Over the years, a lot of people have asked me who did the strange voice over on "Ptah!" from the first Course Of Empire album. I shared this story with a friend earlier tonight, so I figured I'd share it here too.
The man who did the voice over on "Ptah!" was named Ted Gardner. (No, not the famed manager of Jane's Addiction and Tool...) He was the audio instructor at SMU, where the first Course Of Empire drummer Anthony Headley and I were going to film school. He was very much like the classic John Housman/Paper Chase kind of professor. Ted could be every bit as much of a hard nut as the Houseman character. But he would always warn you on the first day of class, how it would be on the last day of class. So Ted was fair, from that perspective. The other teachers called him "Terrrible Ted", because he was ruthless about failing people. Nobody ever wanted to get into any kind of conflict with the guy. He had shock white hair, purple skin, and smoked like a fiend. He was always 5 minutes late to class. In fact, the students could always hear him making his way down the halls toward the classroom, because he had this Darth Vader-like breathing that telegraphed his slow but deliberate approach.
Ted was a mason who had learned audio engineering while he was in the Navy during the Korean war. He made no effort to conceal the fact that he thought all the kids of our generation were a bunch of soft, trust fund brats. Ted actually failed Headley twice in Basic Audio. Anthony had to take Ted's class 3 times to graduate! Somehow I passed Basic and Advanced Audio, and even survived a third class of his: Aesthetics Of Sound.
I'll never forget... Our final Basic Audio projects were due on his desk on the last day of class. For some reason, on that day, he showed up exactly on time and shut the door behind him. Everyone sat in silence for about 2 or 3 minutes... just waiting. Then one of the students, a girl named Monique, dared to come through the door after he shut it. I guess she assumed he would be 5 minutes late on the last day too... But she guessed wrong. She put her folder on Ted's desk, and went and sat down. Ted just sat there, looking straight ahead. He was milking the drama like Hitler would, winding up the crowd with seemingly endless silence before finally speaking. And then slowly, he got up. Ted picked up her final project folder from the top of the stack, held it high above his head, and then dropped it into the trash can, essentially failing her for the semester. And then silently sat back down. Monique pretty much then proceeded to lose her mind. She started screaming, "No way Mr. Gardner!" No f-ing way!" She started crying and ran out of the classroom. Everybody just sat there, in awe... Then Ted quietly reminded us that on the first day, he told everyone that final projects would be due on the last day, and would not be accepted late! His point was that in broadcasting, the news starts at 6 pm. Not at 6:03. Everybody got the message.
It was about a year or two later, that we in Course Of Empire got the idea that "Ptah!" might sound cool with Ted doing the narrative, so that Vaughn could just counter with the "Ptah!" call and response. So I called Ted and asked him to come to the studio. He was very professional. He demanded a $50 up front voice over fee, which we happily paid. By this time though, his emphysema had become debilitating and he had to tote an oxygen tank around with him. Anyway, he did the session and even seemed to be able to relate to the darkness of the words. He made them his own.
We thought it was a real coup to get "Terrible Ted" on our rock record. I think he was willing to do it because we were the first students he had in a long time who seemed to be doing something with the knowledge we had picked up in his classes. We were trying to make a statement and do something we felt was positive.
Anyway, later, when we were preparing for the cd release party at TREES, we had Ted come to the TV studio at SMU, and I shot some video of him. I had him on a green screen, with Ted's bodiless talking head suspended above a background image of a roman hallway floating in a void. It was the same roman hallway painting that Jerome and I used in the cd jacket for the first Halls Of The Machine album. Anyway the plan was that Ted would insult and agitate the crowd giving sardonic insights about the nature of humanity, between each song. The video was projected onto a screen hanging above the stage and would pop up between each tune. This reminds me, we actually had "Infested!" already, because that was one of the songs that his bits segued into. Somewhere I still have that original video, but it's on an old 3/4" broadcast video cassette. One day maybe I'll have it transferred, just for grins. Here's one of his bits that I remember:
"Man... the ungrateful bi-ped! He is the only animal that laughs or weeps, because he is the only animal that can discern the difference between what IS and what MIGHT HAVE BEEN. This Planet's INFESTED!"
Ted passed shortly after the first Course Of Empire album was released. I was hoping that he might see some reflection of our collaboration in a review, or hear the track on the radio... something... But it was not to be. It was a strange irony that Ted's smoking was probably the thing that gave his voice that coarse, gritty, Biblical epic kind of sound. Sadly, the thing that was his ultimate undoing was also the thing that made our record sound cool.
Thank you Ted Gardner. We miss you.