Initiated during an Audio Engineering Society Historical Committee meeting in 1997 by long-time member Irv Joel, the AES Oral History Project was envisioned as a personal record of the creative and technical thought process of the doyens of professional audio.
"This AES Oral History Project was initiated as an inspiration to new generations of audio industry professionals," explains AES executive director Roger Furness. "Education remains an AES priority, and these unique DVD personal histories represent a priceless link between the past contributions of our worldwide membership and the on-going innovations of our rapidly evolving future.
"Irv Joel has had close, long-standing relationships with many of the giants of our industry," he continues. "In addition to co-ordinating the interviews, he served as cameraman and off-camera interviewer for the greater part of them, a massive undertaking. The entire professional audio community owes him a vote of thanks for producing over 100 irreplaceable one-on-one interviews."
In 2007, after 10 years of shooting with a basic lighting kit, two lavalier mics and a Sony Digital-8 Camcorder, Joel brought industry veteran Harry Hirsch on board to glean through a capacious amount of video, photographic and related material scrupulously organised by technical director John Chester in preparation for the transfer to individual DVDs. Working with Final Cut Pro, Hirsch devoted hundreds of hours to the massive editorial project. Over 40 DVDs have since been completed.
"Working on these interviews has been an amazing and inspirational journey through the evolution of our industry," Hirsch confides.
"Certainly, the best-known example of this pure natural genius is Les Paul," Hirsch continues. "His visions of electric guitars and multitrack recording were as revolutionary as Einstein's Theory of Relativity. However, Kees Immink's visualisation of the compact disc was equally revolutionary, and has impacted as dramatically on our world as any invention since multitrack."
Hirsch says he found Robert Orban's descriptions of his work on the OPTIMOD process (which combines several processing structures into a
single box to maximise loudness while meeting government broadcast regulations) equally riveting.
John Chester recalls how the process of capturing the Oral History has evolved. "When Irv began shooting the interviews, it quickly became obvious that it wasn't easy to get good audio into a consumer camcorder," he says. "The only audio input is mic level, and there's no way to switch off the automatic level control. The input level has to be set just below the ALC threshold to get reasonable signal to noise and avoid horrible ALC artifacts. I created a 2-channel power supply unit for a pair of Audio-Technica lavalier mics, with separate level control for each mic. I also built a box with a pair of VU meters, which was connected to the line output of the camera, and calibrated to read record level. Now we had a way to set the input levels just right. This set-up was used for almost all of the interviews.
"When Harry was recruited to edit the interviews, I began copying the original Digital-8 tapes to Mini-DV tapes. The Mini-DV copies were sent to Harry for editing. This copy is lossless, because Mini-DV uses the same codec as Digital-8.
"Fortunately the original videos were in excellent condition," Hirsch reveals. "I uploaded the material to Final Cut Pro, for editing, and then transferred it to DVD. Working with a G4 Apple MacPro laptop and two terabyte external drives, I generally devote upwards of three hours of editing to each hour-long DVD.
"At the recent 127th Convention Irv interviewed Phil Ramone and Bob Ludwig, Michael Fleming interviewed Saul Walker, and PSNE/PAMA founder Paul Gallo interviewed Richard Factor, Chris Stone and Tom Owen.
"We're already preparing a list of candidates for our next flight of interviews at the 128th Convention in London (22-25 May), and the following San Francisco Convention in November," Hirsch says.
Industry leaders featured in the Oral History series so far include Frank Abbey, David Hewitt, Stanley Lipshitz, Bruce Martin, John Meyer, Kunimaro Tanaka, Neville Theile, Floyd E Toole and - yes! - former AES president David Robinson.
Asked which gurus from the past would have been on his wish list, Hirsch immediately mentions Thomas Alva Edison, then adds Irv Joel's suggestion, the equally accomplished if not as well recognised transformer designer, Dean Jensen.
"Irv Joel, Harry Hirsch and John Chester are making an invaluable contribution to the appreciation and understanding of our industry's early prime-movers," comments AES Historical Committee co-chair Bill Wray. "We are fortunate to have a library of over 60 additional videotaped interviews, all of which are planned for DVD release and, we will continue to produce an on-going series of interviews with current and future visionaries."
"Many leading pro-audio schools already added our initial productions to their libraries," concludes Furness. "We look forward to a steadily growing subscription list as meaningful new titles are added to this collection.
DVDs are priced at $15 for AES members, $20 for non-members. AES London runs 22-25 May