Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Computer Changed Everything. Again. Again.

I've already written sockaliciously here about one composer's (mine) history with the as-they-develop cutting edge methods for producing the on-the-page renditions of our warp-o-mungous imaginations. As they say on the Facetube, it's complicated.

Today's indulge-o-fest brings us to 1964. The Beatles are all the rage, and my sister is collecting Beatles cards, awarding me any of the duplicates. My mother's name is, unfortunately, Barbara Ann, and a lot of the local adults sing The Beach Boys at her. Not to her. And since I am six, I am a prime target of toy purveyors on television, being suckered by creepy commercials such as this one.
The longing for a Penny the Poodle is, these many years later, inexplicable, but it was unquenchable at the time. I pretty much knew my grandmother would get me one for Christmas, so in my letter to Santa, I asked for Johnny Seven O.M.A. — a sort of Swiss Army Knife plastic machine gun toy. I'm pretty sure I never got that (my parents weren't into rôle-playing with guns — I hope you appreciate the circumflex), so I had to settle for the creepy plastic poodle. I think I played with it for a week, and it went into a box.

Penny was pink.

I can verify that Penny the Poodle worked as advertised, and yes, I took her/it for a walk on the iced-over Messenger Street to show to the Gordon family two houses over.

Another new family acquisition right around that time was the newfangled Sony tape recorder. A very big tape recorder. Very big. Just about two-thirds the size of your average styrofoam picnic cooler. It looked a little like this one. It was grayish/silverish with black trim, had VU meters (what was that?) and something with the word "capstan" on it, a speed control, a record button, play, fast forward, rewind, stop, the works. There was a small speaker on either side of the cooler box. We had empty "reels", several reels of blank tape, and two commercially-recorded, commercially produced reels destined for the burgeoning home tape recorder market: the My Fair Lady soundtrack, and something else I forgot. Getting to a favorite song on that My Fair Lady tape was sure cumbersome — thread the tape through the capstan(?), catch it just so in the empty reel, turn the empty reel with your right hand until you are sure it has caught, turn it some more, turn it some more, turn the handle to play, then to fast forward, wait, wait, check where it is, play, fast forward some more, too far, rewind, play, fast forward, play ... pretty much, given current standards, like utilizing a sledgehammer to swat a fly. (as the 1970s RAID commercials would put it, now the fly would be very dead)

Occasionally the above process would result in a misfeed and what became known as tapemangle.

So really, what was this home recording device good for? The vinyl of My Fair Lady was a lot less cumbersome with which to work — you know, we have the expression drop the needle for a reason. But of course. Two accessories which also came with the Sony tape recorder were two slim dark gray microphones. Two! Stereo recording, if you were so inclined!

The tapes were slightly analagous to vinyl. Even though we didn't know what the designation meant, the Sony tape recorder was a quarter-track recorder. A designation that only makes sense coupled with the professional's model, the half-track recorder. Our quarter-track tapes could be turned over and recorded on the other side! Doubling your pleasure! There was no way, however, with this particular technology, to record something and then hear it backwards. Good thing the dwarf in Twin Peaks didn't have only our Sony tape recorder with which to work.

We could have instant cartoon voices, should we be so inclined. For you see, the Sony tape recorder also had two possible speeds: 3-3/4 inches per second, and 7-1/2 inches per second. Record at the slower speed and play it back faster (it's Alvin and the Chipmunks!) or vice versa (it's ... well, an effect to appear as voices of scary characters in horror movies about a decade hence...)! What's more, you could record in mono on track 1, and later record in mono on track 2 without erasing what was on track 1. This feature was used, at the time, to get more stuff on to the tape, before a budding young musician in the family discovered it could be used for sound-on-sound recording.

There was also a pause toggle — instantly stop the tape while recording, instantly start it again.

So just what was this two-thirds of a cooler used for? Well, duh, for recording. All kinds of things to be listened to (lovingly or laughingly) later, or simply erased. Mom singing O Holy Night. Dad reading The Night Before Christmas. Davy playing a recorder solo with piano. Mom and Jane singing Now the Day is Over. Davy reading The Friendly Book ("I like cars. Big cars. Little cars. Big fat .... (mom's voice, gently: limb-o-ZEEN) limb-o-ZEEN cars"). Grandpa Rakowski (Charles, hence the C. in David C. Rakowski) singing old Polish folk songs (when I say "singing" I mean something slightly different). Dad's brother Walter exhorting Davy to sing along with the record of the Beatles' There's a Place (on the flip side of the 45 of Twist and Shout). Davy and some schoolmates singing songs from music class — like Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

The tape recorder would customarily lay dormant — just like our supermarket classical record collection — for months and years at a time.

