Thanks to everyone who voted in the polls. I’ve also collated some views from the ‘analogue’ world – studio users and muso mates etc (plus a few Facebook comments) – and the verdicts are as follows.
- Sofa – second-hand leather. It will age gracefully and be, er, wipe-clean. Many a studio sofa smells of old ganja and stale sweat after a year or two. Or maybe I’m too used to working with students.
- Colours – light green walls (restful), light blue ceiling (sky-like) and deep red ‘claret’ for the monitor/baffle wall area. As some have pointed out, this will make the control area look worryingly like I’m an Aston Villa fan. I’m still not sure about the claret at the monitor end – this, after all, is the wall I’ll be staring at for hours at a time. On the other hand, it’s a beautiful colour. Grey is also an option. Comments welcome…
The newest addition to the structure is a hole for a soon-to-constructed Mac box, made to measure, which will serve two functions – extracting hot air from the Mac into the void behind the baffle, and isolating the control room from the Mac’s fan noise (the Mac Pro fans are pretty quiet anyway, but it will be great to have the option of perfect silence in the control room for vocal/guitar takes etc). The guys are going to build a mini-door at the front of the Mac box ‘cupboard door’ so visiting musos can plug hard drives straight into the Firewire socket on the front of the Mac. So now that we’ve got a custom-designed computer area built into the architecture, I’m hoping Apple don’t change the design of the Mac Pro any time soon!
Jeff’s away for a couple of days, checking on other jobs and doing some family stuff. Artis is pushing on with more rockwool, the power sockets and the green hessian wall coverings. It’s a blistering hot day in Bath, but the wall/ceiling insulation is so extensive that the studio interior is a good 10 degrees colder than the summer’s day outside. The Mac hole is currently working as an improvised fridge – it has preserved a tub of Co-op coleslaw for two days now…
Day 7 of phase 2. Today Jeff went out hunting and managed to capture an air-conditioning unit. Meanwhile back on-site, Artis took time out from his heavy schedule of banana-drawing (see photo) to construct some lighting boxes. And the lights are going to be fantastic. There will be eight downlighters in the control room – four built into the baffle above the monitors, and four across the centre of the room. There will be a dimmer switch in each room, and each light is built into its own cube-shaped box, ensuring that the bulbs don’t touch the rockwool, and allowing hot air to escape safely into the ceiling void. The light fittings are moveable so each 35W lamp can be angled as needed.
Both interior doors are now fitted. They’re pretty dense as they are, but the guys will be adding an MDF layer to the lobby side of each door to add density (the door and its hinges being potentially the weakest point in the room in acoustic isolation terms). The art and craftsmanship of pro door-hanging is truly a thing to behold. There’s a perfect coin gap all the way down – a £1 fits snugly and a 50p rattles around. This is a pretty phenomenal achievement when you think about it – fitting a 40KG 2m high door within less than 1mm tolerance. I once tried to hang a bathroom door at my previous house. I did such a bad job that I had to move house to avoid the embarrassment…
On the music front, we’ve temporarily stopped listening to Skyforger and have now moved on to Jackyl – AC/DC blues with live chainsaw solos. Oh yes!
The air ducts are nearly completed. The system will work like this;
- Refrigeration unit will cool the entire lobby area
- Fans will blow the cooled air down the silver ‘sandworm’ pipes
- Cool air will come out at the front of each room (through the ceiling baffles)
- Warm air will escape into the lobby via ventilation holes at the back of each work room…
- …and be cooled by the refrigeration unit
- There will be a fan switch and speed control in each workspace, so the occupant can just switch it on whenever cooling is needed
The air path is broken up into zigzags to prevent bass frequencies from travelling; the ducts are lined with rockwool & fabric. My 8-year-old has pointed out that in the event of anyone, er, ‘trumping’, this air will be circulated round and round the building at slightly different temperatures. So we will need to open the lobby door occasionally.
The cunning part is concealing all the ducts necessary to achieve all this. As mentioned before, the cool air enters via the ceiling baffles, having made its way through the soft pipes that run alongside the ceiling. In the lobby area there are two more ducts. This is the one for the live room, in its pre-covered state – you can just see the silver pipe emerging from the back and carrying the cooled air off to the right.
