are two issues, intertwined, that we will deal with as we mix and master this project.

First is the dynamic range. Compressors and limiters are the usual tools for handling this, but in choir music (like classical) compression can really change the feel of the performance. It's not like rock and roll, which is built around compression (guitar amps compress, tubes compress, tape compresses, the radio compresses...); choirs are meant to be listened to live with all the dynamic range the ear can handle (120dB before the threshold of pain). But once you put them on tape (or disk) you have to deal with the noise floor of the medium.

We started by normalizing. While I normally don't like normalizing (it's more math, the bane of digital), in this case it makes sense. I need as much level as I can get going into whatever the next part of the chain will be or my noise floor will increase. Normalizing brings everything up until the loudest part is at maximum volume (what they call 0dB in digital - and if you find the whole dB thing confusing, you're not alone), keeping us from guessing how much gain we should be adding. George Vitray has advised that choir recordings are often not limited at all, and I'm inclined to go with him on this one. Listening to this recording should be like being there, not a combination of what we would hear and what we want to hear (the usual case for recording). Perhaps some very very slight limiting, only to eke out a few more dB (noise floor, everyone).

In terms of the AC, we'll use very minimal filtering. We started tweaking filters last night, and we'll likely end up automating them, using them as needed (ie on quiet parts) and shutting 'em down when things get loud. With a choir you have to watch your EQ'ing, as you can easily thin the sound and take voices right out. The human voice has a pretty wide frequency range. We'll be careful.

So once we've got the dynamic range and AC under control, it's a simple matter of separating the tracks into individual songs, putting them in order, and off to Georgia it goes.

I hope the kids like it. We'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Last night we did a Noodle rehearsal at 75% of full power (ie, there was no bassist). We did all of the songs we'll be performing at TEDSTOCK (as of right now), and they were pretty good.

A few minutes before drummer Rob Machold arrived, we decided to go ahead and record the rehearsal.

Some of my earlier bands weren't into the idea of recording rehearsals and, well, everything else. I'm into the idea of recording everything. I believe that the feedback offered by hearing yourself practice is worth the diskspace, tape, or whatever, and last night Machold agreed.

The thing actually sounded alright. It would be a perfectly respectible demo (once a bass gets put on it), and it made me feel a lot better about our TEDSTOCK preparation. Ted's been worried that he's spent so much time on the administrative side of TEDSTOCK that he hasn't been working on the music. I think we'll be OK. Sure, we need a bit more practice. But we've got, like, 5 days.

It's great to play these songs with Machold. He really reigns us in and it's a very comfortable feeling. I can't believe how long it's been since Ted and I have performed live. I'm hoping Sunday will be something of a rebirth.

Monday, October 24, 2005


Well, I think I tracked down the cuplrit in my never ending battle to keep this page formatted correctly.

It seems that one of the links to a "previous post" on the sidebar was too wide - forcing the sidebar to get wider, which pushed it down below where the left handed column (the one you're reading now) ends.

The post in question was called "SUMMARY," and it has been permanently cast into wherever deleted pages are cast on the internet. For those of you who don't remember what it was about, too bad. But it was really funny and informative and poetic, with lots of great comments from loyal readers and no spam. Oh, well.

So now I've been able to return to my old faithful template, called "Rounders." I hope this has made everyone's day a little brighter.


Saturday night was all Trash.

That is, I went to Trash Bar to see 3 (!) bands, all of whom have some connection to the life and times of Smoke and Mirrors.

First up was Strikes Again, the band for which Mikedot plays drums. Mike is quite humble when he discusses his drumming, but I found it to be more than respectable. His beats were solid and the band just floated along on top. The music was heavy, sweaty (well, at the lead singer was), and punky. They seemed to be having fun.

Next was The Pill, an (almost) all girl four piece punk band. Why is it that if a band is a bunch of guys you don't say "They're an all guy four piece punk band"? Well, maybe YOU do, but I don't. Anyhow, they rocked, as they always do (I've seen them a few times before). Fun, 60's-ish garage with a guitarist who plays the shite out of her Fender (and uses a Silverface Deluxe Reverb, an amp very close to my heart). This is a band that could be The Next Big Thing. They were giving away free CD's so I grabbed one, and of course listening to it made we want to get them in the studio. Not a surprise, really, everything makes me want to get people into the studio.

Who was there to see the Pill but our pals Live Girls, drunk and disorderly. Ashley bought me a hotdog and brought tater-tots into the show. Thank you, Ashley. I gave them some TEDSTOCK flyers and I hope they come; I'd like another hotdog.

