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50 Years of QSC
QSC founders Pat Quilter, John Andrews and Barry Andrews on five decades of pro audio innovation 01 Genius4 FC v2final.indd 1
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P4 - QSC founders Pat Quilter, John Andrews and Barry Andrews
P16 - Les Paul P17 - Tony Griffiths
P10 - Karlheinz Stockhausen P18 - Hugh Padgham P12 - Daniel Lanois
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Contributors Phil Ward Kevin Hilton Simon Duff David Davies Editor Daniel Gumble email@example.com
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enius!, as you’ll hopefully be aware by now, is all about celebrating the pioneering spirit of the people and the companies who have shaped, and continue to shape, this ever-evolving industry of ours. And very few embody that spirit with quite the same gusto as the cover stars of the edition you currently hold in your hands. Celebrating its 50th birthday this year, US-based pro audio and pro AV systems specialist QSC is one of those companies that, to this day, continues to push boundaries, explore new territories and, quite simply, refuses to stand still - an ethos illustrated rather fittingly by the black and white image of founders Pat Quilter, John Andrews and Barry Andrews gracing our aforementioned front cover. Yes, they may look for all the world like a late ‘60s garage rock outfit, but these three would very soon go on to become bona fide pro audio genii. Over the course of the next five decades, their combined technical knowhow and business acumen saw them shift their original focus from the heavily congested guitar amplification market to the world of sound reinforcement, where they have blazed a scorching trail ever since. Inside you’ll read all about their insistence on looking forward rather than backwards on this significant milestone, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to acknowledge the groundbreaking work that has gone into establishing the brand as an international giant of the industry. So, from all of us at PSNEurope, we would like to wish a very happy birthday to all at QSC. Here’s to another 50 years!
NewBay Media, Emerson Studios, 4th Floor, 4-8 Emerson Street, London, SE1 9DU © Copyright NewBay Media Europe Ltd 2017 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any information storage or retrieval system without the express prior written consent of the publisher. The contents of PSNLive are subject to reproduction in information storage and retrieval systems. Printed by Pensord Press Ltd, NP12 2YA
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QSC: 50 years young US pro AV systems pioneer QSC celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. But rather than looking back, the company is very much looking to the future. Here, the firm’s founding figures, Pat Quilter, John Andrews and Barry Andrews tell PSNEurope why there is still so much more to yet to come and why innovation has been key to its success over the past five decades… For a company to reach 50 years in business is a noteworthy achievement in anyone’s eyes. We exist - particularly those that ply their trade in the world of professional audio, video and control products - in a world where technology and innovation is changing the rules of convention at a rate of knots, whether its manufacturing processes, marketing techniques or service provision. What’s more, the tumultuous financial climate of the past decade, precipitated by the global recession of 2008, has proved perilous for so many, making the achievements of those able to weather the storm and come out swinging on the other side all the more exceptional. It is perhaps understandable then that when some companies reach their 50th anniversary they tend to do so amidst a panoply of bells and whistles, harkening back to former glories and reminding the world of what made them the company they are today. And while there is absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating one’s 50th birthday in such fashion, it’s fair to say that QSC, in line with the values of innovation woven into its DNA, has approached this milestone from a different angle. A company rich in experimentation and with
a pioneering spirit coursing through its veins, QSC has its gaze resolutely fixed forward. It’s an attitude that has served the business well since Pat Quilter, John Andrews and Barry Andrews formed Quilter Sound Company in a bid to, as Quilter puts it, “take over the world with high power guitar amplifiers” in the late 1960s. Identifying a gap in the market, Quilter’s endeavour wasn’t without merit, yet the presence of some already established major players in the field at the time presented a major challenge in attaining significant market share, eventually forcing them to re-evaluate his plans. However, according to fellow founder and board member John Andrews, guitar amps’ loss would soon become sound reinforcement’s gain. “Not having early success in that market was one of the keys to our ultimate success, because we really had to learn how to run the business,” he explains. Having failed to achieve world domination at their first attempt, the company’s founders were forced to review not only their approach to the music market, but also their philosophy of experimentation and creative pursuit. Founder and board member Barry Andrews
elaborates: “It’s never been a story of sky rocketing success. It’s consistently a story of determination over failure. As we dealt first-hand with musicians, we developed this ability and passion for taking care of our customers.” Though the power amplifier business proved hugely successful virtually from day one, the founding trio’s ambitious streak soon manifested itself in the decision to once again explore the opportunities available in the speaker market. Years of honing QSC’s collective engineering prowess ensued, resulting in the launch of the first K Series, which almost immediately became one of the most popular and indeed revered products of its kind, as John Andrews illustrates: “The business wouldn’t be the size it is today if we hadn’t made that decision. Part of our hallmark is the ability to have a vision and to keep investing in the future.” So, in keeping with the QSC spirit, PSNEurope hears from the company’s founding fathers not to present a highlights reel of the past 50 years, but to find out how they have kept the business surging forwards and what the next five decades hold in store for one of the world’s leading pro audio manufacturers…
