by Samuel Thompson
A man who is conscious of the past and its traditions, recording engineer Dave Clementson holds a special place in the history of the San José Chamber Orchestra as he has been recording the orchestra since its inaugural performance in 1992. "I have recorded all of the orchestra's concerts, save for two," Clemenston shared in a phone interview. "My high school buddy Kurt Taylor was the first president of the SJCO, and he knew that I had the recording studio at the time. On a Saturday in January of 1992, he called me and asked if I wanted to record the inaugural concert. That recording was a two-track to DAT (digital audio tape)."
Mr. Clementson has from that weekend recorded every concert ("save for two") presented by the San José Chamber Orchestra. These recordings are referred to as archival or "reference recordings" - "a reference recording of each performance," he says. "I record the concerts, then the recordings are excerpted and submitted with the grant applications. Barbara does a lot of world premieres, and often mine are their only recordings. Otherwise someone would have to specifically hire the orchestra to make recordings of those works."
While having been an integral part of the San José Chamber Orchestra for twenty years, Dave Clementson is primarily an electrical engineer. "I did I own a recording studio for a while, but by profession I am an electrical design engineer. I now work for Dolby Laboratories.” His knowledge of recording and audio technology is vast, as he has been involved in the industry for years. "I was employee nineteen at Digidesign, now Avid Technology. They are the company behind Pro Tools.” Laughing, he says "I had a hand in almost everything that had a power cord. I was also at CompuSonics. We made one of the first commercially viable digital audio workstations. This was in 1985, well before digital audio was available to the consumer. We were working on what you would recognize as the MP3 way back then-it was the beginning use of data compression on audio. The product was to be a digital recorder for the consumer market, but we had a professional editor that was used for TV and film soundtracks. One was used for audio sweetening on 'Saturday Night Live' back when it was funny. That’s how long ago it was."
Reference recording is much different from the recording of works for commercial purposes, and Clementson explored the differences with the incredible depth of knowledge gleaned in his twenty-five - plus years of working in the recording industry. "Making a reference recording is a lot different than making a CD. For example I can’t move the musicians-the most that I can do is move the microphone. And the theatre that we use is not pre-wired for recording. If you go to many of today's concert halls, like the Musikverein in Vienna, you see that the stage is prewired with mics above the orchestra. With the San Jose Chamber Orchestra, I go in with my setup and place myself between the audience and the orchestra." (author's note: This difference is, of course, in no way to reflect poorly either on Mr. Clementson's work or that of the orchestra.)
"Recordings done in this way are really a 'risk analysis' on my part. I walk in as an audience member would and have no idea what the arrangement will be like. I make my best guess about what is to come, and hit ‘record.’ This type of recording is more like live broadcast: whatever the talent does “on air” is what goes on tape."
Being an integral member of the SJCO family has meant much more to Clementson than serving as the orchestra's recording engineer. Much like his amazing knowledge of the changes in the recording industry, he could also be considered the orchestra's historian: "At that time, the orchestra was playing the canon of chamber orchestra music as opposed to the more adventurous programming that Barbara is doing now. She and I have kept virtually everything from the concerts that I have recorded."
By happenstance, the opportunity to work with the San José Chamber Orchestra also changed Clementson's life: "The night before that first concert, I asked a woman to attend the concert with me-we have now been together for twenty years and married for thirteen."