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- Posted on May 7th 2010 11:00AM by Emily Tan
A man of many talents, Sear was a professional tuba player and also designed, imported and was a dealer of the brass instrument. He also composed for film soundtracks and advised Robert Moog during the design of the Moog synthesizer, an instrument that revolutionized music in the '60s.
More recent musicians know Sear as the owner of Sear Sound, a studio in midtown Manhattan that didn't use digital recording devices. Well-known for equipment that gave a "warm sound of analog audio" to a musician's work, the studio also had a console that Sear built himself as well as a large collection of microphones that are powered by vacuum tubes.
Norah Jones, Steely Dan, Joanna Newsom, Bjork, Wilco and Lou Reed are among some of the musicians who have recorded at Sear Sound. U2's Bono and the Edge recently visited the studio to work on music for the long-awaited Broadway musical, 'Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,' studio manager Robert Findlay told the Times.
Sear was born in New Orleans on April 27, 1930 but moved with his family to Queens when he was still a baby. Sear studied the tuba and graduated from Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music in 1951 and started playing in orchestras and music halls. Aside from his music degree, Sear also studied mechanical and electrical engineering and later invented a new type of valve for the tube, which a Belgian factory soon manufactured.
In the late '50s, Sear became friends with Moog and was one of a number of colleagues who convinced the synthesizer maker to add a keyboard to the instrument. The two continued to work together and Sear became Moog's New York synthesizer dealer.
In 1970, Sear Sound opened its doors inside the Paramount Hotel on West 46th Street before moving to its current spot on 48th Street in 1990. Sear built most of the studio from the ground up himself and garnered lots of analog equipment, including tape machines from London's Abbey Road Studios that were once used by the Beatles. Sear kept all the gear in working order and was always in the studio until March, when he fell on his way home from work.
Sonic Youth recorded 1987's 'Sister' at Sear Sound, and guitarist Lee Ranaldo recalled that the studio had pretty cheap prices, but the group cared more about the sound than the rate.
"In the '80s and early '90s he was a lone voice in the wilderness, saying you're going down the wrong path -- recordings are sounding worse and worse," Ranaldo told the Times. "And he stuck to his guns. It took a long time for him to come around to allowing digital recording gear into his studios, and when he finally did bring it in, he still kind of kept it in a corner."
Sear is survived by his wife, Edith, daughters Julia Sear and Shana Sear Gaskill and three grandchildren.