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The Family Of Apostolic (1968)

"It was a general set of what my then wife Gilma and my friends and I were playing with at the time, both musically and recordingwise. We were just seeing what a brand-new expensive toy like the first-ever 12-track state-of-the-art studio could do, along with the complete set of all kinds of international instruments I invested in to go along with it. I produced the album and am all over it, but you'll notice fiddler Jay Ungar (of later "Achoken Farewell" fame from the PBS Civil War series) and a lot of other incredible talent mixing and matching to see what came out...

Bubbling Brook and Water Music were both done in the studio, with sounds mixed in. Another attempt at outdoors done indoors was Mabel's Umbrage, where the distant rauschpfiefe I played was replayed and rerecorded on opposite sides of a closed studio wall to give it that effect. Saigon Girls was a tune written by Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon (who wrote most of the Turtles' hits, like "Happy Together"), earlier part of The Magicians along with Alan Jacobs (Bunky and Jake) and myself. The "new report" on it was recorded on a two-bit 7/8ips dimestore machine and played back on it with a snare drum for gunfire. The woman crying on that cut later married (for a time) our first engineer Tony Bongiovi, cousin of Bon Jovi.

"The most unappreciated cut was probably Taking Me Home, recorded on a primitive Norelco 1 7/8ips machine in our apartment (cover girl and daughter Deirdre is now 41, then three), unless one is into the likes of John Cage and Nam June Paik. What's of interest is not the tune, but the fact that she is clearly intentionally playing with and concentrating on the beat tones and overtone series between her voice and the pump organ she was fingering at the time. Children do that naturally, adults have to be trained to it. The album photos were taken mostly with friends on Block Island, and that littlest short, brown-haired girl is Aida Turturro, now on The Sopranos." (About The Family of Apostolic by John Townley, interviewed by Kurt Benbenek)

Part I: A Place To Create

By John Townley, founder

I cannot go into a recording studio these days without feeling a deep mixture of satisfaction and regret. Satisfaction, because I know I'll find the kind of equipment I need and the atmosphere of creativity I want to get the job done. Regret, that you can't copyright an idea -- otherwise, I'd be rich, since the marriage of equipment and atmosphere is something I invented way back when it all started...

And since you've doubtless never even heard of me, I'd better justify that claim -- but first, a flashback to when I was recording for Columbia back in '65, with a New York group called the Magicians, an act that almost made it, but...well, our producer Charlie Koppelman had fatter fishes to fry, as did Columbia's Goddard Lieberson. Roy Halee was our engineer (producer/engineer for Simon and Garfunkel), and with the exception of his incredible talent, recording was about as unpleasant a chore as you could imagine. Not only was it user-unfriendly, it was ludicrous. The uptown Columbia studio itself was hideously brightly lit, so every smudge on the dirty, pegboard-lined walls stood out and erased whatever chemistry you might have prepared on the way in. Definitely several tokes under the line...the very foundation for justifiable musician paranoia, because...

...there were only eight tracks to work with (you wonder how the Beatles survived so well on that -- lots of money/time helped), and there was no separate cue system for overdubbing (honest!), so you listened to whatever mix the engineer needed to do his trip. And, it was a union shop, with three separate engineers, each with discrete responsibilities with which no one, but no one, was allowed to interfere. So, doing a take was kind of like a WWII submarine movie: "Take one!" cries Roy. "Tape is rolling," informs the man in charge of starting the 8-track, in an entirely separate room. "Echo on!" finishes the third in a yet more distant room, punching on the 2-track tape delay. After that, you got to start playing...all that was missing was the wait to hear if the torpedo had found its mark...

Mixing was equally as crazy, as you still had all three to deal with, and you were never -- I mean NEVER -- allowed to touch a fader, lest you get your fingers slapped. You had to tell each engineer what you wanted and hope he understood. All the major record company studios were like that, and independent studios weren't much different.

By the fall of '66, I'd had it with group, recording, and first marriage, so I took some money from a small inheritance and idealistically launched out to CHANGE IT ALL... What was amazing -- I did!

