Monday, July 29, 2013

HOME RECORDING STUDIO

For as long as I can remember music has been a major part of my life.  I was raised on hymns from the old blue Baptist Hymnal at the church for the most part.  We had a huge "portable" monograph record player at home but with only a few records to listen to on it.  I remember my dad had a small collection of Jim Nabors albums and mom had a Frankie Avelon record.  For a long time that was the extent of my exposure to music.

As my sisters began to grow older they started buy singles, or 45rpm records.  This was a cheap way to get the song you wanted plus an extra song on the flip side.  I think that was my introduction to popular music of the time.  I couldn't afford to spend money on records yet, I would have to get a little older before I delved into that.

One Christmas my Uncle Dan gave our family a membership to the American Music Club.  We were allowed to pick out three albums of which my uncle took upon himself to do for us.  He had a definite definition of what was "good" music that children should listen to.  He picked out a Peter Paul and Mary album, along with a Fifth Dimension album and a Joan Baez collection of songs in concert.  While I would come to enjoy these artists, at the time they weren't exactly the rock and roll that my sisters were listening to.  My taste in popular music at the time was AM radio and believe me, Joan Baez or Peter Paul and Mary were not part of the station's playlist.

Eventually my immediate elder sister bought herself a stereo.  Oh it was nice.  It had speakers that could be moved to get that stereo sound.  It had treble and bass knobs as well as a left/right knob to send the sound out one side or the other.  When she got this stereo, she joined the Columbia Music Club and got a dozen albums that were the kind of music that she loved and I would come to love.  I remember she had a Three Dog Night album along with James Taylor, Carol King, Chicago and a couple of sampler albums which had the likes of The Hollies, Al Kooper, Janis Joplin and other Columbia artists of the day.  These albums would become my base for all the music that would come later into my life.

My love for music continued to grow and one Christmas I received a "portable" cassette player/recorder.  I was about to enter a new phase in my music life.  I messed around with recording different things in different ways and basically ended up with a few tapes of just junk noise taken from day to day living in the house.  Then one day, on a cold January day in 1971, I attempted my first real recording.  The Kansas City Chiefs were playing the Minnesota Vikings in the fourth Super Bowl in history.  My personal assignment was to record the broadcast from the television onto a tape in my recorder.  I spent quite a bit of time thinking up how best to accomplish this.  The house would be noisy, so I would not be able to use the built in microphone for this.  The noise from the family would overtake the sounds from the television.  The result was a remote microphone that bypassed the built in microphone on the player.  Next I had to get that microphone right up next to the speaker so that the television would be the main sound being recorded.  I got some old play blocks and built me a stand of sorts for the microphone to sit on as it leaned directly against the television speaker.  This was going to work.

As the game started I began to record.  It was a painstaking chore.  I would pause the recording whenever a commercial came on and would start recording again when the game resumed.  I sat a foot away from the television for three quarters of the game pausing and starting never missing a beat.  This was going to be a recording I would keep forever.  The Chiefs were domination the game and it was coming to the fourth quarter when my first disaster in recording happened.  The game was on, the recorder was recording and my sister was getting ready to leave, probably to go to church.  Instead of walking behind the television and myself, she decided to cross the living room between my project and me.  The result was devastating  Her foot caught on the microphone cord send the microphone off into space, tumbling the tower that had held the microphone, and kicking the player a good two feet from the television.  I was crushed.  I had worked so hard on this project and now it was gone. She went ahead and left without missing a step and I could feel tears start to form in my eyes.  Why?  How?  I became angry and started to yell at her through my tears as she left.  Dad told me to settle down, it was just a football game but he said it with disdain in his voice.  I don't blame him or Elaine or anyone else.  They did not realize what this project meant to me.  I stopped recording and threw the tape in the trash.  It was not worth anything to me or anyone else anymore.  Just another junk recording. I eventually recovered from the disaster and, although not forgotten, I managed to put it behind me.  Still I kind of wished I had kept that cassette.  It would have been interesting to listen to it now, even if it did have the sudden ending that it did.

A few years passed and eventually my sister was getting married.  My new brother in law had a REAL stereo and so Elaine was not going to be needing hers.  One of the nicest things she could have done she did.  She gave me her old stereo with the removable speakers and left me her album collection.  The stereo was great.  At last I was going to be in my own room and be able to listen to my own music.  From that day forward, I have never gone anywhere without music by my side.  Elaine was one of the few people who knew what music meant to me back in those days.  For my birthday that year, she gave me a single of Bill Whither's "Ain't No Sunshine".  I still have that 45 and always will.

