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Grandpa Mosc, tell us a story?
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Buchla?
space biophysics research
14%
 14%  [ 4 ]
multimedia composition
3%
 3%  [ 1 ]
performance of avant garde and traditional music
7%
 7%  [ 2 ]
the design of both acoustic and electronic instruments
42%
 42%  [ 12 ]
research in interactive performance-oriented computer music languages
14%
 14%  [ 4 ]
designing instrumentation and music for a hundred piece electronic orchestra
17%
 17%  [ 5 ]
Total Votes : 28

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Kassen
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 25, 2005 7:53 pm    Post subject: Grandpa Mosc, tell us a story? Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Grandpa Mosc, grandpa Mosc, please tell us about the old days and especially this;
http://www.audiovisualizers.com/toolshak/vidsynth/buchla/buchla.htm
We prommise we`ll be good little boys and girls and go to sleep quietly after that! Please? We`ve been realy good!

:¬p

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 25, 2005 8:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Buchla 200 Series
I have no experience with that particular system. I worked for Buchla when he was making the 200 series synthesizers. Actually, I was working for a project called the Electric Symphony Orchestra for which Buchla was the Technical Wizard.

This allegedly started when Daniel Ravenaugh, a classical pianist and conductor, was talking to Frank Zappa. He asked, "Frank, how come the kids don't like classical music?" Frank said, "Because it's not loud enough. If you hooked up amplifiers to the orchestra and made it really loud the kids would love it. That's why they like Rock & Roll" Apparently Ravenaugh believed he was serious and launched the ESO hoping to have the most popular classical music act in the world. Buchla was brought in to make the technology happen. There was also a marketing guy named Dick Zellner.

I had just gotten my MFA at Mills College and I called Don up and asked for a job. He said, "Can you solder." I said, "Not only can I solder, but I can design circuits and compose electronic music." He said, "We don't need a composer or circuit designer, but if you can solder and you can work for minimum wage, you're hired." I reported to work the next day.

The technical scheme for the ESO called for every instrument to have a pickup and it's on amplifier and speaker. Arrangements were made with the Barcus Berry company to provide the pickups. These were customized for each instrument. Most were piezoelectric with the transducer attached with epoxy to the mouthpieces or to the bridges. There was a entire set of orchestral percussion instruments each with a piezo pickup. It was pretty cool. Each pickup had a JFET preamp with an internal 9V battery.

In those days, there were no cheap 100 W amps and Buchla needed about 40 of them, so he designed one himself. It used one of the first integrated amplifier chips. That was my first job, wiring them up, testing them, and getting them to work. Don built one prototype, then gave me a schematic and I was expected to make them from the parts. I had almost total freedom as to how I proceeded from there as long as I was making them fast enough. He trusted and respected the people that worked for him, but he would get aggravated when he discovered cold solder joints. In the spirit of full disclosure, the first couple of amplifiers didn't work when I finished building them and Buchla fixed them for me. After a while, I got the knack and could do it myself.

He expressed disapproval by saying what was wrong - "There's a short across the inputs" - and then walking away to do something else. When he was happy with what I had done, he would hang out and chat about something, for a short time at least. For some reason, at that time I was fascinated by compensation capacitors on Op Amp circuits, and I tried to get him to teach me how to pick the right value to use. This was very important to me; we were talking circuit designer to circuit designer. At one point, he said you choose the right value by the sound you want. If you want it to sound like a Moog, use this value, say 20 pF, if you want a Buchla, use 10 pF. (I forget the exact values). He said if I wanted a Moscovitz sound, pick some other value. I was so happy; there could be the Moscovitz sound, all I had to do was pick the right capacitor value.

When I think back now, I was very naive asking very elementary things. When I saw him about 20 years later and told him I was working at Bell Labs as an electrical engineer, he looked a little surprised, but was kind enough to suppress it pretty well.