The second foyer duct – the one supplying the control room – is practically invisible now because it’s built into the door frame, so here are a few photos of it under construction.
The basic construction of the control room bass traps is now complete. The principle of a bass trap is that it stops particular bass frequencies from being accentuated by the construction of the room – here’s an article about the physics of listening spaces. This is to ensure that the monitor speakers are giving an accurate sonic ‘picture’ of the instruments/sounds in the mix.
Because low frequencies have a longer wavelength, they can only be broken up by large objects. Howard’s design of bass trap, from what I can tell, combines a ‘membrane’ and ‘broadband’ method of construction – plywood panels, with air gap, rockwool and fabric covering. All this means that we need some very large bass traps in the control room. So I may end up with a slightly smaller sofa than I originally thought!
On other news, Artis has been getting me and Jeff into Latvian folk-metal. Here’s Skyforger – chanting a 500-year-old folk song on the beach, then straight into some driving speed-metal riffery. Check out the bagpipe solo!
Carl has now sandblasted the phone box, removing all the paint and returning it to its original casting state. I learn that this K6 was cast in 1935 at the Saracen Foundry in Glasgow – as shown in the casting lettering on the back. The lid is cracked and is going to be replaced, but in every other respect it’s come up good as new – take a look at the way the sandblasting has revealed the crisp detail of the casting on the Tudor crown.
The exterior door was constructed yesterday and Jeff is now working on its facade. He’s aiming to make it look like an ordinary set of garage doors from the outside. I’m not too worried about security (the door will be three inches thick and the studio will be alarmed & heavily mortice-locked) but there’s no purpose to advertising the fact that it’s a studio. And it’s turned into a kind of ‘art project’ for Jeff – to make the exterior look as garage-like as possible. The exterior wall itself is our now-standard timber/plasterboard/rockwool heavy stud wall, with an outer layer of OSB board, finished with weather-treated exterior plywood. Jeff spent most of today creating cosmetic plywood ‘frames’ to give the appearance of garage panels. The plywood is to be painted with white Sadolin – this is much better than paint because it soaks into the wood grain, providing improved weather protection. See below for a walkthrough of today’s work.
The phrase ‘studio tan’ will be familiar to many musicians. It refers to the pasty, underfed, hollow look that engineers, producers and players have after a long studio session. And it’s based on the idea that, being sound-sealed boxes containing lots of nickable kit, many studios don’t have exterior windows. The need for daylight for us humans (and most animals) is pretty basic, evolved over millions of years out of the basic logic that there’s a survival advantage for our metabolisms to know the time of day. The pineal gland apparently secretes the sleep hormone melatonin (more about this here) when it’s dark, making us feel drowsy. Put simply, dark studios don’t make you feel good!
This balance between soundproofing and musicians’ sanity has long been acknowledged by studio designers. Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios in Box has a huge glass-walled control/live room called the Big Room, which all those who’ve worked in it (including my colleague and occasional collaborator Chris) have described as inspirational. So it’s always desirable to get natural light in there if you can get round the technical hurdles of soundproofing, security and air handling.
And I’m pleased to say that the garage studio will have natural light in both rooms. Jeff, Howard and I have been chewing over this problem since the project began. We’ve discussed sunpipes, skylights and daylight light bulbs. But once Jeff saw the angles created by raising the roof, the solution was clear – a strip window running the length of the east side of the building, letting in daylight above the old garage doors’ location. It’ll be behind and above the mixing/Mac area, creating lots of light without screen reflection (Apple are doing some very nice LCD monitors at the moment but many of them include highly reflective glass screens). There are two walls at the back of the control room (interior and exterior) creating a natural air gap of around 5cm, and meaning that the two window panes will be around 25cm apart, giving ample opportunity for angled triple-glazed panes (the angles serve to avoid sympathetic low-frequency resonance between panes from traffic noise).
