Zen and the Art of…

That’s my column theme for November. My editor, Tom Kenny, suggested I read the classic 1974 book about ‘Motorcycle Maintenance’ by Robert Pirsig. It is, of course, not exclusively about keeping your bike running so much as it is about the philosophy of the ‘je ne sai quoi,’ the elusive quality of ‘quality.’

I’m only 120 pages into the e-book version and there are so many parallels to our industry that it’s worth reading if only to remind us cave dwellers to zoom up, out and away from the extreme scrutiny we place on, uh, EVERYTHING!

Our industry is such a mix of Art and Science that there will always be avenues to explore, new things to learn and new techniques to try. Ours is undeniably an environment where Steam Punk lives! We embrace and interface vintage vacuum tube and analog tape technology with digital interfaces and computer-based workstations. We have Zen Masters who can speak several geek languages.

For such a niche industry, there are so many sub-niches…

As a technically inclined person, I have learned how to think geek but speak in emotional terms that non-geeks can understand. There are plenty of people in our industry who are artists first and technicians last, but the reverse is equally true. We have famous engineers like George Massenburg who design gear that is an extension of the way they work – George’s recordings and mixes are uniquely his.

And then there are those classic engineers like Bones Howe, who we pester for technical details but who claim the secret to their success like this. “I was never an engineer’s engineer. I was always happier on the other side of the glass, out in the room with the musicians. I think that a great deal of my success was due to the fact that I knew what it was like to sit out there.” Howe took pains to ensure musicians were comfortable, and he sat them close together, using the directional characteristics of microphones and room acoustics to enhance the sound, rather than recording them separately and mixing it all together at the end. As someone very astutely said, ‘If you record one track at a time, then it’s a ham sandwich and a cheese sandwich, not a ham and cheese sandwich.’

Our ‘tools’ come in so many forms, from microphones and monitors to plug-ins and hardware signal processors as well as the more conventional tools used to build, repair and adjust the gear we use. No matter what got you into this business, it’s a good bet that you’ll eventually get to use a screw driver, a wire stripper or a soldering iron. If you’re just getting started, my column has tool links and suggestions as well.

oh and uh, Don’t Forget to Vote!

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