THE ENIGMATIC ENGINEER
17th February 1968 – 21st August 2015
Yesterday I went to the memorial of one of my oldest and best friends, Calum Orr, who last week passed away peacefully after a 15-year battle with cancer. I’m still in shock and feel sick right now at the prospect of reducing my friend to a bunch of hopelessly inadequate words on a page.
Sitting in the studio we built together – The Mill – I can’t help now but reflect on how strange it is that the inanimate objects we build outlast us so easily.
Cal and I spent many long hours over several years slogging our guts out on this place. Cal’s energy and enthusiasm for the studio’s construction back then was infectious. Now these walls stand as permanent reminders of his craftsmanship and selfless, unwavering work ethic.
The man himself is no more, though as Andrew Bencina pointed out during his eulogy yesterday, while Cal’s life may have ended after a long fade-out, the albums he wrote, recorded, mixed, mastered or in other ways inspired play on through the speakers and memory banks of countless acts who worked with him over the last 25 years.
Today this control room sits in silent reflection, a giant hole torn in its side.
Cal built so many things. Apart from his own recording spaces, which sprang up like blackberries wherever he happened to reside, Cal was also the builder of a vast and disparate array of things: confidence in others, vast plug-in libraries, cutting- edge computers (for himself and friends) and a reputation for inventiveness on a shoestring.
Cal was an engineer of the recording, mixing and mastering varieties, a multi- instrumentalist, band manager, confidante and producer. He was a roadie, a tour manager, a tech, an accidental psychotherapist and a teacher. He was a surfer, a philosopher, a father, a husband and a moral compass for others.
He gave advice freely – when it was sought – even if he knew it would put him out of a job, and facilitated and inspired countless bands to help themselves in this world of zero-budget productions. He would build them a recording computer if necessary, or loan them equipment for free if that’s what it took to get the project over the line. When Angie Hart of Frenté made an album recently with essentially no budget, it was Cal who loaned her the gear without question, and picked it all up again when she was done – for nicks.
And in the face of illness Cal was courageous like no-one I’ve seen before or will ever see again.
Cal always thought and spoke outside the box, always looking for new ways, more efficient and cutting-edge methods of doing things. He abhorred lazy conventions and railed against establishment in whatever form that took.
He was also one of the most elastic and engaging conversationalists I’ve ever known; equally at home talking to a fellow surfer as my mother. He was truly gifted at inspiring others, passionate about virtually anything that engaged his voracious mind, and an enigma of sorts. No sooner had you figured Cal out than he would confound you.
His strong will for life and unwavering commitment to everything from music recording to social justice continued right to the end. Always looking forward, Cal inspired us all with his wit, his charm, his lack of charm, his inappropriate comments and his anarchic tendencies.
One thing he always strove for – which is perhaps most relevant here as a parting thought about Cal – was a passionate performance each and every time he pressed ‘record’: a good strong funky groove, a powerful vocal, a screaming guitar line. He was fascinated with, and wholly committed to, getting the best performances he could out of everyone he worked with, filling musicians with positive vibes about themselves… making them feel like a star.
He was himself a star… unique, loyal, affable and brave.
He will never be forgotten by anyone who knew him.
Rest in peace my friend.
First published in CX Magazine (October, 2015)