Be nice, be inquisitive, and people will bring you behind the scenes

The remote camera view from Jim’s control room. He’s recording 6 channels of audio from the chamber, and can record far more tracks, whenever it’s called for.

A lot of interesting things can happen when you strike up an honest conversation. Just a few weeks ago, I was browsing Reverb.com — a pretty regular pastime, now that I don’t really visit facebook that much. I saw a posting for a used hardware recorder, from the early 2000’s... a Genex GX9000. These days, not many people are hunting for older stand-alone recorders, but this one caught my eye. Even though I’m not in the market for one of these, I couldn’t help but wonder what the owner had been using them for… These units were really really high-end, and could record standard & high quality PCM digital audio… but ALSO, they could record DSD digital audio (an admittedly obscure format, which fascinates me.)

I wrote the seller a note, saying “Hi! I’m not in a position to buy these, but I’m curious if you were doing any DSD multi-tracking with them.” It turned out that he wasn’t... he’d strictly used them for high-end PCM recording; mostly 24-bit/192KHz recordings of pipe organs. That wasn’t a genre of recording I had a ton of experience with, but I’d done some classical recording and had worked with an engineer who mastered quite a few organ recordings. From our brief email exchange, I learned that he was coming out to Philadelphia in April, to record some students of the Curtis Institute of Music, for an organ concert, in Macy’s Philadelphia store... which was formerly Wanamaker’s... the location of the largest playable pipe organ on earth.

This engineer, Jim Stemke (of DSP recordings, in Illinois) had originally been an organist, turned organ repair technician. His work on the restoration of many organs like the Wanamaker organ led him to become a leading location recordist of pipe organs, working on hundreds of commercial recordings in concert halls, churches, and even residences, across the United States. Jim invited me to join him in the control room at the studio which connects to the Wanamaker Organ for the afternoon, to see the recording system, and hear what he’s been doing in this very specifically designed room.

His recording rig centers around a Pyramix DAW system, which can work equally in high-end PCM and DSD formats, though he only really works in PCM. His workstation is connected to a set of converters that are located over 800’ away, in a stage-box, and he’s got a few gorgeous Sennheiser mics set up to capture the organ’s many different registers.

In a couple of months, they’ll be finishing a several-month long restoration project, in which they’re re-working the wooden facade of the organ, and working with artisans who’ll be applying real gold the very detailed woodwork that houses this beautiful instrument. I’ve been invited back for the grand unveiling on June 1st.