The Sound

Elliott Murphy - The Sound

(Originally published in Music Sound Output October 1981)

For Raymond Ghost

The Sound was an obsession.

But would his fans be

Overcome by his change in


It was a bad time to walk into the studio and she knew it as soon as she said hello. No one answered and only the tape operator looked up and smiled meekly. Myles, the producer, was drawing spirals on a blank track sheet and Stan, the engineer, was setting all the EQ knobs back to zero. She couldn’t see Raymond but then his voice came over the talk-back system.

“Myles? Are you there? I got an idea … I don’t want to call it quits yet.”

“Yeah, I’m still here,” said Myles. “There’s no place else to go at this hour.”

“Listen – I want you to take my guitar amp and put it out on the sidewalk in front of the building. They must have some long extension cords here. And then we’ll send the tape operator out there to hold a microphone in front of it. It’ll be great!” said the voice of Raymond Ghost.

“Are you crazy? All we’ll pick up is the sound of the taxis blowing their horns! And concrete doesn’t make the best acoustics either! Not to mention the fact that in this neighborhood someone will probably mug the poor tape operator and steal the microphone and the amplifier!” Myles yelled into the talk-back. He looked at Julie who had just walked in. “I don’t know how you live with him-he’s totally gonzo!”

“Why, what’s wrong?” she asked. “Raymond told me that everything was starting off great.”

“Everything did START great,” answered Myles. “But then Raymond decided it was time for something NEW AND DIFFERENT and now I don’t know what the hell . . . “

“Myles are you there?” interrupted Raymond. “You don’t understand what I’m looking for. I mean … everyone is always talking about records having the sound of the street aren’t they? Well … I’m REALLY going to get the sound of the street … and the feel of the street too! Believe me, these tape machines pick up a lot more than we know. And I got a feeling this could all be a very important part of … The Sound!”

“What fucking sound?” yelled Myles. “You’ve been going on about this sound all night! And I’ve produced seven Raymond Ghost albums-seven fucking platinum Raymond Ghost albums! And I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about! What’s wrong with the old sound? I’ve been living pretty well off it and you ain’t starving either.”

“Myles … I can’t explain it … I just know what I want.” There was a pause and then Raymond said in a very low voice: “And I want to try this now.”

Raymond had made his point. When you get to his level of success everyone soon realizes there is only one essential ingredient for a Raymond Ghost album and that is Raymond Ghost. All others are easily expendable if they don’t go with the program.

“Do what you want,” said Myles. “It’s your album. By the way, Julie just walked in.”

“Hi Ya, Baby!” Julie yelled into the talk-back.

“Hey, sweetheart! How ya doing? I just gotta try this one thing and then I’ll be right out. I’m ready whenever you are, Myles,” said Raymond.

So the tape operator took Raymond’s Twin-Reverb amp outside and made the proper connections, and then stood out on the sidewalk with a microphone in one hand and a can of Mace in the other.

The engineer adjusted the compressor, limiter, EQ, echo, and reverb and then gave Myles the ready sign.

“Here goes nothing,” said Myles.

Raymond played guitar along with the basic track. It was strange to hear the car horns and garbage trucks in the background. Raymond seemed to mimic the sounds of the street on his guitar. In the middle of the song a cop
walked up to the tape operator on the street and asked him what the hell was going on and his objections got recorded just like everything else.

After it was over Myles and the engineer looked at each other and shook their heads. “Who knows?” said Myles.

Raymond walked into the control booth. He looked younger than he was which was older than his official bio said he was. He had on a Peaches Record Store sweatshirt and a pair of jeans. It would be hard to guess that he was worth a few million dollars except for his gold Rolex watch that was circled in diamonds. He put his arms around Julie and gave her a kiss.

“I hear you’re giving everyone a hard time, honey.” Only she could get away with that.

He looked at her and smiled. “Well … you know I’ve always been a bit of an adventurer. I just want to explore a little new territory … that’s all.”

He sat down in front of the console with Julie on his lap. “Let’s hear it,” he told the engineer.

After the playback, Raymond looked at Myles for his reaction.

“Well it wasn’t too bad except for the cop who was yelling in the middle of it,” said Myles.

“Are you kidding?” exclaimed Raymond. “That was the best part … totally unexpected … totally live!”

“I hope all the radio stations across the country agree with you,” said Myles. “By the way, don’t you think that all that street noise messes up the sound of the basic tracks?”