In a couple of weeks the 40 amplifiers were finished. And it was time to get the speakers. These were provided by Cerwin Vega in Los Angeles. The ESO rented a big truck and I got the job of driving down to get the speakers.

But it's getting late little Kassen, and it's time for bed. Next time I'll tell you about driving a truck down the coast of California, visiting the Cerwin Vega factory, learning about their quality control system, and finally hearing the voices of the instruments though the amplifiers I had made all by myself. .

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Last edited by mosc on Tue Apr 26, 2005 9:30 am; edited 1 time in total
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diskonext



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PostPosted: Tue Apr 26, 2005 2:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Aaaaw, grandpa, we ain't tired yet!
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Kassen
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 26, 2005 6:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

That was realy great. Thanks!

So, how popular did this orchestra get?

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jkn



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PostPosted: Tue Apr 26, 2005 6:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

This is fun. Please go on...
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dmosc



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PostPosted: Tue Apr 26, 2005 7:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

GRANDPA mosc!?!?!

/me looks quisically over at his wife. Is there something I don't know??

hehe
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 26, 2005 7:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Great story! I want to hear more!
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 26, 2005 8:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

dmosc wrote:
GRANDPA mosc!?!?!


Yeah, he´s realy old. You see, I´m trying to get him into new stuff.

Like turntables.

;¬)

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 26, 2005 9:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

The trip down to LA in the rented Ryder truck was great fun. I had never driven a truck before. I was amazed at all the communication from hand gestures, lights flashing and horn honking with other truck drivers. It was similar to the fraternity of motorcycle riders when they are on the road. Anyhow, the drive took about 8 hours. I pulled into the loading bay at Cerwin Vega and introduced myself. They knew I was coming and had stuff all ready to load. There were a couple of young Mexican cats there to load all the stuff into the truck. While waiting I got a tour of the factory from one of the techs.

The most interesting part of the tour was the testing room. I was totally disappointed. A guy was in there with a signal generator. He's hook up a speaker and sweep the oscillator up and down one time. If he didn't hear anything break up, then it was a good one. I asked, "Don't you check for flatness of response and phase distortion?". He laughed and said, "No." I also learned that "breaking up" was a relative term. A little crackle once in a while didn't count he said. I was completely disillusioned.

When I got back to the truck to leave, the Mexican guys pointed out that there was about 20% of the truck being unused. They said they needed to take some packages up to Oakland and if I wanted to make a couple of hundred bucks, I could give them and the packages a lift back to the Bay Area. Being that at the time I was getting only $3.50 an hour, that seemed like a reasonable offer. We picked up the packages in East LA. They had a fresh, herbal aroma. Of course, they gave me a little sample so I could be sure eveything was on the up and up. I was feeling pretty good that I decided to major in music composition at that time. Anyway, the extra money helped pay for a new 26 gallon aquarium my wife was lusting after.

Barcus Berry Preamp
Back at Buchla's place in Berkeley, we began setting up some instrument rigs to hear what we had. I told Don about Vega's quality control proceedures. He wasn't surprised. We had several stringed instruments with Barcus Berry bridges from Kamamoto in Oakland. These were just slightly better than student grade instruments. Don began to spend a lot of time playing the various instruments, especially the strings, though the amplifiers and the new speakers. He experimented with a lot of changes to the JFET preamps. He designed different EQ circuits to be built into theh preamp for each instrument. After he figured out what he wanted, he had me retrofit all of the preamps we were to use for the entire orchestra. That was a horrible job because it was easy to cut your fingers on the sharp metal boxes they used.

The next big thing I remember was a pre-rehearsal at the Berkeley High School Auditorium. We had a small orchestra. These were professional musicians; many from the San Fransisco, Oakland and San Jose Symphonies. During the course of the project, I got to be good friends with many of these musicians. The first rehearsal was quite revealing. The relatively small amps and speakers we were using just didn't sound loud enough. Controlling the volume was difficult as well. The tonal balance was awfull.

