I have many things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. A wonderful, healthy family, colleagues that are the absolute best to work with, and a job that I love. However, on the music front, one thing stands out to me this November that I didn’t see coming, even a month ago.
I have previously written about my teacher, Dr. Neill Humfeld, and his influence on me, and a little about his musicianship and teaching. When Dr. Humfeld passed, my dad and I came into possession of a couple boxes of analog tape (the reel to reel kind) containing all kinds of recordings of Dr. H from many years of recitals and concerts. It has been one of those things that I look at and say, “man, we really gotta get that transferred so we can listen to it!” I never knew what that entailed, or how you would even go about doing it, until recently...
Fast forward to the past year, where my own interest in audio, especially in producing and preserving live performances, has come into play. This fall, coincidentally, I have been taking a course online through Berklee College of Music called Audio Mastering, taught by an expert engineer, Marc Dieter-Einstmann (check out Marc’s mastering studio HERE). Mastering is the final step in the production process for any audio recording. A recording gets made (live or in studio), and then gets mixed. In the mixing stage, the mix engineer takes all the audio that was recorded (sometimes as many as 100 tracks or more), and essentially places all those voices in the stereo field (where you locate that sound when you hear the recording) and gives the recording it’s tonal shape, and many other musical variables that make a certain record sound unique. In mastering, the engineer takes the fully mixed recording and puts the finishing touches on it. These can be musical or tonal adjustments (maybe something the mix engineer missed or didn’t hear), technical corrections (bad edits, noise removal), and general quality control. Finally, a mastering engineer will set the loudness level of the recording, and produce a “master” containing all the tracks of the album, in the correct order, and with great care to ensure there are no functional errors.
Another function of many mastering engineers is to transfer analog tape to the digital realm. Analog tape machines are hard to come by. Well cared for and functional analog tape machines are even harder to come by! So, when I said I hadn’t thought much about this project until a month ago, it was because I hadn’t put 2 and 2 together. The U.S. Marine Band has, in its audio lab, a Studer 820 analog tape console. Console is an apt description, because this thing is a beast! All the tapes I have of Dr. Humfeld are 1/4” 2-track stereo tapes, and that is the exact tape this machine is built to play back. With the permission of our recording chief, and some amazing help from the swiss army knife of audio in my world, Mike Ducassoux, I had a total master class in operating one of these unbelievable pieces of analog technology.
To hear these performances come back to life, after over 50 years for some of them, is truly a delight. To hear Dr. Humfeld’s sound, in performances I’ve never heard before, is truly something to be thankful for.
So, what to do with these? Well, after speaking with Dr. Humfeld’s daughter, Nancy Jo Humfeld, I would like to continue to transfer more of these recitals and create a “BEST OF” album of Dr. Humfeld’s recitals over the years. On many of these tapes, he speaks at length to the audience about the music he performs, and many of the recordings reflect his warm sense of humor that many of us came to love from knowing him.
Stay tuned, there is much more to come. I plan to make this project a major focus of my 2019.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. May you all be blessed to love, make music, and enjoy the people in our lives that are important to us!