Tape Op: The Book About Creative Music Recording

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Some time ago, I reviewed Tape Op, a magazine dedicated to creative, do-it-yourself audio recording edited by the well-regarded Portland studio owner and hipster engineer, Larry Crane. Since then, the first twelve issues of Tape Op have gone out of print and the magazine has gained an increasingly large following...

Edited by Larry Crane, Introduction by Tony Visconti

Reviewed by Jonathan Sterne

Saturday, November 24 2001, 8:22 AM


Some time ago, I reviewed Tape Op, a magazine dedicated to creative, do-it-yourself audio recording edited by the well-regarded Portland studio owner and hipster engineer, Larry Crane. Since then, the first twelve issues of Tape Op have gone out of print and the magazine has gained an increasingly large following comparable to that of a punk graphic design magazine such as Emigre, equally patronized by artists and enthusiasts alike. In fact, this spring marks the first-ever Tape Op conference. It will be held in Sacramento, California.

The Tape Opbook contains the better part of the first 10 issues of the Tape Op 'zine and selections from issues 11-14. It's divided into five chapters: home recording; artists and bands; engineers, producers and studios; knowledge and techniques; and recording equipment. Though the promotional copy of the book promised that some of the printed interviews would be longer in the book than they were in the magazine, on a quick comparison with a few pieces, I didn't notice any significant differences. So I'm not sure I'd recommend shelling out for the book if you already have the complete Tape Op back catalogue. If you're new to Tape Op, however, this anthology will be a great introduction.

The book opens with an introduction by Tony Visconti, a reknown British producer who has worked with David Bowie, T Rex, Iggy Pop, and many others. Visconti attacks the nostalgia modern recordists have for the 1970s: "Recording is an art. Steadily we have been given more brushes and colors for our palette over the years. I have often been asked how we got our records to sound the way they did in the 60's, 70's and early 80's. Before I could answer, I would be told that it was all down to analog tape and vintage consoles, just fill in the blank. Nothing could be further from the truth". Viconti argues that engineers made great records in decades past because they had to fight with and overcome the limitations of crappy and unreliable equipment. And that is the Tape Op attitude: make the best recordings possible with the gear you have at hand.

Many of the chapters come in the form of interviews, which range widely across gear, technique, attitude and anecdotes. You will learn, for instance, that Guided By Voices pursued a "lo-fi" approach to recording because Bob Pollard's wife Kim would not let him spend big money in a big studio. But you'll also learn about 4-track tricks, how to make a live recording with a minimum of gear, and how little some of the great 4-track recordists actually needed to make great records. The requisite Steve Albini interview is in here 񠦡mp;quot;there's no reason to fiddle around with a bunch of new, cutting-edge nonsense if it doesn't do the job as well" 񠡮d you'll find interviewees both praising and lambasting new digital recording formats.

Comparing these early essays collected together with a more recent issue will also give you a sense of where the magazine has gone. Tape Op now has much more extensive letters and Q & A sections, more gear reviews (including reviews of gear that no budget home recordist could afford), and is willing to move more into the domain of professional recording. But the spirit of the magazine remains the same, right on down to the fact that you can subscribe to it for free. Tape Op is the major alternative to big corporate music production magazines, which sometimes read very much like equipment catalogues.

The Tape Op book is not, strictly speaking, an introduction to recording and studios. It is more about attitude, techniques, and experiences than a systematic guide to the home studio. People looking for a more basic introduction to recording gear and techniques should check out Bruce and Jenny Bartlett's Practical Recording Techniques, Sherman Keene's Practical Techniques for the Recording Engineer, Peter McLan's Musician's Guide to Home Recording, or Craig Anderton's Home Recording for Musicians.

Tape Op is published by Feral House 

Copyright © 2001 by Jonathan Sterne. All rights reserved.
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