World War IX was band #3, with my old friend Justin Melkmann on left handed Gibson SG. This is a band I recorded quite a long time ago, back when we REALLY had no idea what we were doing, and before them I recorded Justin's (and Lynn's from The Pill) old band Jerk Alert. I always thought Jerk Alert could have made it big, but they stopped playing and their amazing lead singer started a family. Oh well.

WWIX were great, as always; lead singer Max got down and stuck his head in the kick drum at the end of a tune. "Ohhh..... don't do that" I said, but he did it anyway, and it blasted him right out and onto the floor. Good shit.

Justin has added a single distortion pedal to his setup (it looked like an orange DS1 from where I was standing). He was telling me before the show that he wanted his SG to feedback when he muted notes, and it worked. Nice job. The DS1 was my first distortion pedal, which I loaned to another friend at The Daily Show, where Justin works. Could that have been my pedal up there? Probably not.

I wandered out of Trash and back to the studio at some point. I don't know that I said goodbye to anyone (sorry), but I do know I tried to sing "Captain Smith" from George Vitray's work in progress "Robot" when I got to the studio, so I must have been having a good time.

Friday, October 21, 2005



How does it look on your computer? Are my links over there? ------->

Piece of crap blog. Probably run by a Windows machine.

This morning, I attempted to cancel a document I send to my printer. The printer control panel window said it was "paused - deleting" and that it was printing "page 5 of 2."

What a load of crap. Windows is a joke, and not a very good one.


Yesterday all my links (and everything else on the sidebar) moved to the bottom of the page, after the last post.

This looks stupid, and it buries my links.

What the heck?

Perhaps this post will help move them back up. Let's see....

Monday, October 17, 2005


Here's an idea that occurred to me late last week. I think it might work.

For our last couple of vocal sessions we've been using George's Telefunken preamps (with an Empirical Labs Distressor) to record vocals. The difference between these preamps and the ones in our rack and board (ART's in the rack, Soundcrafts in the board) is pretty big. It should be, since the Telefunkens are Beatles era and sound like, well, Telefunkens, which is to say REALLY good.

It occurred to Ted and I (not for the first time) that to really move to the next level we need to improve our preamps. At some level the mics, instruments, and mixing environment start to reveal the quality of the source, and we've reached that point. As much as I hate "gear snobs," listening to the difference between pre's in real recording sessions - and A/B'ing them, even as we rolled - was undeniable.

These days, channels of real high quality pre aren't cheap. Old Neve modules, Telefunkens, API, etc. command HIGH prices, and even the companies that are making identical circuits aren't selling them for cost.

So what are we to do? We could save our money, or we could... build our own.

Yes, the circuit topologies of the greatest preamps ever built have been thoroughly analyzed, and there are now preamp kits available for a fraction of the cost of a vintage Neve (or new Vintech). Of course, you have to know a LOT about soldering, wiring, and testing to actually put them together correctly and have them work up to spec (which is as good as the classic models).

This is where a network of audio-minded friends comes in, and this is my idea.

Ted has a friend named Steve Masucci, who is a musician, Moog Genius, electrical engineer, and all-around gear expert. Incidentally, his band The Lost Patrol will be performing at Tedstock. For someone like Steve, assembling one of these preamps (and getting it up to spec) is a few hours of work, considering that he's wired entire pro studios and built a fair amount of his own gear. His work is military spec and very good.

I proposed a little barter - ask Steve to assemble, in exchange for some tube gear we don't use, some recording time, house painting, and whatever else we can throw into the mix (so to speak). Steve seems into the idea, and I know his work will be good.

Here are a few preamp kits we've been looking at:

Hamptone JFET 2 channel pre

Hamptone Tube 2 channel pre

The Seventh Circle Audio N72, a Neve clone

Anyone know of any others we should be looking at? Anyone have opinions on JFET vs. Tubes? Would anyone like to loan us the money to buy the kits? (we'll pay you back, or, if you prefer ... more barter!)

Trust me, you'll hear the difference.


The songs (and shows) on the Smoke and Mirrors Podcast have been played a total of 120 times (not bad, considering none of them are more than 2 weeks old, and over half have only been on since Oct. 10). In first place, in a three way tie, are:

After a Long Last of Time
The Wall, Side One

Maybe after they get through Side One they say "Well that's enough of that."

Which is sort of how I felt when we finished the project. Now it's going on the 26th Anniversary of the original "Wall" release, and we haven't yet packaged our version and sent it out. Guess we should get going.

Why is the first 95% always easier than the last 5%?

Thursday, October 13, 2005


One of the cool things about Ted's new podblaze account is that it supplies real time stats on how many plays each "show" has gotten.

One of the cool things about being Ted's partner is that I have the password for the account and can check the stats.

As of today, here are the number of plays each show has gotten.

