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Malcolm Chisholm

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Malcolm Chisholm

Postby toomanyhelicopters on Wed Dec 17, 2003 12:50 pm

I was saddened to find out recently that Malcolm had died. I forget which other Columbia teacher it was (Doug?) who used to say "Malcolm will never die, he will eventually be dragged back down into the earth by the weight of his own balls". I thought Malcolm was a total prick, in the best way. I remember him saying that they key is to be equally as much of a prick to every single person, regardless of who they are : that way nobody can accuse you of discrimination. That guy had a sense of humor on him... I see how humility is great. But being bad-ass and having the skills and the history to back up one's posturing are pretty cool, too. And so often when I read somebody talking about a purist philosophy, how a recording should sound exactly like the event that took place in the room it took place in, I think of him. Probably the single most important thing I learned from him was the importance of *listening* over anything else. Everybody here's probably all engineers of some sort, so everybody learned that lesson somewhere, I assume. Anybody else have any memories of him, good or bad? Is he missed, are people glad he's gone, or is he just not thought of?
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Postby El Protoolio on Thu Dec 18, 2003 4:51 pm

The best lesson I learned from Malcolm was "keep it simple, stupid". In class while he was explaining things he would often say "this aint rocket science!" or "there's no rockets here!" meaning that recording didn't have to be complicated and esoteric. He believed in and mentioned Occams Razor quite a bit. Whenever there are two possible explainations or options, whichever one is the most simple is the correct answer.
He broke down compression, eq and mic usage in a way that made the whole recording process just click for me. It was like a light bulb turning on in my head.
I had the good fortune to interview Malcolm early this year for Tape Op just about two months before he died. He was sick, and described himself as miserable with a "chest cold", but he was still generous with his time and his conversation. He was world class as both a mixer and a human being. Respectful, unassuming and fucking hilarious.
As some of you know, his "chest cold" turned out to be lung cancer but I'm sure he was smoking, "poisoning the birds" as he called it, right up to the end. My interview didn't get the stories that he would tell in class and instead, with his permission, I have revised some of his articles and lectures and turned them into filler that will be published as needed.

I'd like to share his definitions of frequency ranges and how he applied them to music, as an example of his way of keeping it simple.

30 hz Balls
60 hz Bass
100 hz Useless
200 hz Warmth
700 hz Bass Presence
1 khz Level
3 khz Presence
5 khz Poison
8 khz Brilliance


Poison of course means that while a little 5K sounds great, too much of it will kill you. Like alcohol or other drugs. And to use too much of it means that others will look down on you.
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Malcolm Chisholm

Postby JeremyLemos on Fri Dec 19, 2003 3:39 pm

HA!! all of your stores of Malcolm just made my day!! one of the most amazing men i have ever met... all "modern" recording techniques and equipment were "BULLLL SHEIT!" (well, the only new mic he seemed to like was the beyer M160!) chain smoking, beret wearing, ranting genius...

he would be teaching a class and someone would bring up digital recording, and he would snarl and say "I COULD HAVE BUILT A NOISELESS TAPE MACHINE IN 1967, BUT NO ONE WANTED TO SPEND THE GOD DAMN MONEY!!!" and then he would stop class for an hour to explain how he really COULD have made a noiseless tape machine, but it would have been incredibly expensive... he recorded johhny be good for god sakes!! he has songs being beamed to outer-space to represent human civilization!!!

oh, i just remembered a quote of his... when people ask me what shows i've seen lately, or what new music i have been listening to, all i hear is Malcolm saying "WHAT DOES A WHORE -NOT- DO ON HER DAY OFF???"

any of us that had the chance to be around him will miss him dearly. RIP Malcom!
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Postby toomanyhelicopters on Fri Dec 19, 2003 4:13 pm

Hey jeremy, did you take Audio For the Visual Medium II (with Rik Coken) and work in a group with two guys named Scott? If so, I'm one of those two guys. Actually, if not, I still am, only you're not the Jeremy I'm thinking of...
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Postby tim on Sat Dec 20, 2003 1:34 am

