lucio menegon | music•noise•art

Virtual Mentors

(this is a repost of an original blogspot post i made in 2007)

I got into studio recording, engineering and production after purchasing a Tascam Porta One four track cassette recorder from Manny’s in New York City in 1985. Because recording has always been a process of trying to maintain ‘right brain’ musical integrity while not over-using the necessary ‘left brain’ engineering side, the musician/engineer must avoid reinventing or perhaps even fully understanding the wheel. A intuitive shortcut is needed, something to fully grasp only what you will initially need and actually use. One way to achieve this is to have a great mentor. Two SF Bay Area people were key mentors in my progression: great audio tech, friend and fine musician Lawrence Fellows-Mannion has saved me countless hours over the years with his advice and guidance, and high end audio gear engineer/specialist Steven Jarvis is another person who helped so much when I made the leap to the professional.

Of course, good mentors are usually very busy, so you gotta have some virtual mentors too. Pete Townshend was one. Besides his great musicianship, Pete was one of the first to grasp the advantage and power of the home recording studio. His Scoop ‘demos’ LP was an early inspiration – especially the tantalizing gear pics and recording details in the liner notes.

Nowdays, we have the internet and look what I found today! An amazingly detailed interview (sadly EQ magazine is offline) with Pete about recording that covers his many studios and methods from the early monophonic to the present polyphony. If you ever wanted a superchared version of the Scoop liner notes, this is it. The snippet below is some of the best advice that could be offered to anyone concerned with making a better studio recording at home:

For the composer, computer tools present a dilemma. For most people, creative ideas emanate and are nurtured on the right side of the brain. However, technical matters are dealt with on the left. So one immediate problem is that before we can get creative with a computer we have to do things like organize our tracks, create a file, make sure we have somewhere to store it, etc. Being able to just run a tape machine (analog or digital) on a whim, always set up and ready to go, is a good thing to have in your life. Or you could have something like an Edirol R09 digital recorder handy. Try to stay in the right side of the brain until the music is properly shaped. Computers (and compact microprocessor controlled digital studios) are wonderful to arrange and modify what you have composed. For me, tape machines offered a way for me to compose, not to record great music, but merely to ‘write it out’ as I had no other way of doing it.

Of course those people who work entirely within the computer environment, using loops, MIDI, samples and reflex-driven software like Ableton Live, can get used to making very frequent jumps from one side of the brain to the other. But the music they make tends to sound a little different to the kind of music most of us feel reflects something of the heart. There are many exceptions. This is not a rule, but I often urge musicians I meet who love to work with MIDI software to ‘try some of the old methods out’ however, getting a decent tape machine is not easy, nor is it cheap.

So remember, start with a good sounding space. And if it sounds bad, fix that first. You may just have to deaden it right down. Next, buy at least one truly great microphone. Next, buy at least one truly great mic preamp. If you can, buy a single module from some old board, an API, a Neve, or whatever. If not, buy a new ‘classic’ channel, or something as good as you can afford. Next, pick your recording medium, and use your brain. If you start with tape, use nothing less serious than a reel-to-reel Revox, TASCAM or Fostex of some kind. If you start with digital hard disk, try some test sessions at different sample rates and bit depths – you may be surprised that your system sounds better at lower quality rather than higher because it doesn’t have to work so hard. So, use your ears if you can when making these assessments; pretend to be one of those old jazz guys who could really hear. I would recommend using a single pair of earphones for some of these kinds of tests. Pick the ordinary ones used in studios. Use your speakers just for playbacks of these tests and checking detail. If you can afford none of these things, buy a small tape Portastudio. Four tracks will sound better than eight. Remember that what you are doing is using a medium, not a modifier.

So cool. now you know why i bought a 3M M23

Kingtone Studio

This the history and evolution of Kingtone Studio recording set-ups. The idea was lifted from the liner notes to the Pete Townshend “Scoop” LPs.