Artis has now drilled a cable hole through from the control room to the live room. This is easier typed than done; it involved making a 4cm wide hole through several layers of plasterboard, rockwool, OSB chipboard, an air gap (this bit was quite easy actually), a 10cm thick concrete wall, another air gap, and then the rest of the plasterboard/rockwool/OSB layers on the other side. Why didn’t they make these holes when they were building the walls (I hear you ask)? The answer is that the two floating rooms need to settle on their bed of rockwool/membrane/screed etc – and the concrete wall itself will settle very slightly because of its weight. So the only way for the cable holes to line up is to drill them after the structure is complete. This, as with all parts of the construction, preserves the all-important principle that there is no physical contact between the two floating rooms – even the plastic pipes (see picture) that line the holes don’t go all the way through – they are three separate sections which are split across each air gap. We’re still working out what do do with cabling – we could have a standard XLR wall plate in each room, or just chuck loose cables through the hole to the live room as needed, and then fill the hole with a rag to seal it sonically. This might seem like a bit of a bodged working method considering all the detail that’s gone in to the planning and build, but actually it might be the most practical solution because it will allow really simple re-amping, and will reduce the length and number of required cables. Still pondering this.
And.. we have a door! It’ll have interior plasterboard and chipboard lining, plus sound-sealed hinges, which has the added bonus of making it more secure. It was fitted this morning, and will eventually be disguised as one-third of the mock garage door that Jeff intends to create out of MDF, white paint and deviousness.
Firstly, a quick thank you to everyone who’s made suggestions about bringing the studio and phone box projects together (see ‘categories’ on the right hand side). The best suggested studio-related uses for the phone box include shower for sweaty musicians, vocal booth for agrophobic session singers, and banjo booth (need not contain an XLR socket).
The aircon tubes have gone in (the silver snakes that look to a man of my vintage like David Lynch’s sandworms from Dune). These will carry cooled air in from the refrigerated lobby area along the side walls, inside the baffles, and into the live and control rooms respectively. Today also (day 2 of phase 2) Jeff and Artis have constructed the front wall that will eventually have the fake garage doors stuck to them. The original plan was for this exterior wall to be made of concrete, but we learned that the asphalt driveway outside the original garage doors has no foundations under it – so eventually a concrete wall would, er, sink!
Jeff told me a story about a client to whom this had happened a few years back – the guy had assured him that the foundations were sound, so Jeff dutifully constructed a heavy exterior wall. After a few weeks, it sank ever so slightly during one of the client’s studio sessions, preventing the heavy acoustic door from opening and locking the client and his musicians inside. Jeff was called from another site to come and let them out – he had to cut through the door to get in; they were stuck in there for around 7 hours, and apparently got really bored (lightweights – I can spend that long editing a vocal!).
So, if I’m to be potentially imprisoned, what colour should my cell walls be? Now that we’re well on the way to choosing a sofa, here’s another chance for you, dear reader, to influence the design of the studio. Essentially, we have two colour decisions to make (walls and ceiling) and four colours of hessian to choose from (these are rough photos of the fabric rolls, and the colours don’t come up great, but you get the idea – for info the green is slightly deeper than this). The walls and ceiling have to be different colours – a single block of colour will look ‘orrible. Scroll down, and vote now!
The phone box arrived in Norfolk at Carl’s kiosk hospital last week. First step – take the door off fully, and drill out the concrete floor, exposing the whole of the cast iron frame ready for sandblasting. Apparently they come up good as new, even down to the detail of the original symbolic Tudor crown (replaced in 1952 at the Queen’s behest with a more contemporary one). The domed roof is probably past saving, so Carl is planning on replacing it with a reclaimed one from another K6.
In a previous post I marveled at the detail of the original 1950s K6 install instructions (and the devotion of whoever typed it in to get it online). But Carl was, of course, way ahead of me – I feel very much like an ‘apprentice anorak’ in this world. He has a huge archive of K6-related documentation, some of scanned from the original 50-year-old paperwork. It’s an impressive archive. http://www.redtelephonebox.com/archive/
Blogging editorial note – I’m blogging four concurrent stories at the moment – the phone box, the studio build, the guitar book and the Widcombe song. To follow these as individual threads, use the ‘categories’ on the right hand sidebar – here they are as links.
Now that the main structure is built on three sides, they’re starting work on some of the baffles and air ducts. The ducts run behind the baffles, combining air handling and acoustic room design in the same construction. Rockwool is an excellent acoustic isolator, but it is also nastily full of inhalable particles, so all the ducts have to be lined. To achieve this they use a one-way permeable fabric more often used by gardeners – the same stuff that goes under gravel driveways.
Here’s a photo walkthrough of Artis lining the interior of the duct/baffle in the live room.