[quote="El Protoolio"]

30 hz Balls
60 hz Bass
100 hz Useless
200 hz Warmth
700 hz Bass Presence
1 khz Level
3 khz Presence
5 khz Poison
8 khz Brilliance
quote]

i took malcolm's class and i think of these every time i mix. except in my notes i've got 40Hz for balls and "power" for 1kHz. and i could never forget "DONT LIMIT THE SMALL STUFF!!!!!!)

i've got nothing but great memories of him. in and out of class. i always had time to kill before that class, and he always arrived early. there were about four or five of us who would just hang out and smoke cigarettes while we talked with (but mostly listened to) him. i remember a lot of students having a hard time with his attitude, etc ..... but i liked him from the start. he was a fountain of information, and i feel very lucky to have had the oppurtunity to be his student.
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Malcolm Chisholm

Postby humhead on Sat Dec 20, 2003 7:11 pm

I loved Malcolm Chisholm from the very first class I took from him. I can't remember the name of that class (cause I'm old or something) but I'll never forget him blaring the 1/4" masters of his recordings while we all simply listened. And then he would impart some great heaps of knowledge to all of us, as he alternated between Marlboro Reds and Cool menthol cigarettes lit from that gold lighter that he had attached to a gold chain, hung around his neck and residing in his breast pocket.
Malcolm always had time for questions. Now his response may have sometimes been peppered with lots of sarcasm, but nonetheless he remained consistent in his treatment of his students.
Perhaps the coolest thing to happen to me as a young recording student at Columbia was that I lived in the same neighborhood as Malcolm. So he used to give me a ride home from class, and I used that opportunity to pester him with tons of questions about the old days. He once told me that he decided to try heroin. So in true Malcolm style, he scored the best stuff you could buy, proceeded to get hooked on it for about a month, and then had one of his ex-junkie buddies help him go cold turkey. I could go on and on about him, but I'll just leave it at that.
BTW, I was devastated for the entire day when I learned of his passing. The world will miss him dearly.
Hey Jeremy, aren't you glad that we had a toast to Malcolm last spring at the bar? I am.
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Postby JeremyLemos on Sat Dec 15, 2007 9:58 am

there is a new site here.
http://malcolm.bignoisybug.com/
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Postby DregsInTheCrowd on Sat Dec 15, 2007 8:02 pm

I never got to meet Malcolm, but I've heard thousands of stories from Benj, Jack, and just about everyone else. I think I would have felt priveleged to know the man. What a loss, but what a terrific legacy.
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Postby Robert G on Sat Dec 15, 2007 11:10 pm

I don't know who Malcolm is, but it seems to be the teacher I wish I had in my program at Tri-C here in Cleveland.
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Postby ohiowa on Sun Dec 16, 2007 2:55 am

I recently heard of malcolm's passing and it really stung, for some reason i thought he would never die, someone that stubborn, opinionated and smart surely could figure a way to cheat death, or at least tell death that it was wrong.

i sat in on a class when i was checking out Columbia when i was still in high school, i loved his attitude, and he kind of sold me on the program. I still tell stories about how he would play recordings at the beginning of class and then ask the class how we thought they were recorded, some idiot would always try and figure out the most complicated way possible to give as an answer and malcolm would shout "TWO FUCKING MICS" and then say something derogatory about the then fledgling digital recording medium.

Thanks Jeremy, i completely forgot about the "what does a whore NOT do on her day off" quip, classic malcolm. he is missed. I learned more from his ramblings and digressions than i did in any other class, we've lost a wizard.
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Postby scott on Sun Dec 16, 2007 3:44 am

Robert G wrote:I don't know who Malcolm is, but it seems to be the teacher I wish I had in my program at Tri-C here in Cleveland.