The record collection she left me was awesome in title only.  She had some great albums that are still classics today.  The problem with her collection that she left me was that she didn't understand the proper care of albums as I did.  She had taken all of those irritating paper sleeves out of the albums and slid her records in and out of the rough cardboard jacket for years.  When I got the records, they were nearly destroyed with scratches and pops and clicks.  I threw them away and began my own collection, which included buying a lot of the albums she had previously had.  It was my collection though and I took extremely good care of them and listened to music every day.  My love for music started to grow and would continue to grow even up to today.

Then came the time I had to figure out how to take the music with me for long distances.  My elder sister had moved to Georgia and the family vacation became trips to Atlanta every year by car.  It was a long drive and I would need my music to get me through the ordeal.  And so recording studio #2 came into existence.  I thought long and hard about how to make a good recording of my albums and eventual, after a little trial and error came up with the best studio I could at that time of my life.  I took the two speakers from the stereo and set them opposite each other with the tops touching and the bottom of the speakers spread out, forming a triangle.  In between these two speakers I would place the remote microphone.  After this, I would place a big pillow on each of the four sides of the speakers with one more pillow sitting on top.  It was as close to sound proof as I would get.  I would then play my records with sound coming from deep inside the pillows while the microphone did it's job.  Phone ringing or people walking in would not penetrate the pillows or the wall of sound that was being generated inside those pillows.  The result was a mono perfection recording.  On the trips I would then sit next to the window in the back seat with my head resting on the cassette player and the volume turned down so as to not disturb dad and listen to my music the entire trip.  My journey through life with music was continuing and getting better by the year.

Finally, by means of getting a job and making money, I was able to come up with recording studio #3.  It was a stereo cassette deck from Radio Shack that plugged directly into the stereo.  No more pillows. no more microphones.  The only problem was if someone walked across the floor to hard it might make the needle jump causing me to begin the recording over.  The next step was to buy a little stereo cassette player to install in my car.  The transition was complete. I was making my own tapes and they went with me everywhere I went.  I would never be without music again.

Following that I suppose there were recording studios #3A, #3B etc etc.  These days though, there is no recording.  The music is digital.  It is a matter of copying files from a compact disk to my computer.  As a matter of fact, now I just download the music from the internet and store all of my albums and music on my laptop.  That laptop is my music machine now and with the help of a tiny little MP3 player, I can take thousands of songs with me everywhere I go.

It will always be that way now.  Thousands of songs are at the touch of my finger wherever I am.  I like it that way.  What is fascinating looking back on it though, is how technology has advanced to the point where I can have these thousands of songs with me and with very little effort find them to listen to without searching for them.

Music has been my life.  It is my life.  And now I can see that it will be my life until my life is over.  Then someone else gets the music to take with them everywhere they go.  The major gift that technology has given me, along with HDTV, is the gift of ALL of my music and I love that gift.

Monday, July 15, 2013

RESPECT THE SYSTEM - IT WORKS

My son, Brett, played baseball from the time he could walk until he was eighteen.  He knew the game well and was an excellent fielder and learned to be pretty good with a bat.  From the age of sixteen to the end of his career at eighteen he was close to the top on his team, if not at the top, in on base percentage, batting average, walks, and a strikeout was a rarity.  He had a good eye for the baseball and usually could take some close calls that would make me sigh until the umpire called it a ball.  He had a really good eye when at the plate.

When he was seventeen though, there was one game that year that drove both of us crazy.  Brett walked up to the plate and was called out on strikes his first at bat.  The same thing happened his second at bat and he had a few words for the umpire as he walked from the plate.  The umpire stared at him as he walked away and I knew that if he said something to the umpire again, it would be an early night for the kid.  As he entered the dugout after his second strikeout I walked over to him to, first off tell him NOT to talk to the umpire again and secondly to ask him what was going on.

From my vantage point standing next to the fence in shallow right field I could tell that the umpire was calling some pitches that were a little high  strikes, but the umpire was calling them consistently which an umpire should try for.  When I got to Brett I asked him why he was standing and watching the strikes go by.  He matter of factually told me that those pitches were not strikes, but rather at his shoulders or higher.  He was not going to swing at pitches that were obviously not strikes even though the umpire continued to call them strikes.  Brett was not happy.  I found myself lecturing Brett that if the umpire was calling high pitches strikes, then they were strikes.  What he thinks did not matter, but it was what the umpire was seeing that mattered.  If he called them strikes, they were strikes.  I explained that he could at least try to make contact with those high strikes and foul them off or possibly come away with a hit, but the umpire was not going to change the strike zone that night just for him.  He grudgingly took my advice and began to view the high pitches as strikes instead of having a battle of will with the umpire over what was a strike and what wasn't.

I tell this story in light of Saturday nights outcome of the Zimmerman trial being held in Florida.  Whether you agreed with the decision the jury came to or not, the system worked the way it was suppose to.  I am not saying the system is perfect, it isn't.  I do however firmly believe that it is the best system of justice in the world and the only way that it does work is by accepting what the jury concludes, respecting that decision and move on.