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INNOVATION HAS BEEN A CRUCIAL ELEMENT IN QSCâ€™S DNA FROM THE BEGINNING. WHEN YOU ARE THE SMALL GUY COMPETING AGAINST THE BIG GUYS, YOUR ONLY HOPE IS TO DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY BARRY ANDREWS
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Genius!4 A huge part of the company’s longevity over the past 50 years has been its pioneering spirit. How important has it been to the company to instill that ethos throughout the company during that time? Barry Andrews: Instilling innovation has been a crucial element in QSC’s DNA from the beginning. When you are the small guy competing against the big guys your only hope is to do things differently. It is important to note that innovation doesn’t just apply to products, it is just as important on the operations side of a business. In other words, how a company does business is just as important as what it does. John Andrews: We all realised we had to become excellent operationally, excellent at product development and our sales and marketing efforts. We also had to become excellent at manufacturing. We’ve always been devoted to building a brand known for unmatched reliability and quality. Pat Quilter: QSC has always looked for better ways to do things so we can get results with lower costs and impacts. One of our key learnings as managers was to understand and support the different personal temperaments you get within an organisation – to provide roles for those who like to drive forward into the unknown, those who solve problems, those who like keeping the house in order, and those who thrive on team building and fostering relationships. During that time, QSC has established itself as one of the most influential players in the audio, video and control market. What are the key factors behind this? Barry Andrews: For much of our early years we were a power amplifier specialist. Two factors drove a fundamental change - digital audio/networking and the advent of powered loudspeakers. Once we were committed to addressing these threats (if we didn’t change) and opportunities (if we changed successfully) we were willing to invest deeply over a long period of time to build both the talent pool and the market understanding that are required to be a leader. John Andrews: We really developed a deep passion for taking care of our customers. Even when we weren’t that great at everything else. But our customers trusted us. We really developed the brand from there. Pat Quilter: Subject to the need to pay our own way as we go along, we have always tried to follow long-term strategies that produce lasting value for our customers. This is a somewhat more cautious and thoughtful course than the true
pioneers who generally ‘go for it’ and hope for the best. As a privately held company, we have been able to do what we think is right without artificial pressure to “make the quarter look good”. This has given us time to learn and expand into new disciplines, where a more financiallyoriented owner might have cut their losses when the going got tough.
What have been some of the most important product launches over the years? And why? Pat Quilter: I always go back to our first big strategic decision in 1972, when we decided to get out of guitar amps and move into a steadier business. We got away from building loudspeaker cabinets because we needed a product that didn’t require a major capital investment (which we didn’t have), yet we needed something that exploited our most hard-won knowledge, so we could get a sustainable competitive advantage while we grew. The choice was to go into power amplifiers, a relatively unglamorous product which must solve all of the major problems in electronics, all while delivering a clean, technically accurate output signal. Most of the details that make an amplifier stable and profitable to build at a fair price are discovered only after much testing and experience, which became my principal role at QSC.
What have been the biggest changes you have seen in the AV market? John Andrews: Certainly in recent years, it has been the rise of network and the importance of this new customer, the IT industry. For so long, AV has been the outlier in the IT guy’s equation, as these AV systems seemed to exist in a silo. AV systems in corporations were completely unstandardised, built on AV specific technologies that did not integrate with the rest of that IT equipment, and were next to impossible to manage. Any viable manufacturing player in this industry knows that the IT guys are now in charge of these larger systems and protect the stability of that infrastructure. That means creating solutions that are built on IT standards, and can be monitored, managed and serviced by internal IT mechanisms.
Barry Andrews: In power amplifiers, it was Series One, Series Three and the PLC Platform. Series One gave us our first large scale market success, Series Three showed we could build class-leading touring amplifiers, and PLC based on switching power supplies and build-to-order manufacturing exploded the business and provided the financial resources for long term investing in digital and
John Andrews: On the digital side it is the Q-SYS Platform. This was the industry’s first digital audio signal processing and networking solution that brought new capabilities to large-scale commercial applications. We are currently market leaders in both these areas.