First, I picked a downtown location, in the Village, as that's where all the musicians were. Be where you're comfortable. After all, only the execs were uptown. It was a loft building on 10th St. near Broadway, with a hand-operated freight elevator its primary access, one where the elevator had no walls and worked by pulling a cable to make it start and stop. That was a golden opening opportunity -- our artist/"elevator man" Nicky Osborn soon had the entire darkened six-story shaft detailed in black-light psychedelic murals, and his personal welcome in full Viking costume definitely made a serious start on the way up. Way up. We often wondered what the clients of the very-tolerant baseball cap sales company on the 6th floor thought of it....

The rest of the studio followed suit, with totally controllable theater lighting throughout, so whatever the state of your insides, you could make the environment match. "No smoking" signs in every respect were a thing of the future, indeed...

The equipment matched the decor, user-friendly to the possible max. I insisted on the first independent cue system on any mixing console, ever (built by Lou Lindauer, his Automated Processes' opening gambit, who brilliantly nursed us through our demanding technology changes). And, of course more tracks (how quickly you run out at only eight) -- we went to twelve because that was as many as Scully could crowd onto a relatively-editable one-inch tape transport in this first-of-a-kind machine they built to our specs. And faders, instead of pots (goodbye '50s sci-fi flicks), also a first, and the new-fangled solenoids...best of all, everyone could touch them all, no union, except don't spill your Coke on the board! All that, and teenage whiz engineer Tony Bongiovi (later, brother/producer of Jon Bonjovi) were enough to launch us into the ozone.

When we opened in the spring of '67, everyone in "the biz" said we were crazy: no one would come downtown, nobody needed twelve tracks, and our whole style was VERY un-businesslike...our name was Apostolic Studios, after our twelve tracks and unabashedly spiritual (though not particularly Christian) tilt, and clearly we were nuts.

Well, inside three months we were booked solid. The Critters, Spanky And Our Gang, the Serendipity Singers, the Fugs, Rhinocerous, The Silver Apples, Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, Alan Ginsberg, the Grateful Dead and most of all Frank Zappa and the Mothers Of Invention found the qualities of user-friendly tech and musician-friendly ambience to be just what the doctor ordered. Six months after that, Gary Kellgren, who had made an early reconnaissance visit to Apostolic, opened Record Plant with an identical 12-track Scully and similar board and ambience, and shortly thereafter Jimi Hendrix built Electric Ladyland downtown on 8th St., just blocks away. Alas, personally among them, I alone (though no longer my studio) remain...

Flushed with success, Apostolic went on to open another 12-track operation (Pacific High in San Francisco, the first on the West Coast), to become a record/publishing/management company (Larry Coryell, Jim Pepper, and the like), and to see our "Witchi-Tai-To" Cherokee trance song become a national favorite, with Wall Street backers for a public offering. As a studio, we continued to keep up, providing clients not only with every kind of strange international/historical instrument they might want to play (want a kan, a del ruba, a viola d'amore, a rauschpfeife?...no problem), they even got the free services of world-class astrologer Al Morrison, who shared one of our floors. The latter was a good thing, as Al provided me with a second career when the majors ate us up at the beginning of the '70s and I found myself a quite useless music biz innovator alone on the street.

But although we were doomed to meet our demise at the hands of over-expansion, competition, and a business world which utterly co-opted our concepts, the studio retains memories that are unique to its origins. The day the brother of a very famous blues/rock guitarist took microgram-inspired wings from our window, falling face-down to the roof two floors below -- leaving a tar-paper "angel" on the roof, he proceeded unscathed two more floors to the back garden. The boa constrictor entwined in the bidet (and afterwards, the water cooler) that could not be smoked out (we succumbed before it did...). Generations of Mothers trooping in and out for "Lumpy Gravy" and "Uncle Meat" sessions...and in the process recreating the then-rare "flange" effect, employed by Zappa and our engineers at Apostolic using a reverse-phased, slightly trailing variable-speed controlled 2-track Scully. About the "flange," engineer John Kilgore remarks, "I first heard it on Toni Fisher's 'The Big Hurt' in 1959. then on 'Itchykoo Park' by the Small Faces in early '67, and on Hendrix's second record released in '67. I remember Kunc and I bashing our brains out trying to figure out how it was done. Finally, Dick called up Gary Kellgren and asked him how point blank. Gary, bless his heart, told him." For more on that one, see: here and here. There were a lot of firsts and, mainly, a family where creativity and technology finally worked hand-in-hand.

