Walter Sear, 1930-2010

I note with heartfelt sorrow the death of the great recording engineer Walter Sear, who died on April 29th from complications of a fall. (Somehow I missed his obituary notices at the time, and have only just heard the news.)

Walter occupied a very special place in the New York recording community. Having never joined the digital revolution that transformed our industry in the 1980’s, he was our foremost exponent and archivist of analog equipment and techniques — and his legendary studio, Sear Sound, was, in equal measure, laboratory, museum, and shrine. He had an incomparable collection of “vintage” equipment: a Neve 8038 console, half-inch vacuum-tube Studer tape machines, hundreds of rare microphones, original Moogs and Theremins, and much, much more.

I did many sessions at Walter’s studio over the years — it was one of the best places on earth to make recordings of music — and Walter was always a welcoming, avuncular presence. He always took an interest in what the engineers were doing, and loved to talk shop. Often he’d invite me to stay behind after a date to try out some new mike or piece of equipment he’d just added to his collection, and many times I used, on his recommendation, some exotic antique or other that he had recommended for a particular application — always with happy results. (I also have, somewhere, a file he sent me containing hundreds and hundreds of “musician jokes” that he had collected over the years.)

Walter Sear loved music, loved audio, loved recording, and loved engineers — and there isn’t a single one of our little brotherhood that didn’t love him right back. He was sui generis, and irreplaceable. His death leaves yet another aching hole in the hearts of those of us who remember what it used to be like to record music in New York City, and we will miss him very much. My sympathies go out to Roberta and the staff.

Thanks for everything, Walter. Rest in peace.

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4 Comments

  1. Ron D says

    Mal,

    I share your views on Walter. I was lucky enough to work at Sear Sound a handful of times and every time was a complete joy. Walter was a true legend in our field and I felt very privileged to talk with him whenever I was there. Any conversation with Walter was truly a history lesson in the art of recording, even though his dislike for digital technology was always made clear.

    In fact, there was one piece of advice he gave me when I was first starting out that I will never forget. Not because it was any great secret to how to make things sound great or how to get the perfect drum sound, but more of a personal type of guidance. As he talked to me about the comforts and services they offered at Sear Sound, he wrapped it up by saying, “And remember to take time to go to the bathroom.” Sure, out of context this may seem a bit odd, but for recording engineers like Malcolm and myself, there have been hundreds of times that our clients don’t let us take bathroom breaks because they “only need to do one more thing” and are often unsympathetic to our needs. Mal, as you know, two hours later, we still never get to the bathroom! Walter, in his wonderful grandfatherly way, was saying to me – don’t let the clients get the best of you. He was right, of course, and I will always have a fondness and special place in my heart for Walter and Sear Sound.

    Ron D

    Posted May 16, 2010 at 6:03 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Thanks for commenting, Ron. How sad that Walter’s gone.

    Posted May 16, 2010 at 8:32 pm | Permalink
  3. Chris G says

    Do you remember when you gave me a verbal beating when I suggested that Look switch their 2″ machines for ADATS? Yeah, that would have been a mistake (It was Taka’s idea not mine!)!

    Posted May 18, 2010 at 11:34 am | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    Sorry, Chris. Do forgive me. I hated those bloody ADATs; it was if civilization was crumbling before my eyes (which, of course, it was).

    Posted May 18, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Permalink