Walter Sear addresses the AES convention in 2001. Photo courtesy the Audio Engineering Society, used by permission.

It’s the end of an era: pioneering synth guru, engineer, sound designer, instrument importer, composer, producer, and owner of the landmark Sear Sound recording studio in New York has died at age 79.

Sear’s career covered almost everything you could do in sound. He played tuba in the pit at Radio City Music Hall, imported and sold tubas. He studied chemistry. He befriended Bob Moog, introduced Moog to Walter Carlos, and is credited with helping convince Bob to make synths you can lift. He wrote music for Jim Henson, among other soundtracks and his own “switched on”-style record.

Sear is best known in recent decades for founding and operating Sear Sound, a spectacular, sought-after studio in Manhattan packed to the gills with gorgeous vintage gear. The four-studio facility has become a Mecca for lovers of studio recording, even well into the age of digital, attracting artists from Paul McCartney to Clapton to Sigur Ros and Wayne Shorter and even major TV and film projects (“A Bronx Tale.”) The studio almost needs a list of clients who didn’t work there since its 1970 opening. Just as Sear was an expert in what tuba players and would-be synth customers wanted, he managed to turn Sear Sound into a monument to great audio, collecting the ribbon mics and vacuum tubes needed to keep it all running.

Obituaries elsewhere:
R.I.P. Walter Sear [Consequence of Sound]
R.I.P. Walter Sear [Synthtopia]

I’m sure there are others; if you have something to share, let us know.

Here’s a fantastic 2005 interview by Steve Guttenberg for Stereophile:

Walter Sear’s Analog Rules

Wise words on synths:

The producers didn’t understand the capabilities of the instrument—and they still don’t. It takes imagination to think of a sound no one has ever heard before. The Moog could have been a contender, but I didn’t sell what it could do hard enough. Then again, it all started in the 13th century, with the invention of the hurdy-gurdy, the first instrument designed to eliminate musicians.

And the closing quote says it all:

I don’t want to make money, I just want to make good recordings. I’m doing this because I hope people will realize what they’ve been missing. I’ve had a pretty full life—I’ve played tuba, made a bunch of films, manufactured tubas and guitar amplifiers, sold Moogs. I’ve been married 52 years and had two kids. I did all of these things because I get bored easily. That’s why I’m always on to something new.

Inside Sear Sound in New York, one wall among many audio goodies assembled by Walter Sear.
  • Doug Di Franco

    I bought my first synth – an EML 101- from Walter in 1975. A real gentleman.I remember his tube mixing console. Put out a lot of heat! He really is a legend in pro audio.

  • http://www.suecae.com Suecae

    Rip

  • http://abletonlife.com Ryan

    RIP Walter. The things you have done for modern music are uncountable. You left a very big mark!

    -Ryan

  • Damon

    I had never heard of him, but talk about a charmed life. And who ever said tuba players can't be cool? History is full of big players who who seem to get buried in the woodwork. Something genuine about accomplishing so much while hardly being noticed.

    Rest In Peace.

  • griotspeak

    RIP

  • s ford

    i'd never heard of him but having a look through their clients a massive chunk of the bands i have a lot of albums by have recorded at his studios!

    clearly there's a great legacy from the incredible amount of awesome music recorded at the studio.

    RIP

  • s ford

    one final point,

    does anyone know if the studio in the yeah yeah yeah's video – maps is sear sound?

    i reckon it might be…

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  • R Pellegrini

    Walter was the first owner of the Minimoog I now have – and will always treasure.

    RIP Mr. Sear

  • jon C

    I had the pleasure to meet him briefly and get a tour of Sear Sound. What a cool, funny and brilliant man (and what an awesome studio). Thank you Mr. Sear.

  • Pingback: RIP: Walter Sear, Synth Guru and Studio Legend | VJ Heaven