Now, the big question. What colour should the interior of the studio be? I have a choice of 4 colours (from the stuff Jeff has in stock – we’re doing this on a budget so I’m not ordering custom colours from suppliers), and from this selection we need to choose walls (one colour) and ceiling (a different colour). A poll will follow, so you’ll get to choose what colour faces me throughout the studio day for years to come.
Here’s the phone box in its pre-loved state in Derbyshire, before a chap called Laurence aka ‘Kelly the Crane’ arrived to transport it to ‘kiosk hospital’ in Norfolk. My K6 is a Mark I (i.e. from the first batch, cast in 1935) and is a model ‘D’, meaning that the door is on the right hand side panel with its hinge on the right (I actually remember this from 1979 – it stood on a steep lane called Birches Avenue, and the door opened uphill).
There were four models back in 1935;
”Kiosk No. 6 (Mk. 2)”is available in four assemblies, for use under various conditions as follows:-
“Kiosks No. 6A”; door fitted opposite back panel and hinged left
“Kiosks No. 6B”; door fitted opposite back panel and hinged right
“Kiosks No. 6C”; door fitted on the left side panel and hinged left
“Kiosks No. 6D”; door fitted on the right side panel and hinged right
(From the GPO ‘erection instructions’ dated 1955. Stop giggling at the back, there!)
Yes it’s true – more Googling has unearthed a copy of the original Post Office engineering notes on K6 installation, dated 11th March 1955. Here is the text of the original document in full (and you thought IKEA instructions were complicated!). And this file comes from a website where someone’s collected decades’ worth of phone installation instructions. Can you believe that anyone typed all these in?!
Download the full K6 installation instructions (pdf). All hail to thee, Internet.
See below for a gallery of the K6 in its garden setting, prior to being transported to Carl’s workshop.
I’ve inherited a phone box from my late father. It stood, between 1935 and around 1983, in the Derbyshire village of South Wingfield where I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s. When the Post Office became British Telecom in the early 1980s, lots of the cast iron red phone boxes in the UK were decommissioned and replaced with the more spartan plastic & metal BT booths (coincidentially, Bath is one of the few cities that has maintained a few red phone boxes in public places – there were a few near the railway station very recently, I recall.)
Some of the rural phone boxes were sold off privately by local authorities (in this case Amber Valley Borough Council) in the mid-80s. My parents didn’t want to see the old phone box leave the village, so they decided to buy it. It then stood in their back garden for 25 years. In that time they didn’t do anything with it (ummm… not sure what you would do with a non-functioning phone box…?), so now I find myself owning three-quarters of a ton of 1930s cast iron.
Unsure of what to do, I Googled ‘Red Telephone Box’ and found, er, http://www.redtelephonebox.com/. This is a company, based in Norfolk, called Remember When UK – and restoring red phone boxes is what they do. I got in touch with them and spoke to a chap called Carl, who runs the business. He’s a self-confessed ‘phone box anorak’ who just loves his job, and he told me lots of interesting stuff about the history of the English red phone box. The business restores phone boxes pretty much exclusively – there are, apparently, enough phone boxes, and enough interested customers, to keep the business going – they usually even have a backlog of work.
The classic red phone box is called a K6. They were launched in 1935 to celebrate the silver jubilee of George V, though weren’t produced in large numbers until 1936. This particular one is, according to Carl, a ‘Mark I’ – shown by the casting stamp on the back. It was cast, as were most of them, in a foundry in Glasgow. The design was found all over the UK, but also, interestingly, used in Malta, Bermuda and Gibraltar (i.e parts of the Empire/Commonwealth). I won’t go on much more about the history of the K6 – there’s an excellent Wikipedia page with more detail.
Being more than 700 kilos, and being set in concrete, they take a fair bit of transporting. I’ll start the saga of the restoration – and the dilemma of what to do with the phone box when it’s completed – in a future entry. For now, here’s a photo of a 1930s GPO phone box installer. And you thought the Nokia 3310 was clunky…
My next book, the ‘Complete Junior Guitar Player’ is nearing completion – I’m at the final stage of proofing now, and expect to see it in print sometime in June. It’s aimed at 8-12 year old children (and guitar teachers in schools who work with this age group), and I’ve tried to create a basic beginner method that sails halfway between the classical and rock traditions of guitar teaching. This is a slightly different approach from some of my more facetious books – it all uses really straightforward language and a step-by-step, systematic method.
