Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Exhibit A: A 5" Scotch 3M Recording Reel
Could this be the last known audio of legendary
film star Jayne Mansfield?!

Hey folks,

As you may or may not know, my work in Texas ended early. I was not given much notice, but I still managed to book a significant amount of work back in LA. First, I P.A.'d for a company for a day (this is called "day playing") because they had a lot of productions about to go live, but no one to do the pain-in-the-ass stuff. So I stepped in there, even though I have not P.A.'d for a few years now.

The next day I recorded an interview for a band called Angels and Airwaves near San Diego, which has the frontman from Blink-182. The next two days I spent doing sound for the Culture Collide Festival in Echo Park. Among the stand-out bands were a Dutch band called De Staat and a folk group named Please the Trees. Unfortunately, the gig went until 1:30am, and we had to be up at 6:00am to do coverage for a cheerleading team in Huntington Beach. It was a lot of work, and in some ways it feels like I never got off that show in Texas since I'm even more busy now.

Now that I've had a day or two off, I am still playing catch up. Among the many favors and errands to do is an audio transfer for Prof. Leland Thomas, who was a colleague of mine from Columbia, and before that an instructor. He's the one who first got me to use a Nagra recorder, so in many ways he's the first person who got me to consider sound professionally.

Somehow he ended up with a Nagra recording of an interview with Jayne Mansfield that he needed transfer to digital. For those of you who don't know, Jayne Mansfield was a legendary actress known for her platinum-blonde hair, hourglass figure, and above all, cleavage. The picture below should give you a pretty clear picture of her "talents" back in the day. Mansfield's life was tragically cut short when she was killed in an automobile accident on June 29th, 1967 at the age of 34.

Jane Mansfield, in all her glory.

What makes this particular audio recording significant is that it has never been heard before save for the original owner. Here was history in my hands, and I set out to get this done at once. Assuming the box is the same one that the tape inside came in, the interview was recorded in mono with Scotch 3M 131 tape; a workhorse in the industry (now long discontinued). The label on the front was very faded, but it said, "6/20/67 Jayne Mansfield, Roll #9." If this label is accurate, and I have no reason to doubt that it is, then this recording was made just 9 days before her death. This could very well be the last recording ever made of the star!

The Sound Lab. The red band on the computer
monitor is the digital audio recording.

There were a few obstacles in transferring the audio. First was the condition of the tape itself. The media was over 43 years old and there was a good chance that the audio on it was damaged or unusable. Adding to that was the way it was stored; tails in. This means that when it was recorded the operator rewound the tape and stored it instead of fast forwarding it. This can cause the audio to bleed into itself and ruin the recording. Although dependable, Nagra tape (reel-to-reel) was a very fragile medium, one of the reasons digital has largely replaced it.

Another problem was getting all the components I needed. Although I owned an old Nagra machine and a Pro Tools set-up (this would turn the analog recording into digital), I did not have the output cables for the Nagra. I finally solved that problem today when I had lunch with my old mentor Senator Michaels. Mr. Michaels has been in the game for some 40 years, and still owned the Touchel cable I needed. I scavenged my apartment for the other cables I needed, but I finally found a set-up that worked.

The audio was still pristine. I really couldn't believe it. It was a testament to the craftsmanship of the folks who designed audio materials back int he 60's. Like most American goods from that time, they were built to last. The recording itself was only about 20 minutes long. In it, Mansfield discusses Donald Duck, John Wayne, and various other tidbits of the time. Without the other reels, I can't make heads or tails of it, but that is beside the point. I'm sure the estate of the actress will be thrilled to hear it.

Beyond that, I have started to built my own audio cables. I can't say my soldering skills are very remarkable yet, but I will get it down and it will save my a lot of money in the long run. I am very happy with my life right now. I am financially secure for the foreseeable future, business is good, and I'm learning a lot. I am looking forward to traveling to Chicago in November, and I am confident work will continue to come in. Thanks for reading.

Audio Pasta.

1 comment:

  1. What a riveting story! Your work leads you on so many adventures!