Further Down the Road: Vol. 2 “Tape Never Lies”

Welcome back to “Further Down The Road,” a series of stories crafted for those between the starting line and my road marker. This month’s publication is focused on Home Recording, so allow me to share a few of my thoughts from forty plus years of recording.

My inaugural article, “On Fire,” recounted my 1970 journey of fleeing Lawrence, Kansas, a radical town on fire, and moving to a cabin high in the Rocky Mountains where I became radically on fire for God. Living in that rustic setting limited us to a single line of electricity from a pole down on Highway 40. With barely enough power to light the cabin at night, we unplugged everything to record with our Sennheiser 441 microphones and Studer ReVox A77 tape deck.

Recording is an amazing phenomenon and a luxury never to be taken for granted. Until microphones were invented in the late 19th century, it was impossible to archive audio creativity. I wonder how much an unplugged recording of David playing to his sheep in the fields of Bethlehem would fetch at a Sotheby’s Auction?

My fascination with sound began with the surplus of hearing aids floundering in a cabinet drawer in my grandparent’s kitchen nook. My grandmother lost her hearing in the influenza pandemic of 1918. Out of loss comes gain. She went to work for Zenith and brought home used devices for less fortunate people in her circle. It didn’t take long for me to retrofit the components for alternate amplification purposes.

Growing up in the space race, my first tape recorder was a 3M Wollensak Reel to Reel Monophonic 3000, with microphone. Opening that black hardshell plastic case and threading that first roll of tape made me feel like a secret employee at NASA.

I remember the inexplicable joy the first time I cranked the function knob to engage the record head. Watching the VU meters jumping and the digit counter rolling higher numbers as I spoke, “Testing One, Two,” launched me into orbit.

But, what goes up must come down. The pinnacle moment was supposed to come after reversing the knob and listening to playback mode. Instead, I hit the earth as hard as John Glenn in Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962.

“That doesn’t sound like me,” I proclaimed, as if the primal unit had malfunctioned. My parents and sisters quickly retorted, “Yes, it does, it sounds exactly like you.”

Thus began the baptism of fire and central lesson of this elementary article. TAPE NEVER LIES. Beyond exposing humans to accept themselves “AS IS,” recording can also be as awkward as a Catholic in a confession booth. There is no place to hide. You can condemn yourself and never rise above the shame of not sounding as good as your favorite singer, or you can choose to embrace the liberating freedom of authenticity.

Reverting back to the cabin, my first voyage into professional Home Recording, I painfully recall the verbal battles with other band members as we were laying down our songs. As a new believer in Jesus, I renounced the belief that we played better stoned. I was rebuffed like Will Ferrell in the infamous Blue Oyster Cult SNL skit. Those disputes were resolved without a word from me at the breakfast playback listen session. Once again, tape never lies.

In closing, I could have waxed on about the instrument positioning of my Neumann microphones, settings on Neve 1074 Mic-Pre’s or Manley EL-OP’s, and all of the other vintage analog jewels that I employ for superior home recordings, but I thought you might be better served with the assurance that you possess something that no one else has in their rack … the ability to be who God created you to be. Authenticity trumps flashy talent and gear.

Abide in Jesus,

Paul Clark

Rear View Mirror: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27). How has hearing the Lord’s voice impacted you? Have you resolved the conflict with your voice? Discuss.

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