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Let's Listen To It!

For those of you who don't have a long history with me, I'm going to devote this post to some serious navel-gazing into the musty sections of yore. Feel free to move along; I'll be back to the subject at hand soon enough.

Still with me? Good! As I've come to the end of another calendar year and semester (project paper done!), I had a moment to reflect a bit like so many others do and thought it high time to comment on something I've spent some time on during the past few weeks: the HHK (and C) tapes. OK, so I was also spending time with this stuff after cleaning them up on the computer for CD burning. This stuff was recorded in the late 1980s, starting in 1986 or so, by myself, Lee, Phil, and myself. Mr. Shawn C. joined us in late 1987. The tapes I've been going over were done around the time we graduated from high school, but I'd been doing stuff like that for years prior. As my family/friends can tell you, I've always been into electronic gear, particularly A/V equipment. When I was a kid, one of the coolest (OK, cool is a relative term, no?) devices available to me was the tape recorder. I have memories of recording the sound of A Charlie Brown Christmas on a portable recorder stuck next to the TV's speaker. It was a kick just to be able to listen to the show played back like that (needless to say, I was all over the VCR when my Dad brought home our first Betamax!). I and my brother were recording our own original tapes before long; they were crude, even compared to the ones I'm going to talk about here. But we had a great time.

Another thing to keep in mind: my older brothers are Firesign Theatre fans and got me listening to their LPs at an early age (warped sense of humor formed early). I managed to spread this appreciation to some friends and this undoubtedly had some influence on the tapes. Fellow (kids?) taping veterans, perhaps you will correct me, but one of the reasons we were driven to do these things in the relatively elaborate manner in which we did them was because of those Firesign LPs (oh yes, we also were geeky high school guys with no girlfriends...well maybe Phil had one). I was always impressed at the level of detail that those guys put into their albums and we tried to do that in our own small way. We spent a lot of time on these tapes and considering the fact that we had very crude technology at our disposal, I think we did rather well. On that note, let's get into what we were working with:

And now, some old tech!

These recordings were the product of purely analog technology. Digital audio recording was around then, but not at all accessible to your average teenager. Yes, this was the 1980s and we were cookin' with tape; analog 1/4" tape. Here's a picture of the model of recorder we primarily used:


No, that isn't the machine we actually used, but the same model (I guess I'm too lazy to dust off the old beast--yes, I still own the thing!--for a picture). It's a two track stereo deck. The real feature that made this kind of deck so useful for us was the fact that it could record on a channel by itself and would mix the microphone and the line inputs together. What this meant was that we could use background music/effects and do the old Beatles "track bounce" trick where you re-record a track and keep combining it until you get a multitrack recording on the cheap. We made ample use of this feature as well as the variable echo feature.

We had a pair of cheap Sony mics that we borrowed from our old friend Jeff (and, IIRC never gave back!). We had a pair of homemade small stands for them that sat atop a music stand (no shortage of them in my house growing up!). The mic setup was not unlike an old time radio program setup where the performers come and go to the mics, sound effects and everything. I had all sorts of sources for music and other noises; pretty much whatever I could get my hands on. After we'd done a take of a scene, someone would have to say, "let's listen to it!" My only technical regret is that I didn't get adventurous and do some real razorblade editing. Then again, tape was expensive and not easy to find, so...

So, that's the background and I'll end it there for now. I'll be back with another installment where I'll get into the actual tapes. Bye!!!


Well that's a good start for the liner notes. Now stop yer jawin', Sponk and release the tapes!

I was probably more influenced by SCTV at first. If only Prof. Qwert was along before "It's So Hot!"

Hi John! (and others)

Thanks for beginning this rewind down memory lane. So far I'm really enjoying it. One thing that really leapt out while reading what you've shared so far is how central you were to the project's very existence. For instance, I KNOW that Firesign Theater was an essential ingredient. I'm not totally sure I would've understood what we were trying to do without their example. On the technological front, if you hadn't had this interest in A/V equipment we would've been more or less stymied. Trying to do this stuff on an everyday tape recorder would've been nearly pointless. You gave the team its role-model, its recording-power, and provided the world's greatest Grimace-voice. To you, sir, I send my salute. Huzzah!!!!!!

Thanks guys. I'm working on the next post which should be up soon!

I want my microphones back!