In the meantime, the home recording market evolved, and smaller recorders, playing at slower speeds, accepting smaller reels, were the rage. We got us one of those suckers, which was about the size of a laptop, though much deeper. It spent much of its time in the basement recording really, really awful jam sessions with me and Jim Hoy. Jim played a toy drum set, and I played a toy guitar. When I say "played" I am being extremely generous. Our big hit was "End of the World", in which I intoned the tune's title repeatedly while Jim sang other stuff. The blackmail quotient on these tapes, were they to be located, is very, very high.

Soon we returned to the Sony tape recorder, now celebrating an amazingly long life, for its pause control. We invented a question-and-answer game in which the questioner controlled the pause, thus being able to edit, in real time, the questions and answers. Hilarity ensued. We also discovered the sound-on-sound capability alluded to earlier, inventing a question-and-answer game wherein the questioner anticipated the response of the questionee, resulting in far less hilarity, but an odd postmodernist irony. Long, long before postmodernist irony was all the rage.

Being the only game in town, reel-to-reel tapes (called just "tapes" before there were competing formats) were the coin of the realm. When I was in sixth grade, the music teacher types decided I'd fit in playing in the band, despite my body size, in the District high school music festival, and I was given second trombone parts. They were by far the most difficult stuff I'd been asked to play at that point, and I practiced them obsessively. When I say practiced, I mean something else. After the festival, my parents scored tapes of the district festival concert, so that I could a) not give back my second trombone parts, and b) play along with the tapes any time I wanted. It wasn't Music Minus One exactly — more like Music Plus Eighty-Five Minus One.

In high school I acquired another use for the sound-on-sound feature — a whole bunch of Davy Plus Davy recordings, showing off my new compositional output, as well as making a whole bunch of unlistenable piano recordings of tunes from Chicago albums (channel 1: the chords; channel 2: the melody). I wrote a slow tune for trombone and piano, which I still have on a cassette transfer, with Davy on trombone, Davy on piano. And my crowning sound-on-sound achievement, possibly lost to history, was a recording of my Opus 8 No. 1, a choral setting of the phrase "Pickles and Ice Cream" several times, and with imitative counterpoint, in A major (slow middle section in compound meter in the parallel minor). The work's title is Pickles and Ice Cream (Op. 8 Nr. 1) and the recording features, according to the announcer (me), David Rakowski on soprano, David Charles Rakowski on alto, David Charles Randolph Rakowski on tenor, and David Charles Randolph Rakowski The First on bass.

So by the time I entered college, I had plenty of experience with the reel-to-reel tape format.

But also a bit of experience with the first serious challenge to the format. For in my freshman year of high school I was given for Christmas a portable cassette tape recorder, along with one example in the format: Stand, by Sly and the Family Stone. I played it a lot without listening too closely. Eventually I also procured cassette versions of Jesus Christ Superstar and Chicago albums, and for the Christmas that followed, Dad got me a stereo Hitachi cassette player/recorder, with two detachable speakers and very long speaker wires — the bulky precursor to the boombox. It was set up in my bedroom with the speakers on the north and south walls, and I was always impressed that in Jesus Christ Superstar, Caiaphas always came out of the north speaker.

The Hitachi thing was quite bulky, but manageable for carrying around without the speakers. I recorded my first mix tapes, with microphones next to the two speakers in our living room stereo system, of Christmas tunes (I could leave out the lame tunes that stunk up the place!), which were impressive — especially given the inability for ambient sounds to be filtered out. When I hear Sleigh Ride at Christmas time, I still imagine I hear my father calling to my mother.

The Hitachi soon graduated from home recording device to surreptitious concert recording device. The parents were just barely sufficiently technically adept to press Play and Record simultaneously, so I could have, say, sound documents of our band concerts. Which was really important, since I was able to listen, over and over should I want, to the performance of the first piece I ever wrote, for our band. It started about ten minutes in on a C-60 (I was starting to learn the lingo). Perhaps five years later, that cassette misfed on a cheap machine, and the repair — necessitating the amputation of a few seconds of music — took forever while also teaching me new skills. That cassette, though — apparently lost. Backing up just wasn't the thing back then.

