June 29, 2013

Man Of La Mancha...

by Chris Randall

Okay, here's the deal: I'm not a millionaire. Or even a ten-thousandaire. But I was always told "dream big!" And I do have a big dream. I've had this dream for a while, but I've only told two people about it, because I thought it sounded kind of stupid. They didn't laugh in my face when I told them, so maybe it's not a stupid dream after all.

Here's the thing: I would like to (re)create a late-50s / early-60s tape-based electronic music studio (of the sort used by Stockhausen, Varese, Schaeffer, Dissevelt, Dockstader, et al) that was completely free for interested parties to use. My thinking here is that a facility like that is not a whole lot of use to a single person, but wouldn't it be interesting if, say, Richard Devine or Alessandro Cortini or other current experimental electronic musicians had access to a vintage electronic music studio? What would they make, bringing today's musical vernacular to that context? I think that's music worth hearing, honestly.

I have a firm idea of what equipment such a studio would have, and I have a good working knowledge of how that equipment is used. But I have no idea how to bring it about other than throwing a shit ton of money at it. My dream precludes financial renumeration (it would be fiscally impossible to make such a facility actually turn a profit, of course) so I would operate it on the following basis: if you have musical credibility in our peer group (and since it's not a terribly large group, that isn't even really a judgement call) and you can get yourself here and put yourself up and pay the expenses (tape ain't cheap), schedule permitting, it's yours to use as you see fit.

Okay, maybe it isn't silly. It would be tough to pull off, though. Go ahead. Have at it. Laugh and laugh. In the meantime, here's some vintage e-music studio porn:



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Jun.29.2013 @ 8:40 PM
I don't think it's ridiculous. Could be a cool thing. Would it all need to be vintage gear? I could see cost/sourcing/maintaining has potential to be a nightmare.

I realize the irony in saying it given recent posts, but crowdfunding might be a viable option to get it started. The Save The Tank guy raised $40k to, uh, save the tank, and granola drum circles in highly reverberant spaces has to be as niche of a music genre as retro experimental radio studio. Otherwise, various local/state/national/corporate arts grants might be worth pursuing. Seems likely there are groups around that support such endeavours if it's operated as a non-profit museum.

Jun.29.2013 @ 9:05 PM
It's an intriguing idea and it seems like there should be some way to do it.

Maybe you put it together for a limited amount of time, even months or a year, invite a bunch of great musicians to each make a track, and make a album or box set out of the tracks then break up the studio. The gimmick is everyone uses the exact same gear and studio.

Of course you need to do this with someone else's money, as all records should be made.

Would the gear you're thinking about really cost that much though?

Jun.29.2013 @ 9:13 PM
Chris Randall
The gear wouldn't be that much (hours and hours on eBay and Soundbroker and its European analogs would be the main investment, not money as such), but actually having somewhere to put it is another story entirely.

Or to put it another way, my wife is very forbearing; I regularly test the limits of that forbearance. I know her breaking point, and "a clone of Stockhausen's studio c. 1958 in our guest bedroom" is well past it.

So we're talking commercial real estate rental, electricity, interwebs, security, and a build-out. Luckily, this sort of thing doesn't need an air-tight good sounding live room or a 32-channel API console. It is a fairly inexpensive operation, as such things go. And commercial real estate is very cheap to lease here.

It's still a big project, even with that. My back-of-the-napkin scribblings show about $100K for the basic build-out and operational budget for a year. That would give me a year to figure out how to make it make money to keep itself alive. I will state here and now that selling records and studio time, both of which I have _extensive_ experience with, are really super-duper stupid things to depend on for income.


Jun.29.2013 @ 10:26 PM
Duke Fame
What about a Rolling truck Stones thing? Wouldn't that increase the appeal to a potential user if it was mobile and could be, for example, wheeled to LA for a month-long project? The cons that I can see of such a thing would be size limitation and possible fragility of the equipment.

Jun.29.2013 @ 10:38 PM
Chris Randall
Also, "weaksauce" and "I'm not a trucker" plus "I have a career and stuff" are considerations. Considering I have to do all the hard shit, I think getting on a plane is a pretty small price to pay for the use of the space.

In any case, I actually spent the evening just randomly pricing things out, and I think a really good set of gear acquired, and a year's rent paid on a Grand Ave. space, can be had for significantly less than $100K. Less than half that, in fact. I didn't realize mastering decks were so cheap now. It looks like an MTR-10 with a 1/4" stereo headstack goes for around $700 these days. I also have an idea to have it make money. Maybe not enough to support itself, but enough to at least pay the rent.


Jun.30.2013 @ 12:56 AM
I like the idea of a studio like this existing.

I think you've indirectly identified one of the major problems, though. From what I've read of the early tape music work, it often took months to produce a few minutes of music. So the big question is - how is anyone ever going to be able to afford the time, much less the room and board, to make use of this studio?

Jun.30.2013 @ 1:21 AM
Hmm... Would this be organized as a non-profit? Surely I'm not the only person who shares this passion and who could benefit from a charitable deduction? (Actually, I'm not so sure I'm not alone on this. But, well, here I am, eh?)

Jun.30.2013 @ 1:32 AM
I like the idea very much. A mixture between the Raymond Scott studio and for example this one: link [www.drowninginbwn.co...]

If everything is record ready it shouldn't take up much time. Except tape config and after you did a few times it goes pretty fast.
Will you have some sort of digital multitrack (maybe hardware to stay linear) to dump tape tracks?

btw: The daft punk article in SOS from this month is a nice read regarding their purity in recording onto tape.

Jun.30.2013 @ 2:16 AM
It seems you're mainly discussing getting it operational, but here's another thing: how many musicians (in our peer group or not) are really capable of utilizing this kind of thing? Like most of us, I can program a mean analog synth, run Logic, set up a mic, etc., but my real life hands-on experience with tape machines is like, a worn out Dokken cassette and a lot of poorly executed jams on a four-track machine. Note that I didn't mention a razor blade. Or the math involved in converting music notation (BTW, what's that?) into sliced up chunks of tape. Which I've never attempted to slice. Or tape back together. How many of us have even owned a reel-to-reel machine? Et cetera, et cetera.

It's a still a pretty rad idea though.

Jun.30.2013 @ 7:34 AM
Chris Randall
Well, regarding the time, it's worth mentioning that those guys spent months because they were inventing the methods we use now. Those methods are already invented. Plus we have access to technologies that many of them couldn't even imagine. I don't see any particular reason to do destructive bounces or edits on the master when we have Ableton Live. There's "a cool way to come up with sounds" and then there's "spending time needlessly simply for the purpose of anachronism."

Another thing they didn't have: chromatic digital tuners. Think about _that_ time saver. The first Peterson strobe tuner didn't come out until 1967.

In any case, these guys weren't too particular about sourcing sound, and I don't think forcing the artist to create melody lines by splicing together tones from an HP 202c would be inspirational so much as really irritating. I'd certainly have those tools available, in their original form, as they're fairly easy to find, but it's important to remember that a Euro-Rack synth is basically a miniature form of those very tools, and we might as well utilize it if it is available to us. Plus it is a familiar palette to most current e-music artists.

But in any event, studio ops (me, of course, and whomever else wants to learn it and hang out) that know the methods of the Old School, and can suggest them at appropriate points and actually do the work (like a real live recording engineer, even in this modern age we live in) would grease the skids.


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