Studio Tech’s Corner: Dub Narcotic Cassette Dubbing System

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

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Towering ominously above the studio, The Cassette Dubbing Station surveys all. Day and night strange lights can be seen dancing across its surface, pulsing to a bizarre alien choreography.

A couple weeks ago something broke with the Dub Narcotic Studio’s cassette tape dubbing station. I don’t know what, but I sure know when, because within a few days, I was hearing about it from everyone. People on the street, migratory punk bands, folks at the record store, and it was always, “hey man, I’m leaving on tour tomorrow and I need to make 100 tapes by then, but I heard from the waitstaff at the Reef that your setup is busted!”

Calvin lets lots and lots of people dub tapes here. All the K artists and more besides. Its staggering to think the amount done over the years. Its nice for me, because it brings people down to the basement, and I can talk to them instead of the machines (“please darling, just pass a little signal? For me?”).

So, obviously a priority. Markly Morrison (of LAKE, etc.) was in here trying to make America Salutes The Carter Family Tapes (still need to get one of those!), and he thought the distribution amplifier was the culprit, so I pulled it out and started testing it.











But no dice, no distortion on the output, no ripple, power supply seemed fine. Maybe I pulled the wrong unit (we have a stereo pair). Pulled the other unit (which involves undoing so many spade lugs, ugh). It seemed fine too. And I had arrived at my first important lesson for the week. Don’t test the electronics of something until you can reproduce the problem.

But I was so convinced something was up. Plus it’s a hassle to reassemble and hook them up again. I didn’t want to do it if I was just gonna take them apart immediately after. So I just tested them all week. I got all wound up chasing little waves and funny readings and in the end got nowhere.



One day, Ephraim walked up and handed me Bob’s little battery-powered headphone amplifier, which of course hadn’t even crossed my mind. Five minutes later, it was obvious that both units were working.

But somewhere in-between, I’d lost all the screws for one unit! I took sample screws down to Olympia Supply and matched them, but when I got back I had switched the amount of each type I needed. What the fuck ever, like it needs every screw. Most of the older pieces here have been reduced to the absolute minimum screws, so that they can be opened up quickly.

Redid all 30 spade lugs, and calibrated the setup with the oscillator. All the record levels were whacked out, so maybe that was the problem. Or maybe that was people trying to fix it. So many problems here disappear as soon as you try to test them. Sometimes I blame gremlins. Sometimes I think the gear just wants some attention.

To me, the tape dubbing station is emblematic of Dub Narcotic Studios whole vibe. Its all about sharing resources, holding creative space, and coaxing antiquated technology into a some sort of working whole. My favorite days at work are when there’s a rad K artist recording, someone else dubbing tapes, someone else making a flier, and me in the corner accidentally shocking myself. Maybe someday I’ll hear one of my yelps or mumblings on record!

As I was about to leave for the day, Mariella, the general manager here at K, asked about the cassette decks. This might seem unremarkable, but it is literally the first time Mariella has ever asked me about a piece of gear by name. “All fixed,” I replied, “It just needed a tummy rub.”

One response to “Studio Tech’s Corner: Dub Narcotic Cassette Dubbing System”

  1. river says:

    this is my favourite studio tech’s corner yet! i know the pain of chasing a seemingly malignant problem, only to have it disappear when observed. they call it quantum broken shit theory

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