Inside the Barcus Berry Preamp
The most serious problem was with the strings. In order to save money, there were just 4 violins, 2 violas, 2 celli, and 1 or 2 basses (I can't remember). The rich string orchestral sound of many violins playing together was missing. It was also very difficult to control the volume.

Back at Don's place the next day, it was apparent to me that he had already come up with some solutions over night. He gave us technicians plans to build a big board of 200 Series modules to process the instruments. Each instrument was given a VCA channel. There were special fader boxes for control voltages to be built to control the VCAs. This was a sort of a big synthesizer mixer system. By clever mixing the control voltages from these faders, you could have sub-mixes for each of the sections as well as individual control of the instruments. Signals form the VCAs could be patched to several types of filters as well. This included some nice VCFs. Then the signals went back to the amplifiers and the Vega speakers.

One day while we were building all this stuff I heard Beethoven's 6th Symphony coming from the studio room adjacent to where I was working. Don was in there working on something. I was soldering VCA modules. Then he came in and said, "Howard, come with me. I want you to listen to something." I came in and there was a turntable playing the Beethoven. He asked, "How do you think this sounds?". I listened very carefully. I said, "It sounds like a mono mix to me, but other than that it sounds good. Why do you ask?" Then without saying a word, he reaches down to the module I had never seen before and pulls out a patch cord connected to a sawtooth LFO. Immediately the music dropped in pitch by a minor 3rd, but the tempo didn't change. I was blown away.

Buchla had built the first voltage controlled digital delay circuit. I had never heard a digital delay before. At that time there weren't any commercially available. I congratulated Don. I told him I though this was a significant breakthrough. I immediately started turing the knobs to hear how it could mangle Beethoven. He seemed very pleased with this invention, but he is very modest and shuned all praise. Still, I believe he enjoyed my being enthusiastic about it. In fact, he let me play around with it for about an hour while he went back into his office - whistling. When he came out, he gave me some plans, a bunch of parts, and asked me to build 4 or 6 of them, I don't remember the exact number.

That night I told my wife about the voltage controlled digital delay. She didn't get all the excited, but I could hardly sleep. I couldn't wait to get back to building them and then hearing what they would do to thicken up that strings. Maybe this electric orchestra thing was really going to work.

But that's enough for today. Be good children and I'll tell you how the delays sounded with the live stings and about the great race to build the monster mixer and giant PA.

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elektro80
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 26, 2005 9:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Very Happy
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 26, 2005 9:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

This is great! you should do a book, with a cd included for reference!
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 26, 2005 10:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Howard has so many excellent stories.. like the "garcia tapes" etc. etc. etc. There MUST be a book!
Very Happy

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 27, 2005 2:37 am    Post subject: Re: Grandpa Mosc, tell us a story? Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Kassen wrote:
Grandpa Mosc, grandpa Mosc.....
:¬p

these kids are so disrespectful of older people. just wait to be an old fart and you'll see for yourself Twisted Evil
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 27, 2005 3:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I'm captivated by this story. Did the electric orchestra project succeed? Did Buchla develop the delay further? Did the Mexicans get caught?
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 27, 2005 3:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Mohoyoho wrote:
I'm captivated by this story. Did the electric orchestra project succeed? Did Buchla develop the delay further? Did the Mexicans get caught?


If Steven Spielberg directs the movie, will Tom Cruise play Howard? Who will be Buchla? Sean Connery or John "Otto" Cleese?

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 27, 2005 5:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I pretty sure the butler did it.

This is awesome! I can't wait to hear the rest!
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 27, 2005 6:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Excellent mosc!

An electro-music thriller from real life... Can't wait for the next installment! Very Happy

DJ
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 27, 2005 6:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Construction the new voltage controlled delay modules was a great learning experience for me. I was given the job of picking up components at the various suppliers that Buchla used. Sometimes its great to be a gofer. I learned a great deal just picking up stuff for him.

