A peak into the mind of John Hampton

Plug in that old thinking cap … here we go!


I’ve got a couple of writings (blogs,globs… yeah, globs!) a coming right behind this, where we’ll have a chat about why CDs really DO suck and why herds of people going back to vinyl are NOT just taking part in this week’s flavor… this ain’t no Hula-Hoop, gents and ladies. This is a perceptible reality that makes your listening experience with vinyl records (let’s just call ’em records) a more rewarding event than the same occurrence with CDs. But do you know why you are noticing it NOW for the first time? It’s simple: we have finally become so used to CDs as the norm that a more true to life sonic event is really obvious. So I guess you are wondering how I came to this,. right?  It all started with a chat from a Mr. Rupert Neve, the most well known name in audio science, at a speech he gave at a SPARS luncheon several years ago. It so enrapt me that I believe I still remember every word. And if you don’t know whop Rupert Neve is, you are either very young or very uneducated. He lives in Wimberly. Texas.

Wimberly Texas. Why, there’s Wimberly now!!

I just can NOT think of a better place to invent audio gear.

Mr Neve is a British chap who knows his circuitry, and has an uncanny way of bringing that circuitry to the sound of the music that he loves.R’s (I call him R) life’s goal has been to get the sound of music (yes, he’s bringing Mary Poppins) that you hear from electronics as close to the sound you hear in those two ear holes on either side of your head as he possibly can. Oh, It’s a breeze. Couple of tubes, a bias oscillation transistor, throw in a couple of variable capacitors … you’re DONE!  The stuff he designs and bnuilds is in such high demand, and was constructed so well (until a BIG MEAN GERMAN company bought him out), that audio people have seareched high and low for his older equipment, but the new is just as good. And he seems to be taking his newer gear more toward that “live in the audience” sound. Portico, for example. And Rupert loves analog(ue) and vinyl, and hates CDs. Why? Read on.

Now if doing a bit of comprehensive reading isn’t exactly your thing, as mine is not, we can always start with Dr. Seuss…Hampton style.

If a train is moving toward you, the sound of the horn is slightly higher in pitch  to you than it is to the engineer. That’s called a “Doppler pitch shif”t. And as it passes, then moves away from you, there’s a split second that the same two pitches are the same pitch., then you hear it bend down to become LOWER in pitch as it moves away from you. This doppler pitch shift is also observed when one looks at a star. Ifit looks bluish, it is higher than normal becauseit is moving toward you. Same with a pinkish or reddish color. Those stars are lower in pitch and are moving away from you. THAT … is why I say Dr. Suess, Hampton style. I wrote a book once called”One Fish, Two Fish …Red Shift Blue Shift”, a book for four year olds to start to understand how we can actually, by plotting the direction of all of the stars in the universe, eventually arrive at the precise point of the “Big Bang”. It’s in the children’s book section at Barnes and Noble, and if they’ve run out at Amazon, they’ll restock soon. Get one and read it to your 4-year old. Next … Why vinyl … AGAIN?

Yes, you in the red rubber suit …

ProTools 9 … One step closer to Photoshop for music.

Is our planet getting to be a wacky, whirlwind of a world that we wander in, or WHAT? I mean, everyone is afraid to do anything because no one knows if prices are going up more, or if they are going to come back to Earth. We just can’t get off the breast of Middle-East oil because environmentalists just won’t let us drill anywhere, for fear of wiping out the Flat-tongued Rainbow-Snail Hairless Marmot … though right beneath our feet there’s enough oil to keep the Sheiks from our doorstep for generations! Amidst all this,  technology allows almost anyone to make a record with a couple instruments and a laptop! Like I said, it’s a wacky world we’re wandering.

So it’s all in a big, weird state of flux, or rather flux NOT. But some things are moving forward; DAMN the torpedos. Like music technology, computer technology, ANY technology. And like I’ve said, it’s not a nice, straight line of advancement like it has been since the dawn of time. Instead of people designing “stuff”, people are designing computers that design “stuff”. Some computers are designing other computers that design “stuff” to make computers that design “stuff” better. What used to be a linear progress is becoming asymptotic, or exponential progress. ( Hint: These are words that are getting more and more airplay as time moves on.)