Which areas of the market are you most excited about as you cross the 50 year mark? Where are the big growth opportunities? Pat Quilter: The consumer product companies are relentlessly feeding the public’s desire for more capacity, interactivity and apps, even at the expense of chronically buggy software and endless, intrusive “update” patches. Our biggest problem and opportunity is to meet customer expectations that are shaped by highly connected
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smartphones and tablets, but with the reliability and security demanded by businesses, at a price that is not too out of line with consumer equipment. How does the company intend to stay ahead of the curve for the next 50 years? Barry Andrews: Recruit and retain the best talent: treat them like gold, make sure they have the resources they need, motivate them to run like hell, get out of the way. John Andrews: While we are in the middle of another technology transition, we will look to deliver sophisticated network-based solutions to the audio, video and control space. Our aspiration is to be a technology platform leader. Pat Quilter: QSC has the resources to develop increasingly sophisticated products and systems, and our goal is to continue fostering our reason-based culture that relies on facts and analysis to make sound decisions that hold up in the long run. Which areas of the business are you looking to expand?
Pat Quilter: QSCâ€™s historic mission has essentially focused on delivering a high-grade audio experience, usually involving music, from performers to audiences at clubs, cinemas, and concert venues. This remains a very important part of our focus, but we also see a growing opportunity in improved peer-to-peer communication using audio, video and control to allow people to relate to each other as if they were in the same room, without the expense and impact of worldwide travel. Success in this mission will improve business management and hopefully political relationships around the globe, making the world a better and safer place. QSC has been a global company for many years now with a key focus on further international expansion. How do you plan to take on additional territories and adopt new selling strategies? Pat Quilter: This too will continue to be a steady process of finding the right people for each new territory, and providing the resources to build local organisations to serve regional customers and utilie regional engineering and manufacturing resources.
The company is currently expanding beyond simply manufacturing products into providing technological solutions and services for the market. How do you intend to develop this side of the business? Pat Quilter: I have always been a hardware developer, and ultimately, there still needs to be some kind of device that interfaces with the customer and the outside world, but itâ€™s obvious that software is the new frontier, and is the engineering discipline that will deliver truly amazing new capabilities and responsiveness. What initiatives do you have in place to help produce the pro audio, video and control genii of tomorrow? John Andrews: Tomorrowâ€™s AV genii are working on the front lines right now! It is incumbent upon manufacturers to nurture that talent to bring them to their fullest potential. We are very proud that QSC consistently looks inward to fill important leadership positions at all levels and within all departments and have internal career growth programmes for those individuals who aspire will take their own personal careers, as well as our industry, to the next level. www.qsc.com
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Karlheinz Stockhausen: 1928-2007 From his groundbreaking work in serial music and electronic procedures to spatial placement of sound sources and his radical ideas on acoustics, Karlheinz Stockhausen was a true pioneer. Simon Duff looks back at the composer’s life...
Karlheinz Stockhausen is regarded by many as one of the greats of the contemporary classical music world. One of the first composers to adopt sampling, directional sound and the blending of live and electronic performance, he produced over 140 radical works. Educated at the Hochschule fur Musik, Cologne and the University of Cologne, he became a student of musicology, philosophy and German literature. Stockhausen also studied phonetics, acoustics and information theory. He also studied with Olivier Messiaen in Paris. Following the completion of his degree, he took up a position at the then newly established WDR Electronic Music Studio in Cologne, built in 1951 as part of the German state broadcaster. Here he experimented, as did many electronic composers at that time, in Musique Concrete, the art of creating musical pieces from recorded sounds and manipulating them via tape techniques. His first critically acclaimed electronic work was Gesang der Junglinge (Song of the Youths). Created at the WDR studios in 1956, it is a 13-minute composition of new sounds and voices. Designed to be both angelic and modern, it contains 11 basic electronic elements, mainly sine waves, filtered and modulated in different ways, and electronic clicks, interacting with recordings of the voice of a boy singing, producing some highly intricate and original-sounding musical effects. Stockhausen, in concert, would often mix the live work himself from what he called his ‘sound projection table’. The piece also represented one of the first musical experiments with spatial effects. Creating the piece for five-channel tape, with each channel played back through a different loudspeaker, allowed Stockhausen to begin exploring the directionality of sound in performance, adding another dimension to electronic music performance, which he would develop further in subsequent works. From 1958 to 1960 Stockhausen became the first composer to work quadrophonically,