IMG_1709Studio #7 2008-present. 8-24 tracks. I’ve been obsessed with keeping the smallest footprint possible. I wanted something both portable yet totally pro to track with, making do with what I already have excepting a few necessary upgrades. There are so many options available but it boils down to two or three paths. My Metric Halo 2882 firewire AD/DA interface (which I owned/used briefly in 2003 before they developed the crucial 2D mixer option) is still running strong into a MacBook pro running a combination of Harrison MixBus 32C (for mixing and some editing), Waves Tracks (for live tracking) and Reaper (for editing and manipulating). I used to use Digital Performer and long ago left Protools in the dust. This setup gives plenty of ultra high quality ins and outs. The 2882 and a UA 2-610 tube mic preamp has enabled me to get great recordings and keeps my table top nice and clean. I always have a pair of ADAM A7s and a few other speakers for reference (including my trusty Cambridge Audio computer speakers) but do miss a mixing board for hands on control…someday soon. I recently scored a great Otari MX-55 1/4″ open reel deck…ah analog, how I sometimes miss you.

Studio #6 2007. The PARIS system’s main card died – RIP. Faced with the prospect purchasing another card with a limited life span and continuing to run OS9, I chose to sell the PARIS parts off. I started using a simple Protools setup with a $200 MBox.

prerackStudio #5 2004 to 2006 – Emeryville, CA. 16 tracks+. I moved to a more spacious and brighter studio and fully committed to the digital age when I discovered and purchased a ‘vintage’ DAW platform, PARIS. Fantastic sounding, stable, with really intuitive (ie analog) recording, mixing and editing capabilities. 16 tracks, 24 bit, no latency with real time fx, eq and aux capability AND a solid, workable control surface. Basically a Protools HD with better sound at a fraction of the price. And since it had its own processing power, I ran it for years with my old Mac 7600 with no problems. I added a sweet Ampex 350 mic preamp (rebuilt by Rance) and a FMR audio Really Nice Preamp to the setup which was now neatly contained in two roll around racks.

Studio #4 2003 – Emeryville, CA. 8track. I struggled for a year with a free version of Protools 4.0 and an old Digidesign Audio Media III card (16 bit, 2 i/o) running on a really old Mac 7600 (G3) in a dark and dank rehearsal studio. The setup was hodgepodge and without a proper patchbay, but it sounded okay. I recorded a lot of cool music – much of it for the Immersion Composition Society.

soundcraft-series-two-243461Studio #3 1998-2002 Berkeley, CA. 8+ tracks. I moved into a warehouse complex right on the train tracks in West Berkeley and made the move to mostly vintage pro gear with the help of my good friend and SF bay area audio guru, Lawrence Fellow-Mannion. The centerpiece was a beautiful 1969 3M M23 1″ 8 track that I found sitting in a forgotten corner of El Cerrito Guitar Center, a late 70’s Soundcraft Series II 16/8/2 desk from Wallysound, a couple of Dan Alexander Neve 1272 and Ampex 601 mic pre’s, some good compressors, an Otari MX 5050bIIb 1/4″ deck and a tt patchbay with fancy quad cabling. I added an amazing Lawson L47 tube mic and a Coles 4038 ribbon to the collection. My friend Ricardo Esway, chipped in some digital gear including 8 channels of MOTU digital in/out (that paled in comparison to sound of the M23).

The tracking room had great sound and fantastic reverb decay due to the 30′ arched wood ceiling. We built a proper double-walled control room but left the rest of the space as is (ie not remotely soundproof). Amazingly the trains that frequently roared by rarely interfered with recording. I eventually moved out of the space and broke up the studio (no more tinkering and soldering!). The M23, Soundcraft and patchpay live with Chris Butler and his vintage collection in Hoboken, NJ, but I did keep some crucial gear…

TSR8Studio #2 1990-1997 Boston, MA, CT and SF, CA. 8 tracks. My first real studio with a Tascam TSR-8 1/2″ open reel deck, Seck 1282 mix console, Tannoy monitors, Sony DAT deck, Lexicon reverb and a Symetrics compressor. All very decent sounding and popular semi-pro gear that I acquired while an employee of the now defunct EU Wurlitzer Music in Boston (thanks David Bryce and Ducky Carlisle). I eventually purchased a few more mics including a really nice AKG 414TLII, made many demos and several records.

porta1Studio #1 1985-1989 Various east coast USA locales. 4 track. Purchased the venerable Tascam Porta-One cassette ministudio and a couple of Shure 57’s from Manny’s in NYC. What a great combo. Ease of use, durability, cool VU meters, it was just such a home run by Tascam. Recorded A LOT of demos, ideas and several cassette releases. Before this the only machines available were huge. In fact, the only recording experience before this (the thing that started it all, really) was a month long internship with the huge, dodgy Ampex 4-track open reel studio in my university music department.