I can't say I have always agreed with every jury decision that I have witnessed in these cases that carry a national interest with them.  For example the O.J. Simpson trial.  O.J. was acquitted with what I think was much more evidence against him then the prosecution presented against Zimmerman.  The majority of the country was certain that Simpson was guilty and still do, but the jury in California did not see it that way.  That is what it comes down to.  Simpson was not guilty no matter what the majority of people thought.  Case closed.

More recently was the Casey Anthony case.  Casey was accused of murdering her daughter.  It seemed like a slam dunk case.  The whole country was shocked when the jury came back with a not guilty verdict on Anthony.  I was stunned when I heard it.  I had followed that trial very closely and from what I had heard and seen, there was no way that she was going to be set free.  I was wrong.  The jury did not see it the same way that most Americans did.

Those are but two examples when the jury came back with a verdict that seemed impossible to even consider as a possibility.  Other cases that catch the national interest have gone the way the majority of people think they should go.  Todd Peterson for example was convicted of murdering his wife.  The famous serial killer trials have all gone they way they were expected to go.  The thing to remember though is that any one of those cases may have gone the opposite way if the jury saw it differently.

I served on a jury during a murder trial once and it was not easy.  In Missouri anytime the prosecution is going to be asking for the death penalty, the jury must be "death qualified".  What this means is that no one who is adamantly against the death penalty can not sit on the jury.  Every person chosen for the jury has to be willing to consider giving the death penalty to the defendant.  We sat for over a week through the trial.  We were sequestered just as the jury in the Zimmerman trial were.  No television, no radio, no talking to anyone that wasn't on the jury, completely cut off from the world and what was going on in order to get as fair of a trial as possible.  We found the defendant guilty of capital murder.  We took our time in coming to this conclusion.  It was not taken lightly as we went back and forth before all of us agreed on the guilty verdict.  Then we had to go through the penalty phase.  Even though this was a "death qualified" jury we could not get an unanimous decision on the penalty.  It was 11-1 for recommending to the judge the death penalty.   The one hold out had a philosophy that putting the defendant in prison for life would be a much worse penalty then death.  Because of this one juror the defendant was given life without parole instead of the death penalty.

That was my experience on being a member of a jury.  After the trial we learned about all kinds of evidence that we did not know about.  The evidence had been kept out by the judge.  In other words, we did not have a whole and complete picture of everything that might effect the outcome of the trial because the system makes sure that only evidence that directly effects the event that was being put on trial was given to the jury.  Meanwhile people who were observing the trial from the public had access to a lot of information that we did not have.  Some of this evidence may have effected what we decided or not.  The point is that the public had a far different view of the crime then the jury had.

It is the way the system works.  None of us in the public were sitting in those chairs on the jury.  We were pounded and fed information constantly over the course of the trial that the jury did not have.  The jury members were there for every minute of testimony while most of the public were not.  I would be willing to bet that a lot of people made up their minds based solely on editorials given by the news agencies rather than listening to the complete testimony.  The testimony the majority of us did hear were but soundbites that the press decided were the important parts discarding the rest of the testimony.

The Zimmerman jury worked with what they had.  I believe they deliberated fully and sincerely.  I believe they took their job very seriously and tried to come up with the proper verdict based on the evidence they had and the testimony they had heard during the course of the trial.  I believe they did what they thought was right.

That is why the system works.  Perhaps the system may make a mistake once in awhile, but I truly believe that the vast majority of the time the system gets it right.  We, the general public, are not in the courtroom non stop during the trial.  We are not sitting there observing witnesses in person and hearing their words in person.  A witness can come across very differently in person to a juror as opposed to watching a sound bite of a witness on television.  The jurors are able to see the evidence first hand and are able to take evidence and look at it closely as they attempt to come to the correct decision.

The jury spoke.  The system works as long as we have faith in the system.  Having faith in the system means that we respect the jury.  It requires that we respect the job the jury was faced with and that we respect the decision that the jury comes up with after due deliberation.

When trials begin to be decided by public opinion, then the system breaks and ceases to be.  There is a process set in place to allow those who feel they are innocent of breaking the laws they were convicted of.  It is the appeal process.  The system also requires that the state bringing charges prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty.  If they do not accomplish this, then they did not do their job and it is the duty of the jury to acquit.  That is what this jury did.  They weighed the evidence and decided that the prosecution had not presented enough evidence to put Zimmerman away for up to thirty years or life.

The system worked.  To keep it working the decision of the jury must be respected whether it be George Zimmerman, O.J. Simpson, Casey Anthony, Jeffery Dahmer, Todd Peterson, Susan Smith or any other number of defendants who were either found guilty or innocent by the best system in the world.  We must continue believing in the system the way it is.  It is by far the best in the world..