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Engineers Who Changed Everything - Tom Scholz. Tom Scholz is what all musical geeks aspire to be. He graduated at the head of his classes in Mechanical Engineering degrees (bachelors and masters) at MIT in Boston, the city he would name his band after. Sure, the first Boston album is arguably the greatest debut of any band in history and the guitar work on the album is second to none. But it was the sound that made the difference. And the sound was all Tom Scholz.

Scholz's musical background was more classical than pop — he played piano as a child and didn't pick up the guitar, which would become his trademark, till he was 21. The same ability to synthesize science and music that made Boston's records so unique-sounding also helped Scholz create products that helped feed the niche being carved by Tascam's Portastudio: he was taking what previously had required large amounts of space, technical adroitness and volume (not to mention money) and putting it into a simple, affordable box. Like Bill Putnam, Scholz recognized the need to acknowledge a market, not just solve a studio challenge.

John Boylan, who produced Boston's debut record, which has sold over 16 million units, recalls that Scholz's engineering foundation was critical to the music, and provides insight into how Scholz created the Rockman. "When the first album was a huge success, and he had some money, [Tom] bought a special oscilloscope which would freeze-frame the waveform of an audio signal," Boylan explains. "He would play the guitar sound into the 'scope, freeze the waveform, then take a picture of it with a special Polaroid camera that he had acquired when he worked there. He used this method to be sure that he was always getting the same guitar sound.

"To me, Tom Scholz is interesting because he got his start with engineering that had nothing to do with audio. He helped [Polaroid chief] Ed Land perfect the ill-fated instant movie camera. The two technical achievements that he had worked out on his own that impressed me were his use of analogue, bucket-brigade delay on guitars, and his use of a variable resistor between the Marshall 100 Watt head and the cabinet, which he later marketed as the Power Soak." Still Boylan contends, "I'd venture a guess that the two domains of inventor and engineer are in separate compartments of his thinking process."
Business was definitely compartmentalised. "I hated it," Scholz told Larry Lange of his brief career as an entrepreneur, despite selling tens of thousands of products. He continues to use analogue recording techniques and technologies — he still has a stash of Scotch 226 tape — and live Boston performances continue to haul with them a ton of studio-level gear connected in complex ways. One can wear more than one hat, but not all of them always look good on you.

2 days ago

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Short Lessons in Film Making... ...

4 days ago

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100 Greatest Soundtracks #29 – Pulp Fiction. The soundtrack to Quentin Tarantino's darkly funny crime classic Pulp Fiction manages to re-create the film's wildly careening sense of style, violence, and humor by concentrating on the surf music that comprises the bulk of the movie's incidental music and adding a few sexy oldies integral to the film's story ("Let's Stay Together," "Son of a Preacher Man," "You Never Can Tell"). Of course, the inclusion of dialogue and Urge Overkill's seductive cover of Neil Diamond's "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" doesn't hurt either. ...

5 days ago

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Legends of AV - Great Inventors - Bill Putnam. Key components of the heyday of analogue recording can be traced back to one man. Bill Putnam not only devised classic equipment like the 1176N and Urei Time Align monitors, but he also designed and built equally classic recording facilities to use them in, such as Universal Audio in Chicago and United Recording in Los Angeles. He produced the first record with artificial reverb (“Peg-O-My-Heart” in 1947), accomplished by sending the vocal signal to a fully tiled restroom.

Putnam was as comfortable with the business of audio as he was with the technology of it. In the early 50’s before radio stations were convinced stereo would be big, Putnam began mixing everything he recorded in both mono and stereo. When stereo became the rage in the early 60’s, everyone scrambled to fill their catalogs with stereo content and Putnam was waiting for them, charging a premium for a tidy profit.

Putnam's list of accomplishments is huge. He developed the first multi-band equalizers, was a pioneer in studio acoustics and design, designed the 1108 FET preamp, and was a leader in half-speed mastering techniques — usually on mastering equipment he built himself. His son, Bill Putnam Jr, puts it succinctly. "He was a guy who built equipment to solve problems in the studio." That approach, which truly did put the music before the moolah, kept him in demand by artists including Nat 'King' Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington (Putnam was reputed to be the Duke's favourite engineer) and Count Basie. Bruce Swedien, who went to work for Putnam at Universal in Chicago as a teenager, relates on the Universal Audio web site: "Bill Putnam was the father of recording as we know it today. The processes and designs which we take for granted — the design of modern recording desks, the way components are laid out and the way they function, console design, cue sends, echo returns, multitrack switching — they all originated in Bill's imagination."

5 days ago

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Great Movies About Making Movies #26 - Ed Wood. Ed Wood is a 1994 American biographical period comedy-drama film directed and produced by Tim Burton, and starring Johnny Depp as cult filmmaker Ed Wood. The film concerns the period in Wood's life when he made his best-known films as well as his relationship with actor Bela Lugosi, played by Martin Landau. Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Jeffrey Jones, Lisa Marie, and Bill Murray are among the supporting cast.

Ed Wood was originally in development at Columbia Pictures, but the studio put the film in "turnaround" over Burton's decision to shoot in black-and-white. Ed Wood was taken to the Walt Disney Studios, which produced the film through the studio's Touchstone Pictures division. The film was released to critical acclaim, but was a box office bomb, making only $5.9 million against an $18 million budget. It won two Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor for Landau and Best Makeup for Rick Baker (who designed Landau's prosthetic makeup).


Johnny Depp in yet another cult movie, depicting the mostly true story of the legendary director of awful movies and his strange group of friends...

6 days ago