In college, all our composer concerts were professionally recorded, and for a slightly more than modest fee, we could get cassettes or reel-to-reels (the formats had their own names now) of our own pieces. Cassettes were, of course, more convenient, but word was the reels were of a higher quality. I usually got one of each. I didn't need more than one, because the original recording was always in a clean, well lighted place for tapes, and I could get more.

At this point, it occurs to me that a picture is called for to break up the textual monotony, but I have nothing appropriate for the subject. So here I am in 1975 as Officer Avonzino in a production of a Thornton Wilder play. The pictures the parents took from the audience were about as clear as the recordings they made from the audience.

The electronic music course at NEC was required for composers, and that was a lot of acoustic theory together with hands-on use of synthesizers, electronic keyboards and tape recorders — reel-to-reel only, please, keep that cassette crap out of here. Here we recorded only half-track recordings on Aiwa professional machines — half-track recordings used up the entire tape width, so when you turned them over, they played backwards (with the channels reversed), and much hilarity could ensue. And we had to compose electronic music. To do that, we created, or appropriated, sound sources, using EML or ARP synthesizers, or yelling, screaming, playing, into some microphones, and we ... spliced ... our pieces together. Thus did I become acquainted with the splicing block — a heavy piece of metal that gripped your recording tape and gave you little guide paths for you to cut the tape, either vertically, or diagonally, with a razor (yes, splicing was dangerous!). You could then use the block to join two disparate pieces of tape, using adhesive tape manufactured specifically for this purpose (it was called splicing tape), and voilà! two sounds once separate are now consecutive!

For my composition for this class, I recorded a bunch of disparate sounds and cut them into various lengths on the splicing block. I jumbled them up, and put them back together in whatever order emerged. I then stereo-recorded that sound montage together with itself played backwards. This functioned as a transition in my piece. Other stuff was recorded either in real time, or spliced with actual purpose aforethought.

Meanwhile, with the help of the Aiwa half-track recorders, I had started learning how to say things backwards so that played forwards they sounded correct, but with an unidentifiable accent, and with a dozen years of language skills removed. Those days were later relived with the Yak Bak, a screamingly fun, if limited, toy now alas defunct. The speech of the dwarf in Twin Peaks was accomplished this way.

When graduation was more than a year away and graduate school loomed, two issues presented themselves: massive production of scores to accompany the applications, as well as recorded performances. Recorded performances! I sent no recorded performances with my college applications (though I was required to send a reel-to-reel of myself playing my minor instrument, the trombone, and that was the Hindemith Sonate, with Verne Colburn struggling mightily through the interminable dotted rhythms in the piano part — that tape was returned to me with either "UG" or "VG" penciled onto it), but I shonuff needed some pretty spiffy-sounding stuff if I wanted to go to a good grad school. So an AIWA cassette-dubbing deck was the next piece of major hardware for me (I have not been without a double cassette dubbing deck, ever, since 1978. Though the one I have now hasn't been used for anything but playing Christmas music since we bought this house in 2000). One cassette could record that which was played in the other cassette bay. It could even record and play back in Dolby. Nobody could tell me what Dolby was, except that it was a good thing — better than no Dolby. There was also, eventually Dolby B and Dolby C — but no Dolby A. Woe be it unto him who records a Dolby C cassette with the Dolby B toggle set. Nobody knew what Dolby C was, either, except that it was better than Dolby B. We think.

And for these mammoth applications — I'm talking really mammoth here, since Juilliard required everything you've written in the two years prior to the application, which in my case, given that during my sophomore year I wrote a piece a week ... was a library unto itself (I remember my interview with the composition faculty there and the pile of scores dwarfing Roger Sessions, who didn't say much). So I had to be sure to get the best cassette recordings I could (the order form now included a checkmark for Dolby or not Dolby), and ... well, of course. The best cassettes.

