Icons: Steve Remote – Pioneering Mobile Production with Aura-Sonic
June 30, 2013 by David Weiss
Sound wasn’t meant to stand still.
Neither, it seems, is Steve Remote, which may explain his love affair with the audible force that rushes through the air at 1,126 feet per second.
And while the mobile production fleet that he’s created may not look supersonic, it’s adeptly kept Remote in the race – for decades on end.
Based out of Queens, Remote and his dedicated team of engineers have built up nothing less than a national resource for audio: Aura-Sonic, which was founded in 1977 and today stands as the oldest operating, single-owner mobile recording company in the USA. The shows and sheds captured since then are countless, including Aerosmith, Bruce Springsteen, Coldplay, Dave Brubeck, Frank Zappa, Green Day, Herbie Hancock, Interpol, James Brown, Lenny Kravitz, My Morning Jacket, Neville Brothers, Queens of the Stone Age, Radiohead, Talking Heads, UB40, Van Dyke Parks, Wilco, XTC, and Yo Yo Ma, just for starters.
And there’s no sign of slowing down, especially with the summer music season now in high gear. With voyages to the Newport Folk Festival and Newport Jazz Festival right around the corner, and a solid schedule of live recordings at venues nationwide on the books, Aura-Sonic has its work cut out for them. Which is exactly the way Remote likes it.
“Designing and fabricating a killer truck and doing a great job is what motivates me,” Steve Remote says. “Imagine having a hobby that turned out to be your gig. Even if I have a slow month, it doesn’t matter: I have plenty of things to do.”
Constructing A Flexible Fleet
How do you achieve such high mileage in the ultra-competitive, and incredibly labor-intensive, sector that is mobile audio?
It would be easy to chalk it up to a road warrior mentality, but there’s a lot more to it than that. In Steve Remote’s case, his palpable passion has many energy sources: a deep love for live music, a curious mind bent on invention, and a technical mastery of his craft. If he can dream it, he really can do it, provided he’s got the time and resources at hand.
The proof is experiencing Remote in the Aura-Sonic field shop, an intriguing HQ where military-spec organization and a creative vibe magically coincide — step inside, and you’re face-to-face with his rolling creations.
First you’ll find The Bread Mobile, a GMC/Grumman Kurbmaster Stepvan (Exterior: 25.5′ L x 11.5′ H x 96″ W) that espouses Remote’s “Open Architecture” philosophy of full flexibility, allowing it to be customized for everything from VO/ADR sessions to a full 56-input mobile recording studio.
Parked alongside this venerable vehicle is Cosmo, a 36-foot long Hino 268A rig (Exterior: 36.0′ L x 11.5′ H x 102″ W) originally owned by Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Doug “Cosmo” Clifford and Stu Cook, and then owned and operated by Phil Edwards Recording. Aura-Sonic is currently in the process of converting it over to the Open Architecture design, and it’s set to debut in the first quarter of 2014.
The next level is Elroy, a 33,000-lb Mercedes expando truck (Exterior Expando Dimensions: 22.0′ L x 11.5′ H x 14.0′ W) where the Open Architecture Platform is maximized, to say the least. Designed with extreme input/output capabilities, Elroy can do far more than just location sound – it’s a rolling recording studio where virtually all things audio/video are possible: It can serve as a broadcast control room, music mix suite, post production/editing suite, video assist, ADR/VO, live studio space, machine room, rehearsal space, high-tech green room, demonstration show room…plus anything else that Aura-Sonic’s clients can think of.
And there’s nothing Steve Remote seems to like more than a new idea.
All of Aura Sonic’s mobile environments can be a strong complement not just to a live concert but also to promotional content and events for a brand. In one example, Aura-Sonic captured several adventurous on-location live music videos for the Converse “Ready, Set Get Lost” series with The Bread Mobile.
Taking it a step further, Heineken had Aura-Sonic bring The Bread Mobile out to Manhattan’s Pier 22 – Heineken placed their logos on the truck, after which people outside listened to beats and wrote lyrics. Next they were invited to come inside The Bread Mobile and record their lyrics, then instantly come away with their new song on a USB flash drive.
Wheels of Invention
“I want to make this distinction,” says Remote, whose unlimited energy goes into overdrive within the expansive inner space of Elroy. “Yes, I’m a remote recording engineer/producer/mixer, and Aura-Sonic has remote trucks, but the key is that we’re like an automotive industry: That’s because we’re designing and building every one of our trucks. If something isn’t already made, I’ll invent it and we’ll fabricate it here at the shop, to meet whatever our needs are.”
As an example, check out the entrance door to Elroy. Amidst the thousands of live recordings and broadcasts he executed, Remote knew that megastars often come back to the truck to review the live mixes. To ensure privacy, Remote wanted a door whose glass could be privately opaque, and then totally transparent at the touch of a button later on. Further, the door had to be able to withstand the unique rigors of being attached to a road vehicle.
