This originally appeared in 2007, but just in case readers of this blog didn’t see it at the time (or if you’re new to this stuff generally) the following video provides food for thought about where Web 2.0 might lead us societally. It gets ever so slightly techy in the middle, but stick with it. It ends with love.
On the last night before Jeff and Artis left to go to the Coventry job, they called me down into the studio (I think we can call it that, now – doesn’t seem right to use the term ‘garage’ any more). They’d got me a little gift, they said.
And it was – a remote controlled Dalek. I’ve been a bit of a Whovian for some years now (since about 1975, although now I’m a parent I’ve got more of an excuse) and the guys had noticed the DVDs and other such fandomery around the house. Dr Who fan + laminate floor = Dalek invasion opportunity!
Thing is, they got me the silver one with the blue spots. Which, as I’m sure you know, operates at a radio control frequency of 27MHz. And there’s only one thing more embarrassing than being overjoyed to take receipt of a 27MHz Dalek. And that’s being overjoyed to take receipt of a 27MHz Dalek when you already own exactly the same model.
Now, I’m no expert on radio transmission, but… I wondered what would happen if we used two Daleks and only one controller.
With a Genelec 8040A playing the role of the Mechanoids.
I was expecting to write a post this weekend to the effect of “all the walls are now covered with hessian”. This is great news sonically, but doesn’t necessarily make a very interesting blog entry, considering that you probably now know (more than) everything you ever wanted to know about frames, fabric and sound absorption etc. I’ve just been away at a camping weekend with the family (also playing bass for a blues scratch-band – kinda DIY music festival for a couple of hundred people). Before we left I had a quick look at the studio in progress and asked Artis if there was anything he needed while we were away overnight. He asked if it would be OK for him to cover the air ducts in the live room with ‘interesting shapes’. He suggested that the room was starting to feel a bit austere (when someone says the words “like a dark prison” very slowly in a Latvian accent, it is difficult not to think of Count Dracula). Given that Artis has a real craftsman’s eye, I figured that whatever he had in mind would be tasteful, and way cooler than any suggestion I would make – so I left him to it.
When we returned it was blisteringly hot day so I went straight down to the studio, partly to see what Artis had done, and partly because it’s really cool in there: the sound isolation is so heavy that the building’s interior temperature is pretty much unaffected by the weather.
He’d completed all the hessian frames in both rooms, plus all the window frame pieces, and had made the MDF/hessian panels to covered the air inlets as planned. And… he’d made them all in the shape of guitars!
I’m speechless with delight. Here are some pictures while I calm down.
And in the live room, here are the works of art…
On the opposite side of the live room is the warm air outlet, and this time Artis has gotten really creative…
I can’t say how delighted I am with this development – it’s not only beautiful in its own right but it’s made the studio really personal, referencing some instruments that have been with me most of my musical life.
So, to sound recording issues. I had a long chat with Howard (the ‘Studiowizard‘) over the weekend (all our chats are long – when two geeks collide it’s always the way). Obviously the whole of the live room is ‘dry’ rather than ‘live’ due to the small dimensions involved – it’s too small to get a useful room reverb going, and anyway, it’s always easier to add reverb to a dry signal than to try to dampen a lively room. But wooden floors can still be great for acoustic guitars and drums, even in an otherwise damped room (a while ago I took a recording tip from Davey at the University, which is to record acoustic guitarists on wooden boards for extra reflections). So for the best of both worlds, the plan is to lay high-quality wooden laminate on a bed of fabric (to prevent squeaking floorboards), and then to buy a large IKEA rug on which to put the drum kit; the laminate is pretty tough, but I don’t want nasty bass drum spikes spoiling my nice wooden floor.
So, the important question. Which rug? Here’s an IKEA search to get you started. This isn’t a poll, it’s a free choice for readers of this blog, so you can suggest styles and colours. Please add comments on this post, or via my Facebook page. You will of course be asked for your opinion on matching drum shells when the time comes…
It’s not all good news. Some of the principles I’ve been discussing on this blog – notably the advantages of publishing research freely on the Internet – bring with them two attendant ‘issues’ (I used to refer to these as ‘problems’ but then I became a manager, and all ‘problems’ became either ‘issues’ or ‘challenges’ . They are – Data Protection and copyright.
