July 1999

Perils of the Free Market
GRUMPMEIER GOES LOOKING FOR A BARGAIN

by PAUL D. LEHRMAN

ILLUSTRATION: JACK DAVIS

I ran into my buddy Grumpmeier at the local 'Lectronics Land the other day, as I was mulling over a new microwave with more controls than my last mixing console. "That 50-year-old washing machine of yours finally give up the ghost?" I asked him. "Heck, no," he said. "I got that thing held together with fishing line and Silly Putty. It'll go another 30 years, I'm sure. I just came here to borrow some stuff for the weekend."

I laughed, "The library is across town, my friend." "No really," he replied. "I do this all the time when I need something for just a couple of days. Come over here, and I'll tell you how it works."

We crouched in low behind a 64-inch TV set that was blaring out a trailer for Terminator IX. Arnold was climbing into a time machine that would take him back to early 18th-century Leipzig, while solemnly proclaiming to a crowd of awed onlookers, "I'll be Bach!"

"See, I'm in the middle of a TV project, and one of my VHS decks died yesterday," Grumps began. "It's pretty old, and it would cost more than it's worth to fix. Meanwhile, I just got this new cut from the producer, who wouldn't know what window burn was if it bit him on the behind. So I gotta have two decks so I can make a work print. I've got a new deck on order from a mail-order house--one of those industrial models, I push my decks pretty hard--but it's going to take a few days to get here. In the meantime, I don't want to fall behind on the project, so I'm going to borrow a deck from these guys to do the dub. Here, take a look at this thing."

He shoved an S-VHS deck into my face. "This has got more features on it, and the picture quality is better than the deck I'm throwing out. But it costs about a quarter of what I paid. Amazing, huh? Of course, the transport knob looks like it'll break off if you look at it cross-eyed, and the case feels like it's made out of cardboard..."

"Borrow?" I interrupted him, as my eyebrows went up in tandem. "You mean you're going to try to steal it?" "No, dummy!" he snapped. "I mean borrow. They have this 30-day, no-questions-asked return policy. I put the thing on a credit card, use it for a couple of days, put it back in the box with all the manuals and the other crap, and bring it back for a refund. No problemo!" he smiled, quite pleased with himself.

The rest of this column, along with 56 more, is now available in The Insider Audio Bathroom Reader, published by Thomson Course Technology PTR.


SPRING CLEANING

Well, as you read this it's summer, but as I'm writing this the peonies are just popping out of the ground. And besides, "summer cleaning" just hasn't got that ring. So besides throwing out that pile of 400k floppies I've been collecting, I'm going to take this opportunity to clean off some of the reader correspondence that's been piling up on the old Insider Audio desk.

My mention of Auratone "road cubes" as favorite "vintage" equipment (November '98) has generated a lot of mail, including a note from Bob Watson that appeared in our May Feedback column, and several responses along the lines of, "Yeah, I loved Auratones too. Where can I get some?" As far as I can tell, the company that made them is out of business, and no one has picked up the line. Perhaps a reader knows different. Certainly there are a few available used, but you can't have mine.

The column describing my horrible problems trying to get MIDI, SMPTE, and digital audio synchronized (June '98) prompted an awful lot of people to ask me what the culprit software was. I'm still not telling, but the manufacturer has indeed fixed the problem, and I just finished another TV project (with the same production company) in which I did the music the same way, which turned out fine. Besides using the newest software, there was one other major change in my procedure: I locked the digital audio to word clock coming from a Mark of the Unicorn MIDI Time Piece A/V, which also served as the SMPTE source driving the sequencer. And the manual now says that I shouldn't have done what I did last time: "If you've already recorded MIDI...synched to SMPTE, don't record audio while synched to SMPTE...[They] will not correctly line up...during playback."

Thanks a lot. There's still no excuse for unlocked audio being 1% off (I checked my original SMPTE source against the MTP A/V's internal timer, and the difference was never more than 1 Hz out of 44,100), but at least now I know the workaround. And I also know that from now on, at least when I'm working against picture, I will never trust a digital audio system that can't be locked to an outside sync source.

I've also gotten a lot of mail about the horrors of upgrading a Power Computing Mac clone with a G3 accelerator card (February '99), mostly asking, "Did you ever get Pro Tools working?" The answer, I'm happy to say, is "Yes." I had to shuffle the Pro Tools and video cards around a couple of times (and if you recall the absurd SCSI connector on the NuBus Pro Tools III systems, you'll know this is no picnic) and ignore Digidesign's explicit directions about which cards to put where, but I eventually found a combination that works.

Finally, in response to my March '99 column about the Bell Labs reunion celebration, Lauren Weinstein, who describes himself as "one of the old men of the Internet," told me about his Web site, which features a brief but fascinating history of computer music, including a streaming version of the original computer-generated "Daisy." Check out www.vortex.com/comphist. Laurie Spiegel, who started her distinguished career as an experimental musician at the Labs, has documented a lot of her work there at her site: www.dorsai.org/~spiegel/. And if you missed the article, Art & Science Collaborations Inc., who presented the panel, have posted a copy of it (with our permission, of course) on their site: www.asci.org.


Copyright ©2006 by Paul D. Lehrman