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Art vs. Tech

We sent three Seattle luminaries 20 questions about their relationship with technology. They sent us some answers.

Illustrations by Bob Suh

Lynn Shelton

Film director, Special Jury Prize winner at Sundance 2009

What kind of cell phone do you use? iPhone 3G.

What piece of equipment can you not live without, and why? My phone, because it’s essential that I be able to 1) look up important facts about Corey Haim and Jami Gertz as often as I need to on iCelebz; 2) tend to my myriad Scrabble games; 3) count how many Facebook pokes I’ve received in any given hour.

What piece of technology would you invent to improve your craft? A nanorobot that would live in my ear and tell me where to point the camera and what to say to actors when I occasionally go brain-dead on set.

Describe the personality of your favorite piece of gear. Insidious; snake in the grass; temptress.

Have you ever roughed up a piece of gear to make it work? No, but I used to develop my own Super 8 film at home in the bathroom. I’d don a gas mask and crack open the cartridges with a hammer and screwdriver and then cram the film into a metal canister and throw in some chemicals. It made me feel very manly and DIY. And, yeah, it worked great! The film came out gorgeously gnarled and effed up.

What are the best and worst parts of sexting? “Worst parts”? I don’t understand the question.

What constitutes abuse of technology? Shrek 3.

What’s the best use of social media? Organizing an awesome surprise party for someone who really, really deserves one (hint hint HINT).

What’s the most valued piece of equipment you’ve broken? While in grad school in NYC, I once let a school video camera slip from my fingers and watched, paralyzed with horror, as it bounced all the way down the concrete steps of my front stoop. So, that happened.

Is there a piece of equipment you (metaphorically) hide behind? Not any more. But hiding behind my 35mm Pentax K-1000 SLR camera was how I got through high school.

What was the first piece of equipment you ever loved? A View-Master. I was five. There was a very surreal version of Goldilocks and the three bears that I became particularly obsessed with. It was epic, too—played out over three entire slide-wheel thingies.

Digital or analog? Whatever works. Seriously. •

Kory Kruckenburg

Recording engineer, musician, 2010 Grammy winner

What kind of cell phone do you use? Right to the important question ... iPhone 4.

What piece of equipment can you not live without, and why? My AEA R84 ribbon microphone. It’s a replica of an RCA 77DX ribbon. Quality ribbon mics are amazing. They have beautiful smoothness and warmth and sound good on pretty much everything. I also have the AEA R88, which is a stereo version of the R84. The R88 is good for stereo applications like piano, or a stereo-room mic for drums, string quartet ... basically anything that might call for a room mic.

Describe the personality of your favorite piece of gear. It’s important to mention my Blonde 1964 Fender Bassman—my favorite bass amp of all time. It has a rich, full bass tone with the perfect amount of Bassman “compression,” and it can also get gritty and dirty. It’s great for recording, but it’s only 50 watts and not quite loud enough to use in a rock band at a club. I had my friend Chris at Verellen Amplifiers build me a 100-watt amp with the same circuit design and a couple of slight modifications so I could get a similar tone when I play bass live.

Perhaps the best thing about the amp is that I bought it from an amazing bass player who’s played on many of the orchestral dates that I’ve worked and has stories about being shot at by Phil Spector and hanging out with Harry Nilsson.

What are the best and worst parts of sexting? Haha ... I’ve never done it, but I would guess the best part is doing it ... and the worst part is also doing it.

What constitutes abuse of technology? With technology we’re given the ability to make everything in music—sound and performance—perfect. This, in my opinion, often takes all of the life, character, meaning and emotion out of the music. Some of my favorite recordings are full of imperfections, but that’s part of why I love them. I like hearing noises, the sound of a room or a missed note. Hearing real performances by real musicians is inspiring. That’s not to say that technology doesn’t give us great tools to manipulate sound creatively, or to think about music using a different approach, but at times it feels like commercially successful music has to live up to a standard of flawless perfection. I prefer reality.

An upgraded version of a go-to gear item is released to the market. Do you rush out and buy it or hang on to the one you have? Hang on to the one I have. My budget doesn’t allow for a lot of upgrades. I’ve been very particular about the pieces I’ve purchased over the years, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out on quality by working with what I already have. For the most part, I‘ve always tried to make the most of the tools I have.