Now it all seems like old hat. These days, you can get lots more than this, by a landslide, in any pro recording studio and many home installations. But, hard as it is to believe, it wasn't always that way -- there was a time when the design of the recording studio was utterly business-driven, not musician-driven, when creation in front of a mike was not exactly natural childbirth. In 1967, all that changed, forever -- and I am proud and thankful to be able to say that Apostolic and its engineers, producers, and musicians -- achieved that in, essentially, one take...

Part II: Historic Hardware In Soft Focus...

by Richard Kunc, former Apostolic Studios engineer

I recall the API console as a sea of blue Formica, a wondrous machine praised by Frank Zappa, with sparkling new arc-shaped British Painton faders. Sort of "proto-faders," actually, the Painton controlled a linear series of many individual make-and-break contacts. On very quiet passages you could actually hear the tiny "bip-bip-bip" as it went from contact to contact.

Each input position had rudimentary equalization available, but it amounted to little more than glorified bass and treble controls. We had a pair of Lang equalizers mounted externally to help the cause. The input positions were normalled to their corresponding tape tracks, but you could reassign any input to any tape track via the patchbay. For mixing you could also assign each input position to either left, center, or right. These were hard switch selections. There were no pan pots on the input positions. You could patch into the console's two independent pan pots but that was it.

Three Melchor compressors did give us a smidgen of ceiling control in extreme cases. They were better known for their pronounced and dramatic "breathing" effects in which the momentarily suppressed background sound comes rushing back up in volume after the peak has passed. Also external to the console was a very fast (for its day) limiter that used a light source coupled to an optical detector to do its work.

The prototype Scully twelve-track machine used one-inch tape. It had twelve sets of their normal full-size rack-mounted electronics, the ones they put in their mono and two track machines -- imagine twelve of those babies, each one with a complete set of knobs and full-size meter! It was just huge -- but it worked. One problem with the machine was bleed-over while recording on adjacent tracks, so we'd record on odd-numbered tracks during the first pass, and then overdub in between the initial tracks from then on.

The machine had one neat trick, though. You could take a one-inch tape with eight tracks recorded on it by an eight-track machine, put it on our twelve-track machine, and add four more tracks! You ended up with twelve very mixable tracks, all of which still had very acceptable signal to noise ratios, and it made us completely compatible with other 8-track studios.

The primary "echo chamber" was one of those "state-of-the-art" EMT vibrating steel plate deals. Inside a huge wooden case a sort of loudspeaker was attached to one corner of a metal plate that must have measured maybe four feet by eight feet. When you fed a signal to this "speaker" it sent waves through the plate, sort of like ripples on a pond. A transducer at the opposite corner picked up these waves, equalized them, and sent them back as echo. There were also some experiments with live speakers and microphones in the stairwell of Apostolic's ancient building, much to the dismay of the residents of the other floors, and whose complaints effectively squelched our efforts.

What gave the console its saving-grace versatility was its extremely comprehensive patchbay. It was the old tip-ring-sleeve variety, left over from telephone company technology, though more than one unrepeatable take was destroyed by some bit of studio dust that got in there...

And for microphones - a few Neumann U-67 condenser mics with their accompanying power supplies, a few borrowed Sennheiser ribbon mics, a smattering of assorted decent dynamics, including those warm and indestructible cone-headed D-202s, and a motley gang of one-of-a-kind items including an indestructible Altec "salt shaker" routinely used for drums and a giant, mellow vintage RCA mike that must have recorded Bing Crosby or the Andrews Sisters in its youth.

In the control room were large hard-edged Altec monitor speakers, behind the console. Took a bit of getting used to. Plus the favored (by us) KLH-6s up front that blew out all the time when the clients said "louder," not to mention delightful Boze clones built by Gus Andrews, our first reggae recording artist.

Apostolic was a real Viking ship, a gutsy voyage into the uncharted depths of new toys and new ideas from which came some of the cleanest recordings of that era. I'd give a lot to sit again at that console and look through the glass at those original Mothers of Invention.

Rest well, Apostolic. (from astrococktail.com)

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