To read the full detailed article see Exclusive Interview with George Massenburg
It’s always a great and an unusual experience to meet a personality who has contributed some much to the evolution of the way we work. In addition to the videos previously released on Audiofanzine, we had the extreme pleasure to meet George Massenburg during his last Parisian visit and to talk more about music production with him. An interview with a real open-minded master.
Bootz : George, just before we start, what are you working on at the moment?
George Massenburg : I have 3 recording projects that I am working on right now. One is not really recording; it is finishing an Opera McGill production – Don Giovanni, Mozart – and I am directing and post-production supervising… Finishing up Don Giovanni which is an 8-camera hi-def shoot that we did with students with a new methodology of shooting opera : a new way of shooting opera that I think is spectacularly effective as it reveals more about opera, as it is closer and more intimate and more suited to the new generation of kids that want to see something on a small screen. That, and I am doing 2 music projects. I am doing the McGill Jazz 1 and I am doing the Stand Kitten record – cut for commercial release – which is great because the Jazz 1 has many many players which are fantastic. Just great songs, great kits, great drums, great bass, great guitar, great piano, great, great great. And then I do a new pop group called Urban Creature from Toronto, they write and produce their own records. This is a personal project to see how the new model would work. I work completely for free, participating in the record of the group and we see how that goes.
And on the other side you are still working with G Labs?
Well, I got 3 jobs. My 3 jobs really are : education, producing electronic equipment, and recording. And kind of mix, but I am unhappy if I don’t do one of these. I want to do all 3 and they inform each other. I have to keep recording to stay current with the methodology of the studio; I listen to everything that I can get my hands on, my ears into. I hear new work being done and I want to try it outside. I am in the studio a lot. Building equipment, right now we have two software products in process for MDW and one that is a hybrid product for GML which is the next generation of the 9000 controller, but with a DSP sidechain. And this takes a long time to do because internally it looks to run at 384 kHz, very fast, not quick (to develop, NA). As far as software products, we have new products out for the new Pro Tools platform for 10.2 so called AAX and both DSP and Native. It is a lot of work!
Speaking of the balance between all these projects, I’d like to go back to your early age, to the first period of your career. I’ve read that you started at the age of 15, you were working at a laboratory and at the same time at a working studio.
I had joined a recording studio at Baltimore, Maryland. But it went back to when I was 4 years old and I used to stick my fingers and unscrew a light bulb, and “Aaaahhh!” just to experiment (Laughs). But I love music recording just from a very early age. I had the good fortune to grow up in the same area as Deane Jensen who was a pioneer in making transformers. He was a friend – a personal friend – and we did hand radio, amateur radio, and photography. And then he bought an Ampex 602 tape recorder «Wow!», bought headphones and U67. I bought his U67, I still have the 67. Very early on I knew that I just loved recording. There was a tremendous power recording. Ed Cherney said, “I always thought it was a miracle that music could go through this wire, that’s magic”. Fucking magic. Anyway, the idea just seemed like magic to me. Still does.
So then, Dean Jensen was your first mentor?
He was really my first mentor. My second mentor was Dr. Curtis Marshall and I worked for him in a laboratory to build an early computer that used a very strange storage mechanism called an Image Radarcon, a tube that would just scan in and then destructively output a number of scans. It was used to accumulate electron info graphs sensors into an averaging reports so that a neurosurgeon could read an electrons info graph much faster. But it taught me early on electronics, and I had another mentor who would teach me electronics, and I was 15. It’s not so bad.
Now let’s take a closer look…
The Bernard Pivot
What is your favorite memory of producing an album?
There are so many it is hard to pick one out. My favorite memory is always the Thrill. You know you’ve got something that you’ve never heard before and no one else has ever heard before. All you have to do is not fuck it up. That has happened on any number of records, it happened on EWAF a couple of times, that happened with Linda Ronstadt a lot – just this is great! Look out cause you can really fuck it up. Don’t do that, cause you can really fuck it up. Worst memory, I wouldn’t want to talk about that. There were a few of them too.
Which artist would you like to work with and why?
I want to work with a new emerging artist, that has ideas and is running into a technical wall. I don’t know who that is. I love the new Bon Iver record, but I can’t do that, they’ve already got a record, they got an engineer, he is terrific, but boy I would have loved to work on that. I love producing and directing opera video. I think that is great. Working with these fantastic students at McGill, great voices, great players, it’s a wide open field, so that’s my dream right now – producing and directing opera. It’s unusual for a rock and roller !
You’re engaged to produce an album for an artist you love but his requirements are: less is more. You need to pick only 5 pieces of your equipment. What will you choose and why?
That’s easy! I would choose all GML because I know when they work and when they break, I know they are reliable, I know how every knob works. So that’s my pre, EQ, compressor, I’ll use Prism convertors, I’ll use either Pro Tool or Pyramix. Right now I prefer Pro Tools for rock and roll, Pyramix for classical. I like ATC monitors, also like Genelec a lot. For portable when I have to go to a gig I like these little Sennheiser (Neumann) KH120 speakers that sound pretty good. And I’ve got a lot of microphones you don’t want to know about. A 57, I’ll take a 57 but that’s it.
Just to finish, do you have any quote or a catch phrase that drives you about music production?
Yes, there is not a question that cannot be addressed, that can’t be answered or at least discussed with critical listening. Critical listening tells you everything you need to know. You don’t need someone to tell you what to do, all you have to do is pay attention. Sometimes it helps to have someone do that, but everybody has to know that if they care, they can do it on their own. They have to tell each other the truth. They have to tell themselves the truth. If the truth is, I can’t get that sound with that piece of shit microphone, that’s the truth and they have to be responsible for that. I don’t have the right mic, fix that and move on. Critical listening, everything is answered by critical listening. That’s my favorite. Another one is Woody Allen :“I can’t listen to that much Wagner, I keep getting the urge to invade Poland” ! (Laughs)