Data Protection is, basically, the right for individuals to see, and to some extent control, personal information about them that is stored on computers. The Data Protection Act 1998 means that identifying individuals online without their knowledge or consent, while not always strictly illegal, can cause potential problems for bloggers/researchers/teachers using Web 2.0 tools – especially when you get into ‘privacy-light’ web applications like Facebook. You’ll note that where I’ve posted photos of students at work on our School website they are not identified by name, or when they are (e.g. in a pop video) this personal identification has been set up by the student themselves. This is one reason (the other being convenience) why we use embedded YouTube code with video-based student work (i.e. use YouTube playlists to find where the student has posted their own work, and effectively link to it – avoiding any issues of content ownership or DPA). If the student graduates and decides for whatever reason that they don’t want their pop video online, they can just take it off YouTube and it will disappear from the School site (this feature was, of course, unavailable to Ricky Gervais in 1983).
The other big issue/problem/challenge/hurdle is copyright. Researchers often own their own copyright on their work (perhaps – though this is open to question depending on the individual’s employment contract with their home University), and are free to publish it online (although technically teachers often can’t – in most cases their teaching materials are the Intellectual Property of the employer). So before you post anything online you have to know who owns it in the first place (disclaimer – I have a decent working knowledge of this area as a composer and writer, and a teacher of copyright relating to musicians, but I am by no means an expert). As my own lawyer says, Intellectual Property Rights are only properly relevant when there’s money to be made – and even then, they can only be enforced by the courts. And given that a great deal of research (in the arts/humanities particularly) is highly specialised, few researchers are ever going to make megabucks out of their work in terms of publisher royalties – the sales are too few in number. Publishers make money, of course, out of Universities’ subscriptions to their academic journals, which is one reason why it’s so difficult to find a lot of academic articles online unless you subscribe to a service like JSTOR. It took me a good couple of hours to unearth a research article the other day using Athens/JSTOR (it was so much hassle that it would almost have been easier to go to the library).
So assuming you’ve figured out who owns whatever you’re posting online, you run into the problem of quality. Who says that a blog/site is any good? In the old days it was easy – peer review was applied by publishers. Now that anyone can post random unresearched opinions online (as in this blog) it’s very difficult for the concept of peer review to apply. But it must be possible; the difference between web and print as text media is that print distribution costs money (and therefore a profit-making entity called a publisher), so surely we must be able to find a better differentiator than this?!. I admire the approach of Radical Musicology, which publishes all the work freely online. Given that most academics are not funded through publishing royalties to any great extent, shouldn’t all journals be openly available?
If I’m being naiive with these ‘open source’ principles as applied to research, then this may be technically and legally true in the current climate, but I’m in esteemed company. Cornell University recently lifted its restrictions of reproduction of its public domain works. UCL now requires all its researchers to publish to an open-access online repository. And scholarly publishers in the USA are seriously miffed about the University of Boston’s decision to publish all of its academics’ research online – although inevitably this has triggered the same peer-review quality debate outlined above.
The recent attempts by the music industry to enforce copyright control (e.g. the YouTube/PRS collision, which Google is effectively going to win, and the removal of DRM on iTunes) demonstrate that it is impossible to enforce electronic restrictions when there is huge demand for online content. Indeed, throughout human history we’ve proved to ourselves – politically, economically, and especially with access to knowledge – that a minority can’t enforce control against the majority interest (for very long). And the demand for open access to online academic materials is certainly there. Every academic has had to tell students that Wikipedia is not a primary source, and many assessors apply penalties for citing it. But perhaps the cultural expectation of the student (or of any ‘digital native‘) is to be able to find anything online – if they don’t get instant gratification they won’t go to a library. And if Wikipedia is all students can find via a Google search, they will cite it. So, if we as academics and researchers make more in-depth content available without the requirement for secure e-portals like Athens, we’ll be spreading the knowledge we generate as effectively as possible…
…which is kind of what the job’s all about.
Note – if you’re interested in the issues behind this debate, read Martin Weller’s excellent ‘Ed Techie’ blog – particularly this entry about copyright, including the Larry Lessig TED lecture (which I’ve embedded below). Martin’s a Professor of Educational Technology at the Open University in the UK.
Just a quick post today from the phone, to try out the excellent wordpress for iPhone app. I had a meeting on Wednesday in London at the Institute of Musical Research. It’s a group called the UK Popular Musicologists’ Collocquium and represents an all-too-rare chance for (popular) music staff from different universities to get together and discuss academic articles and analysis relating to popular musicology. There are about eight of us the meetings, which are chaired/organised by Allan Moore (editor of Popular Music Journal), and we get together every six months or so in Guildford or at the IMR (any musicologists reading this, do feel free to get in touch with Allan if you’re interested in becoming involved). I’ve made a basic WordPress/edublogs site so we can collect together study materials and YouTube links – UKPMC site.