Solitary: 6
Tiny Violence: 1
Harlon: 1
The Wall Side Four: 5
The Wall Side Three: 6
The Wall Side Two: 6
The Wall Side One: 9
The Power Of Rock: 7
The Guitar Song: 9
Long Last Of Time: 13
Do What I Do: 11

The only actual "show" up there is "TEDSTOCK," and it's in a healthy 2nd place. People get ready, there's a festival a-comin'.

Ben Simon's "After A Long Last of Time" is in first, and that's interesting, because it really is a great song, with a crazy guitar solo.

Ben came in to the studio a couple of years ago with nearly 20 songs and an amazing backing band. We put the basic tracks down very very quickly - in a day or two - getting some of the best drum sounds I've ever gotten. (How much of the sound is in the player? I don't know, roughly 100%.) Then we started overdubbing, mixing, re-recording, bringing in turntablists and violin players, mixing, re-recording, re-mixing...

We worked a lot, but never really finished the entire project. Ben had to leave town, we weren't really sure what the plan was, and I don't know where he is now. (you out there, Ben?) But I honestly believed that his music was something very special. The songs were great, but I'm not sure if we were prepared for the enormity of the undertaking. Today I feel far more confident that we could get the record done, and done well.

We'll put up more of the (unfinished) product. I still like the music a lot.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


A new "Solitary" is up on the Telecasting Podcast.

Please give comments - I've worked a fair amount on this mix and would like some feedback (other than the feedback already at the end).


Yesterday George and Ted spent the day doing sound editing for an hour long documentary film. I only had to take a few calls to help them get some tracks imported, other than that it seems things went smoothly.

By the time I got to the studio, at around 8:00, they were essentially done. The client seemed happy with their work, and it was a lot of work - 400 odd soundfiles on 13 tracks. That's a fair amount of audio.

DP stood up very well, I'm happy to say. No crashes, nothing lost, no problems. It kept chugging along for another 3 hours while I did a House of Blondes session (no, I didn't mix through the clock radio, but I did check the mix on our crappy little bookshelf speakers. John from House of Blondes was particularly fond of this part of the process, saying it "sounded like it was coming from the radio," which is part of the idea. Make it sound good on shitty speakers and it should sound good on good speakers, in theory.) There was one crash while I was doing some pretty intense editing, but I hesitate to even call it a crash. The audio fritzed out but I was able to save the project, quit DP, and have everything up and running before the client was back from the bathroom. OSX continues to impress.

So we were pretty solidly booked yesterday; real business from 10am to 11pm. It would be great to have this kind of thing going on every day, but we're working on it. Surprisingly, our Craigs List ad doesn't seem to be generating many inquiries - back when we were offering the "make your demo for $200" deal a few years ago these ads got us a lot of clients. Things are changing so quickly that already the market is substantially different than it was then, as more people are buying their own MBox and making their records at home.

But what fun is that?

Monday, October 10, 2005


"I'm bored with that line. I never use it anymore. My new line is 'In 15 minutes everybody will be famous.'"
Andy Warhol

I like this.

Bob Mould's blog had a quote from Joan Crawford taken from this site. Lots of great quotes, lots that make absolutely no sense out of context. That's where Andy's quote comes from.



Worked with John from House of Blondes on Saturday, mostly doing vocals.

John bought himself a spiffy new Sennheiser MD441 last week, and he brought it to Smoke and Mirrors for its first test.

For those who don't know, the MD441 is kind of the sibling of the famed Sennheiser MD421. The 421 has been seen poking over the rims of countless tom toms over the years, and with its Star Trekish appearance (think Phaser) it's a pretty distinctive mic. Very much beloved.

The 441 is one of those "nearly a condensor" dynamics, with excellent (and very flat) frequency response and a downright "warm" sound. Sennheiser calls it "the most accurate and versatile dynamic mic available," and I'm hoping to get a chance to try it out on guitars and amps. With several bass roll off positions, a brilliance control, humbucking coils, and some nice "leatherette" stylings, it's clearly a cool and serious mic with a real 70's/80's feel. This was Stevie Nick's mic of choice (so I'm told).

It sounded good on John's voice - nice rounded without too much harsh high end. There's a real trend toward brightness in modern mics, and I for one don't always appreciate it, especially when coupled with digital recording. The 441 suffered from none of this, and it looked pretty space-aged (circa '79) sitting in the live room. Fun!

I think it also made John more comfortable and confident. New gear can often do this to an artist - I've definitely noticed that players seem to have more fun when they're trying out a new piece, and it translates to the recording. Purely subconscious, I'm sure, but it seems to make a difference.

We also got to use the Telefunken V77 and the Empirical Labs Distressor. The Distressor, simply put, is the greatest compressor ever built, and worth far more than it's (already somewhat high) price.

