Would Seneca have needed a mixer?

Somebody who wants to record music might, on first inspection, look at a Tascam 234 and say, "Cool VUs, but where is the mixer section?”

From the very beginning the concept of using cheap audio cassette tapes to record 4 separate tracks was a vision of a portable, compact machine, with the flexibility to record separate instruments simultaneously to one track, and the ability to record instruments separately to separate tracks, and then blend (or “mix”) these recorded instruments into a final composition.

So it was that in 1979 Tascam released the 144 PortaStudio. A machine that, as the name implied, replicated the functions of much larger and expensive reel to reel machine, and a mixing desk, with which one could add effects, blend tracks, route audio to new tracks, and free up tracks to add further instruments. A small, portable, almost affordable, “recording studio”.

But skip forward a few years: A niche appears. Perhaps ironically, the success of a flexible combined mixer/recorder in one market has put a limit its success in another. The PortaStudio is not seen as a professional tool, rightly or wrongly it’s a perceived as a hobbyist device.

And so to this: “Face it. You put sound on tape for a reason. You want someone to hear it. Most importantly, buy it. It’s your life. We built the 234 to help you because you never get a second change to make a first impression” This piece of copy from the launch of the 234 was really advertising to advertisers. “The World’s First Professional 4-Track Cassette Machine”. Capital P Professional.

In a world before computers, creating sound for cheap commercials had been an expensive business. Sound for animatronics was expensive. Voice over production was expensive. Radio station stings and prerecorded material was expensive. The launch of a professional 4-track cassette machine was an attempt to enter these markets. The 234 was built as a more rugged, precise, “fulltime” machine, and the function of “Syncaset” (linking two machines together for more than 4 tracks), also targeted the small professional recording facility. The standalone nature of the 234 allowing a recording studio to combine high end outboard preamps, effects and mixing desks with a cheap audio cassette medium. (why bother?) Again, in a world before computers, a demo recording at a real studio was common place. Cassette audio was cheaper medium.

Thing was, probably underappreciated at the time, and certainly since, the 234 actually could do most of the mixing functions of the PortaStudio, with just the addition of a couple of little rca jumper leads. Record to 1, 2 & 3. Set your relative volume levels on playback. Switch to “Stereo Out” mode. Pan your 3 tracks Left. Connect your rca lead from Left Main (Out), to channel 4 (In). Play / Record the three blended tracks to channel 4, and you’ve freed up tracks 1, 2, 3 to add more instruments. Repeat this if required. Finally pan your individual and blended tracks as desired, (you can pan tracks with a 234? Yes you can), set your relative levels, and record your final composition to a separate stereo machine. Just like a PortaStudio.

So to our old Stoic mate. Would Seneca have needed a mixer if he had a 234?

Much like the 234, Seneca is unrated and misunderstood. Can you be said to be a hypocrite if you write on stoic virtue and yet live in excess as a renowned adulterer, & loafer? Tellingly Seneca said, “It is the sign of a weak mind to be unable to bear wealth.”, and certainly he was a man of considerable means, who, even when exiled to Corsica lived a life full of privilege. He also said, “A great fortune is a great slavery”, so Seneca’s stoicism must, i guess, be seen as subtle...

Or is this just a contradiction? Where is the Great Stoic? Where is virtue? For context let’s throw a few random names in the air: Caligula, Claudius & Nero. The Emperors Seneca served. A life on a tightrope. His life spared by one, His exile by another, his final sentence from the third. “It is pleasant at times to play the madman”. Indeed.

Seneca’s stoicism was not the spare life or stiff upper lip typical of a certain stereotype. Seneca’s believe was in the winds of shambolic fate and in life the preparation for that unknown journey. There could be nothing more. To have fortune, wealth or even excess is not of itself incompatible with stoic virtue. It was the relationship with the pleasurable and material that the importance of stoic virtue lies. If all of the material is taken away will a person still be satisfied with their lot? Is a person contented despite the measure of their possessions?

“It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor”

Accept an unknown fate. Resist being defined by your status. Resist letting your material possessions define your contentment. Prepare yourself for death. Live a stoic life: If you have a Tascam 234 and a mixing desk handy, by all means embrace it! If you are without a mixing desk, resist craving one. Record a song with what you have. Record it now, not later. This is life.

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