Photos of readers

August 2, 2020 • 2:30 pm

After this one, we have but one in the tank, so please send in your contributions. Today’s reader, is Peter Nothnagle, and his words are indented.

For the last 40+ years I have been a recording engineer, specializing in classical music. I am a loyal WEIT reader, and I even made an unexpected appearance in the very first Photos of Readers.

Among the many things that aren’t happening during the pandemic are performances and recording sessions by orchestras, choirs, and chamber ensembles, so I have spent much of the year doing other things (helping musicians sound better on Zoom, for example). For the last ten years I have volunteered at a state prison, making recordings of the prison choir and helping with a songwriting program in collaboration with the University of Iowa Music Education department. We haven’t been able to visit the prison since March, but we can collaborate with the incarcerated songwriters via email, and I thought it would be nice to record some of their songs, which will be shared on a Zoom call later this week.

Here I am recording the talented Joe Kim, who is singing one of the new songs. I normally record classical ensembles in concert halls and cathedrals but here we’re observing social distancing and enjoying the fresh air and sounds of nature in my garage:

Long ago I fancied myself an electronic music composer, and I mean to get back to that some day. A few years ago I participated in an informal concert, and here I am playing my Akai Electric Wind Instrument, with my 1965 Robert Moog theremin in the foreground:


13 thoughts on “Photos of readers

  1. … with my 1965 Robert Moog theremin in the foreground …

    That the same model Jimmy Page played on “Whole Lotta Love”?

    1. Could be, although famously, the theremin is so difficult to play that 60s rockers, when they wanted that effect, would use some other device and then just claim they used a theremin (the Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations is the classic example).

      Then again, in Whole Lotta Love the lads are just goofing around, so “difficult” didn’t enter into it. But it sounds to me like a narrow duty cycle pulse wave oscillator — a piece of test gear from the studio’s repair shop — and not like the almost pure sine wave of a theremin.

  2. Good for you for working with guys doin’ time, Peter.

    I got no joke on this one … just good for you, man.

    1. There aren’t any recordings of myself online, but there is this obscure performer . You can skip ahead to 3:10 if you just can’t stand the lead-in. I think Jerry featured this video a few years ago.

      On a serious note, the acknowledged master of the EWI was the late Michael Brecker. Here he is playing a prototype of my instrument.

  3. Having been a sound recordist and song writer myself, I couldn’t help chuckle at the shot of the garage session, door wide open. Sounds of nature indeed 🙂 If you have put your Zoom sound advice anywhere online, could you share? Keep up the great work!

    1. There are lots of practical suggestions for optimizing Zoom for music on YouTube — you can email me at nothpj {at}, you know, that free email service that Google offers, for recommendations if you like.

  4. I was amazed by the electronic wind instrument and have lots of questions, but will only ask two. Is it single-reed or double? Does it take the same well-developed embouchure you need for a clarinet or (less developed) for a sax?

    1. The EWI is a digital synthesizer controlled by breath pressure, biting pressure on the mouthpiece, fingering, and some other control inputs. Biting down bends the pitch up momentarily, releasing the bite lowers it momentarily (so you can achieve a vibrato). The right thumb bends the pitch up and down (like stretching a guitar string); the left thumb applies a “glissando”, sliding from pitch to pitch rather than changing pitch immediately. So, there’s no reed and no embouchure. It takes a fair amount of breath pressure, however.

      It has a huge range from very high to very low notes, and comes with 99 preset sounds; with software those can be edited (within the limitations of the built-in synthesizer). It can also control any other modern synthesizer, or a whole host of other electronic devices (drum machines, lighting controls…) via the Musical Instrument Digital Interface protocol. All that may sound intimidating — you can also just play it straight out of the box on present number one, which is a perfectly nice sound.

      All in all, it can be a very expressive instrument — I play classical music on it (I may be the only person in the world doing that — it’s most aimed at jazz players and the trance-electronica crowd).

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