moving sound at varying speeds in threedimensional space, and making this an integral part of the composition Kontakte. The work is scored for electronics and live performance, using four-channel tape recording, percussion and piano. Stockhausen wanted to be able to imitate the live percussion with his electronic sounds. To do this, he engaged in a detailed spectral analysis of the acoustic sound sources, drums, bells and the like, using their characteristics to shape the electronic sounds. In Telemusic, 1966, made in Japan, he used electronic means to integrate the influences of different music cultures, and to metamorphose from one to another, he followed this with Hymnen in 1967, where he did something similar with national anthems, adding a symphony orchestra in one version, and creating a highly cinematographic sound world. Stockhausen was also a highly respected and widely-published writer on music, acoustics and concert hall design. His 1956 essay, Music In Space, outlined his desire to create a successful spherical room designed to be used for his music, one of many designs he conceived in order to create new rooms specifically for new forms of music. In short, he called for a rejection of the classical concert hall and sought a new way forward for both composers and audiences. In 1970 he designed a geodesic dome, with a sound transparent floor, for the German exhibit at the Expo 70 in Japan, which enabled him to project sound in a more or less spherical way. This exhibition had 3.5 million visitors in about half a year. In 1973 Stockhausen purchased an EMS Synthi 100 synthesizer for the WDR studio, designed by the renowned synth designer Peter Zinovieff from EMS. It offered twelve voltage controlled oscillators, four low pass filters, four high pass filters, a three-track monophonic 256 Step Sequencer and a dual-manual keyboard each capable of being played duophonically. A 64 x 64 pin patchbay was used to make the
connection between the various modules. It also contained a spring reverb, limiters and envelopes. At nearly two metres long, it was a piece of experimental, laboratory kit, excelling at sound effects and complex new timbres and colours that Stockhausen would use to great effect in his work. Stockhausen continued composing with electronics throughout his life, and in his later years he could often be found at electronic music festivals across Europe. His passion for pushing the envelope was consistent and his music was often conceived in highly ambitious large terms. The seven-day long opera Licht, which was 26 years in the making, received its first performance in 2008. The Helicopter String Quartet, first performed in 1995, is a piece requiring four helicopters and four pilots, a string quartet, loudspeakers, televisions and audio processing equipment. Electronically blending the music of the string quartet with the rotor noise of the helicopters, the piece proved Stockhausen’s theory that “any sound can become music if it is related to other sounds.” Contemporary classical composer Kevin Volans studied composition with Stockhausen for three and a half years during the 1970s in Cologne. Working with him for several hours a week, Volans became his teaching assistant. He summarises: “Electronics were an important part of Stockhausen’s output, but always subservient to his compositional vision. That said, Stockhausen’s importance in electronic music can’t be overestimated. The major influence on his thinking of electronic music was, I think, the fact that he insisted that every piece have a new sound world. He avoided standard ensembles. This was a luxury that the wealth of the 1960s and 1970s made possible quite easily. So Stockhausen’s composition practice and composition teaching was centred on the process of pre-planning, whether it be for electronic music, orchestra or instrumental ensemble.”
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Daniel Lanois, producer
Photo: Danny North
U2 taking The Joshua Tree on tour
By David Davies
ne of a handful of latter day producers with a distinctive ‘trademark’ sound who continues to be highly active in the studio, Daniel Lanois has had a career that can be roughly divided into three categories: external productions, collaborations and solo work. In each he has amassed an extensive catalogue that is certain to captivate listeners for generations to come. After some early recordings with Martha and the Muffins that were hardly indicative of what was to come, Lanois established the first significant relationship of his recording career when he engineered several of Brian Eno’s landmark ambient albums in the early 1980s. The gorgeously wintrysounding Ambient 2: Plateaux of Mirror and The Pearl (both co-credited to Harold Budd) remain among Eno’s most enduringly affecting recordings. 1983’s Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks – an equal collaboration between Eno, his brother Roger, and Lanois – was even more exquisite.