Is there a piece of equipment you (metaphorically) hide behind? Maybe the wall between the control room and the tracking room. Really, I feel like what I do is pretty straightforward. Though when I play
with Pickwick I hide in the back behind
the vibraphone.

What was the first piece of equipment you ever loved? A Neve 1073 microphone preamp and EQ.

How has gear influenced your work? Like I said, I’ve always tried to make the most of the tools I have. I started out working on projects with so little, it’s more about how the work I’ve done has influenced the gear I’ve acquired as I’ve seen a need. With the gear I have now, I’m definitely more capable of tracking a full band live, or experimenting with different sounds, which is important in most of the projects I work on.

Digital or analog? Digital, only because I have to. I would love to use tape on everything. Most of what I do is in my modest studio, and I haven’t been able to justify the cost of a tape machine, or the time spent maintaining it ... yet! I hope to get there someday. Sometimes I use a Tascam half-inch eight-track tape machine. It’s not super high-fi, but it has a cool sound and works well on minimal/dirtier projects.

As far as orchestral film scoring goes (which I do quite a bit of), digital is a necessity. The amount of money involved in hiring and recording an 80-piece orchestra is so obscenely large that the tools we have available with digital technology are essential in making the recording process efficient.

Tape always sounds good, though. •

Emily Pothast

Musician, visual artist, record-label owner, concert promoter

What kind of cell phone do you use? I recently broke down and bought an iPhone, but up until a couple months ago I was using the same anachronistic Samsung flip phone for about five years.  

What constitutes abuse of technology? I believe technology is fundamentally abusive—or at least a direct result of a categorical violation—in that everything humans have done since at least the Bronze Age has given rise to the need for a moral compromise of some form or another.  

There was a time in human history when mining metal out of the earth was completely taboo, and this taboo kept us close to the life-giving breast of the ouroboric mother matrix for millennia. By contrast, this computer I’m typing on was made of rare metals that we’re running out of, by people who are violently oppressed by a regime to whom the United States owes some $800 billion in public debt. Yet somehow I rationalize away the horror. Am I to believe, then, that my culpability is somehow less than that of a sex predator or the people who made that commercial that has John Lennon posthumously endorsing their charity?

(If we have to draw the line somewhere, how about Goatse.cx?)

What’s the best use of social media? I use Facebook to crowdsource opinions: Where should I get new glasses? Where should we have this vinyl pressed? Who has booking contacts in Albuquerque, N.M.?

Is there a piece of equipment you (metaphorically) hide behind? I run my vocals through a few effects, including a delay pedal and a Loop Station. The result is that I am able, as one person, to generate and interact with a cloud of sonic information, as sounds from previous moments blend with sounds from the present to create an imprint of the passage of time and the effect of memory. In a sense, I’m hiding behind the effects because the notes I’m singing are modified in a way that obscures their direct presence. But this obfuscation exposes and reinforces the mediating role that consciousness plays on the part of
the listener.

How has gear influenced your work? I went to art school for printmaking and drawing in the early 2000s, just long enough ago to remember when learning technology like Photoshop or Illustrator was looked down on by some professors of fine art because it implied that you weren’t learning how to take “real” photographs or that you were planning on getting some commercial job and selling out. Shortly after I got out of school it became evident that the doors were being blown wide open by technology, which made it cheap and easy for anyone to record music, edit videos and do any number of things that weren’t accessible just a few years prior.  

It’s strange to have grown up in one kind of world with one set of limitations and then to find yourself emerging into a different kind of world altogether with vastly different possibilities. This has been my experience, and at this point technology permeates my work so thoroughly that it would be impossible for me to guess where I’d be without it.

What do you think of Steve Jobs? I respect that he’s gone on record about the fact that he found the experience of taking LSD in his youth to be positive and formative.

Digital or analog? Both, for different stages of a project or for different reasons. Analog gear imparts a distinctive, unmistakable physicality to the signals that
pass through it, but digital technology can’t be beat for ease of editing, portability and cheapness. •

See more in the April 2011 issue   →