“That’s all right,” said Raymond, “I’m going to change the sound of the rhythm tracks. He kissed Julie on the neck.

“But Raymond,” Myles pleaded, “the sound of the basic tracks is fantastic! We used the best musicians money can buy. Most of them got triple union scale. Why do you want to screw around with it?”

“Because … I’m hearing something very special. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard before,” said Raymond.

“What are you? Joan of Arc?” said Myles. “What the hell are you hearing? Where do these voices come from? I can tell you one thing – they ain’t coming from Billboard’s ‘Hot One-Hundred’!”

Raymond ignored Myles. “First of all … we’re gonna use a harmonizer … and switch the octaves of the bass and the piano … they’ll change places … just like men and women are doing these days … and then we’re gonna take the whole drum track and put it through a little two inch car radio speaker and re-record it … lower our expectations of what drums sound like. “

Myles looked at Julie. “Can’t you talk to him? I’m sure you don’t want to see his career go down the drain either. “

Julie usually didn’t like to interfere with Raymond’s business but the image of his career going down the drain was not pleasant and could do serious damage to her lifestyle. “Baby … aren’t you being a little drastic? I mean … we all want this to be a hit album, don’t we? Can’t you compromise a little?”

Raymond glared at her. “Oh? What’s this? Et tu, Brutus? Listen, you both better understand that no one cares more about the career of old Raymond Ghost than me! And I know exactly what I’m doing! Can’t you people hear it?”

“Hear what?” said Julie and Myles

“Hear THE SOUND!” said Raymond. “The sounds are changing! And that’s all rock & roll does-it’s a … uh … it’s a sound mirror!”

“Could you run that by me one more time? I’m a little slow,” said Myles sarcastically.

“Well, all you gotta do is go into any little bar and listen to the sound of whatever computer game they have in the corner,” said Raymond. “And then think back to the sound of pinball machines in the Fifties. Or to the sound of Vietnam news broadcasts in the Sixties and the cool sound of the news today … or the sound of oil pumps … or the sound of lie detectors … or the sound of welfare … or the sound of. . . ” Raymond’s eyes were glaring.

“The sound of lie detectors?” asked Myles. “Raymond, are you sure you’re not taking something that you’re not sharing with the rest of us? Is someone slipping some acid into your cocaine?”

“Oh, Myles! Don’t you understand? It’s all relative…it’s all related … It’s all part of one big sound that I’m trying to fit into! It’s hard to explain but I know that the Eighties are going to be full of totally different sounds and I want to start using them. I mean … some sounds get overworked, you know … and you have to make them different just because things have got to change. I mean look at electric guitars-for a while everyone was using so much sustain that they were sounding like violins and now they’re starting to sound more like buzz saws.”

“Well that’s cool,” said Myles. “I mean, I got sick of that Gibson Les Paul sound a long time ago, too. I prefer a Fender Strat or Tele anytime. Is that what you mean?”

“It’s much more that that, Myles. You’re just reacting … I want to cause the action to happen! You see, there’s so many more people now … the media make you so much more aware of all these people and everyone is bumping into one another culturally and mathematically, and everything becomes … uh … random … yeah, everything’s so random! And that’s important too-random sounds-like when you lie in bed and switch the channel selector as fast as you can on the TV. That’s why I’m gonna take all the words to these songs we’re recording and cut them up and shake them around and put them back … in a random order. It will make more sense.”

“MAKE MORE SENSE?! Are you totally gone, Raymond?” Myles was
livid. “If that’s the way you want to make this album then you can count me out. I don’t want my name on a … on a joke! Even if it is a random fucking joke!”

There was a long silence. Julie felt very uncomfortable sitting between the two of them. They had always gotten along perfectly. Finally, Raymond spoke:

“I’m sorry to hear you say that, Myles.

“Well … I am supposed to be the producer,” said Myles.

“I’ll be sorry to see you leave,” said Raymond.

Myles was shocked. He didn’t think that Raymond would call his bluff. But he did.

After that night Julie stopped coming to the studio. Raymond would do incredibly long sessions; sometimes 20 hours or more. And when he would finally come home, he would talk nonstop about the album until Julie would fall asleep, which wasn’t easy.

“Julie, you’re not gonna believe it!” he said as he walked in the door at five in the morning. “I’m making incredible progress. I believe I’m capturing the sound of society-at-large!”

“Society- at-large?” asked Julie. “What’s that? Like the crowd at a football game?”