I already knew that cassettes tended to come in lengths commensurate with playing time, which is how they were labeled. A C-30 cassette gave you fifteen minutes on each side. Also available were C-45, C-60, C-90, and for a short time, C-120. In high school I had learned that they made the tape thinner for a C-120 in order to get that much length, and invariably within a week it caused tapemangle. And now I consulted many experts — a lot of them self-designated — as to which brand and variety within the brands were the best (and ... I was so innocent ... which of them were likely to show to a panel or jury that I was actually serious about what I was doing). It boiled down to TDK and Maxell — TDK SA and Maxell XL or XL-II. The Maxell cassettes had black casings with letters printed in gold, so obviously they were the superior ones. And since Roman numerals trump no Roman numerals, it was XL-II. Which soon was itself trumped by XL-IIS. I don't know what the S meant (savory? silly? simplythebest?), but since TDK couldn't keep up in the name length wars (it only made it as far as SA-X), it was Maxell XL-IIS for me, baby. I bought 'em in bulk. Thirty-three bucks for a box of ten, baby.

And now that cassette was, temporarily, the preferred medium to let the world know what a fantastic composer I might someday become if I could only get over this juvenilia thing, I got me a cassette splicing block. Which was to a real splicing block as Rhode Island is to Texas; what a sparrow is to a seagull; what a bookmark is to a novel; what the St. Albans Citizens Band is to "The President's Own". And when the occasional tapemangle happened, I was on the case! I used my $35 splicing block ... once! (I still have it ... somewhere...)

In grad school, the preferred medium for concert performances was — you guessed it — reel-to-reel tape. And here there was a special status reserved for how the tape was stored when not in use: heads out or tails out. Heads out was ready to play — but since the part with the music on it was closest to the ... uh, surface, I guess ... it was more prone to printthrough. That was bits of the magnetized stuff on the tape finding sympathetic resonance with the tape right next to it, etc. For a great example of printthrough, check out the original recording of Steve Reich's Four Organs, which has it in generous quantities, and which is available in digital format. Go ahead, I can wait.

I'm back, and refreshed. Tails out meant that the tape was stored on what was functionally the take-up reel. You had to put the reel on the right, and rewind the whole thing before it could be played. More time-consuming, yes. Less printthrough? Actually, the jury is still out on that.

Splicing music
And when the Atlantic String Quartet came in to do readings, I was able to use my considerable tape splicing skills to put together a convincing representation of my Five Bagatelles — a piece that's only half juvenilia (the other half is love). I was pretty zippy at splicing, and I had my own splicing theme music that I hummed while I was doing it — music much revered by Martler and Beff, who witnessed it.

Breathtakingly soon, the preferred medium of sound representation was again the cassette, and so over the next decade and a half I accumulated a vast library of cassette masters. Cassette was the default format for performance recordings coming from the recording engineers, so when I needed to send out samples, I piled up my masters, inserted them one by one into the dubbing deck, and recorded. The time it took thus to make a demo cassette was the time it took to hear the tracks, plus five to ten minutes for insertion and rewinding.

Since the cassette enjoyed a long reign (not in geological time, though) as the default format, anyone who required composer work samples started making up big, hard, and fast rules in order to make their work easier. Imagine you have a 9-minute piano piece, a 15-minute orchestra movement, and a 12-minute piano trio to represent yourself. That fits handily onto one side of a C-90 (XL-IIS, please). Now imagine a panel evaluating you for an award that promises thousands of dollars and a solid Gold resumé line, and it needs to hear bits of all three. The panel also has about eight dozen more packages to evaluate after it is done with yours. If all three pieces are on the same cassette, then to listen to them all, they have to fast forward to where they think the second piece starts, rewind if they overshot it, fast forward again, etc. to find the beginning of the second piece. Then the same again for the third piece. More than half the evaluating time allotted could be spent just finding where the pieces start.

So new rules. Each piece must start at the beginning of its own cassette! And that means this application just got more expensive by $6.60 in materials alone. But on the other hand. When the materials came back, you could tell how far into each piece they listened, if at all. Because who has time to rewind? And when you lost you could tell all of your friends they only listened to the first eighteen and a half bars of your piano trio, way before that masterful transition that everybody except one of your former teachers thought was really great.

