Thursday, March 19, 2009

In which we play a Kazoo Interlude

Projects, deadlines, too much workly stuff at this time. Plus I need to go up to the attic and try to find the Box O Tapes to start refreshing my memory. Tune in for next week's exciting classic, whatever it is.

O, yeah ... the Kazoos.

This being in the prehistoric, pre-internet times, and also being Lexington, we couldn't just you know google "Masterpiece Theatre theme" and get th' wisdom o' the ages delivered to our Sears Commodore 64 monitor in nanoseconds. If we strolled into the mall record store and asked, "Hey, you guys got the theme to Masterpiece Theatre?", we'd get the Thousand Yard Stare, which is what we did and what we got. This also being in the prehistoric, pre-home theatre times, we had kludged up an audio output from our teevee and ran it through the Other inputs of our fine fine Barney Miller's Marantz amplifier so's we could enjoy teevee audio in high fidelity n such. So the easier solution was to just rip the theme right off the air and dub it to a cassette. And then it was time for Midnight Audio.

Barb called our friend Doroth and asked if Doroth'd like to go out and do something different tonight. Doroth was always up for something different, so Barb told Doroth to meet her at the northwestest door of Ruckus Arenus on High Street in an hour. Since we lived a few blocks from the Big Gym, we walked over with our cassette and kazoos in hand. Barb went up to the aforementioned corner while I signed in at the famous Guard Condo. People in our shop were always signing in and out at all hours, so this was not unusual at all. I told the guard that I needed to pick up some gear out of the arenus sound booth for a show, and he nodded; whatever was on the guard condo teevee that Sunday night was pretty fascinating. Mental note: logical audience for MT includes guards on midnight shift. I stopped off in the shop, picked up a reel of tape and a couple of RE 20 microphones, and went up to the northwestest door on High Street, one of the thousands of doors that wasn't alarmed, and let Barb and Doroth in. Then, with mics tapes n kazoos we went to the Ruckus Arenus sound booth to record the Theme to Monsterpiece Theatre.

The Ruckus Arenus sound booth was set up as a recording studio for LCC and Opera Housus projects; so it had state-of-the-80s art Neve consoles, a couple of Tascam studio reel-to-reel decks, and a big ol' processor rack; way overengineered for the Ruckus Arenus PA system, but hey. Once in, if you didn't fire up the main amp racks to the cluster you had a very nice little recording studio; so I didn't fire up the main amp racks to the cluster, cued up the Masterpiece cassette, and set mics up for Barb n Doroth to tootle their little kazoos, just like 'at Slothrop the Singing Nincompoop kazooing his way across The Zone. We did a couple of dead takes trying to solve the problem of picking up leakage from the booth monitor, then decided it didn't matter anyway and added it as a sweetener into the dub; then Barb n Doroth kazootled their way through the entire cut in one take, interrupting themselves every so often with giggles. Figured that since it was in the bridge that too didn't matter, and besides it wasn't entirely unknown that the guard made rounds. So one take and we're done.

Audio editing at the time of course is razor blade n splicing block, with grease pencil and rocking the tape back n forth across the playback head looking for the right blurp. And of course it's a prime opportunity to space out and forget whether the playback head is head 1 or head 3. Which I did, as I cut off the head and spliced on the leader. So when we played the tape back, we lost the first note-and-a-half, which the kazoos had't come in on anyway because they couldn't hear the cue. Oh, well.

So we hand the tape to Keith, who plays it and asks, "Did you know that you have a false start to the music cue?" Well, yeah ... but ... does it matter? Keith gives me The Look: thought you Ruckus Arenus guys were, like, practically perfect in every way and you hand in this shabby thing? The kazoos are playing in the WLEX control room, and one of the regular newsies pokes his or her head in: What's that? We're thinking of this for the Monsterpiece theme. "Hey, that's pretty funny, what is it, kazoos?" Keith seizes the moment and runs the tape back to the beginning: Hey, what do you think about this open? and plays the blown edit. The newsie listens, shrugs, asks "Does it matter?" I'm thinking about it, wincing at the edit and about to say "Let's do it over," when Keith decides, "It's good enough for now. You guys will probably be making some noise or something during the opens anyway."

Yeah, probly.


  1. Love this take on the kazoos. I always wondered where you got that track, and the other kazoo tracks. I actually quite liked it when it debuted, but was more a fan of the cold open once you guys got into a groove about that.

    I'm at a loss as to the movies after The Sentinel... I used to know the first six or so by heart... I'm an old man now though.

    Can't wait for the next exciting chapter!

  2. I'd like to add that that one SFX scream (AIEE! AIIIIEEEEEE!) that you guys always used just played on Good Eats.

  3. The kinder love Good Eats. Eldest Son remarks that it looks like Our Show. "We all draw from the same shared cultural experiences, me lad."

    Barb and I seldom specified music or sound FX gags. We did spec some -- the "Happy Ending" for the Frankenstein close, "Dead Puppies" and "Dead Skunk" for Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things, "Hurrah for the Pirate King" for Bluebeard, the faux Apocalypse Now open for whatever show that was -- but the ongoing soundscape was entirely the work of whoever was audio that night. Sometimes we'd hand them something we liked for bump or close music, but it wasn't necessarily thematic beyond being an uptempo rowdy close. Doug Crowe really took off and ran with the soundscape when he did audio for a show. Sometimes he'd feed what he was doing out into the studio so Barb could react to it, sometimes we wouldn't hear it until we played the show tape back. That scamp. I have no idea where he got his stuff, and I'd bet he spent his own money on it. No doubt he is a Person of Serious Mien these days and disowns any knowledge of such childish poltroonery, but we know better.

  4. If your show were being done today, my older brother would be perfect for choosing the odd music for the shows. Seriously, he knew nothing of bittorrent one day, I show it to him, and the next time I'm in Kentucky he had just the most incredible eclectic music I've ever seen. He even had "The Onomatopoeia Song," which freaked us out when it was on your show because all of us gathered around the stereo Sunday nights to listen to Dr. Demento, and we all knew it.