“NO, no, no, you don’t understand … it’s all synthesis … I’m synthesizing the sound of life as we know it … it’s the sound of the street and the sound of the corporate boardroom and the sound of a TV sit-com series and the sound of the anti-pollution devices on a new car. And the sound of Japanese imports, too! I’ve got it all!”

Julie was starting to get worried. Raymond’s ranting was getting worse. She hadn’t heard any of the new stuff he’d recorded since the night Myles quit. And it worried her now that Myles was gone; there was no one to watch Raymond in the studio. The studio costs must be getting outrageous. Thank God there’s an engineer there at least, she thought.

“Uh … what does the engineer think of the … uh … the sound of society- at-large?” asked Julie in her most pleasant voice. “Does he like it?”

“There is no engineer,” responded Raymond. “I fired him. He was getting in the way. Now I work the control board and the tape machines myself – it’s better that way. No middlemen between me and … The Sound!”

Every time Raymond said The Sound – his eyes would gleam like Jack Nicholson’s in The Shining. Julie had just seen the movie and it still scared her.

Now she was really worried. What would she do if his career really did go down the drain? They weren’t even married. She would have to investigate “palimony” in the morning.

“But, Raymond, you’re not an engineer! How can you run the console and the tape machines and play at the same time? You gotta have some help.”

“Oh, don’t worry, honey. After all the albums I’ve made I know how to do a thing or two. And besides, if I make mistakes, it’s OKI Don’t you see? Society is full of mistakes. They make them all the time. I’m only a mirror you can’t forget that, baby!” He smiled.

Soon Raymond stopped coming home at all except on weekends. He would book the studio 24 hours a day. Julie was getting more worried. He even lost his interest in sex.

Julie called up Myles at home. Maybe he would know what was going on.

“Myles, have you heard anything from Raymond?”

“No,” said Myles. “He made a clean break. Though I have heard quite a bit about him!”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“I mean his record company is very upset. He fired his engineer you know.”

“Yeah, he told me he could do it.”

“Well, that’s pretty amazing coming from someone who wouldn’t even change his own guitar strings for years,” said Myles. “But when the label heard that no one was in there with him, they asked him if the head of A&R could come down for a listen and Raymond refused so … they have refused to continue paying for the album.”

“WHAT?” exclaimed Julie.

“You heard it,” said Myles. “They’re not paying.”

“Well, then who is paying for it?” she asked.

“Raymond Ghost, that’s who. Believe me, it’s not the National Endowment for The Arts.”

“Oh, my god!” said Julie. She sat down. She felt dizzy. “How much do you think he’s spent so far?”

“Well … I figure the studio alone has to be costing him at least four grand a day if he’s booking it for 24 hours. And that’s not counting any of the outboard equipment, like an Aphex Aural Exciter or a digital delay, or tape for that matter. And I hear he’s been having some pretty wild sessions, ” said Myles.

“What do you mean by ‘wild,’ Myles?” asked Julie.

“Well … my information is sketchy but I hear he’s been doing a lot of … uh … multiple recording at once. Like he’ll bring in a string quartet and then three street musicians and a Reggae Band and then he’ll add a few of those guys who make rap records and he’ll record the whole damn session at once! Everyone playing at the same time!”

“What does that sound like?”

“How the hell should I know? He’s your boyfriend. He won’t even let anyone down at the recording studio listen. They threatened to throw him out at one point when it was discovered he had hidden a microphone in the bathroom and was recording everything that went on in there! Apparently he keeps raving about the sound of society at-large, whatever the hell that is.”

“I know. I know,” said Julie. “He tried to tell me about it a few weeks ago and I couldn’t figure out what he was talking about. But … how much do you think he’s spent so far, Myles?”

“It’s anybody’s guess,” said Myles. “But I would suspect that before this thing is done he’ll go through half a million easy.”

Julie kept telling herself not to panic. Raymond must know what he’s doing. After all, when she had first met him seven years ago she was just a receptionist at a rehearsal studio. He had changed her whole life. She went to the closet to look at her fur coats. Maybe she could make a last ditch effort to get him to marry her … and then she could get him certified insane … Myles would help. She would be looking out for both their welfare. If they were married wasn’t there something in the law about keeping her in the lifestyle she had grown accustomed to?

But first she would talk to him and try to get him to see reality. Even if he had spent half a million dollars maybe there was something salvageable Myles could work with. And as say-one hit record can erase a c mistakes. She would go down to studio.

When she got there, the door was locked and no one seemed to be coming in or out as usual in a busy recording studio. Finally, after she kept ringing the bell, Raymond’s voice came over the intercom.