When the delays modules and the VCA Series 200 stuff was assembled, we had another rehearsal, just for the strings. Ravenaugh conducted and Don tried various adjustments on the delays. To me, it sounded like a reverb of sorts. Better than a naked amplified violin, but not thick and lush. At times Don put some slow modulation on the delay times, but this made the pitches sound a bit off. There was still the volume problem.

I remember Ravenaugh was very disappointed. I think he expected the delays to make a couple of violins sound like an entire section. He made some characteristic very caustic remarks. This got to me, but Buchla never seemed to get upset, or at least he kept his feelings very much under control. I don't think Ravenaugh planned for any experimentation; he was impatient. He was also paying the bills.

The next few days were pretty slow at the Electric Symphony Orchestra. In retrospect the it would appear that the principals were probably mulling over the strategy. Don put me to work stuffing boards for some 200 Series modules that were on order. By this time, I become obsessive about making good solder joints; I was becoming a respectable solder jerk. As the modules got completed, they were added to what was becoming a huge 200 Series system in the main studio. It was beautiful.

One day when Buchla was out I got to playing with this system and built a huge self-playing patch. The Buchla 200 Series was designed for quadraphonic sound. It was easy to have stuff panning around the room. The synth was big enough that one could have 5 or 6 pretty complex patches playing simultaneously. I was having a blast. The patch played itself without human intervention, using sequencers, random voltages and triggers, and groups of LFOs to generate events. We would call this a noodle today, but then we used the term self-playing patches.

When Buchla came back into the studio he immediately said, "What's this? Who did this?". I said, "I did, Don. I'm sorry, I didn't think there was anything special set up." I really though I screwed up. Sometimes he would have some experiments patched up. He just stood there and listened very intently for what seemed like forever to me, but was probably only a half minute or something. Then he looked me right in the eyes; like I was some completely new person; like he just noticed me. He said, "Oh, there was nothing set up. Feel free to play with the system as much as you want. I like this. You have a talent for this." To say that made my day would be an understatement.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, one day I showed up to work and there was a huge change - a coup d'etat. Don introduced me to the new guy I'd never seen before, Peter LeBlanc. Buchla said I was working for Peter from now on. I was given an address in San Fransisco in a warehouse district to go to work.

Getting the straight story was impossible for a pion like me, but I speculated that Ravenaugh had been talking to some other people and was told that Buchla's scheme of individual amplifiers wouldn't work. Ravenaugh decided he needed a conventional mixing console and a giant PA system like rock bands use. We were going to build a huge custom board that LeBlanc was designing. It was to be completed in about 6 weeks. I was on the construction team.

Before I left, I asked Don if he thought this was a good idea. He did not say yes or no. He said he was still associated with the project, but in a different way from now on. I told him I wanted to work for him, not the ESO. I asked for if I could stay and work for him. He said, no. I must have looked pretty dejected. He told me to cheer up and go work with Peter. I remember him saying something like, "It won't be that bad."

Work at Peter's was really a great deal of fun. He had a company of about 6 guys who had been working with him for years building custom boards and sound systems for major rock bands. These guys were what you'd stereotypically call today San Fransisco hippies. Any time they got together it was party time; work or play were one in the same. One of the guys was a psychic numerology type, always commenting on the cosmic influences on events. When we first stenciled the letters ESO on a shipping crate he became very somber, commented that ESO was a bad choice of letters - numerologically it did not portend good things.

Peter was a good practical engineer. He put together a mixer design from stuff he had done before - nothing fancy. The circuits were already designed and there were was already a stock of parts. The process involved building a big board with lots of faders, meters, and switches - and wiring it all up. It was a huge project nonetheless.

I enjoyed working with Peter's crew but it was starting to be just a job. After all, I was a composer; how did I get into soldering mixing boards for a project that technically was a nightmare? From time to time Zellner and Ravenaugh would ask me if I though Peter would finish the board in time for the opening concert.