How I Met Pete Townshend (part I)

The Set-up

It is 1993. I have just moved from New York City to San Francisco. I’ve found a nice little studio apartment on the second story of a nondescript beige/pink building on Jackson Street – between Nob Hill and Chinatown – a steal at $550. There are parrots in the tree branches outside the large bay window. They are loud. There is a very strange large, bald man who lives upstairs and tells me about his experiments with acid in the 60’s. They involve lying naked in bed for a week in a fetal position. His exaggerated speech, gestures and facial expressions remind me of the father of the voodoo woman who helps Johnny Angel find the “Dark Prince” in the movie “Angel Heart”.

I don’t have a job, the girl I chased halfway across the country doesn’t seem that interested anymore and I’m desperately looking for something to latch onto. I’ve come to realize that every long term friend I’ve ever had is three thousand miles away. I exist in a world full of acquaintances.

I seem to have time for many things. I do useless temp work for Charles Schwab. There, I make a lot of long distance phone calls, steal computer diskettes, pens and everything else that isn’t nailed down. My car gets many parking tickets. I now take buses and walk a lot. I peruse bookstores. In one such place, I find a used copy of Anthony RobbinsPersonal Power. How many times have I seen those late night 30 minute info-documentaries with this charismatic gent emphatically pitching his way for everyone to get their shit together? Well, I ain’t paying 300 bucks for the tapes, but I will pay $6 for the book.

I read the first three chapters. It basically says, “decide what you are going to do today and then go out and do it – especially if you have no idea how to.” Fair enough.


* * *

In 1993, Pete Townshend put out the reco
rd Psychoderelict and was doing his first ever solo tour to support it. The night before in Berkeley I had attended the first of two sold out shows and was happy to have been able to see him in the relatively intimate 3000 seat Berkeley Community Theater. It was a very good show. I go to bed feeling inspired. I awake the next morning and the Personal Power question stares me in the face:

“What are you going to do today?” Hmmm….I am going to meet Pete Townshend!

I’ll thank him for his work, let him know how big an inspiration he has been and have him sign my favorite guitar.

Pretty tall order. So, how to go about it? -> part ii

How I Met Pete Townshend (part II)

The Plan

…Well, I figure the best bet is to go back over to Berkeley and catch Pete at sound check before the second show – somewhere between 3:00 and 5:00 pm. I climb into my 1989 Toyota 4Runner (the last year with a removable top and first with a V6) and head over the Bay Bridge to the far away land of Berkeley, California.

I’m headed up what turns out to be Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, not far from my intended destination, but I am completely lost and, of course, listening to The Who. As the last strains of Who’s Next taper off, the tape pops out of the deck and 1989 technology kicks in as the “auto-radio” function does it’s thing. Lo and behold, there’s Pete’s voice. Ahh! I’ve got him!

I spot a phone booth, abruptly pull over, search madly through the phone book and find the address of KFOG 104.5 FM in San Francisco. I write down the address (nice of me not to tear out the page, right?) and head back the way I came.

As I re-cross the Bay Bridge, I realize how incredibly beautiful it is here. Not a cloud in the sky – a perfect blue gradient from the white of the horizon to the deepest azure overhead. The rusty red spires of the Golden Gate bridge jut out over the horizon to my right. The San Francisco skyline is up ahead. I notice that most of the buildings in San Francisco are white – it is a very white city (not just the population). If you’re from here you might not notice that, but I can tell you that New York City is much more of a grey/dark brown…anyway, I fly through traffic listening to Pete talk about music and think, “Don’t you get off the air, fucker!” He sings a song from Psychoderelict (an interesting concept record but, unfortunately, one that contains very few tracks that qualify as a “song”). His voice is shot and he doesn’t sound great, but I’m not complaining. As long as he keeps talking.

