Do electrons have souls?
I often ponder this, and other pointless questions, when I’m in the studio messing with the piles of obsolete gear I love and use every day. For example: Why do things the old-fashioned way, when the results from modern tools like plugins are so much more stable, predictable and recallable?
The short answer is: It’s a hell of a lot more fun!
The longer answer isn’t much different, actually. As a creative living in this increasingly predictable age (I’m talking about audio tools, not politics or the climate), I have to believe in the power of randomness and accident to improve what I do. Unanticipated zigzags are just to my liking, and they’re what make music and art interesting to me.
What does this have to do with electrons? Beats me. That said:
When I was originally wiring up my studio, I researched all the raw materials I would need—lumber, sound absorbing and diffusing material, cabling—and calculated what I could afford to spend on each. Cabling is of particular importance to me; while I’m not a complete wire snob, in my experience high-quality cabling does have an effect on sound. Used cabling, while economical, is typically damaged by oversoldering, corrosion, or the oxidation that occurs after years or decades of use.
But around this time my old friend Jesse Quitslund (perhaps in need of ever more storage space for his empire of audio detritus) asked if I needed any vintage wiring. It seemed that when an ancient recording studio in Washington, D.C. (Capitol Recording?) was being torn down, Jesse had thought to rip out the tie lines between the tracking and control rooms. I’m all for reusing and recycling, but why would I want a large container of 50-year-old cabling?
“You know James Brown recorded here a bunch in the 60s, right?”
THAT stopped me in my tracks. Yes, the cabling was old, oxidized and obsolete. But JAMES BROWN had personally pushed electrons through it! Maybe a few of them were still hanging out in there….
Of course, I used the cabling after all. I cut my losses—that’s a cabling joke, for all .00001% of you who care—and used it for short runs, shelling out for Mogami and Canare for longer jobs. But the idea that perhaps the greatest American musician could lend just the faintest whiff of magic to my studio was too great to ignore.