Physicist and recording engineer Tom Dowd is born, October 20, 1925

-October 20, 2017

The top secret nature of the Manhattan Project changed the course of Tom Dowd's career and modern music with it.

Born in Manhattan, NY, Dowd grew up excelling in math and physics and playing music. At 16, he graduated from Stuyvesant High School, a specialized high school focused on STEM, then attended Columbia University where he began working in the physics department.

After being drafted as a sergeant in the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II, Dowd continued working at Columbia on the Manhattan Project for the Office of Scientific Research and Development. There, he operated a cyclotron particle accelerator, performed density tests on elements, and recorded statistics for the neutron beam spectography division. In 1946, Dowd managed a team of radiation detection specialists working on atomic bomb testing at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

After his discharge, Dowd left Columbia before completing his degree when his work couldn't be recognized or count for credits because it was top secret.

Source: Estate of Tom Dowd
Instead he put his science experience and passion for music together and joined Atlantic Records as a recording engineer in 1947. Dowd later told Mix magazine, "Having worked with such sophisticated electronic equipment, and being musically sensitive, recording was child's play."

He became a pioneer in stereo and multitrack tape recording, encouraging the label to record on tape rather than acetate discs and making binaural recordings. He also helped Atlantic buy the second eight-track multitrack recorder ever made, making it the first record company to use a multi-track recorder in their studio, and designed and built the company's first stereo and eight-track consoles.

According to recording technology magazine Sound On Sound, Dowd invented the fader for music consoles as well. Wanting the controls to feel more like playing the piano, he had Atlantic replace its knobs with slide potentiometers.

During his career as a producer and engineer he worked with musicians Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, John Coltrane, Eric Clapton, and many more, and in 2012 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Dowd died in 2002 at 77. A documentary on his life, Tom Dowd & the Language Of Music, was released in 2003.

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Editor's note: This article was originally posted on October 20, 2015 and edited on October 20, 2017.

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