Here’s a sneak preview of a couple of pages (and yes – I know one of the footstool photos is wrong!).
The book will be available on Amazon and Musicroom soon.
There is some dispute about the title, it being planned for sale in the UK and USA, and in translation. We need a title that isn’t condescending to children, that appeals equally to children and guitar teachers, is easy to remember, makes it clear that it’s a beginner level children’s book, and looks snappy/clear on the cover.
Here’s the poll – vote now!
I’ve made some edits to the original version of the Widcombe song, having identified a few things that I thought were wrong with the first draft.
- The melody didn’t rise enough in the chorus – so I’ve taken it up a diatonic third and got rid of the scalic 3-note rise.
- I didn’t like the ‘give a damn’ lyric in verse 3 – replaced with something less abrupt.
- The sibilant consonants in ‘canalside safe’ were a bit ugly when sung at speed – now fixed.
- The melodic shape of the end of the chorus was too repetitive – pitches now moved around a bit.
- The song needs to be applicable to the Widcombe Mummers (who now get a mention in the chorus). This has worked out OK, because I wasn’t happy with the original chorus lyric anyway “all join together” – too clichéd.
Here’s the final version. Probably.
Here it is as text only…
Words and music by Joe Bennett, May 2009
English Morris feel, 2/4 bounce; crotchet=92
So let’s all join the Mummers
Listen can’t you hear?
It’s the sound of Widcombe Rising
G D7 Em C
and we sing it every year, oh yes
G/D D7 G
we sing it every year
As I walked down this fair Parade
One sunny day in June
I met a man along the way
Who said good afternoon
C G C G
I asked him for directions to get to Pulteney Weir
C G D G
He said if I was going there I wouldn’t start from here
I asked him if he had a job
He cheerfully replied
“I sit by the canal all day
(Just) watching for the tide
And since I started working, I think I’ve done some good
From Allie Park to Beechen Cliff there’s never been a flood!”
So let’s all join the Mummers…
He said he lived in Abbey View
Had been there all his life
And now that he was ninety-two
He wanted for a wife
He said “I’ll love her truly, and give her all I can
As long as she lives less than fifty paces from The Ram!”
So let’s all join the Mummers…
This post will mainly be relevant to Bathonians, who may know about the ‘search for a song’ for local Bath district Widcombe. The whole Widcombe community thing is great – street parties, arts events, local history and political pressure groups – all in a group of fewer than 1000 people. So today I’ve had a punt at writing a traditional English Morris Dance tune (with local references in the lyric). No audio demo yet (as you know my studio is currently being built) so this is done in traditional notation. Any folkies reading this – do you feel like doing a demo with traditional instruments?
Download Widcombe Rising (pdf)
The project is now half complete, and the guys are taking a well-deserved break for a couple of weeks. The entire structure is now in place, as is the isolation on five sides; when they resume (probably towards the end of May) they’ll add the rockwool/cloth interior damping, fit electrics and aircon, build the exterior wall (behind the garage doors in the photo) and start building the studio furniture. You can see now how much the roof’s been raised; this temporary polythene seal will be eventually replaced by one-way translucent glass, letting natural light into both rooms.
Very pleased with it all so far – Jeff and Artis have done an amazing job, working 14 days without a break, and I’ve been really delighted with their professionalism, skill and hard work. Plus, of course (and this is the most important thing in this or any industry) they’re such all-round nice blokes.
Hopefully I’ll have some more posts about the project before the month is out. There’s just time to sign off with the Star Wars joke I can only ever do once a year – “May the 4th be with you!”.
The live room wall is now up – this is the wall (with window and door) that faces you when you walk into the building, with the control room entrance on the right hand side of the lobby area. The lobby will also contain the aircon colling unit (and may even double as an occasional makeshift booth for guitar amp micing or re-amping).