So Remote designed Elroy’s unique door with a laminated Suspended Particle Device (SPD) Smartglass and Liquid Crystal (LC) Polycarbonate privacy glass panel assembly. Applying electrical voltage to the SPD film via regulation of the 120V, users can observe a wide range of light control. The exact level of transparency can be dialed into the SPD Smart Glass, from opaque to totally clear. Remove the current, and the glass returns to the frosted “private” state.
“My friends have said to me, ‘Why not buy a door that’s all ready to go?’” Remote relates. “We could do that, except I wanted something special. Moreover, I want to learn how to build it, and therefore how to fix it. So I take these things that have happened to us, and say, ‘How do we think of a better way, and make sure we’ll never have an issue?’”
Space Ship Elroy
While all of his trucks have their high points, Elroy is a uniquely versatile mobile unit, providing Aura-Sonic and its clients with an inspiring hub to create in – or branch out from, as the case may be.
A dual-expanding wall truck that’s been evolving non-stop since 1999, Elroy is designed to be configurable to any media production need, and in a highly efficient form. Its interior can accommodate multiple operator positions all in one space, and the main mixing position is pre-configured for 5.1 surround monitoring.
Input/output possibilities are absolutely huge: Elroy’s passenger side “Inside Universe” patch bay has 2080 points that can connect to the flexibly assembled “Main,” “Aux” and “Outside Universe” rack panels. The driver side “Guest Area” patch bay provides a completely independent system with the capabilities of connecting to the “Guest” and “Outside Universe” rack panels. The “Guest Area” power is completely isolated from the main power via a second isolation transformer.
Being inside Elroy, it’s easy to forget you’re in something that can easily move from city to city, and state to state — the feeling is one of being in a decently spacious studio control room or broadcast/post suite. People have plenty of room to walk around, or can scoot around in their chairs.
If preferred, a band can set up inside and be recorded in a world-class studio environment, right on the spot. We can tell you a thousand more words about that or you can see for yourself how well it works in the live music video below, where the six-man NYC band Hey Guy records their melodic metal without any overdubs:
Note the pro video production for the video, which is not something Aura-Sonic farmed out. Knowing full well that live video streaming to the Web is important to today’s content producers, Remote has designed Elroy to be a turnkey operation that drives up and then provides all the audio, video and production capabilities needed. Elroy can also be paired up with one of their rigs or any other remote recording facility to provide an on-location mobile studio space and control room environment.
“I look at it as reinvention – now that we’ve got this mobile environment, how can we use it?” Remote explains. “People are starting to see that this truck can do all these other things, beyond music and television production. What do you want it to do? It’s about new ideas. This truck can come to a big event, but it’s not just there to capture a show – it’s a part of the event.”
Recruiting A Competitive Crew
Naturally, Steve Remote doesn’t do this alone. He has a staff of full-time and freelance associates that keeps the fleet humming.
Not surprisingly, getting into the Aura-Sonic system is a rigorous process. Remote launched his own career in 1976, when he showed up at Max’s Kansas City with an eight-channel Sony MX-20 mixer and a two-track Studer A700 tape recorder and talked his way into recording the New York Dolls that weekend. Just 18 years old at the time, Remote went on to record many other live shows at the storied club.
All the while – on the way to taking part in the recording of three Grammy Award winning albums and winning a 2009 TEC Award — Remote was studying audio fundamentals and training himself to be self-sufficient, a trait he passes on to his staff as they train and move through the ranks: Audio Utility, Audio Assistant, Recording Engineer, and ultimately Engineer in Charge or Music Producer.
“We take the old British recording studio approach,” he says. “When I take on an intern or an apprentice, they learn from the ground up: how to build a cable, wire stuff, fabricate tables and racks. You pass that, then you move on to help us prep a gig – that’s an Audio Utility, a person who made it out of the shop and knows what they’re doing enough to move cables and gear. Moving up from there, you’re setting up recorders or microphones.
“It’s not about how much time you’ve put into it,” Remote continues. “It’s about how much you’ve learned. When you do a live broadcast and you’re going out to ten million homes it’s got to be right – you make a mistake and its forever. We’re only as good as our last gig.”
A Live Life
No matter what directions Steve Remote’s explorations lead next, it all circles back to the same source of nonstop excitement for him.
“The stimulating part of it is the live thing,” Remote says. “That special performance can never be redone. The one-shot nature of it all. You can’t get that as vividly in a studio as you can in a mobile or on location situation. That’s what’s great about this business: It’s always about going to these interesting locations, and making it as good as it possibly could be. Bring out the best.”
– David Weiss