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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Jul.04.2013 @ 2:30 PM
I don't think the debate is whether analog is better than digital, or what the pioneers would be doing now. Complete side issues. I'm sure Picasso would be using computers, so what? It's irrelevant. If you want to paint and set up a painting studio it would be silly to set up a room with computers (and whatever software those people use) because it's easier and you can do effects in the computer you can't do with paint. That's missing the point.

Jul.05.2013 @ 5:00 AM
Hi Chris, while I think a late 50s experimental studio would be cool I am not sure it needs to be on such a large scale, I have had a long time interest in radiophonic/concrete/experimental/early electronic music since a young age I have studies the setups in many of the european studios and a few american ones as well as reading many early books on the set up and construction of such spaces and instruments and have accumulated what I think equates to a fairly well appointed studio in miniature in my room, I firstly acquired a four track reel to reel and various other small reel to reels to experiment with echos and loops as well as recording, I then assembled a small test equipment 'modular synth' comprising of only lab equipment with BNC I/O comprising of two function generators, a fixed filter bank, a burst generator, a modular pulse generator, a noise generator a diy ring modulator, a diy passive sub mixer and a spring reverb unit, I then collected various trashy mics and am beginning to record direct to 4 track, This is a very versatile system for interesting rhythmic sync sounds and sweeps, and each piece of equipment was under £40 some like the filter bank was £5, although all this only inhabits a small area of my tiny living space I feel it approximates well the most basic techniques of these kinds of studios, I also run a eurorack modular and many later synths effects and acoustic instruments alongside eventually I will build some valve pre and eq stuff but for now I'm not sure what more I would need for this type of studio?

Jul.05.2013 @ 6:04 AM
I Dream Of Wires
There was a studio/project like this in Amsterdam, the Center for Electronic Music (CEM). In the early 2000s they put out a series of 12"s that were the result of giving contemporary electronica producers free access to the studio - the Vynalogica series:

link [www.discogs.com]

It wasn't actually aiming to be a "late-50s / early-60s tape-based electronic music studio" -- Instead it was just a studio that housed a lot of vintage electronic instruments and modulars, which at the time were not something that a lot of electronic musicians had access to. Anyway, I am just pointing this out if you want to look at it as a comparable case study - I know someone who worked there at the time and curated the Vynalogica series - might be worthwhile to ask him about it. Unfortunately though, it seems that the CEM is now closed!

Jul.05.2013 @ 10:35 AM
Longtime fan, reader, and lurker here. I think it's a fantastic idea and I'm working on building out a medium scale studio with a semi-similar focus in Brooklyn (tentatively called "Time Space"). It's going to be less of a pure academic studio and more of something like the control/synth room at Soma Studios in Chicago, meets Richard Devine's home studio, meets the Experimental Television Center. It'll consist of a quiet and well treated/proportioned room, lots of eurorack (video modules too), some unusual/not unusual synths, a flexible Cadac J-Type console, some cool outboard, Barefoot monitors, 2trk 1/4" Ampex 440, maybe another higher track count tape machine in the future, etc. I've been working on it for a little over two years and looking to open in early Spring 14. It's going to be as affordable as I can keep it, probably about $30 an hour plus a membership plan (once I figure out what makes sense). There will also be some space to hold workshops and meet ups if people are interested. I have my doubts that it'll work out, but I'm stupid/delusional enough to try and luckily had some scratch to get it started.

Your dream studio would be amazing and was sort of where I started off with my own concept! I made a semi-conscious decision to make it a tiny bit more "friendly"/Full of Techno to please future potential users (aka laptop tweenz) who might be turned off by a more "academic" studio with half a dozen tape machines, but I wish I didn't have to. There should be a place like you describe in every town. The more the better!

Like others have said the best way to go about funding is probably Kickstarter and institutional grants. I didn't go this route, because I felt like I could initially get it off the ground and felt a little shady trying to crowdfund something more commercial, but I might pursue morphing into a non-profit residency if it's a total commercial failure (not that I expect to make much of anything). Forming a 501c3 does seem like a bit of a pain in the ass as far as the board, documentation, etc. An LLC is what I've settled on for now, since it's so straightforward.

