April 1997

Next Year's Gear!!

by Paul D. Lehrman

Maybe it’s a sign of the inevitable depersonalization of a technological society, but have you noticed that these days some of our most advanced tools are being given "human" names? No longer satisfied to use numbers and those obscure, funny letters at the end of the alphabet, manufacturers are now taking real people’s names and sticking them on products. I’m not talking about devices named after their inventors, like Neve, or Dolby, or Theremin, or even Joe Meek, who at least inspired the equipment that bears his name, even if he happened to expire a few decades before it was developed. What’s bugging me is the names of historical figures being put onto equipment that has absolutely no connection to them.

For instance, what kind of audio gear should be called a "Mozart"? You might suppose that it would have to be something that can’t be used by anyone over 35, that’s producing fully-realized mixes almost before it leaves the factory, and that rolls a pair of dice to determine how the outputs will be configured. How about a "Hendrix"? Shouldn’t whatever that is have THD figures up in four digits and be operated left-handed and upside-down while it’s on fire? Or an "Einstein"? You’d think this would have some kind of mechanism that makes it heavier, and shorter, as the music gets faster. And for that matter shouldn’t the tempo of the music be totally different depending on where in the control room you’re sitting? And there’s something in the film world called a "Hitchcock"–my guess would be that it takes pictures of the operator and inserts them at random into the reels he or she is working on.

My confidential sources at LLP&P (LirpaLoof Projection and Prognostication) tell me that this trend will continue for some time, but it won’t stop at historical figures. Contemporary personalities, and even some fictional ones, will also find their names on the audio and video equipment of the near future. In the interests of responsible journalism, I am now going to break several punishable-by-death non-discloure agreements to bring you news of these products. Here’s what you can expect to see in the months to come–but please don’t tell anyone where you got this information:

Clinton–A stereo image collapser, ensuring mono compatibility across an extremely wide spectrum. No matter which side an input comes in from–the far left, far right, or anywhere in between–it emerges precisely centered. Has a unique self-erasing scribble strip: any label you try to put on the unit has disappeared the next time you look at it. Reportedly supported by a number of foreign patents, but nobody knows for sure.

Hillary–An intelligent multifunction auxilliary unit, packaged with the above. Contains the "brains" of the duo, and some users live in fear that its networking and control functions could end up running their whole studio if the unit not carefully monitored and kept in its place. Other users think that wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

Rush–A unique signal processor, very popular with users having only one ear (and a corresponding volume of brain matter), that ignores anything even remotely near the left input. Outputs are parallel, and labelled "Right!" and "Ditto!". Extremely effective distortion algorithm, such that any data that goes in emerges completely unrecognizable and way, way out of phase. Unit is much bulkier than it needs to be, and output is unnecessarily loud. Inputs and outputs are XLR, but all internal circuitry is utterly unbalanced.

Helms–A timing generator and corrector, based on a design that was popular in live minstrel shows before the age of television. The ultimate in "instant vintage" gear, it has a non-resettable internal clock that runs approximately 90 years slow, and it positively will not synchronize to, or even recognize, color video or blackburst. Circuitry is not flammable, yet it steadfastly supports its right to smoke. Available in white only, of course.

Perot–A dither generator that produces a strange kind of rabble-rousing noise-shaped signal. Has an advanced data-compression and simplification algorithm that can knock the most complex equations and formulas down to earthy and nonsensical homilies. Features a very attractive but totally misleading full-color display, and really wide stereo spread.

Vangogh–A stereo to mono convertor, very crude but highly effective. Direct interface with a Perot (above) not recommended.

Billgates–An all-purpose device that performs every function and operation you can think of in a studio, although it does none of them particularly well. Has a tendency to crowd out gear from competing manufacturers, and in some cases actually absorbs it. Takes up more rack space than you would believe possible. In spite of the fact that it runs far more sluggishly than other similar products, and its confusing front panel contains dozens of badly-labelled controls that you will never use, it has become an industry standard. The initial price seems quite reasonable until you realize it exacts a small fee from every user each time you plug it in.

Kevorkian–An interruptible power supply for studios that are no longer functioning as well as you would like them to. Lets you "pull the plug" once and for all on unwanted vintage gear. Buyers should be warned that using it in some states may led to prosecution.