I was dubious. Putting this stuff together was going to take months of time which we didn't have. Ravenaugh had already committed to a schedule for the Electric Symphony Orchestra galla debut at Zellerbach Auditorium in Berkeley. He was already inviting some of the biggest reviewers from all over the world. The date was cast in stone.

Then, fortunately for me, we got word that there was going to be a joint architecture - both Don's individual amplifiers and the conventional PA. The scheme was that the individual amplifier would play during the low volume passages, and that the PA would come in during the forte parts. This was too absurd to believe. How could all this ever work? It's my opinion that the dual architecture was a way to insure there would be something working when the curtain went up. It increased the odds.

Boom, I was transferred back to Buchla. I was to work with Bob Miner on getting the individual amplifier system working and ready for the concert. From then on I was told that my line of control was up to Ravenaugh, not Buchla.

While I was working for Peter in San Fransisco, Don had continued working on improving the individual amplifier system. Instead of the home-brew 100 watt amplifiers I had worked on, he was now using more powerfull Crown amps for the more bassy instruments; basses, celli, trombones, etc. These were reliable bruts, but very heavy.

Bob Miner and I devised a way to package all of the amps together in shippable wooden crates which we designed. We hired an old friend of mine, Stuart Roffman, to build them. We devised wiring harness to multi-pin mil-spec connectors. All this could be set up and hooked up quickly. There were 4 or 5 crates of amplifiers. If I remember, the total power was be about 7 KW. We drew up wireing diagrams for the connectors and gave them to DeBlanc's people. We were working 16 to 20 hour days. What a monster. How would it ever work?

That's all we have time for today. Next time we can learn about the selection of the super PA, the marathon working on merging of the systems the day before the concert, and maybe even the mystery talented sound engineer would would run this thing during the performance.

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my music and other stuff

Last edited by mosc on Thu Apr 28, 2005 9:03 am; edited 1 time in total
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Kassen
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PostPosted: Wed Apr 27, 2005 6:39 pm    Post subject: Re: Grandpa Mosc, tell us a story? Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

K wrote:
Kassen wrote:
Grandpa Mosc, grandpa Mosc.....
:¬p

these kids are so disrespectful of older people. just wait to be an old fart and you'll see for yourself Twisted Evil


Actually, being born in ´77 myself and having been raised mostly by a father born in 1919, I take "old people" as a given and have made trying to make use of their experience and knowledge a second nature. If you look up the history of the board you´ll see I only started calling Mosc "grandpa" after he -rightly- called me young. Even if H. and me have had our differences at times and look at some things from different perspectives, I meant this as a expression of fondness and respect and trust H. knows this.

If I realy didn´t respect Mosc I wouldn´t ask him to tell a story, as it happens, I have a great interest in the early modulars, particularly Serge and Buchla and I happened to know Mosc worked with Buchla. Bell Labs is off the scale, as far as I´m concerend.

From the same perspective I see where you are coming from and in general I agree, it´s just that your position here is misplaced, IMHO.

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 28, 2005 8:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

i just finished reading Analog Days about two weeks ago and another book called Electronic and Computer Music (a chronological history, really). In light of that your stories, and this thread, are a great treat!
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 29, 2005 10:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

"solder jerk"

Great pun
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 29, 2005 10:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Sorry, I won't be able to add the next installment for a couple of days - going to BENT in NYC and North East Analog Heaven in Boston. Very Happy
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 29, 2005 12:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

One day, while I was working at Peter's on the big console, Zelner came by and asked me to go home to get a tape of some of my electronic music and meet them at some place called McCune Sound in San Fransisco to evaluate some PA speakers. When I got there, Buchla, Ravenaugh, Zelner, Peter and Bob Minor were there. Me met the fellow named John Meyer. John explained that he was building some new PA systems that were designed with a new philosophy - the PA would be a full-range, low-distortion, hi-fi system with wide dispersion. These were tri-amplified systems. John wasn't sure the rockers would like this approach, but when thought it might be a natural for the Electric Symphony Orchestra.