Malcolm was the teacher every recording guy everywhere wishes they had. Not blowing smoke up his ass here, that's really who he was.
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Postby JeremyLemos on Sun Dec 16, 2007 11:34 am

"recording engineers don't die, they are dragged into the grave by the shear weight of their balls."

god, i miss that guy...
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Malcolm Chisholm

Postby Bob DePugh on Sat Aug 02, 2008 7:48 am

I absolutely loved Malcolm Chisholm. I took 16 hours of engineering classes with him at Columbia in the mid '80s - as many as were offered. If the folks I'd found working in the studio business in Chicago had been anything like him (and if I'd really wanted to work nights) I probably would have continued on my trajectory to being a sound engineer, instead of opting for publishing instead.

A lot of people thought MC was a total asshole, and I guess you could look at it that way. But it doesn't matter so much whether someone is nice or not, what matters is that they are consistent and you know what to expect from them. Malcolm was totally that. If you were willing to stand up and respect yourself as much as he respected HIMself, then he respected you. There was never any petty bullshit, and I liked him immensely.

Someone here said they learned about far more than just audio engineering from MC, and that's really true. He was a living example of how to be truer to yourself. I have never forgotten him, and I still have ALL of my notes from his classes. I only ended up on this web site today because I had an odd home audio problem, and on a whim googled his name. 20 years later, I still figure he'd be the best person to ask.

I'm glad I knew him, I'm sorry he's gone. Your comments brought back a lot of memories. Like the way he always wiped the chalk off his fingers inside the pockets of his polyester slacks. Or the way he explained, with clenched teeth and lighted cigarette held face-high, how if you were working with a certain amount of voltage and happened to connect the wrong wires YOU WILL DIE!

RIP MC, Thanks much.
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Postby Brendan Lahey on Thu Aug 14, 2008 5:15 am

Malcolm was the shit. I was lucky enough to have him for two consecutive semesters because I was in a gnarly car wreck and was in the hospital for the final the first time around. It was worth it.

We used to hang out in front of the old RCAstudio / Columbia ATC / whatever it is now that whatsisname runs it. The man smoked like a forest fire and would tell salty stories if he thought you had a sense of humor / weren't a wanker. He was for damn sure the only teacher at Columbia that I considered to be a friend.

He was an endless source of knowledge. Not just sound, either. He knew a lot about a lot of things. Pistol shooting, electronics, the worst bars in southeast asia, etc...

One time we were shooting the shit in a snowstorm, smoking, in front of the ATC and talking about why analogue gear sounds pleasant. He asked me something like: "so why does it sound so good? what's good about it?", and I answered back, digging up some crusty chunk of analytical knowledge, "even order harmonic distortion". He broke out in a big grin and I think he must have felt like he had done a good job whipping our young brains into shape. He never gave me a hard time after that, which was amazing, he gave everyone a hard time.

He was a great teacher and a great friend. I miss talking to him a lot. If there were more honorable men like him in sound today, I would still be doing it for a living.
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Postby tim on Thu Aug 14, 2008 9:52 am

Brendan Lahey wrote:He was an endless source of knowledge. Not just sound, either. He knew a lot about a lot of things. Pistol shooting, electronics, the worst bars in southeast asia, etc...


a friend who took his class a semester before me was always quoting some malcolm anecdote about prostitutes in thailand. something about if her ankles cracked, that was how to tell if she was hold enough.
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Postby Brendan Lahey on Fri Aug 15, 2008 12:54 am

Ha! Hell yeah, I had forgotten about the whore ankle test. I wish I could remember the exact wording.

I liked his Coast Guard / Navy / Merchant Marine stories too. The one about the two guys who took an open bucket of carbon tetrachloride into a gun turret to clean something and died of lack of oxygen in the blood was a gnarly one. That story always reminds me to take the dangerous chemicals outside when you need to use them.

"Carbon Tet! The greatest damn electronics cleaner, but it replaces oxygen in your blood. The shit will fucking kill you and it's a bad way to go! They won't sell it for what it's good for anymore so you gotta get Energine Dry Cleaning Compound, it's nothing but carbon tet with a different label."
-MC
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