James Lock (sound engineer)
James Lock (23 June 1939 – 11 February 2009) was a sound engineer who worked on recordings by many of the most celebrated and demanding figures in classical music. Most of his life he worked for Decca. He said he had always wanted to work for them—he joined them in 1963 and stayed for nearly 40 years.
James Lock was born on 23 June 1939 in Bromley, South-East London and educated at Canterbury Technical College. On leaving school he was about to join the Royal Navy but then changed his mind. He secured a traineeship at the International Broadcasting Company. After three years, he moved, in 1959, to Saga Records until he had to start National Service. Afterwards, he wrote to Decca and was accepted.
One of his first jobs was in the team recording Solti's Ring Cycle in Vienna. He was closely involved in the development of Stereo recording and made many highly regarded recordings, among them: Zubin Mehta’s Turandot with Joan Sutherland, Pavarotti and the London Philharmonic Orchestra and von Karajan’s La Boheme (1972).
He said the essentials of a good recording, in order, were “the work, the performance and then the sound”. He was said to be able to judge a hall quickly just by clapping his hands. For this reason he was much in demand as a consultant for the renovation of concert halls. He also worked on one-off and outdoor venues, most famously the Three Tenors concert on the eve of the 1990 World Cup Final which brought opera to the attention of many who had previously ignored it.
Winner of two Grammy Awards (one for Mahler's Ninth Symphony with Solti), James Lock's recordings always presented us with a lush and very pristine sound—atmospheric but, at the same time, with pinpoint instruments. In this way, he managed to get what every classical music sound engineer may have spent a [lifetime looking] after without getting it: a recording capable of capturing the venue's acoustics without losing the focus of the orchestra in different sections.
After leaving Decca in 1997, as a consequence of the amazing job he did in Caracalla, James Lock started a career as sound consultant for live amplified classical music performances and helped many outside venues to present symphonic music to the masses. In 2005, he helped the Portuguese Gulbenkian Orchestra with its summer outdoor performances.
Lock retired in 1999 but continued to work as a consultant. In June 2007, he joined the studio staff of Portuguese studio O Ganho do Som as resident engineer and consultant. In the summer of 2008, he started to write "The Other Side of the Microphone", an autobiography about his Decca years and the human experience of recording great musicians. He left us a recording legacy that is hard to follow.
In his spare time he was a keen gardener and competed in competitions. He was unmarried.