Friday, October 07, 2005


Last night was the first Via Skyway rehearsal.

Via Skyway is the child of George Vitray, who has been recording under this name for several years. Some of us have played on some of his recordings, and the "band" Via Skyway has performed live at least once before (with Rob Machold on drums; I don't know the rest of the lineup).

Well, for TEDSTOCK, the lineup is:

George Vitray - guitars, vocals
Dave Cavalier - guitars
Mike Ingenthron - bass, vocals, maybe keyboards (?)
Chris Pace - keyboards, maybe bass (?)
Rob Machold - drums

With the exception of your truly, this is a pretty kick ass lineup. Sharp eyed viewers will recognize that Mike, Dave, and Rob have played together many times (when Rob was in Microdot, and earlier as Moneyshot, I believe) and these three guys are serious musicians. They can play.

Cavalier knew all the parts already. He's had the CD for, what, a week, and he's already got most of it tabbed out. Machold, of course, dropped the beats and we skated on top. George knew his lyrics, and Dave helped him remember some of the parts (seriously). We'll be doing one "Brain Shivers" tune, "We Came From the River," and fortunately Dave was able to remind me of the chord progression. It's a good thing this guy's in the band!

Mike coulnd't make it to last night's rehearsal, but we have no doubt that he will not only know all of the parts, but will play them better with no rehearsal than I could with 10.

It's great to get to play with musicians of this caliber. We ran the set, did some improv, and it was like a nice, long conversation. Great fun. The dynamics were already there, the quiet parts quiet, the loud bits loud, and the spaces between the notes spacious. I haven't played keys in a live band in a long time, and I didn't do any bass playin' last night, and it was great.

We'll have to do it again.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


It's growing...

The best part is the ads for "Home studio recording!" that keep coming up. Could this be a conflict of interest?


Here it is, in a rough form.

Still to come - maps, directions, music samples, links to podcasts and blogs. More pictures, full gear info.

Needed - pictures of y'all, particularly at S & M. Testimonials from our clients and friends.

Check it:


I'm starting the Smoke and Mirrors website Mark II, a freebie from Lycos.

I'd like to include links to as many clients, friends, etc. on the site as possible.

If you have an online presence, send me the info. Some I already have (Microdot, Geek Farm, and a few others).

Thank you very kindly.

Monday, October 03, 2005


"BEIJING (Reuters) - A chimpanzee in a northwest China zoo has quit smoking after 16 years with the help of her keepers, official media reported.

The staff, worried about her declining health, weaned 27-year-old "Ai Ai" off tobacco by distracting her with entertainment and a tastier diet, Xinhua news agency said."

If Ai Ai can do it, so can we. Of course, we need some zookeepers to distract us with entertainment and a tastier diet.

Any volunteers?


we've been having some problems copying files to and from a firewire disk in the studio called "Zowie." It seems "Zowie" has some issues.

We asked our new version of OSX (10.4, aka "Tiger") to check out the disk and it confirmed that there were problems, but that it couldn't fix them.

In the past, Disk First Aid, and now "Disk Utility" in OSX, have been pretty good about fixing what they can and being honest about what they cannot. After several tries, Disk Utility couldn't help Zowie.

So we did what any red-blooded computer users would do - we started searching online for a snazzy disk utility to (legally) download. Yes, that's right, we decided to lay some money down and purchase a piece of software. Would be truly bizarre if we didn't do this kind of thing regularly.

Since my earliest computing days, Norton Utilities has been the standard. Their Disk Doctor has helped many a disk, and so it seemed natural to go to Symantec's website and see what they had for OSX.

Seems Norton Utilities 8.0 is the version we'd want. It says on the site that it's compatible with Mac OS 10.1.5 and higher. Great, we're higher than that.

So we enter in Jackon's credit card # (hard to believe, but Jackson actually now has one!) and download the magic.

Install, run live update, nothing works. Disk Doctor doesn't even SEE the drives.

Uninstall, install again. Fix permissions. Try again.

No good.

Finally we start poking around Yahoo! and find this.

I guess we should have looked around Symantec's website a bit more before ordering. But the incompatibility isn't even listed in system requirements.

Finally, several clicks away (and nowhere near the order page) is this. It doesn't even say, specifically, that Norton Utilities is not compatible with 10.4. It just says it won't work, and at the bottom of the page is some helpful uninstall info.

Well, they do have a refund system, which we are currently undergoing. It's just unbelievable that Symantec isn't more explicit on their product info page. I guess they're counting on people downloading and not asking for a refund. Pretty crappy.

Should we just have used Limewire and gotten a stolen utility instead?

Meanwhile, "Zowie" continues to have problems. Maybe "Disk Warrior" is next - assuming we can find and read all of the fine print.