Alex Rosner’s life’s work depends on his ears. In designing and manufacturing many of New York’s iconic soundsystems, Rosner used those ears to great effect, honing in on seemingly minuscule details in search of the perfect sound. However, Rosner also realized that his eyes could be as powerful as his ears when it came to recognizing problems in particular rooms or with specific speaker systems – a loose bolt here, a shoddy screw there. Here, Rosner shares some choice snapshots from his golden era along with memories of the individual club interiors, workrooms and custom rigs, serving as a stand-in visual archive of the soundsystems that are no longer around for us to hear.
The Technics 1100 was more rugged and it was a better turntable. The 1200 was a cheaper version. A big advantage was that you could change the tone arm on them. You’d lift the tone arm off this mounted wooden board on the right. You could unscrew the whole wooden board with three or four screws and mount different tone arm on it. That was in the early days, you had to sort of mix the match. David Mancuso still uses them.
CUSTOM MOBILE RIG
That’s right, this mixed dual cassettes. It wasn’t my idea, that’s what the guy wanted, so we built it.
That is the complete loudspeaker system that was placed in the middle of the Americana hotel ballroom for a one night party by Casablanca records. I happen to have this equipment on hand because it was about to be installed, I don’t remember what club. I think it was Xenon, but I’m not sure.
If you look at the bottom, there are four bass touching each other creating an all around, directional speaker system. There are also four midrange to upper-midrange horns, then tweeters. There were 2,000 people in the room and this thing was in the middle of the dance floor, people danced around it. There was some leftover fabric to cover the high frequency units so that they would look a little less bad and someone called it a bride.
This is the Copacabana in New York. It was the different owner [from the original 20s gangster hangout] but essentially the same location. We organized the whole place. The speakers were integrated. That was the idea, they wanted spaces to look nice. They said mirror it, and so we did it.
This was in Times Square. I discovered people wanted to be surrounded by the sound. Initially my impression was a simulation of an orchestra, which is how the big bands operated in ’30s and ’40s, so my idea was to have the big band behind the curtain, so they couldn’t see the speakers and it would sound like real life orchestra.
But that’s not what the people wanted. They wanted to be surrounded by speakers, so I put the speakers all around, a whole bunch of small speakers. The sound was terrific, even though you didn’t have to have big monster speakers, because everyone was in front of a speaker. I call them distributor systems, and they work quite well.
That woman is not a bunny, that’s my wife. It was opening night at the Playboy club and we would always go to the opening night.
The Rink in Rochelle. That was a nice system. Notice the subwoofers on the skating floor. The whole island in the center that people sit was nothing but a big bass speaker going around. Imagine a ring of speakers going around the center of the dance floor. It sounded great because there’s one bass speaker in the center, so the sound was quite coherent and you could really feel the bass from the center and there was no smear of any kind.
Those are the DJ’s records but I think that the club owners gave them money to buy the records, so technically speaking they were the club’s records. Most DJ’s in the early days were employed by one club, so that’s the only place that they worked, so they could leave their records in one space. There’s also a phone to communicate with the owner or manager if there was a problem instead of the boss coming to the control room to quiet sound, because the DJ was playing too loud.
This was custom modification that never got installed. It was a design that I cooked up thinking I was gonna put it in The Loft and they didn’t want it, so I never had application for it. To this day, I have those pieces of wood. The tweeters are long gone, but wood is still here.
David Mancuso had the original idea for the hung tweeter array. He told me that he wanted four tweeters – north side, east side... The arrangement to be hung over the dance floor. I told him that it wasn’t a good idea and I thought it would kill people. He said, “Never mind what you think, just do it!” I did it, and it was terrific!
This picture is my demo room. That’s an evolving system, a demo system. When people come here, I show them equipment. Behind the curtain are all our speakers. I’m sitting in that room right now, but it’s totally different equipment there.
That’s my shop building. Those three guys, one is name Harry Munz who was my acoustics expert. The one in the middle is Don Carucci, he was my right hand man, and the next guy was Manuel la Blanco, he was my employee.
Everything is analog. Today, the only digital equipment I use in clubs – when I do a club, which is rarely – is equalization. For a sound system that, once adjusted, doesn’t change much, it’s a waste of money. And it degrades quality, because in some cases, sound has to go through those digital circuits. Not good idea. It creates delays and all kinds of other problems.
Interview conducted by Joshua Glazer
Header image © Alex Rosner