These were BIG systems designed not for small clubs or concert halls, but for stadiums. To demo the system one was set up in the back of the warehouse where the company was located and we walked down the street about one block. Then John gave a hand signal to someone back at the buildning and he played my tape, a piece called "Period 17". It is a very full range abstract electronic composition with some heavy FM sounds that sound a bit like a helicopter.

Well, when this music started coming out of John's speakers a block away I was so overcome with emotion I could hardly stand. My music was bouncing off of buildings and coming at me from all angles. It was LOUD, VERY LOUD, but not distored a bit. The highs and lows were incredible. I felt like someone had just injected a drug into my arm. It was perhaps the biggest thrill I ever had as a composer.

The piece lasted about 10 minutes. Nobody said a word while it was playing, but everyone was looking around in all directions. When it was over John said something like, "We can play some other music, but that one was a pretty good demo and we have to keep these test to a minimum because the neighbors sometimes complain." I remember Zelner said, "Oh, that was a good demo. For a while there I couldn't tell if we were listening to music or being attacked by the Marines." It was very intense.

Later, back in the building, John explained what he was doing. He's a brilliant guy. I was immediately a big fan of his, if you can be a fan of an engineer. He was more of an artist than an engineer, but his art was sound reinforcement systems. These systems were perfect for electronic music.

John's systems were chosen to be used on stage with the orchestra. Peters' mixer would provide a stereo feed. The individual instrument speakers would also be used. The whole thing was to be set up and tested once, the day before the performance at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley.

About six months after the ESO premiere, I got a call from John Meyer at about midnight. He said it was an emergency and he had to see me immediately. He would come over to my place. I was, of course, very concerned. What could be so serious?

Well, he comes in carrying a paper bag and asks to go up to my studio. By then I have purchased a new Moog Modular system. John had this contraption that looked like a doctors stethescope hooked up to some small box. In the box was an audio driver connected to tubes that you put tightly into your ears. John wanted to use the Moog to generate very low frequencies to see if we could hear them.

In those days there were lots of arguments that people really can't hear low bass frequencies, but rather we feel them with our bodies. Most sound system designers didn't think you should pay for costly accurate low frequency reproduction if you could shake the audiences chests. John rigged up this box to do some low frequency experiments. He wanted to use my synthesizer and my ears. This would prove it, one way or the other.

Well, to make a long story short, you really can hear low bass with your ears, all the way down to 20 Hz. And with such good direct coupling, you can accruately hear distinct pitches too. It was amazing. I've never heard this effect on any other system; the experience was unique, but it proved to me that our perception is very keen in these lower two octaves of our hearing.

John was on cloud nine after we ran these experiments. He floated out of the house and went back to San Fransisco. That was the last time I saw him. Since then he started his own company, John Meyer Sound, and has done very well. His systems are recognized as among the finest in the world. I see them several times a year when I go to concerts at Carnagie Hall in New York; they are the house speakers there.

Since I started writing this topic, a lot a memories have come back. This time with John is one of them. I found his email address on a web directroy and sent him a "remember me" note. A couple of weeks ago, he called and we had a wonderful chat.

Anyhow, I still have to tell you the story of the big performance at Zellerbach Hall. What an amazing night that was; truly a night to remember.

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Last edited by mosc on Wed Jun 29, 2005 1:32 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Kassen
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 29, 2005 12:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Yay! more epic greatness!
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 29, 2005 4:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

mosc wrote:
"Oh, that was a good demo. For a while there I couldn't tell if we were listening to music or being attacked by the Marines."

WOW Exclamation Very Happy

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Last edited by seraph on Thu Jan 25, 2007 5:54 am; edited 1 time in total
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