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FAMILY | FOR THE KIDS

Sound Proof

Musical duo a hit with the history of recording technology.

June 26, 1997|RICHARD KAHLENBERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Many people, especially kids, can't recall a time that recorded sound wasn't a part of their lives.

It's certainly ubiquitous today, with home stereo, CDs, boom boxes, cassette players attached to joggers, and THX stereo pulsing out of the movie screen and pushing people back in their seats.

Saturday at the West Valley Regional Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, kids will find out that there was a time, not long ago, when such devices didn't exist, but then popped up in our lives as if by magic.

The occasion is an unusual live performance by the musical duo Chrominance. Their 45-minute presentation, suitable for all ages, is titled "Sound--and How Sound Recordings Are Made." Carol and Evelyn Jones, the mother-daughter team that constitutes Chrominance, will show the kids that the recorded music we now take for granted started with "funny inventions."

With singing and live demonstrations, the women show how inventors used cranks, tinfoil, magnets, electric power, plastic and computers to create a whole new world of sound. Kids will see Evelyn singing solo but hear her voice electronically transformed via computers into an entire chorus of unseen Evelyns, all singing in harmony.

"Sometimes the audience gasps," says Evelyn, recalling similar demonstrations she has given at libraries and schools around Southern California.

Carol, the instrumentalist in the duo, describes her role in the program.

Before Evelyn goes on, Carol says, "I start playing my electric guitar--without plugging it in. The people in the back can't hear." Then she plugs in her guitar, and the sound booms. Everybody joins her in singing "Surfin' USA," and she's got the audience primed for a music-and-science show about everything from Edison's Talking Machine to compact-disc laser technology.

The show also has carnival-like visuals, including big painted panels and oversized mock-ups of electrical and mechanical wonders.

"It will be pitched to the age of the audience [on that particular day]. Fifth-grade-age kids, we know, will have studied magnetism in school," she says, giving an example.

But Carol begins by showing them nonmagnetic sound technology, including a "band box," the mechanical "orchestra" that can still be found in use at carousels, and the huge perforated metal discs that were part of long-playing music boxes years ago.

"They laugh when they hear 'Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer' played on these machines," she says.

Progressing from Edison's tinfoil-wrapped recording cylinders to a hand-cranked gramophone, a la "His Master's Voice," she takes her audience into the early era of magnetic recording. She shows how the technology has evolved--from wire to 2-inch studio tape machines, through eight-track cassettes to the digital audiotape now used by many studios and for high-end home recording.

As a result, Carol says, "some kids went home and took a magnifying glass to their Mom's old eight-track cassettes to look for the tiny magnetic granules I said were embedded on the tape."

In the course of the show, there's lots of singing and guitar playing by the duo. Carol brings five guitars with her, as well as a 24-channel mixing board, so "kids can get close to the real equipment used at a live performance."

The up-close nature of the show often causes livelier interactions with students than is the norm for school and library events. Often, says Carol, "the kids wanted to become our road crew and pack up the equipment. They wanted our autographs and career counseling about how to get jobs in the recording industry."

In other words, Chrominance is catnip for kids.

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BE THERE

Performance--"Sound--and How Sound Recordings Are Made"--a presentation by Chrominance combining science, music and visuals--is Saturday, 1:30 p.m., at the West Valley Regional Branch of L.A. Public Library, 19036 Vanowen St., Reseda. Free. All ages welcome. (818) 345-4393.

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