Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Ancient History

By Tom Inglesby

Photo courtesy of Ben Weiner via Flickr.

‘Tis the season to be …cleaning out the garage in my case. An annual event that should, in all honesty, happen six or seven times a year, not just once. Our small section of Southern California has been experiencing a very unusual weather pattern this year with summer-like temperatures well into November and then a sudden return to “normal” temps (i.e., from 88 to 65 days and 65 to 35 nights) as we came up to December. Good weather to stay inside and clean, rearrange, reorder, and recycle. It’s also when memories come out of hiding.

When I left the sanctuary of being an audio producer at Encyclopedia Britannica Films to go out on my own as an indie, I already had been active sub-rosa—freelancing in my spare time. This was common knowledge at EBF since some of the work I did was for their producers, those not willing to stand in line waiting their turn for the studio time they needed. To keep a wall between the day job and the night one, I scarfed up a lot of used equipment to build up my own mixing studio in my basement (obviously, not in California where the term “basement” draws looks of bewilderment). The big recording studios would generally have time available for voice and ADR work at a reasonable rate for me in the hope that I’d bring the company’s work along. Going indie removed that leverage, but the audio community wasn’t that large and we helped each other when we could.

I mention those days because I keep coming across reminders whenever I start moving things around in the spare space in the garage. This time it was a four track, half-inch Ampex AG440 tape deck, packed away in a shipping carton, sans electronics. The 440 was the workhorse for studios in the 1970s, replacing the older AG300. Why I had the deck without the amps I still haven’t figured out.
In the bottom of the same crate were some of my infamous (in Chicago, in the 1960s) SFX tapes. At least that was what the boxes were labeled; the tapes themselves had long since deteriorated into Mylar ribbons and oxide dust and memories.

Once I had gotten my hands on the EBF Nagra IV-L portable recorder and a selection of mics, I started to record everything that made a sound. Growing up with radio as a constant companion, I was in awe of the great radio dramas and their story telling sounds. Music, sure, but the squeaking door, the growling engine, the horse clopping, those were the things that made you know what was happening without the visuals in films and the nascent TV shows. I wanted to learn the methods to making sounds that could be easily understood and add to the impact of the visuals in the films I worked on. I wanted to make radio shows with pictures! My most gratifying film work was on an Oscar-nominated short call Fire Mountain that had no VO, no music, just sound effects.

But all I have to show for all those years of recording is a box full of boxes full of dust. And the memories, of course. If you are still working in film, or have a collection of your work still in sprocket media, visual or sound, don’t waste another month, transfer it to digital, make copies, store them in Cheyenne Mountain (if you’re a government producer), buy a cloud and upload everything, do whatever you can to protect those hours, days, months, years of work. Or someday you’ll dread going into your garage to clean, knowing what you’ll find isn’t what you remember it to be.

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