It is now rush hour. Cars are just about everywhere and I’m in downtown SF. I make an inspired, lucky left turn and end up just a few blocks from my destination. I spot a long black limo double-parked up ahead. This is it! The parking goddess is with me and I nab a spot just a block away…

I rush over to the limo and start knocking on the rearmost window. The black mirror facade rolls down and an English gent’s long face appears in its place. He asks politely what I might want. I tell him I would like to speak to Pete. He replies, “He’s still inside, you’ll need to talk to his manager over there.” I look over and standing on the sidewalk, having a smoke is Pete’s manager, who has been keeping and eye on all this. He is nice enough when I repeat the question and tells me to wait for Pete to come out. I ask him if Pete might sign my guitar. He informs me that “Pete doesn’t sign guitars.”

I am standing on the sidewalk in front of a glass enclosed lobby with a clear view through to the silver elevator door not 25 feet way from me. There is a black canvas soft guitar case slung over my right shoulder. In it is my favorite guitar. The one I use the most. A Gibson “TV-yellow” Les Paul Special named “Mean Mr. Mustard.” There’s a pin on the strap that says “Thunders lives!” (I got the pin while Johnny Thunders was still alive). I stand there for a long time. I begin to realize that this is actually going to happen…What to say! “Hello Pete! Uhh, Hi Pete, uhh…”

After a few minutes or so of this, I spot a middle aged man running up the street. He stops in front of me and breathlessly asks if Pete has come out yet. Perhaps he thinks I’m Pete’s manager. In his hand, he reverently holds a small, white paper napkin. Apparently, he seeks an autograph. I inform him that Pete hasn’t yet materialized, but that he can wait in front of me.

We wait some more.

And then suddenly, there he is.

Pete pushes through the glass doors and seems in a bit of a hurry. Looking perfectly English in a grey tweed coat he approaches us and quickly, but politely, signs the napkin of the fellow in front of me. He then looks at me standing there with a smile and a guitar over my shoulder. Since I ask for (and seemingly offer) nothing, his demeanor changes in a most subtle way. His weight shifts backward and he pauses as if to say, “right then…” -> part iii

How I met Pete Townshend (part III)

The Conversation

Shit! What do I say? I was silent for a few moments as I was a bit distracted by Pete’s gaze. He has very intense blue eyes. They search. He is obviously interested in people. Behind Blue Eyes and all that.

I finally started in by thanking Pete for his inspiration. That he was one of the main reasons I picked up the guitar in the first place and continue to this day. That perhaps my parents were not so much in debt to him as I was since they’ve never really understood the whole process to begin with. I have no idea why I said that. It just came out. No comment from Pete.

I told him about seeing The Who in NYC at Madison Square Garden in the fall of 1979. How when the the bright white lights lit up the crowd during Won’t Get Fooled Again there was a certain 16 year old boy standing on a railing above the crowd, his arms stretched toward the ceiling in ecstasy – just about 50 feet from stage left at eye level – when Pete Townshend had suddenly pointed at him. He grinned and mentioned that he “vaguely remembered those shows” (Pete was quite a drinker in those days).

I told him that I had seen the show last night in Berkeley, which had prompted me to seek him out today and that I very much enjoyed the reach of his new work. That it was important he was still taking risks, however they might be received. He very much appreciated that.

I then mentioned that I too was a musician playing original music and doing all I could toward that end – the same as he. At this, I asked him, “Would you sign my favorite guitar?”

He did not hesitate with his answer, “Sure.”

A sharpie pen was produced and the guitar signed, just below the tailpiece where it would be rather safe from wear and tear.

Until now, Pete’s entourage had stayed respectfully away, but was starting to shuffle a bit. As Pete made a turn to leave, I thanked him again and said,

“Hey Pete, keep on pushing.”

He turned back and said,

“I intend to.”

*** *** ***

It has been over ten years now and I don’t play the guitar as much as I really love my Telecasters. I still use it for recording and take it out whenever I feel like jacking up some power chords or some blues – anything that needs real punch or a fat tone. It always feels right.

A friend asked recently if I ever worried about losing the guitar.

I believe my response was, “It doesn’t really matter because I’ll always have the story.”

“my Gibson family” circa 2021