Farewell, No Fo
Farewell ADAT Machine. I never liked you. Our’s was a tempestuous relationship, fraught with my impatience and technical incompetence. To that relationship you brought a temperamental transport mechanism and a hefty price tag. You nearly killed me I think. Purchased in 1996 for around $8,500 you just left my possession this week on Ebay for $0.99. Yes, that’s right – ninety nine cents.
I guess looking back I’d have to lay the blame with the Waifs. Around about 1991 Pete Lawler, having left the Weddings, Parties band, came back from a trip to Europe where he’d been hanging out with Donna Simpson from The Waifs – who were in the process of moving to Melbourne. He said they were looking for someone to work on a record with them and I should check them out and so that’s how it went. I checked them out, liked it a lot, I got Jen Anderson down to see them and she agreed and then we all decided we should start work on a record. Easy. Except for the fact we had no studio, or money for that matter.
But the house Jen lived in had a big basement area (laundry/spare room) and so all we needed was some gear. I walked down to Manny’s in Smith St, filled out some loan forms and all too soon I was the owner of a Fostex RD-8. Otherwise known as an Adat.
It all started well. The sessions were sounding great, The Waifs sounded great. They had songs, energy and everything in front of them. Jenando’s laundry sounded surprisingly good and barring the emotional turmoil that was the repercussion of a major breakup I felt I contributed well enough to the making of that record.
And the Adat performed like a beauty – there were a couple of small hiccups but overall it was pretty good and I even started to think of it in terms of the liner notes on the seminal Saints record Paralytic Tonight, Dublin Tomorrow – where they said that it was recorded on a Tascam 8 track – the saviour of rock n’ roll. No, I thought to myself during those sessions – the Fostex RD8 is the saviour of rock n’ roll.
But alas, for me it was more the death of aspiration and the triumph of exasperation. The RD8 wasn’t the first digital multi track recording machine on the market but it wasn’t that far from it. The unit was as heavy as a bank safe and it recorded onto super VHS tapes that cost about $25 each. The best thing about them in my opinion was the sound. They had their own sound for sure. But if you can think back to the last time you placed a VHS tape in a machine and just how clunky that mechanism is then that is where the trouble starts.
And start it did by the time I had done a few dozen hours on the thing. In true early digital fashion the LED display on the machine was one of its most cantankerous and primitive aspects and when the transport failed to have the digital tape placed against the heads at the perfect tension it would come up with the digitally mangled words ” nO fO” (short for ‘no information’). Sort of like the display on your school calculator when you tried to make it show a naughty word. So, this meant shutting down the machine, re- starting the machine, setting up the task again, only to receive the same message. If you couldn’t trick it into recording it meant a trip across town to Technical Workshops in Prahran who would look at it forlornly and give you an estimated time and price for getting it back and running again. The beast would come home, get re-patched into the system, work fine until the next time you had someone in the studio who was a paying customer and then, just as you were ready to go for the big take, the killer version, just as you were about to ‘nail this fucker’ or as we would say back in those pre-politically correct days ‘put the Arab in the cab’, you would look around the room to the five people wearing headphones staring at you in wrapped expectation…then the machine would blink at you “nO fO”. Well, go and get some more fucking fO you arsehole of a machine but no. There was nO fO to be found and Punt Rd beckoned as your profuse apologies to the band fell on deaf ears.
I remember some years after I had decommissioned the Adat taking another machine to that workshop to be fixed and one of the techs asked if I wasn’t still working on Adats. When I replied no he shook his head wistfully and said sadly ” this business was built on those machines”. Yes, your business and my ulcer/hernia I thought.
The thing about the Adat was it was eight tracks only and so you still had to make decisions about what you were and weren’t going to record – unlike modern recording where tracks are seemingly limitless and therefore your possibilities for not committing are commensurate with this. After a while people started to link the eight track Adats together but far from extending your capabilities I felt this just double or tripled your possibilities for more nO fO action. In fact the likelihood increased exponentially as the machines not talking to each other was an added cause for lack of fO.
But somehow that machine did manage to do a stack of work. Off the top of my head I can think of some of the recordings we made together:
– The Waifs first album
– Lisa Miller: As Far As Life Goes
– The T-Bones: Five Days Gone/ Smartest Kid in Town
– Ruby Hunter (demos for Feeling Good – a few tracks of which made it onto her posthumously released compilation last year).
– Pete Lawler: King Rooster
– The Mabels: Caravan Park Girlfriend
– Trouble in the Kitchen first album
– Mick Thomas and the Sure Thing: Dead Set Certainty
– Kavisha Mazzella: Fisherman’s Daughter
– The Dunaways: Wanderin’ Mind
And so anyway, I write this as I am waiting for someone to come around and pick up the machine that I advertised on Ebay as having the potential to be a handy boat anchor and I have to say I am looking forward to the 20 mls of beer that the money will buy me in celebration. To be quite honest I feel a little as I have stolen something.