These albums also served to establish an acute sense of space and atmosphere that was to define much of Lanois’ work in the coming decades. Within a matter of a few years, he was helping to craft some of the ‘80s most successful albums – notably U2’s The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree (both alongside Eno), and Peter Gabriel’s So. Although frequently widescreen in their sound, these albums largely circumvented the bombastic traits that tarnished so many of that decade’s megasellers – a testament to Lanois’ talent for texture. But it was arguably on two ‘90s albums that his production style – most obviously distinguished by prominent drums, layered guitars and ambient reverb – reached its apex. With both Emmylou Harris (Wrecking Ball) and Bob Dylan (Time Out Of Mind), Lanois helped them to achieve substantial returns to form. A 70-plus minute epic, 1997’s Time Out Of Mind was recorded shortly before a serious health scare for Dylan, and is eerily prescient in
its lyrical emphasis on mortality. But there is also a pervasive sense of despair at the turn of worldly events that, unsurprisingly, means it sounds better than ever today. Although he has continued to produce occasional albums for other artists in the 2000s – most notably Neil Young’s finest album of the new millennium, 2008’s solo electric Le Noise – Lanois’ focus more recently has been on his own solo music and soundtrack work. A fine guitarist, Lanois has shifted between formal songwriting and more experimental soundscapes on his releases, which are best sampled on 1989’s Acadie and 2003’s Shine. A special mention should also go to 2011 side project Black Dub, featuring the astonishing jazz drummer Brian Blade. Always searching for new sounds but also minded to prioritise the shape and meaning of the song, Lanois is bound to influence the work of other producers for decades to come.
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Les Paul and multitrack recording By Kevin Hilton
ost musicians rely on others with more technical knowledge to help them achieve specific sounds and effects. Les Paul’s early fascination with electronics gave him the skills to not only build the first solid-bodied guitar but also develop many of the techniques that formed the backbone of modern music recording, including multitracking, overdubbing and tape effects. Born Lester William Polsfuss in 1915, Les Paul, as he became known, was able to play not only the guitar, the instrument that made his name, but also the banjo and harmonica by the time he was 13. A year earlier he became interested in electronics after seeing a boy he knew in his hometown of Waukesha, Wisconsin, winding a wire coil for a crystal set radio. Among his earliest experiments was dismantling the family radio set and turning it into a PA system for his guitar. After starting out in local semi-professional country and western bands, Paul moved to Chicago when he was in his late teens and eventually took over the house band of radio station WJJD in 1934. Two years later he formed the Les Paul Trio, which started to play jazz during the early 1940s, when the guitarist moved to New York. While his fame as a musician grew, Paul continued to experiment with electronics. In 1941 he built the first prototype solid-bodied electric guitar, which he nicknamed ‘the Log’. This formed the basis of the instrument that he would later present to the Gibson Guitar Corporation. Initially marketed as the Les Paul rather than under the Gibson name, the guitar was recognised for its ‘hot’ pick-ups and sustain, which appealed to the emerging generation of rock guitarists in the 1960s and ‘70s. In 1943, after being discharged from the Armed Forces Radio Service, Paul and his trio began working with one of the biggest singing stars of the time, Bing Crosby. It was the crooner who encouraged Paul to build his own recording studio, which he did in his garage. It was there that he first started experimenting with multiple track recordings using acetate discs and two cutting lathes. The first result of this work was the instrumental Lover, released in 1948. The disc-lathe technique was cumbersome and time-consuming but once again Bing Crosby stepped in. Crosby owned one of the first magnetic tape recording machines in the US, which had been brought over from Germany,
where the technology was developed, after the war. The singer was interested in the machine as a way to efficiently record his radio show so he wouldn’t have to perform it live, thereby leaving his evenings free. Crosby invested in the commercial development of tape recorders by the Ampex Corporation. He gave Paul the second Ampex Model 200A reel-to-reel tape machine to be produced, and encouraged him in his development of multi-track tape recording. Using this technique, Paul recorded a series of hit singles with his then wife and musical partner Mary Ford (born Iris Colleen Summers 1928, died 1977) that established sound-on-sound recording, now known as overdubbing, doubletracking and electronic echo. Among these recordings was the 1951 hit How High The Moon, which showcases Paul’s use of emerging technology. While superficially a jaunty country-swing ditty, the recording takes on a greater dimension through double-tracking Ford’s ringing vocals, making it still sound fresh,
groundbreaking and not a little strange today. By 1957 Paul was working with an eight-track machine, which gave him flexibility to produce more tape-based effects. He also experimented with speed manipulation - what we now know as vari-speeding - close-miking and feedback. Among Paul’s later innovations was a black box fitted to his guitar that allowed him to record and play back different elements of a tune live, creating a multi-layered sound from just one instrument, something that is now the stock-intrade of modern artists such as Ed Sheeran. Paul continued to play and develop new electronic techniques into the 21st century. He played every Monday night at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York up until his death in 2009 at the age of 94. While his profile may have faded over the years, his influence on guitarists such as Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, The Edge and Slash is undeniable. And his genius for innovation and invention lives on, not only in his own recordings but those of all artists who followed.
