A CONVERSATION WITH CARY ALTSCHULER
David: Cary, you and I first “met” many, many years ago when you were at MCI in Florida. I used to call and pester you with questions. I’ve always been jealous! It must have been great working there, in that environment. And I never met “Jeep” but wish I had.
Cary: It was a great way to learn about the recording business. I was a musician prior to working in studios as an engineer.
David: Those were really go-go days. MCI was an industry leader and innovator.
Cary: I couldn’t take the hours of studio work, so I went to tech school strictly to get a job at MCI.
David: Your goal was to work at MCI?
Cary: Yes, I always had an infatuation with tape recorders.
David: Our shop is super organized, but informal at the same time. Was MCI like that?
Cary: Very informal. As long as the work got finished, everyone was appreciative. The atmosphere was almost family oriented. That soon changed after Sony bought the company. Still, it was great working on the products I loved.
David: Did you have involvement with Criteria Studios, or other studios in Florida?
Cary: I played sessions there, but I never did a field service call there.
David: What did MCI stand for?
Cary: Music Consultants Incorporated.
David: What products did you most enjoy working on?
Cary: I liked working on the JH600, but my favorite product was the APR series tape machines. I got very good with them. It was one product that I was there at the introduction, and got to learn just about everything about it.
David: A lot of people believe that tape has a kind of magical sound. Do you?
Cary: I think it’s more that we became accustomed to its sound. In fact we’re so used to it, we go to unbelievable lengths to try and duplicate it in the digital world.
David: I agree. If tape recorders were invented last year, I don’t think people would be all that impressed with the sound. They might say, “Direct to disk and Protools are much cleaner.”
Cary: Yes they are, but we’re all looking for that analog warmth these days. The biggest improvement that digital has brought us is editing. Making a song perfect much easier these days.
David: I’m not so sure that a “perfect song” is such a good thing.
Cary: I agree. The old performances were inspired, even with their imperfections. The musicians were much more consistent also.
David: A lot of talented guys came out of MCI in Florida. Besides you, I remember Steve Sadler and John Bartz. Steve’s in Nashville now, working with Randy Blevins.
Cary: Yes, He’s working with Blevins Audio, still taking care of those aging MCI machines.
David: It’s interesting for me to see Steve and Randy working together in Nashville, because we’ve got something similar here. You, Steve Anderson, Greg Granieri and I are audio veterans with different backgrounds, now working under one roof. It’s great being able to bounce ideas off each other and help each other out.
Cary: I agree. Its also refreshing learning new gear like the AMS products. They are a real challenge, but it keeps it interesting. Like at MCI, we seem to learn from one another.
David: You’ve become the official AMS technician here. I guess you have a sort of love/hate relationship with those units!
Cary: At times. Especially the one on my bench now.
David: But they sure sound good. I have a theory that the early reverbs sounded great because they were modeled after real plates and chambers. The designers grew up with and were at one with the principles. Maybe as time went on, digital gear is modeled after other digital gear. Maybe we’re gotten further and further away from natural sounds?
Cary: Well, the convolution reverbs are very good sounding. But before they were made, widely available reverbs were beginning to sound too digital. By that I mean they had excessive high end harshness, which I find annoying.
David: You’re pretty good with digital gear. You’re like a gunslinger that rides into town and takes care of trouble. Do you prefer servicing digital stuff, compared to analog?
Cary: They’re different beasts. Analog you can trace, and analyze easily. It can be working but not sound good. As they say, with digital, it either works or it doesn’t. Tracing digital problems is a bit more challenging for me, though.
David: So, what 3 CD’s would you take to a desert island?
Cary: Wow, I can’t just bring my ipod? That’ll be my boxed set of Steely Dan, but that’s 4 CD’s
David: You can bring your ipod, but with only 3 CD’s loaded on it
Cary: OK, I would pick The New Standard by Herbie Hancock, Aja by Steely Dan and Night and Day by Joe Jackson
David: OK. What 3 desserts would you bring to a desert island?
Cary: Chocolate cream pie, black forest cake, and some pistachio ice cream.
David: Thanks a lot Cary. It’s great having you here.
Cary: It’s great working here.