As technology marches blindly on, music technology marches with it. Save for one tiny difference. It seems as if the sonic part of music technology is going backwards as it marches … forward? Honestly! Imagine this: From the 1940s until the late eighties, recording to analog, magnetic tape was … well, it’s how it was done. The most popular means of recording music now is almost like it’s always been, except the advancement of the technology allows for cheaper microphones, less than high-fidelity processing, you know. . . junk. But it is by no means ALL junk. Some things cut through the sea of junk and make it to shore, and we find that it’s a really fantastic breakthrough. Let’s look at the most cutting edge breakthrough of them all: the recording medium. By today’s standards, the first digital (not analog) recording medium  was crap when compared to analog tape pressed onto good, virgin vinyl … at least to my two earholes. Call me nuts. But if I’m nuts, you’ve got to tell Jack White he’s nuts, too … (all if his THIRD MAN Records releases are vinyl.) And Ozzie (?), The Black Keys, Radiohead, Pearl Jam, The Black Crowes … about 99% of “ear-havers” on the planet. But not many will argue against the latest version of ProTools, easily the most used recording platform in the world. And now, you may, if you wish, mimic the sound of analog tape on each and every ProTools track!

But why in the world would the most popular digital recording medium in the world go to these kind of lengths to NOT SOUND DIGITAL? WHY? Thirty years of developing digital just to end up where we started? I don’t get it. Unless …

Unless it’s an admission that the pro-vinyl folks are right, and analog tape sounds better than digital no matter how much technology you put behind it. I say … not exactly. At least that’s not the whole story.

If you are a bad musician, and I include a voice as an instrument, you will NEVER be good. Never. Go back to school. But if you are a fair musician, ProTools can make you a better musician. But, go back to school anyway. We are already awash in mediocrity without your adding to the party! But if you are a pretty good musician, hang on to that tuition cash for a minute. Because ProTools MIGHT help you be good. And from good, it’s possible (possible) that you can get to great. Save for one caveat. There could be one teeny-weeny . problem with using it a lot. Live performance. Because ProTools 9 is out, and it’s one step closer to Photoshop for music.

There’s a feature in there (in ProTools) that can make your drummer steadier than he really is. DRAG. CLICK.  The world famous “Auto-Tune®” (now it’s “Melodyne®”) will make your out of tune singing on key. SHIFT DOUBLE-CLICK. Having a bit of trouble deciding when your equametric-paralyzer (tone) is helping,  or your compressor (dynamic range) is hurting? No worries, mate!. It can make those decisions for you.There are lots of presets that were dialed up by the smart guys who know all about it, because most read the old manuals! And lose that cheap guitar sound in a flash because there are plenty of pre-set amplifiers in there, too. From settings The Beatles dialed up, to Carlos Santana, and everything in between! If you keep running out of air because the key of the song never got a second thought, just sing one good chorus, and paste it in to all of the chori! If your drummer can’t get off work, Apple will give you some great drum parts, thanks to Apple Loops®! Yes, it’s a wanna-be’s dream come true. Now you can make a record all by your little lonesome, in your bedroom, after work (when you’re half beat and your girlfriend is getting real bored watching you indulge yourself.)  And when (if) that little jewel is all done,  just show it off on MySpace®, and maybe you can even get iTunes® or  uTones© to sell it. I can see the headlines now: AVERAGE LOCAL MUSICIAN DOES FAIR; SELLS MANY RECORDS ON WEBSITE! Mirabili dictu! Will miracles never cease? (This is one miracle that I often pray … will.)

I mean, why take all the time needed to deliver a touching, inspired, bring-’em-to-the-edge-of-tears-type vocal performance that has the power to change lives, … when you can just slack your way through one half-fast performance, then use the recorder like the coolest video game ever made … for a week? And speaking of inspired, I can tell you for sure that inspiration is hard to pull off even in the best of recording studios, if you have no feedback. How do you do it in your room, at night, after work, with your bored girlfriend trying to watch “Jersey Girls”? Or say that you are Mr. Virtuoso … don’t you need some kind of feedback? The word we are missing here is collaboration. Don’t you need someone to bounce ideas off of, like a band mate, or a producer, or even the engineer … (if you’re wise enough to hire a professional to help) Some sort of collaboration? Remember John and Paul, and then John or Paul? Was each alone really as good as both of them, together, swapping ideas?

Finally, notice that as technology shares in it’s breakthroughs, it begins to grow beyond our wildest dreams. And as the artist isolates more, adrift in that technology, music that warms the soul seems to become quieter, harder to hear.

Maybe it’s disappearing … just as fast as the Flat-tongued Rainbow-Snail Hairless Marmot.