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Tony Griffiths and the Decca digital audio recorder Developed in the 1970s, Decca’s first digital audio recorder was commended for its quality at the time, with editing capabilities that set the precedent for further innovation. Kevin Hilton recalls the story of the R&D man behind it...
The history of technology is littered with devices that were groundbreaking in their day but overtaken by the competition. While many have fallen into obscurity, some, such as the Decca audio recorder, are not only recognised for their technical importance but have also left a cultural legacy. From 1978 to 1997, it was used to make what the man who oversaw its development calls “the best classical recordings ever made”. Tony Griffiths headed Decca’s R&D department from 1973 to the mid-1990s. Three years after joining he began working on A-D converters, which ultimately led to the Digital Audio Recorder. Born in Cheshire in 1940, Griffiths became fascinated by technology and between the ages of 14 and 17 read every book on electronics and associated subjects, such as radar, held in Northwich town library: “And it was a big library,” he says. An aptitude for technology was also in his genes; his grandfather was head of the nuts and bolts shop at Crewe railway works, while his father trained as a mechanical engineer at Rolls Royce and later set up his own garage, although “he hated electricity”. The combination of his book knowledge and practical skills enabled the young Griffiths to, among other things, build his own tape recorder, create a TV station with a 430MHz transmitter and construct an oscilloscope for his physics teacher. Along the way he passed technical exams for his amateur radio and TV transmitting licences. Instead of going to university, Griffiths joined the BBC in Manchester, initially in maintenance. After working in telecine and as a sound engineer, he moved to the R&D department at Kingswood Warren. Here, he designed the first transistor processor for telecine machines and collaborated on systems for colour correction and improving poor quality film footage. Griffiths also became interested in digital technology, which played a part in his being headhunted by Decca. The small research lab he set up was dedicated to developing the first 625-line videodisc but by 1976 Griffiths was building A-D converters using transistors. “I could only reach 14.5-bit signal to noise ratio but then Burr-Brown produced a 16-bit module, which kick-started the recorder-editor
project,” he says. “Arthur Haddy, the technical director at Decca, approached the chairman, Sir Edward Lewis, and said, ‘I have this bright young lad who says he can build two digital recorders for £12,500.’ Sir Edward said, ‘Get on with it.’” With his team, including Peter Iliffe, who designed much of the circuitry, and Bill Pitts, a mathematician who devised the recording error correction format, Griffiths duly built the machines. The Digital Audio Recorder was based on an 18-bit process, allowing for an 18bit output from the digital mixer, with two heads for playback while recording, as was common on analogue tape machines. Despite the digital output of the new recorder coming out best in ‘golden ears’ tests, the opinion was it wouldn’t be any use without editing capability. This was achieved after another year and involved Motorola microprocessors for control, TTL ICs for processing with shift registers linked to create a 40 millisecond memory and timecode. More than 40 recorders were built, including five editors and more than ten digital mixers, based on a patent filed, Griffiths comments, at least three years before any commercial equivalents appeared. As digital recording became more accepted and other devices began to appear, Griffiths
helped form the first Audio Engineering Society standards committee on the subject to agree common interfaces and specifications for interconnectivity. Joining him were other pioneers in the field: Tom Stockham, developer of the Soundstream recorder, Toshi Doi from Sony and Roger Lagadec of Studer. Although the Decca set-up was recognised for its quality at the time, Griffiths admits it was bulky. This played a part in its losing out to competition from Sony, which produced a machine that was more expensive but offered faster operation and higher volume manufacture. “It wasn’t obsolete by the time the Decca R&D department closed,” he says. “The machinery was big and heavy and new optical recorders were self-contained.” As to whether the Decca digital recordereditor was a work of genius, Griffiths observes, “You don’t think about things like that when you’re making it. We knew we were pioneering because although digital had been done in the instrumentation field, it was only 8-bit. Nobody was doing what we did, so it had to be selfbuilt. Really, that recorder was the culmination of my whole career and about being in the right place at the right time.” www.decca.com
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Hugh Padgham and the gated reverb drum sound
Hugh Padgham with David Bowie
By Kevin Hilton
here are many fashion, cultural and music trends that sum up the 1980s, but there is one sound in particular that almost epitomises the decade: the gated drum effect. Big, dramatic and bombastic but also sinister, it burst out of loudspeakers in 1980 and became ubiquitous on numerous rock and pop recordings, especially those of Phil Collins as artist and producer but also XTC, Duran Duran and its offshoot The Power Station, Bruce Springsteen and Kate Bush. As is not unusual with innovations, it was not something those involved were looking for. It was more, says Hugh Padgham, the recording engineer and later producer who accidentally ‘discovered’ the effect, a combination of
factors that created something so distinctive. This confluence happened in 1979 during the recording of Peter Gabriel’s third solo album at Townhouse Studios in west London. Part of the Virgin Records group, along with residential studios The Manor in Oxfordshire, Townhouse opened in 1978. Padgham, a staff engineer at the time, explains that the initial two rooms were designed to be very different from each other. Studio 1 was in the traditional mould of The Manor, with a dead acoustic based on an Eastlake design and a Helios mixing console. Studio 2 was designed as a break from the norm, featuring two distinct acoustic spaces: a conventional sounding area and the very live ‘Stone Room’. The control room featured one of