“The studio is closed for repairs.”

“Raymond, wait! It’s me, Julie! Open up! “

“Julie? What are you doing here’ can’t be disturbed now … I’m in
The middle of something very important…. I think I’ve made a breakthrough.”

“But, Raymond, I’ve got to talk to you! It’s very important!”

A buzzer opened the door and Julie walked in. The lobby was filled with recording equipment and musical instruments of all kinds. It looked like a synthesizer junkyard.

And there was Raymond. Julie couldn’t believe her eyes; he had cut his hair very short and was dressed in white robes, and his face was painted with strange colors. He looked like a leftover Aztec Indian.

“Raymond! What’s going on here? What have you done to yourself?” She stared at him.

“Oh … you mean the way I look?” he said nonchalantly.

“Yeah, the way you look! You look crazy!”

“I’m a catalyst,” he said. “I need to cause reaction so I can record it. I figured out that sound is basically a reaction. And especially the sound of society; it’s all reactionary sounds! So … I figured I would speed up the process a little.” He giggled. “I had an amazing effect on The Tabernacle Choir! “

“The Tabernacle Choir! How much did that cost?” asked Julie.

“Oh, not much. I just had to build a small wing on a Mormon hospital.”

“Oh, my god!” said Julie. She realized they were all alone in the studio. “Where is everybody, Raymond?”

“Oh, they’ve all gone,” he said. “They didn’t understand. And they were hampering my work so I told them all to leave … the engineers, the tape operators, the maintenance men, even the receptionist. They didn’t understand … The Sound. But I know you do, Julie, I can tell.” He smiled.

“You know I do? Raymond, I don’t understand a goddamn thing you’ve been doing the last six months. But how did you get them all to leave? Did they just let you take over their studio and say ‘goodbye’?”

“My studio,” said Raymond. “I bought it.”

“YOU BOUGHT IT?” If there had men a place to fall she would have fainted. “You bought it with what?”

“With everything I had,” said Raymond. “This is all I need anymore – this and … The Sound. Come, let me show you.”

He took her hand and led her into the control room. It was full of 24 track tape machines and endless reels of tape.

“You see I’ve taken all the tape machines from the other rooms in the studio and hooked them all together,” said Raymond. “I now have the equivalent of a 240 track machine. Recording the sound of society isn’t as easy as it sounds.” He laughed. Julie didn’t get the joke.

They walked further into the studio and Julie was overcome with the sight and the smell. Sprawled on the floor were a dozen Bowery bums in varying states of decay. In the middle of the floor was an ice bucket filled with pint bottles of Thunderbird Wine.

“Now you guys just keep singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’,” said Raymond.

Julie ran out of the studio.

It was over a month before Julie heard from Raymond again. He had stopped coming home completely. He called to tell her the album was finished and that he wanted her to come to a special preview of it that night in the studio.

When she got there everything was cleaned up and the place was filled with people from Raymond’s record company, booking agency and a few very important rock writers. Myles was there too.

“Have you seen him?” she asked,

“No. Not yet,” said Myles. “Why?”

“You’ll see,” said Julie.

But when Raymond walked out he looked quite normal. His hair was a little shorter – as a matter of fact it was almost a crew cut, but it looked right in style. He walked around and shook hands and told the usual jokes. In all there were about 50 people there and he got up in front of them to give a little speech.

“What you are about to hear is perhaps the most important work of my career. I have tried to capture The Sound of Our Time. I hope you enjoy it.”

Myles looked at Julie and shook his head. “I feel like I’m a witness at an execution,” he said.

And what happened? Why, the album was enormously successful. Critics called it the most brilliant record since Sergeant Pepper. It went to the top of the charts and stayed there for weeks. During a slow week for news Raymond Ghost got his face on the cover of Time magazine. Underneath they just wrote: THE SOUND.

Julie and Raymond eventually split up and she made a half-assed attempt to pull some “palimony” out of him but it didn’t work. Last seen, she and Myles were living in Cincinnati where he was trying to milk the local new wave club scene.

Raymond Ghost embarked on a cross-country tour of sold out arenas. He brought along three Bowery bums for his back-up singers. Two Hundred Forty Track Recording became the state-of-the-art, although few used it as well as Raymond Ghost. He was known as the father of the “life layering” recording technique.

And, what, did the album sound like? Well … it’s hard to put into words … powerful? … inspirational? … Let’s just say it really had … The Sound.