It sounds like you've thought about the biggest hurdle which is real estate, but Phoenix is a hell of a lot cheaper than Brooklyn (which is pure real estate insanity at this point). Here in NY I would say get a long and affordable lease or try to buy a space, but there is probably a lot less risk that you'll have huge rent increases or get booted to make room for a frozen yogurt shop, luxury condo, or Hollister in Phoenix.

Another piece of big advice is quadruple vet any contractor you might hire or just DIY what you want to build. The whole process has sucked my will to live (especially dealing with the city DOB) and bank account. At this point I really wish I had just DIYed it and hired individual trades people to help. It would of taken just as long and been half as expensive.

I don't know if it was mentioned, but one problem that could arise with a more heavily tape oriented space could be tape ceasing to exist or getting stupidly expensive in the future. There will probably always be some small niche producer, but who knows. Probably not a big concern right now, since there still seems to be a market.

Best of luck if you decide to go for it! I'll definitely contribute to a Kickstarter campaign. Let me know if you have any questions, but you and everyone else here probably have pursuing something like this more figured out than I do!

Jul.06.2013 @ 1:48 AM
I'm not that into the idea for a couple reasons, although this is just one person's feeling and everybody else should just keep on rolling:

1. The original facilities were built to be state of the art. Creating a replica of old state of the art seems a little pointless, when you could be creating the next thing. It doesn't relate to the spirit of the people involved who pioneered, not looking back.
Being somebody that had to work with tape because that was the best/only way, the idea of working with tape because people once did it can only be a re-enactment. So it becomes like a model farm for city kids to see cows being milked.

2. I think you should always have a need first and then fill it. So buying gear happens organically, not buying the gear then finding ways to use it. If there was a known project going on that needed tape - then get tape. The danger is the replica 60s studio is going to encourage a bunch of replica 60s music.

I have something similar going on for a video studio, but in this case the gear is the only unit still remaining and so it's a matter of preservation - do it or it's gone forever. Is that the case here? All this gear will need constant servicing, or it will fall out of service.

I know a guy who has set up a non profit based around telecommunications preservation and can put you in touch if that helps.

Jul.06.2013 @ 4:22 AM
Certainly the original users of such studios were true pioneers, but isn't a closer analogy of what CR is suggesting akin to giving a great electric guitarist an acoustic guitar for the very first time?
There are lots of things you can't do with an acoustic, but it makes you rethink how your music will work with a different set of constraints. One of the most common topics on this blog relates to self-imposed restraints; this studio seems to me to be a embodiment of that concept.
And cool, icy cool. I can see the demotivational poster now; "A free 50's style electronic music studio, used by talented people, in an Airstream. Your argument is beyond invalid, we simply cannot see or hear it in the glare and noise of our awesome."
Something like that...

Jul.06.2013 @ 6:53 AM
Chris Randall
Yes, that exactly.

Or to put it another way, here's a copy of Live 9 and Komplete Ultimate 9, which is demonstrably about 3,000,000 times the sound-manipulating capability of the Philips studio. Make me a hit, because you obviously have the tools.

Oh, wait. You're uninspired by the Scarbee Funk Guitarist sample set? Sorry. Didn't realize context was that important. My bad.


Jul.08.2013 @ 2:09 AM
Tools are tools. Good music gets made on everything and anything. But some things are much more fun play with!

To those that say 'this isn't forward looking', 'the pioneers wouldn't use this today' etc. The past is a vast resource for exploring the future. In fact one could say the future is just the past with modifications... but I'm not quite old enough to be THAT grumpy.

Or maybe this studio is just taking the analog retro wave to an extreme?

I'd really like to hear what Boards of Canada could do in this kinda studio. But I think that their studio probably looks a lot like the above pic already.

Jul.10.2013 @ 7:41 PM
everything jwcase said.

fuck all that 'blending old and new'.
aside from a computer/daw there should be nothing post-moon landing in there.

Jul.15.2013 @ 2:30 PM
In Black
Is a Kickstarter or anything of the sort being considered? I'd definitely donate. It'll be the Veronica Mars movie of synth-junkies.

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