Meanwhile, while you weren't looking, the Sony Walkman came into existence, causing a major a-splosion in cassette sales and an equally major a-splosion in hearing loss. Blank cassette sales a-sploded, too, since the mix tape became a genre unto itself (I myself made it to 15 in the Dance Tape series ... ah, but Dance Tape 8 is still the standard by which all other dance tapes are judged). And a few years later, here came the Recording Walkman. Slightly larger than the Walkman, it recorded halfway decently, it had a built-in stereo microphone, and you could sneak it into a concert (tee hee hee). It would even fit into your pocket, thus avoiding detection by they that ush. And it was possible to have a document, however inferior, of once-in-a-lifetime events such as orchestra readings and large ensemble rehearsals. Editing, though ... uh, not really. The CD Walkman came out not that much later, but its sales didn't exactly catch fire, since it was not possible to make a mix tape in CD format. You had to repurchase your entire music collection to use it.

I had made a Recording Walkman recording of some runthroughs in a rehearsal, and I asked one of my students (for you see, the reign of the cassette lasted into my teaching years) if there was a way to splice together the good takes. He brought me into a dingy if technology-advantaged room with a digital editing workstation of some sort. With the speed of a prestidigitator, he converted all the analog cassette sound to digital sound on a hard drive, asked where the edits were to be made, and zoom! produced a nice clean edit. I blinked, so I missed most of it. And when it was all done, I received the sound file in one analog format (cassette) and two digital ones (Hi8 and DAT). Whoa, the next generation is right here in front of me and I don't even know what it is! And I shonuff don't have any hardware capable of playing back either of the digital formats. "That's okay. You'll be able to do a direct digital dump (digital sounds can poop?) onto any hard drive editing console with at least one of those digital formats." Uh huh. If that's not a pickup line, what is?

Well, so it turns out that the digital sound format was slowly gaining traction, especially among those who had the available funds to choose, say, between a digital editing station and a yacht. But the digital format suddenly, and dramatically, became an option when both Casio and Sony (it's always Sony!) started selling portable DAT recorders for less than a grand (the Sony, naturally, was called the DATMan), and Columbia Composers, with a fresh infusion of font money, got itself the Casio version.

Wait...why was DAT better than cassette? Well, a few reasons. Being digital, you can make exact copies — analog copies of analog tape always added noise and brought down the (jargon alert) signal-to-noise ratio. Digital tapes didn't have noise (or at least had much less hiss), and neither did the seventh generation copy of a digital tape. Plus, the tapes can take massive dumps into digital editing stations for augenblick editing. Okay, that sounds reasonable. I didn't really need a yacht anyway.

So when my caldamerda piano trio Hyperblue was getting its premiere in Boston, I asked Columbia composers if they had recording equipment that I could borrow to record it. They bulked me up: I got the Casio DAT, a microphone stand, a stereo digital mike, and a long microphone cable. It was a bit much to take on the train, but all of us made it there, and the extra expense of a taxi to the gig seemed like peanuts compared to the great tape that was about to be made. I set up just as I was supposed to, and nailed that sucker! It was a fantastic performance — Godlike, really — and I had a tape! I had a tape!

DAT/cassette masters
Thus did my giant library of cassette masters begin to be replaced by my giant library of DAT masters. Oh sure, I needed help getting a cassette master out of this Hyperblue DAT, since cassette still ruled. But I now had two DAT masters, superior in sound to their cassette analogs. And, of course, no way at home to hear them. But that wasn't an issue, since I had a cassette master I could use, with only 5dB of StoN lost (or so the geeks told me). And Dolby was not an issue.

But playback soon became an issue. It was clear the DAT format (not the "DAT tape" format, which would scan to Digital Audio Tape tape) was going to rule the world! Since suddenly, and without warning, the recording engineers now handed you a DAT, and not a cassette, of your performance. Uh, 'scuse me, how do I use this? Uh, duh, with a DAT player?

Thus did I get in touch with my homeys at J&R. The DATman was in their catalog, with a "call" price. My man there said it cost 700 bucks, and I said, "Hmmm. I know someone who got theirs for 600". I spoke with forked tongue, but my homey said, "Okay, six hundred." Try doing that kind of haggling with an online form.

The machine wasn't so big, but being digital and very picky, it actually used battery juice to open and close the unit for tape insertion and extraction. Indeed, opening the bay was so noisy I thought the batteries were completely drained every time. But hey — with an extra hundred bucks for a Sony TCS-310 digital mic, the rehearsal recording studio that they who ush won't detect was open for biz.

Too bad, though, that the DATman had tapemangle syndrome. Luckily, it didn't eat any of my prized masters, but I found out that any DAT brand except Maxell made it hungry. So, luckily for us, Sony saw the vast home market for Digital Audio Tape opening up, and we were early adopters of the DTC-670: the now comically-named Home DAT player/recorder.

