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Hands On - Lexicon PCM 70 (part 1)

There are those who always want the latest, the most up to date, the flashiest and, perhaps, most expensive car on the market. Then there are those who prefer to own and drive an acknowledged classic...

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There are those who always want the latest, the most up to date, the flashiest and, perhaps, most expensive car on the market. Then there are those who prefer to own and drive an acknowledged classic, a Mark II Jaguar perhaps or an original Lotus Elan. A third group of people will understand the true function of personal transport apparatus and buy a low mileage secondhand mass market saloon, knowing that it will get them from A to B with the least fuss and least cost. There is a little of all of these ways of thinking in each of us, and it affects the way we see studio equipment too. If you have the latest and the best, then you know that your productions are breaking new ground and if your work finds favour then others will follow in your footsteps. If you use a classic piece of musical or studio equipment, then you know that the sounds you are dealing with have proved their worth, and marketability, thousands of times over. If you follow the third path, then you’ll be looking to buy a piece of equipment that does the job the way you want to do it at the least cost. This is perhaps the most sensible option. Do you agree?

No, I didn’t think you would. ‘Sensible’ people don’t get involved in music, they become lawyers, accountants and college lecturers. Safe, steady occupations, far removed from the thrill and excitement of working with music and sound, and handling equipment which has the capability of producing combinations of harmonies and timbres which have never before been experienced by human ears. Getting the job done efficiently and at least cost is not wholly compatible with producing an artistic product which eventually may affect the life and thoughts of those who hear it on record, tape or CD. (And before all those legal, financial and educational readers of Sound on Sound start writing me hate mail, I was of course referring to the perceived image they have for people outside these occupations. I know they are very exciting fields to work in really!)

One of the advantages of working with acknowledged classic pieces of equipment is that you can have a great deal of confidence that the sound they produce is right. Some top engineers can trust their ears totally, and if it sounds right to them then it is right without a shadow of a doubt, but lesser mortals like the rest of us find it helpful to have the benefit of other people’s judgment. When you have finished a track, don’t you always play it to someone you know and hope that they say they like it (and that they won’t just say they do to be nice)? Another way of getting the benefit of other people’s judgment is to use classic equipment. If a particular piece of equipment is well liked and well used by top engineers the world over, then it must be good mustn’t it? Of course, if you don’t use your own judgment too then your end product isn’t going to be terribly original, the important thing for a piece of music is for it to have a combination of the familiar and the new. Familiar chord and rhythmic structures together with an inventive use of melody perhaps. This is always the case with successful music. If absolutely every element of a new piece of music was totally novel, then we wouldn’t recognise it as music.

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By David Mellor Thursday January 1, 2004
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