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Laws of Motion

Baker Lee • February 2020FOH at Large • February 9, 2020

It’s hard to believe, but we are already well under way into the year 2020 which, by the Chinese calendar, is the Year of The Metal Rat. The Rat is the first animal of the Chinese calendar and therefore is considered a year of new beginnings and renewals. Supposedly, it will be a successful year for everybody — with new opportunities for love, friendship and wealth coming our way. Woo-hoo, I’m psyched, because all the news from 2019 wore me out, and I’m ready for the positive energy to start flowing.

Granted, 2020 didn’t begin with an idyllic bang, but I’m going to attribute that to Newton’s first law of motion that states that “a body at rest will remain at rest unless an outside force acts on it, and a body in motion at a constant velocity will remain in motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an outside force.” I postulate that as 2019 was moving so quickly and carrying so much weight, it just steamrolled its way past the 11:59 p.m. deadline right into the resting body of 2020 — thereby invoking Newton’s second law of motion.

‡‡         Technical Velocity

In any case, 2020 is off to a quick start. I feel it’ll stay in motion for a full year, but what amazes me is how quickly we are moving away from previous years. The year 2000 just doesn’t feel like it was 20 years ago. I remember the explosion of Blackberry phones in the early part of the new century and being amazed because I could send and receive calls and email from the phone as well. The iPhone hit the market in 2007, although texting from one’s phone wasn’t available until 2012, which is just not that long ago, but from a digital perspective, it’s ancient history, considering the capabilities of the current smart phones.

Glove compartment maps have become antiquated, thanks to GPS tracking devices. Our phones can not only tell us where to go, but can show us ways to avoid traffic and delays, estimate times of arrival, show our speed and basically track our every move. While most of the aforementioned technology was around before the turn of the century, it is only in the last 20 years that these ubiquitous items have become a mainstay in our culture. The transistor was invented in 1947, integrated circuits were developed in the 1960s, and this led to the release of the first single-chip microprocessor in the 1970s — which was the beginning of the personal computer.

By the 1980s, these computers were being used in government, banking, schools, videogames and the home. Digital cameras were first marketed in the late 1980s, and the World Wide Web was invented in 1989, although it wasn’t until the early 1990s when it was released to the general public, at which point the digital revolution started to speed up. By the mid-1990s, banks were offering online banking, and almost half of our nation and other countries were engaging the internet for business and personal use.

For those of us who remember, getting onto the internet in the early and mid-1990s was a bit of a chore, as it required the use of telephone dial-up. Dial-up remained in place until the development of commercial broadband in the late 1990s, which helped speed things up, but even with all the digital advancements between 1947 and 1999, the world still seemed to be moving at a regular pace. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 2000s that the tempo seemed to pick up. By the middle of the first decade into the 21st century, Facebook and Twitter became active, and it seemed as if we moved into hyperdrive, with the physics of Newton’s three laws of motion being replaced by Max Planck’s quantum physics.

‡‡         Digital Audio

Digital technology was not foreign to the business of audio, and as early as 1943, Bell Labs had developed the first pulse-code modulation system (PCM) used to scramble speech in order to code military transmissions. Although there were quite a few breakthroughs and developments stemming from this early foray into digital audio, it wasn’t until 1971 that an engineer from Denon recorded the world’s first digital commercial recording. The technology was new, and while there were a couple of digital jazz and classical recordings released during the 1970s, it wasn’t until 1979 when artists such as Ry Cooder, Stevie Wonder, Fleetwood Mac and Christopher Cross released digitally recorded albums. 1979 was also the year of the first compact disc prototype, and four years into the 1980s, stars such as Peter Gabriel, Billy Joel, Donald Fagen and Bruce Springsteen had released CD recordings. Compact Discs had arrived!

Towards the end of the 1980s, Sony developed Digital Audio Tape (DAT), which spurred the use of ADAT multi-track recording in the 1990s. Shortly into the 1990s, the Random-Access Digital Audio Recorder (RADAR) was developed as a means to simultaneously record 24 channels onto a hard disk drives, but while all this new technology was entering the marketplace, those of us in the world of live sound were still mostly using analog consoles and connections. While we did have digital outboard gear and crossovers, our consoles were still mostly analog.

In the 1980s, Yamaha had a few digital mixers developed mainly for use by keyboard players and to complement their popular DX7 keyboard. While Yamaha had a few digital mixers released in the early 1990s, it wasn’t until 1994, with the release of the ProMix 1, that a digital mixer could be used for small live events. During the period between 1994 and 1999, Yamaha released the 02R, 03D and 01v digital mixers, and though these mixes could be used for live sound, they were mostly found in studios of on major tours as keyboard mixers. In 2001, Yamaha introduced the PM1D, and our already-accelerating world began to speed up further.

While the PM1D was a groundbreaker, it was a large-frame, expensive (at the time) console, and seemingly out of reach for most live audio outlets except for the very top touring companies and bands. Between 2001 and 2003, Yamaha gave us the more consumer-friendly DM2000, 02R96, DM1000 and the 01V96. However, in 2004, with the release of the PM5D, the world of live audio went into hyperdrive, seemingly consigning all analog consoles to a bygone era when the world moved at a much slower pace. The 16-year-old PM5D has long vanished from band riders, and other early digital consoles, such as Avid’s SC48, are becoming scarce as well.

Profile consoles are on their way out, and I am hoping that my Avid S6L console will have a few more years before disintegrating while trying to re-enter the atmosphere. If I’m lucky, my SD10 console will be able to crank out a bunch of shows before becoming an antiquated boat anchor, and I do hope a new wireless technology arrives before the FCC takes all the RF frequency bands. While this greeting may be a little late in coming, it’s only due to the quantum speed at which I am traveling, and this, paradoxically, seems to have put me behind. In any case, Happy New Year, slow down, and welcome to a new decade of yet to be released game-changing technological advancement and wonder.

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