Sony controlled both the CD and DAT formats, it seems, and they obviously didn't want to make it easy for home recordists to have exact copies of their CDs onto Digital Audio Tape, no, no, no. So the DTC-670 could play back at various sampling rates (how many numbers per second represent the sound, and higher numbers are better) but could record at only 48,000 samples per second. The sampling rate for CDs was, and is, 44,100 sample per second. With the newfangled optical interfaces it was possible to do another one of those data dump things with any digital source, including CDs, but your DAT of your CD would play back a little more than a half-step too high. MWA ha ha, said Sony, and not secretly.

Plus, the tape-load function on the DTC-670 — I swear the lights in the house dimmed whenever it was engaged.

But now we had entered the digital age, and we were fully outfitted to send out cassettes of whatever we needed to — since for applications and the like, that was still the preferred format.

When I changed jobs and had a considerable technology account on which to draw for new computer purchases, I up and called my homey Sean to ask about this Digidesign expansion card I'd heard about, that gave you the ability to do hard disk editing on a Mac, and also allowed for direct digital dumping from DAT. Sean replied, oh no no no, computers are now fast enough and hard drives big enough that you don't need any special extra hardware for that stuff. Sony makes a piece of hardware that interfaces with your computer so you can do digital dumps from your DAT players, and your old pal Sound Edit can handle the big sound files. By the way, CD sound files: 10 megabytes per minute of sound. Sean, how can I handle that? My computer could only handle 8 minutes of sound, even with all the system files and software removed. Gee, Davy, you haven't computer shopped in a while, have you?

Wow. I was able to get a Mac Clone (in that very narrow window when there was such a thing) with a 2 gigabyte hard drive, that weird Sony hardware, and ... yes, I was a very early adopter, in the fall of 1996, of the CD burner. My technology account covered the computer, monitor and Sony hardware. The $900 for the 2x CD burner came out of my own pocket. But it was a CD burner! I could ... burn ... CDs! And the CD blanks were only $74 for a box of 10! Expensive, sure, but they ... were ... CDs.

So now with a very complicated setup, I could do those digital dumps with the DATman, the Sony "Commander" (as we called it), and the Sound Control Panel in the Mac System software. Sweet. Dolce. Doux. And I was assured that there was no loss of StoN in the digital sound file now on the computer.

But hey, my DATs were at a sampling rate of 48k and to burn CDs I had to have the sound files at a sampling rate of 44.1k. Luckily Beff had been using SoundHack (shareware) for several years now, and not only could it handle large sound files, but it could resample them. So Step 2 was firing up SoundHack and resampling, and I accumulated plenty of sound files with the old file name followed by "44k".

What about the home DAT player? After two glorious years of service, and two trips to the Sony service center in Pennsylvania, mothballed. And my vast library of DAT masters? Transferred to backup ... CDs. CDs!

So with this vast array of now-digital sound technology, I was able to ... get this ... record the readings by the Lydian String Quartet of the spring 1997 minuet final projects, edit the ones with false starts, and send a CD to each and every class member. CD! Unheard of! Imagine the parents at home when the CDs arrived. "That's a CD of your final project? How do they do that? Is Brandeis rich or something?"

The wholesale and sudden shift to digital technology was slow to effect those hard and fast submission rules of granting organizations who have thousands of dollars for you and Artist Colonies. Indeed, I applied for a residency at the MacDowell Colony, submitting a tracked CD with the three specimens on it — heck, even the movements of the multi-movement pieces had their own tracks, so it would be simple to find the beginning of any track. For those who haven't figured it out yet, to do that, you press the "Next Track" button (or "Previous Track" to go in the other direction) until you are there. Time spent finding that beginning: 0:00:00.45.

Naturally, the MacDowell Colony wrote immediately to inform me that I hadn't followed the correct format for work sample submission. "The application instructions clearly state that each work must at the beginning of its own tape. We cannot accept media with multiple pieces on the same tape. Please resubmit your work samples following the proper format."

I complied, while explaining patiently that taking a CD out, putting another one in and pressing play took more time than pressing "Next Track", predicted that within five years everyone would be sending work samples on CD, and that they might revisit their submission rules. They did. Being an early adopter sometimes comes with awesome responsibility.