the first SSL B Series desks to be installed. A feature of the B Series was an integrated reverse talkback circuit, which allowed those in the control room to hear the people in the studio as well as speak to them. In the Townhouse this was possible through a STC (BBC) 4021 ‘ball and biscuit’ dynamic omni-directional microphone fitted in the ceiling. This came into its own during the Gabriel sessions, on which the former Genesis frontman had invited his old bandmate Phil Collins to play drums. “During one of the sessions, Phil was playing in the studio and I inadvertently pressed the talkback button,” recalls Padgham. “Out came this ginormous sound, which everyone in the control room said sounded incredible. They all said, ‘Let’s
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have a bit of that on something’ but the problem was that because the talkback was built into the desk, it couldn’t be recorded.” To get round this, Padgham asked the studios’ maintenance engineers to go into the console, take a feed from the talkback and put that into the jackfield so it could be patched back into the desk for recording. The next day the new effect was played to Gabriel, who decided to write a song round a treated pattern played by Collins. “We started recording and almost for a laugh I switched in a noise gate,” says Padgham. “That’s where the cut-off sound came from. So we now had something that sounded enormous but with no die away.” This combination was the inspiration for the song Intruder, the menacing opening of Gabriel’s
third album. Also known as Melt because of its cover artwork, the recording is notable for not featuring cymbals, something Gabriel had already agreed with producer Steve Lillywhite and drummers Collins and Jerry Marotta. Padgham says this was just as well because of the gated reverb: “If there are cymbals at the same time it sounds like somebody hitting a giant dustbin. It completely annihilates the drums. If you want cymbals and the effect you have to overdub.” Clearly impressed by the sound, Collins used it on his first solo album, Face Value (1981), which was also recorded in Townhouse’s Studio 2 with Padgham as assistant producer and engineer. It then featured on the Genesis single Mama (produced by Padgham and the band at The Farm) and ABBA vocalist Frida’s 1982-83 hit I
Know There’s Something Going On, produced by Collins and engineered by Padgham at the Swedish group’s Polar Studios. Padgham acknowledges the effect became something of an over-used cliche during the ‘80s. SSL incorporated the recording option into the E Series console, successor to the B, while digital processing developer AMS produced a programme to mimic the sound, which Padgham helped refine. The definitive examples of gated reverb, however, are still those recorded in Studio 2 at Townhouse, which closed in 2008 and was later converted into luxury apartments. “I was devastated when they pulled it down,” says Padgham. But even though the room is gone, the sound it helped produce lives on. And on.
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By Phil Ward
t’s no surprise that such a fundamental sonic breakthrough as TiMax, invented by UK innovator Out Board, should appear in so many disparate applications. A brief glance at the portfolio takes you on a dizzying journey from opera at The Royal Albert Hall to enveloping electronica at superclubs Fabric and Matter; from the shores of a Swiss lake, where they like to hear the music of Jesus Christ Superstar walking on the water, to the South Bank of the River Thames where spatialised audio mingles with the fog; and from theatre in-theround at The Young Vic to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Out Board is out there. To localise audio convincingly is to overcome the basic limitations of any sound reinforcement system. There are more ears than speakers at most gigs, and not enough audio to share equally – a problem noticed by Out Board founder Robin Whittaker, who turned his company’s mission into solving the inequities of sight and sound. It coincided with the birth of digital pro audio in the UK, which provided the means and the manpower to create TiMax, the world’s first time delay matrix for sound. Whittaker had quite naturally entered an analogue audio industry, and first became aware that audio could be converted from an analogue phenomenon into a digital medium in 1980. “I went to an AES convention at Kensington Olympia in London and saw the Neve DSP1 recording console,” he remembers. “It was basically a television screen and a rack of computers, and the company was demonstrating a one-input, one-output mixer that promised to
alter the future radically. That same year, I think, the Trident Diane was launched, probably the first entirely digitally controlled analogue desk. This was prior to Sony DASH and the other digital tape machines, which also made an impact.” Whittaker had just left university and had spent some time working at Burns Guitars, then with Francis Williams and Technicord making compact analogue mixers. The digital thing percolated gradually… “It was the slowest overnight revolution that ever hit the world!” he says. “It took decades for digital audio to become a workable reality beyond those early innovations. I spent several years designing mixing consoles for Dynamix Audio and later freelancing in recording studio maintenance, contract design work and so on. With one colleague I hatched a plan to make a fader automation system, which meant a leap into digitally controlled analogue circuitry with servomotors to record and replay fader movements. That was the original impetus to form Out Board Electronics. “I reckon we were first on the block with a bespoke automation system for live sound, which we retrofitted to various consoles used on some big tours – Phil Collins and Rod Stewart included, using Midas or Soundcraft. We also made some small, standalone fader automation boxes with digitally controlled analogue routing matrices, and these brought us into contact with Autograph Sound: the first production of Miss Saigon at Drury Lane in 1987. Andrew Bruce wanted to be able to dynamically reinforce the sound of a helicopter flying around the space, and our matrix solved that.”
