Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Testing Alan Parsons

Those were such happy days and 9/11 was less than a decade away into the future. Digital audio had arrived firmly on the scene and good old analogue was fighting back with a little help from vacuum tubes. Torn between ones and zeros, I found it immensely rewarding in every sense of the word to regularly attend professional audio trade shows in England and Germany.

Back then, from a humble 4-track setup, I had upgraded to an analogue 8-track recorder that used ½” wide magnetic tape which moved at fifteen inches per second across the assembly of multiple heads and pinch rollers. Not many of today’s bottle-fed digital boys would know what it means watching 10½” wide reels spin. The same machine helped me record many jingles, voice-overs, at least two complete pop albums, and many pop singles, including Pyar Ki Piyas.

Back to the shows now; the one in Germany, called Musikmesse, would be held in April of each year at Frankfurt and extend over scores of stadium-sized exhibition halls. I only attended it once when invited by Studiomaster of UK. It was impossible to even walk casually through all the halls in three days, leave alone stop at each stall to see what was on display. The highlight of Musikmesse was the fantastic booth of Marshall guitar amplifiers. There a tall man, with curly hair covering his entire face, lead guitarist of Guns n’ Roses, stood dishing out autographs to the fans. Of course, Slash signed for me.
For all the APRS (Association of Professional Recording Services) shows I attended, the venue was always the Olympia Exhibition Centre in West Kensington, London. The English professional audio trade shows were always delightfully homely compared with other bigger shows held all over the globe. Apart from the relaxed yet professional atmosphere there, the great advantage was that everyone spoke English—even the Americans.

Making friends in the audio industry was as important as getting to know the manufacturers directly. I attended three APRS shows where the presence of rock stars and engineers like Alan Parsons, and knighted producers such as Sir George Martin (Beatles fame), always made the fairs worth attending.

Where professionals from the recording industry came from across the globe, it was important for me to have a neat business card. I would gladly hand out cards at the stalls of my choice and with great pride identify my studio, Sound On Sound, from Pakistan.

Sometime in the mid 80s, I designed the studio’s logo, keeping in mind the desirable elements of sine waves, two open reels with tape, spherical shock waves, and solid green letters placed against a black background inside a rectangular enclosure with round edges.

Soundcraft, Lexicon, Tube Tech, AKG, Neumann, Drawmer and so many other manufacturers quite unknown to the average consumer, would set up stalls at the show to highlight their latest offerings to the recording professionals. For instance, Japanese TEAC was a consumer brand, while the same company had a division called TASCAM that catered to audio professionals.

Similarly, Switzerland’s REVOX went by the name of STUDER for professionals. All through the three days there would be seminars, interesting demonstrations of new technology, innovative products using valves (things that glow in the dark and produce desirable warm sound), free drinks and snacks, all the product catalogues one could carry to the studio, and souvenirs to take home.

Particularly worth mentioning here is loudspeaker manufacturer JBL. When I complained to their European representative that one of the titanium tweeters of my studio (monitor) speakers had begun to distort within only a few years of use, he asked for my business card and said, “I’ll see what I can do”.

A few weeks later in Pakistan, I received a parcel. Inside it was a replacement tweeter for which I was not charged a single penny.

Of course, APRS shows were not meant for selling directly but rather for highlighting products and services. It was during one such wandering from booth to booth that I ran into a small kiosk being managed by a very tall man. A poster in the background identified him as Alan Parsons of the famous Alan Parsons Project.
Many may not have heard of this great British progressive soft rock band, active between 1975 and 1990 and popularly called APP. It had a cult following, produced global hits, and used ace studio musicians who worked under Alan’s recording and production umbrella. The band also released their 1976 debut album Tales Of Mystery And Imagination directly inspired by American writer, Edgar Alan Poe.

Hit albums followed, namely: I Robot (1977), Pyramid (1978), The Turn of a Friendly Card (1980), Eye in the Sky (1982), Ammonia Avenue (1984), Vulture Culture (1985), Stereotomy (1986) and Gaudi (1987). Alan is the same giant who, at EMI Abbey Road studios of London, engineered an album called The Dark Side Of The Moon by a group called Pink Floyd. In case you do not know Pink Floyd, please do not waste time reading this article.

Alan also did three albums for Al Stewart (including, The Year Of The Cat), worked on The Beatles’ Let It Be album, The Hollies (He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother, The Air That I Breathe), Paul McCartney and the Wings, and with George Harrison (All Things Must Pass album). With multiple Grammy nominations and Best Engineer awards under his belt, he conquered sound from the English soil. Befittingly, in 2007, the APRS Hall Of Fame inducted him as a Sound Fellow.

But what was Alan selling at the APRS show? In collaboration with Stephan Court (audio consultant and designer), he had produced the SOUND CHECK audio test CD. The disc was not to have songs but rather test tones and white and pink noises that professionals could use for sound analysis and audio equipment repairs. I may as well add here, so well engineered are Alan’s own APP albums that manufacturers still use them to demonstrate new CD players at audio trade shows.
Young, brimming with enthusiasm and thirsty for audio knowledge, I just had to have that test CD for my recording studio because I suspected that Alan would not speak to me unless I paid for the CD in cash. It was a perfect stop where I expected some magic to rub off on me if I shook hands with Alan. I was able to get him to mumble something about studio techniques; the man was a mountain of expert knowledge and experience. He was kind enough to autograph the CD for me and allow a picture of us to be taken.

And one last bit of trivia. Mike Myers being a dedicated Alan Parsons fan, named his Dr Evil’s Death Ray, The Alan Parsons Project in the movie The Spy Who Shagged Me.

Yeah baby yeah!

L i n k s  f o r  m o r e  i n f o r m a t i o n
Pyar Ki Piyas (پیاس کی پیار): Will The Real Man Behind It Please Stand Up?
Pyar Ki Piyas (پیار کی پیاس): Urdu Lyrics With English Translation


Anonymous said...

really enjoyed reading the blog, i remember
seeing that picture of yours with Alan in
your studio :)

one of my favorites from APP


TGH said...

Thanks Umaar, this must be your first appearance here!
Thank God you've seen me because so many others don't even know what I look like on Facebook and this blog!
So what's happening? Give up the keyboard and get back to the guitar. I have!

Rahul Sharma said...

Ah atlast the wayward professor finds the comment box! Enjoyed your blog tremendously, and have asked my colleagues to follow it. Loved the parodies too. Pleasure to get to know you Tahir sahab.

TGH said...

Huzoor Sharma jee:
Way-ward professor? I don't know which WAY you took to reach the WARD?
Thanks for dropping by; your able secretary did it I guess!
Please ask the RIGHT kind of colleagues to follow this space!
And how come I don't see your guitar in the FOLLOWERS' box (see LH sidebar)?
And your beloved is quite asleep as far as interaction here is concerned. Damn this FB!
Regards, professor! :))