The live room is now a complete 6-sided box, which ‘floats’ inside the building. This means that it rests on its base of rockwool (which sits on the floor of damp-proof, chipboard, screed etc) isolating it completely from the floor and walls – the whole room is unconnected to the main building structure. There are not even any screws fixing the room to the structural timbers, as these risk transmitting vibrations in from the outside and between live/control room. Jeff and Artis demonstrated how unconnected the live room is from the building’s exterior, by pushing on one wall while I leaned against the opposite wall; the room moves slightly from side to side. We haven’t recorded anything yet, and the studio already, er, rocks…
Update – it’s now Sunday, and Jeff and Artis leave on Tuesday morning. The project will then be on hold for a couple of weeks – Jeff has other jobs, and Artis has to return to Latvia. So we’re a couple of posts away from taking a break (and I’ll get back to blogging other things, finishing the current guitar book, and preparing for SWF).
If you haven’t done so already, please vote for the sofa.
I don’t know about you, dear (RSS) reader, but I reckon an 8-hour working day seems about right for us humans. For me that’s a comfortable 3-way split – 8 hours working, 8 hours sleeping, and the remaining 8 chastising children, fiddling with iPhone apps and practising the banjo. Jeff and Artis have a different kind of work plan. They’ve decided to do all their banjo practice (or equivalent) when they get home (Norfolk and Latvia respectively). This makes for long days on the project, but does mean that they get to see their families sooner (and I start recording sooner! :-)). They wake up before everyone else (they’re staying in our spare room), hit Travis Perkins and greasy-spoon breakfast cafés before 8am, then start clinking/sawing/hammering straight away. They clock off around 7pm, shower and then go foraging into Bath. Bed by 9pm. Repeat 7 days a week. Rumours of builders’ legendary tea breaks have been greatly exaggerated.
See it from my angle…
We found a bit more dry rot on the old garage facia, so that’s been fixed this morning (see stepladder picture above), and the guys are back onto the interior. The picture below shows the lengthwise struts that will form the back of the control room (the bit over the leopardskin or zebra-stripe sofa). This ceiling is in three sections – the baffle at the back (20-odd degree angle), the middle section (level) and the back lengthwise-timbered section (part-constructed, at the top of the picture – a 2 degree angle). Mad angles are the answer – not a standing wave or resonant cavity in sight.
Are you with me sofa?
If you’ve loyally followed this blog since the start of the garage project, here’s your chance to get involved. It is one of Howard‘s unwritten rules that all studios must have a ‘classy’ sofa. So I’m going to get one. And you’re going to decide which one. Take the poll – and I promise I’ll go with whatever decision the readers of this blog actually make. Vote now!
The baffle (which will be above the planned twin Mac screens) is under construction – plasterboard and timber form the frame, and the final layer will be the same as the ceiling – rockwool and fabric. Behind this (at the bottom left of the vertical plan below) is the air circulation routing. This, again, is something of a trade secret, so I’ll confine myself to a description of the underlying physics and a plug for Jeff’s ingenuity (and Artis’ estimable craftsmanship). Basically, high frequencies are absorbed by ‘soft stuff’ and low frequencies are absorbed by ‘dense stuff’. But isolation and damping are two entirely different things. You may have heard of the urban myth about studios putting eggboxes on the wall. This does actually work to some extent in that it provides high-frequency damping and stops reverb (sound bounces less easily off rough non-uniform cardboard surfaces than it does off flat surfaces like tiling or plasterboard) but in my experience, this just has the same effect as a thick curtain or other soft furnishings. What eggboxes (or any similar lightweight materials) don’t provide is isolation – i.e. soundproofing – this can only be achieved through very dense/heavy materials that don’t resonate with uniform wavelengths; hence all the earlier variations in thicknesses and materials (rockwool, air, SterlingOSB, plasterboard etc).
This, of course, becomes a problem when you come to design air conditioning systems. Any air con system requires a duct – or hole – through which air of different temperatures can pass. And sound travels rather easily through holes! So the challenge is to create a construction that extracts air while preventing sound leakage into the rooms. The ducting needs to have some soft interior lining (to stop high frequencies) and a wavelength-averse construction (to stop low frequencies). And it goes without saying that the fans themselves need to be completely silent. Oh, and this studio is done on a very tight budget, so we can’t afford a top-of-the range air cooling system.
All of this secret construction cleverness is hidden behind the baffle in this picture – and you’re not allowed to see it, I’m afraid, but I’ve seen Jeff and Artis building the ducts, and it’s very impressive so far.
Will the guys solve all these problems and deliver silent aircon without breaking the bank? Tune in next time!