THE SOUND ENGINEER WITH THE AUDIO GENE - AN OBITUARY FOR JÜRG JECKLIN
"I am a simple person," Jürg Jecklin liked to emphasise in conversations about sensible audio solutions. He was interested in both the recording and the playback side, because he was a universalist, incredibly well-read in both areas, but also interested in practical solutions and highly creative. Consequently, he developed sensational devices for both fields. In 1971, for example, he developed the first open headphones, the "Jecklin Float", as a precise control instrument for recordings in concert halls where there was no sound control room. This was followed in 1980 by the "Jecklin Disc", a purely two-channel recording unit as an antithesis to the then rampant polymicrophony in classical recordings. His approaches were unconventional, but radically simplified and developed to the point.Jürg Jecklin was not only a sound engineer. He left his mark on the radio and audio world with his innovations and conveyed sound engineering knowledge with expertise and wit. Knowledge. Last November, he died at the age of 83 after a short, serious illness.
BY MARKUS THOMANN
The headphones consist of two huge electrostatic membranes that are placed in front of the ears. "float" - instead of two ear cups pushing sound into the ear with small speakers as in other headphones. Jecklin took into account the natural hearing of humans and transferred it to the reproduction with headphones. In terms of design, he solved this with a formally captivatingly simple idea: with a curved, wide Plexiglas band that connects both membranes and rests freely on the head.
His disc idea is no less original and was presented in detail in the last AAA issue. He tinkered with the first version on a rainy Sunday afternoon at the kitchen table. The first recordings already showed him that the approach works, namely to capture the sound body authentically in its acoustics. He also tinkered with the first floats at the kitchen table. He justified the choice of electrostatic membranes by saying that he could make the whole listener himself with material from Migros, Coop and the DIY store. Saran wrap and Schlossfit from the tube, which he used to make the diaphragms conductive, were the miracle cure for the right sound.
Such explanations resonated with coquetry, for Jecklin was also a perfectionist. The choice of the electrostat exemplifies this, as does the one< of the best omnidirectional condenser microphones for his disc.
There had to be exactly one specific type to meet his high quality requirements. He also used only the best transformers for the electrostatic float headphones. Unfortunately, these were so heavy and expensive that they were not used in the production model of the time. Only he always listened with them. This attitude of using few but the best ingredients permeated his life. In the kitchen, he preferred simple dishes: spaghetti with tomato sauce, but only with ingredients from a certain supplier, which he bought in nearby Italy when he was from Bergell. And he was annoyed by modern internal combustion cars that would only work thanks to a plethora of electronic controls. They would be regulated to death. He drove a Saab from better times before the turn of the millennium, but he was also excited by the new trend towards electric cars. "The electric motor is much simpler than the petrol engine, does not require a multi-gear transmission and is less subject to wear and tear". He already had a small vehicle for everyday use on his wish list.
The passion for audio technology and music seized Jürg Jecklin in his teenage years. He tinkered with radio receivers in his room in Chur and bought a record player and jazz records early on. Soon he was caught by the virus of film and film sound. Since the cinemas in Chur were technically were outdated, he regularly hitchhiked to Zurich. In the Apollo cinema with the new widescreen Film formats with multi-channel sound he discovered a new world. At that time, it was the avant-garde. The emerging television, on the
other hand, never interested him. Audio-technically and in terms of the visual effect, it was only a copy of the cinema world. He soon knew his dream job: before his Matura exams, he stated his career goal as a sound engineer, which his class teacher considered a disgrace for the cantonal school. Jecklin suspected that he thought he wanted to work as a potter! In any case, he didn't let that put him off, and with a bit of luck he got a job at the Basel radio studio in 1961 at the age of 23 after an internship. Because he lacked training as a sound engineer, his patron Max Adam sent him to Detmold to attend the famous Tonmeisterschule. There, unfortunately, he did not pass the entrance exam and vowed not to repeat it a second time. Instead, he put together his own education: He studied four semesters at the Basel Conservatory and attended musicology lectures at the University of Zurich. Afterwards he completed the internal sound engineering course of the ARD in Nuremberg and graduated as an ARD sound engineer and sound measuring engineer. The fact that he was never able to hang up a sound engineer's diploma from Detmold did not bother him. Nor was he surprised that his membership in the prestigious Association of German Sound Engineers (VDT) was rejected in 1963 because of his lack of a Detmold diploma.