The next stage, now that CDs were possible, was creating templates for hip CD covers. That involved graphics software, of course. And then, for a time, CD labels were all the rage, and I created templates for those, too. Every Rakowski submission had an overkill of design, but the music was okay.

I started getting stuff out onto commercial CDs, thus spending plenty of time in control rooms with the great Judy Sherman. Judy recorded onto two DATs simultaneously, and they were, of course, the high end pro models — Panasonic SV-3800. Judy did her own transferring to hard disk and editing, and one of the editing expenses was an hourly one, to transfer the contents of the DAT to hard drive. After one recording session, she also sent me a small package; when I opened it, a spaghetti of tape emerged, surrounding what was once a DAT tape. There was a little note enclosed: "Hi Davy. Here's why I use two DAT recorders." It seems even the SV-3800 could suffer from Tapemangle Syndrome.

Sony stopped making the DTC-670. And new Sony DATmen were able to record at 44.1K.

New computers started coming with CD burners. CD-Rs came down in price. And magically, the storage limit of a CD-R exploded from 74 minutes to 80 minutes. I think there was some sort of cabal thing going on there.

New Macintoshes chucked the old serial ports in favor of USB and FireWire, making our Sony Commander obsolete. Recording engineers still gave us DATs of our performances, so something had to replace the Commander. Hillary Z showed the way: the MOTU 828, which had lots of options for getting sound onto your computer, including the one from a digital interface (we used as much of the 828 as humans used their brains in Defending Your Life) via the FireWire interface. To complement it, we also got a Panasonic SV-3800 for reliable DAT playback, and we were caught up.

SV-3800 and MOTU 828
...right around the time that recording engineers started giving us burned CDs of our performances as the default, thus relegating the Panasonic and MOTU 828 to very occasional use — only for capturing rehearsals we recorded with the DATman, which was and is still operable. And also for reading sessions in theory classes and composition classes at school.

Consider also now that hard drives are very big. Whereas my drive held two and a half CDs worth of data files when I started the CD-burning thing, now they hold hundreds of CDs worth of full-resolution sound files. So when I need a CD to send out, I fire up a program, drag the data files in from a big folder, click "Create CD" and go and do other stuff — instead of constantly loading tapes. Indeed, my collection of cassette and DAT masters is now only there for sentimental reasons.

The computer gives you a few more capabilities, too. If a performance is under tempo (I ask for a lot of notes, so this happens), you can speed it up without changing the pitch. And if the tape you get is noisy, you can reduce the noise, or take out pops and hiss from analog sources. And appear almost as if your juvenilia phase is over.

Fast forward to just a couple of years ago when Beff reads in a computer magazine about the new handheld flash recording devices. Whoa, this is big — an iPod-size contraption that records onto a digital camera card, and into computer-readable sound files. Directly into the files! No extra interface except a card reader — which we already have because we have several digital cameras. And the card reader is only twenty bucks, anyway. Several companies make them, and the grad students are walking around with their own. We each got an Edirol R-09 from Rick Scott at Parsons Audio, and we've been sated ever since. We've recorded rehearsals and class readings, have been able to post them as mp3s on class webspace, and ... oh, did I mention that the internet kind of took off?

The Edirol records onto SD cards, which are plenty cheap, and, of course, reusable. A cheap 1GB card will hold around 88 minutes of music, and we already have several 2GB and 4GB cards just lying around. So no comparison shopping (Maxell doesn't seem to make SD cards, but I could be wrong).

When my piano concerto was done by BMOP, I recorded the first rehearsal for reference, and so Marilyn could listen during her spare time. So it was simple to transfer the rehearsal takes to the computer, convert them to mp3 and e-mail them to her; thus she could listen in her hotel room and know what to expect in the orchestra around the part she'd already learned. Plus, when Marilyn gave a talk at Brandeis about learning this piece, before the premiere, here was a recording all ready to go. Cool, huh? Beats the heck out of Penny the Poodle.

The last time I had a recording session with Judy Sherman was 2008, and this time there were no DAT players — just a direct dump to a large hard drive. Which also had the capacity to burn CDs of any of its tracks. The bill for editing no longer included the time it took to dump the data onto a computer. Woo hoo!

So with our lovely and versatile Edirols, we are totally set.

Except that Sanyo decided to drop this thing on us. Let the drooling begin anew.