This meeting’s theme was discussion and analysis relating to a particular track – Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry’. It is a fascinating song (noted for its lack of bass line) in that it appears to be based on one eight-bar chord loop – Am | G | G | Am | Am | G | G | E7 Am | – but is actually based on a four-bar loop that is only actually stated halfway through the track – | Am | Dm/A | G | E7+5/G# E7/G# | (hey, this stuff keeps me awake at night).
Like any multi-million-selling song, it’s always interesting to note just how well-constructed it is – and to make inferences about why it was so successful. It seems to obey most of the general ‘rules’ of songwriting (lots of primary and secondary hooks, lots of monosyllables, effective lyric imagery, economical use of language, clear meaning, unusual title) while deliberately challenging them in other ways (relentless/repetitive chord loop, quirky rock-funk guitar solo intro followed by guitar-less arrangement, slightly mad lyric lines “animals strike curious poses”, classical extended mono-synth outro). Prince, for me, is like Bono or Sting – however smug or irritating they might seem as people, you have to admire the sheer talent at work.
And, as a bonus, while walking past Hyde Park I got to see five K6s all together. If you’re unsure why I have become such a phonebox geek you need to read this previous post. After which you may still be unsure.
“I’ll be there before you close the [soundproof] door, to give you all the love [...ly recording isolation] that you neeeeeeeed…”
We have light! The electrics are live, the lights and dimmer switches are installed, and it all works great. My wife is deeply suspicious of my need for intimate mood lighting, of course…
In the live room we’ve gone for the flying saucer look, with low-energy bulbs to reduce the carbon footprint and also to avoid the generation of heat (once the door is closed no heat will be able to escape from the building, so it’s important for me to remember to power down ever time I lock up).
The control room lights are now also fitted – these are the heat-proof boxes we saw Artis building a while ago. They can be angled front to back, and there are eight of them in two strips of four.
Now that all the hessian in the control room is fitted, and the doors are at full thickness, it’s possible to get a feeling for how the room ‘feels’ sonically, combining the effect of the hessian, rockwool, room design and bass traps. And I’m delighted to report it’s completely ‘dead’ – just what you want in a room used for mixing. It has that curious quality of anechoic environments – being so quiet that you can hear the blood vessels in your ear, and you feel like your voice can’t be heard by others because there are no early reflections. Jeff says this (the feeling of airless isolation) is why he hates being in studios – he loves building them but as soon as they’re finished he can’t wait to get out! Personally I can’t wait to see exactly how loud my Genelecs will go when I turn off the bass lift.
And it means I won’t have to practise my banjo in the garden any more.
We’ve had our first setback today. The pane of glass which we were going to use (the one that was recycled when we had the catflap fitted) shattered while it was being moved. Not a huge disaster – it was an opportunistic plan anyway – but it does mean we’ll need more glass!
Artis is now working on fitting the other frames. The problem with double-glazing (or in this case, quadruple-glazing) is that once the unit’s sealed you can never open it up again. This means that the glass has to be clean to NASA-like standards before the next pane is fitted. So he’s shining halogen lamps at each pane from both sides so he can see to clean any speck of dust or grease.
Today the lobby floor went in. The lobby is primarily a utility area, so we’re not going for hessian walls etc – just plasterboard walls and a chipboard/carpet-tiled floor (plus a doormat so we can leave muddy boots in the lobby when coming in from outside). The principle of floating rooms has been maintained throughout – neither room actually touches the lobby flooring, so no vibration can be transmitted between the floorboards.
I took my first measurement this afternoon of the amount of SPL (Sound Pressure Level) reduction the building provides. There are still a few panes of glass to go in, so actual performance will be better than this. On the main road outside, the reading is around 88dB. Inside the studio it averages around 40dB – though some of that might have been my own breathing – it really is quiet in there. I’m using the rather limited iPhone Decibel Meter and will be testing the levels with pro equipment soon, but it’s already clear that I’m going to be able to record whispery vocals or delicate unaccompanied acoustic guitar without any discernible traffic noise on the recording.
Artis is working on windows today, building the frames, beads and hessian linings inside the glazed sections. The control room and live room will both be quadruple-glazed – the outer panes are vertically angled, and the inner two are parallel – this combination stops low frequencies from leaking (because it prevents sympathetic resonance in the glass).
We’re nearly at the stage where we need to start thinking about kit. The studio will centre around a Mac Pro running Pro Tools and Logic Pro through a Digi002. Monitors are Genelec 8040s although I may upgrade these to a system that provides proper sub-bass.