With a mischievous smile, however, he accepted the medal of honour from the same association on his 80th birthday. He consistently used his 30 years as sound engineer at Radio Basel to explore new technical possibilities, not always to the delight of his superiors. For example, he recorded in stereo without permission. As is well known, Swiss radio continued to broadcast in mono for a long time. Years later, he pushed through the idea of broadcasting concerts in quadraphony on the radio, for which he could use the two stations DRS1 and DRS2. For this, he recommended a special set-up of the rear loudspeakers, which he discovered on the basis of a study by a Japanese institute.
He recognised the possibilities of digital recordings early on and pushed ahead in this area as well. Without the constant support of his supervisor at the time, Roman Flury, he would not have been able to realise the many exciting and innovative projects. Once the work was done, it no longer interested him. He himself did not have any self-made recordings at home. For him, the process of recording and the collaboration with the
musicians were the elixir of life. So he could spend hours telling offbeat stories from that time and people hung on his every word.
PROFESSOR IN VIENNA
Jürg Jecklin left Radio Basel before his retirement and served from 1998 onwards.until 2004 as professor for the theory of electroacoustics at the University of Music and Performing Arts (mdw) in Vienna. He taught there as a lecturer for sound reinforcement and recording analysis until 2016.
Before taking office, he asked his brother Andrea for advice, because he had no pedagogical training. Andrea was the director of the University of Teacher Education in Chur and gave his brother the following answer: "You have to be professionally competent, take the students seriously and be there for them. The rest you do with personal style." Jürg Jecklin certainly had this style and, above all, he was able to inspire the students. The students had the scripts in written form, so they didn't have to take notes during the lessons. This created room for spontaneity and free development of the material. One of Jecklin's main concerns was to teach how to deal with musicians as a sound engineer. Because if you don't get along with musicians on a personal level, you will fail professionally.
And he gave the students something else to take with them:
They should learn to listen carefully. That is the elementary skill of a sound engineer.
Jürg Jecklin was absorbed in this work because he liked the people and they liked him. He could work on his many projects in the seclusion of his house in Vicosoprano in Bergell, but after a while the ceiling seemed to fall on his head. That's why he was still happy to take the long journeys to Vienna in his Saab for a long time, always with a few cans of Red Bull in his luggage!
Throughout his life, Jürg Jecklin published numerous technical articles and two books, "Lautsprecherbuch" in 1967 and "Musikaufnahmen" in 1980. He gave many lectures, among others at the Klangschloss. The online magazine avguide. ch has recorded two of them in full length: "From Edison to Surround" and "The History of Concert Halls".
They are linked on our aaa-switzerland. ch homepage. The "simple man" Jürg Jecklin always spoke and wrote in clear words. He had the ability to
present complex contexts in a few precise sentences. In order to make them stick in the memory, he liked to combine the sentences with a catchy story, used a proverb and even a strong word. This was not always politically correct, but funny. Those who heard one of his lectures in the Klangschloss will remember. Recently, Ernst Müller conducted some lengthy interviews with Jürg Jecklin in view of a book project about
his life as a sound engineer. Ernst was therefore able to provide me with valuable information.
If all goes well, the book will be published this year. We will report on it in the issue.
Anyone who can impart knowledge in such a memorable way must also make an effort to do so. Jecklin's spirit of research was unbroken and he tirelessly searched for interesting writings and new developments in the field of sound technology. Even forgotten devices and concepts interested him. The big push in development would have been audio technology in the 60s and 70s. It was a sensual audio culture, in contrast to today's work with mouse and keyboard. He therefore followed some new developments with scepticism. They reminded him of the developments of the dead-regulated combustion engine. He lamented the loss of sensuality, of the experience of the recording spaces and mocked the atmo cream sauce that was readily poured over polymiked and edited classical productions. For him, recorded live performances in an acoustically excellent hall remained the valid form of recording today. With studio productions, he never had the feeling during his long career that "the dear
God walked through the hall", at least maybe a handful of times in live recordings. Now dear Jürg has disappeared into recording heaven and we here below hope that his work will continue and inspire for a long time to come.
Source: ANALOGUE AUDIO ASSOCIATION - www.aaa-switzerland.ch