Madonna–Peculiar yet clever piece of gear that constantly re-invents itself in terms of appearance and functionality, so that every time you use it, you have no idea what it’s going to do or what it looks like. (Manufacturer’s previous model was "Bowie".) Requires extra front-panel clearance for distinctive cone-shaped controls. Very cheap and flashy, but should manage to last long enough on the market to develop a patina of respectability.

Elvis–Reissue of long-discontinued vintage microphone preamplifier and sandwich maker, the original of which still shows up from time to time in out of the way studios, post-production facilities, supermarkets, fast-food restaurants, and stamp collections. Available in three models, "Young", "Old", and "Really Decrepit".

Clemens–Highly accurate ultra-high-speed multimedia delivery system. Should give good service for a number of years, but then requires a very expensive upgrade. Next upgrade, for example, is priced at $24 million, and owners will discover afterwards that their systems will now only work in other people’s studios.

Dr. Tim–Another reissue, this one a recently discontinued chemically-based reality transposer. Has three switches: power, frequency adjust, and momentary data loss. (Think about it.) Original was unfathomably popular in the ‘60s, but when it was taken off the market all remaining units were shot off into space, or perhaps cyberspace.

Letterman–Latest model in a long line of popular workstations. Previous model, "Carson," was hailed for originality and inventiveness, but newest incarnation is surprisingly devoid of any interesting capabilities or content. Continued use of old, original algorithms may lead to tedium and force users to seek other tools. Advanced and highly lucrative–although unstable–networking capabilities. Actually very unfriendly to almost all input; what gets past the formidable set of filters is usually destroyed, while the user watches. Case made of pure, unalloyed irony. (More lightweight, slightly less expensive model, with fewer sharp edges, available as "Leno".)

Schaefer–Musical generation and accompaniment software for above workstation, which in spite of great technology, solid pedigree, intelligent programming, and brilliant add-ons, not to mention some of the hottest "guest" algorithms in the business, manages to make everything sound the same.

Ahnold–A digital delay line with exceptionally high feedback gain. It will be back. And it will not stop. Ever.

Cage–Random signal generator using extremely elaborate processes based on Eastern philosophies, which often result in no sound at all.

Picasso–Stereo image processor which produces results that are never what you expect, and often bear little resemblance to the original, but are nevertheless always valuable. Features have evolved over the years it has been in development: some prototypes have very sharp, angular filter slopes; some produce a weird type of spatial distortion in which all signals seem to come from the same side; and some boast a distinctive blue front panel.

Warhol–A brilliantly designed, very expensive vocal filter that looks like two soup cans with a string between them, but sounds just like two soup cans with a string between them.

Dali–When in the course of human events, the cat in the hat strikes back. While you were sleeping, I boiled a three-minute egg, but the plum of my aunt is on the stove of your uncle, and time is also a relative. Meeska-mooska-mousketeer, ask what you can do for your country.

Siskelandebert–An unusual dual-channel double-acting expander/limiter, with ability to make sound either very thin with a "shiny" top, or somewhat stodgy and "phat". Power supply runs on AC, DC, or popcorn (with extra butter). Has two modes, "Thumbs Up" and "Thumbs Down", and correct choice of mode can make or break any program material that passes through it.

Seinfeld–Waveform generator with four modes: basic Sein (simple waveform with little or no resonance), Kramer (a spiky sawtooth, very unstable), Elaine (spunky, high-pitched, and annoying), and George (phat, whiney, and really boring). Output signal is very low–in fact, it’s just about nothing.

St. Croix–Snazzy, oddly appealing, oversampling, high-output, multi-purpose workstation/musical instrument/game design engine/media analyzer/time machine/exhaust tuner/food processor with a keen sense of history and a well-developed sense of its own importance. Doesn’t take well to tweaking, although it loves to do so to other equipment. Extremely popular and durable, even though users have yet to figure out exactly what it does.

Paul Lehrman, writer, composer, educator, and prognosticator, takes this sort of thing very, very seriously. Thanks to Marty, Mike, Al, and the rest of the gang at LLP&P.

These materials copyright ©1997 by Paul D. Lehrman and Intertec Publishing