Bad Tape-You Got A Problem With That?
It’s been six months now, so I guess it’s okay to talk about The Meeting. I’ve been working in studios for 20 years, and I think this has to be the strangest session I’ve ever done. Names and places have been changed to protect the innocent, namely me.
A guy — let’s call him Frank — calls my studio and says he has an office meeting recorded on a handheld minicassette recorder. He wants to know if we can clean it up and make it more intelligible. I know the standard ways of cleaning up tapes using equalization, compression, gating, and basic noise reduction. But I decide that this is the excuse I need to try one of the new plug-ins that take a sample of the noise and then remove it from the original track. After brief discussions with some engineer friends, I decide to try Arboretum’s Ionizer. Before the session, we install the plug-in, and it performs well. We locate the necessary adapters for the transfer from minicassette, and we’ re ready for the two-hour, clean-up-a-meeting session. Zzzzzzzz.
Frank walks in, a well-dressed gentleman in his 50ssporting some very fancy jewelry. His face is expressionless as he shakes my hand and sizes me up. When the assistant leaves to get him a cup of coffee, he says tome, “I don’t need anyone else in the room; just me and you could do this job.”
“No problem,” I reply.
As I’m preparing the transfer, I’m making small talk, so I ask him what the meeting is about. Wrong question. “What’s the difference?” he says. “It’s a deal gone bad. That’s all you gotta know.”
Whatever … I’m going to hear it anyway, but I’m feeling pretty uncomfortable.
I start the transfer, and hear this really muffled conversation in a noisy restaurant. Every once in a while, though, you can make out a few words. Now I put Ionizer to the test.
After listening to a few minutes of the conversation, I find a section where there is a long pause and all that remains is the background noise. I zoom in on that section and create a marker at the start of it. Then I pull up Ionizer and bypass it. Once I hit play and hear only background noise, I hit the Spectrum button, which begins to take a reading of the wave. Right before the conversation resumes, I hit the Spectrum button again to finish the reading. Next, I hit the Fit button to fit the red and blue graphs to the spectrum reading. Then I activate Ionizer by hitting the Bypass button again. I am then able to control how much of the noise I want to eliminate by raising or lowering a black line with a circle at the center of it.
The tape was really badly recorded, with the mini cassette recorder undoubtedly hidden in a jacket pocket. But after playing around with Ionizer and changing the EQ in certain spots, the conversation became a lot clearer-something to do with offshore shipments being confiscated in Thailand, government investigations, unbelievable sums of money, and more. At a certain point, I did not want to be hearing this stuff.
Now, casual conversation that normally wouldn’t bother me had me on edge with Frank. Questions like “So where are you from? Do you live here in the city do you commute? You got a family, or what?”
At the end of the session, Frank wanted the results burned to CD, but he also wanted the mix recorded back onto his mini cassette recorder, which had the light covered over with a piece of black tape. I had fears of my computer being spirited off in the middle of the night, so I made it clear that I was erasing the session from die hard drive and he would have the only copy in existence.
Frank was happy and paid in cash—no receipt m work order, no signature—and even threw in an extra C-note. His parting words were, “Pray for me, and I’I pray for you.”
Now, what do you think he meant by that?