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Aida at the Royal Albert Hall in 2012
Digital audio became the main focus almost a decade later, with the first TiMax. “I became aware that if you want to move sound in space, it will always work against you if you don’t control sound in the time domain. You have to master the power of the Precedence Effect. When I first read the Helmut Haas paper on precedence in the AES Journal, during some downtime in this studio in London where I was freelancing, I thought I’d re-create the Haas experiment: I took a digital delay line and patched it into one side of the studio monitoring… and was absolutely gobsmacked at the result. With just a millisecond of time delay in one half of the mix, I couldn’t hear the other half. “It was the first part of a long ‘eureka!’ moment. Some years later we’d made a sound effect matrix for Autograph using the moving faders, on a show called City Of Angels, and there was a moment when an a cappella vocal group appears from behind some curtains. Watching this, my eyes told my ears to expect the vocals where they stood, but as the curtain went up what I heard came from completely the other side of the stage. The dislocation was overwhelming. It was at that moment that I thought if I could combine this Haas Effect imaging phenomenon with vocal reinforcement in a multi-speaker system, I could fix that localisation problem. That was the rest of the eureka moment.” One round of Department of Trade & Industry
funding later, and a new R&D team was gathered in a small Cambridgeshire HQ. “I knew a couple of people in the digital audio game, especially among the Neve developers who’d worked on the Capricorn digital console or the AudioFile DAW,” continues Whittaker. “They were based near Cambridge, where I was, so when AMS took over Neve and moved it to Lancashire there was a fair amount of talent in my neighbourhood. Plus, after the Yamaha 01V was launched it became obvious that all the major console manufacturers were going to make their own fader automation systems, and the retrofit business was tough anyway – the first thing you do, of course, is invalidate the warranty! Out Board had to go in this direction.” The team worked with the first iteration of Analog Devices’ SHARC processor, and after a few teething troubles, a chance conversation with a certain fellow University alumnus provided a breakthrough. “I was at college with John Stadius,” Whittaker explains, “and I knew he was using SHARCs on the Soundtracs DPC-1 console. He told me about Analog Devices’ ‘Exceptions List’: a well-hidden document outlining the processor’s limitations and how to get round them! Once we had that information things began to fall into place, and we set about writing some front-end control software.” That wasn’t easy, either. Whittaker poses the question: “If you’ve got a 642 digital audio matrix
with time delay at every cross-point, how on Earth do you use it? That was where the outof-the-box, blue-sky thinking came in. It was obvious there would have to be a GUI, rather than a hardware control surface. It was too ethereal for any traditional pro audio interface. A brilliant young software designer called Chris Royle helped us knock Version 1 into shape.” There was no such thing as a delay matrix in those days, and therefore no consensus on how you might drive or programme such a product. Clearly, the success and popularity of TiMax is proof of Out Board’s good judgment – but the future is not over yet. “I often think,” reflects Whittaker, “that this type of never-done-before project needs a lot of bold experimentation, rather than a detailed specification beforehand. It takes years to perfect, and it carries on to this day. “A lot of the ideas we had in TiMax 1 are still being honed, and form an important framework for TiMax 2. Over the past 12 months a couple of major players in sound reinforcement have entered this market – or at least what is often called the surround or spatialisation market – and they place all the control inside the algorithm. We prefer to allow human flexibility over the last dB and the last millisecond, because that’s where the difference is made in localisation and immersion.” www.outboard.co.uk
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