I work digitally in the Mac environment, but now that I have a proper, decent acoustically treated space for the first time, I’m going to go the extra mile and get the best possible quality of input signal – which will mean a valve desk. With Howard’s advice, and having spent a lot of time with the TL Audio VTC in the MusicLab at the University, I’m going for a small version of the same thing – the TL Audio M1F. We’re still working out the signal path – the Digi002 has a rather odd collection of inputs – but I’m basing the planning on the principle that I can have up to 12 simultaneuous valve input channels.
And today, the Latvian ‘cellists are playing… A-ha’s Take On Me.
The electrics are going in. The control room will have a fan speed control so we can adjust the flow of cooled air into the room. The lights will have a dimmer – for those ‘Barry White’ sessions, I imagine. The control room lighting will consist of eight directional spots, flush-mounted into the ceiling. We don’t quite have enough ceiling height in the live room to do the same so we’re going for three flush circular dome lights in a line along the centre of the room – you can see the location of the furthest one in the picture below.
We ran out of green hessian to do all the walls in the live room – we could easily order more, but the batches might not have matched perfectly, and it would have held up the project. So we’ve decided to go with all-green walls (including the bass traps, but maintaining the claret ‘V wall’) in the control room, and choose a different colour scheme in the live room. The live room walls will be blue-grey, and the ceiling will be the same light blue as in the control room.
Jeff’s away setting up their next job, and Artis is finishing more of the frames of the interior walls. Here’s one under construction – this is the grey-blue colour we’re using for the live room walls.
The frames are made in situ, up against the wall, then once they’re the perfect shape & size they’re removed and the hessian is stapled to them. I was on my way to the shops today and asked Artis if he needed anything picking up. He requested sticking plasters, as the friction from hessian-stretching had scraped several layers of skin off his knuckles. He had been using gaffer tape as hand protection. Very ‘rock’, but I imagine quite painful. We got him the most cushioned plasters we could find.
The cool thing about this kind of commitment is that the guys don’t have to do it – they could stretch the hessian much less, and it would still look OK. But they know that over time the fabric will settle, and eventually the walls will start to look wobbly. I’ve seen this look in a few studios so it’s great to know they’re future-proofing the interior so well, albeit at the expense of their knuckles. Ouch.
The Mac void has a miniature door now (double-thickness MDF), meaning the computer can be isolated behind the control room wall, so no fan noise can escape into the room. This means I’ll be able to use the control room as well as the live room for tracking. Today we agreed to add another hole, between the lobby and live room, so we could at a pinch use the lobby for tracking too, giving us three fully isolated recording spaces – not bad for a garage!
Artis has added a slab of MDF to the inner doors for extra density to improve isolation, meaning each door now weights 50KG or so. And today, for the first time, we sealed the building – the exterior glass went in. It’s currently double-glazed (albeit with 10mm thick panes) but each interior floating room will also be double-glazed. It’s almost completely silent in each room with the doors closed – even with HGVs going past on the main road outside.
Today’s Latvian import is Linda Leen – Beyoncé-style pop/R&B. Which is nice, but unremarkable.
But I know what you want – you want more ‘cellists playing hits of the 80s, don’t you? Here’s Melo-M with guest artist Intars Busulis performing ‘Ghostbusters’. What’s the best adjective for this cover version? I’m favouring ‘unnecessary’. Great video effects though…
We’re now at day 29; Artis is working on the door seals, and building more hessian frames for the walls. I’ve called BT today and worked out how we can get a phone line in there for broadband – and also got some excellent Ethernet cabling help and advice from Robin, the Comms Analyst at Bath Spa. Those guys really hate Wi-Fi because the signal is so prone to interference and loss of data – and TBH I don’t have much confidence that a Wi-Fi signal will get through all of Jeff and Artis’ rockwool/plasterboard work unscathed, so we’re going to run an Ethernet cable round the building, from the aircon area in the lobby through to the Mac hole in the back of the control room.
Artis’ work on the frames is beautiful – each frame is crafted to the shape of a section of wall, so it fits perfectly together with the fabric-width of space in between. The hessian doesn’t actually touch the rockwool inside each stud wall, being raised 12mm away by the MDF frame. And the carpentry is magnificent, even though it’s just MDF. I learn that back in Latvia, Artis’ carpentry business almost exclusively built beehives!
Here are some pics of the hessian frames being constructed, and some more of the door seals.
I’m still learning more about Latvian artists from Artis – recent highlights include Linda Leen (pop/R&B), Brainstorm (pop/rock/electronic), Melo-M (three ‘cellists doing arrangements of cheesy 70s and 80s pop songs), ‘daina‘ (Latvian traditional folk songs) and S’T'A’ (rap/hip-hop). You know which one I’m going to play here, don’t you?!