Those wild-eyed boys that had been away…

Jeff and Artis are back. And we’re into the final phase. The basic studio is now built, so there are just three things still to do.

  • Door seals (it’s amazing how much sound can leak through a 1mm gap!)
  • Build the aircon exterior heat exhaust
  • Build the studio furniture

They have two other jobs on at the moment – a listed building house in Suffolk (a rare non-studio-related job) and a suite of several studios for Coventry University. Jeff also has his wife with him, and they’re doing some tourist & family stuff around Bath. So Artis is on his own for now. Luckily for Artis, the studio now has broadband and a phone line fitted, so he has real-time streamed audio of Latvian radio – nice and loud through Genelec 8040As, no less. We did take a moment to put on some Sepultura, Machine Head and Metallica this afternoon. Just to test the soundproofing, of course. It works.

I forgot to mention that while the guys were away I’ve been encouraged to set up my gear and try out the ergonomics of the space in readiness for their return. So the plan, apparently, is for Artis to use Howard’s drawings as ‘a guide’ – so I think some negotiation between designer and builder might still be needed. I’ve now taken delivery of the M1F and it looks enormous in the room, so we need to work out carefully how I’m going to reach to the gain and high EQ of a fairly deep analogue desk.

Here’s a pic of my makeshift setup (garden table with a blanket thrown over it).

The makeshift setup, before the furniture is built.

The makeshift setup, before the furniture is built.

Jeff dropped Artis off with a van full of kit, including the (Sonor) drum shells, all the mics and stands, Behringer ADA8000 converter and some of the outboard rack kit. In my young and excitable teens and 20s I would have ripped open every box to look at the goodies inside (actually it still took great restraint not to do this) but in the interests of tidiness I’ve left everything boxed up until the furniture is built.

A room full of kit. No box-opening allowed. Yet.

A room full of kit. No box-opening allowed.

So the first job for Artis today was to sort out the aircon. We found that if we just switched on the aircon unit in the room, its cooling power was cancelled out by its heat exhaust. So we need to get the hot air outside – without, of course, compromising soundproofing. The answer? Power tools and a big hole in the wall.

Aircon unit with exhaust pipe. And a blank wall.

Aircon unit with exhaust pipe. And a blank wall.

Big hole in the wall.

Big hole in the wall.

Hole covered with metal vent - the hot air comes out of the bottom.

Hole covered with metal vent - the hot air comes out of the bottom.

Pipe through hole.

Pipe through hole.

Air inlet behind the control room baffle, pulling fresh air into the building.

Air inlet behind the control room baffle, pulling fresh air into the building.

All connected up and ready to blow!

All connected up and ready to blow!

So the plan, tomorrow, is to lay out all the gear (keyboard, Mac, Genelecs, monitor, M1F and Digi002) on the floor and work out furniture design around the 2 racks (one under, one over) that we’ll be building.

That’s the short-term plan. The long-term plan is to, er, learn to play the drums…

———-

In other news, Artis is teaching me origami. Here’s the Peace Crane, the first complicated one that everyone learns, apparently.

There are places I’ll remember…

Route 66

Well done for those who’ve completed the MJ quiz. Highest score so far is 14 out of 19. If you’re new to the blog and want to catch up, here’s a download link to all the quizzes I’ve posted so far; the latest one is at the bottom of this post.

Post answers on my Facebook page, or via the contact form below. So here’s a new one. This has already run at the pub in London, so it’s OK for general release now.

Copyright note; given that all these quizzes contain tiny excerpts of copyright audio, I would love to do these legally and pay a small PRS royalty for use of this material in the (online non-profit-making) context of this blog. But if PRS can’t reach agreement with Google about YouTube, I can’t believe that their various licensing schemes will be flexible enough to support downloadable MP3 major-label content in mangled 1-second excerpt form! So here’s a disclaimer for any (major label or artist) copyright owners who might be reading this. I want to get all these excerpts licensed legally for the 100 or so people that will download these quizzes (which technically infringe both copyrights – recording and publishing), but can’t find a mechanism. So these non-profit-making excerpts are used without permission, and I will take them offline (or pay the going rate) on request – OK?

So, to business! This quiz is entitled ‘There’s a Place’ and each example is a song lyric with the place names bleeped out (the bleeps are diatonically correct, naturally). No Googling the lyrics, now – you’ve got to promise!

There’s a Place MP3 download
(place names lyric quiz – name the bleeped-out places)

Technical note for audio geeks. Most of these quizzes are done using Logic Pro, with some limiting and multibanding applied using Waves Gold plugins (L1 and C4). In some cases the examples are re-gained in Logic’s audio editor or automixed, and many of them (e.g. the MJ quiz) use very quick/subtle crossfades. The ‘There’s a Place’ quiz was done when the studio was being built, so had to be compiled on a Macbook Pro laptop using Garageband while all my studio kit was temporarily mothballed. The reason I’m explaining this is that the ‘bleeps’ masking the place names here are provided by a Garageband soft synth on a square wave preset. As such they don’t quite have the ‘classic bleep’ sound, which is of course a sine wave. Now the studio is back online I have access to the blank EXS24 no-audio patch setting, which defaults to a sine wave. Future bleeps will be more authentic.

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Somebody get me a Doctor…

Dalek 2On 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.

Dalek ballet.

With a Genelec 8040A playing the role of the Mechanoids.

In the white room…

The final look of the control room - oak-coloured laminate floor, 'ginger' carpet tiles and the light green hessian.

The final look of the control room - oak-coloured laminate floor, 'ginger' carpet tiles and the light green hessian.

We’re done! The building part of the project is complete. The final phase, in two weeks’ time, will be the building of furniture followed by the equipment installation. More on this in a few days’ time, as I start to set up my current studio kit in there.

Jeff finished the last of the carpet tiling today, and there’s now nothing more to do to the building apart from tweak the aircon heatsink, and ‘box in’ one of the fans. Since the last post we’ve been working on the final bits of cosmetics, selecting colours (‘ginger’ carpet tiles and ‘antique light oak’ laminate flooring). Jeff and I took a run out to B&Q where he haggled with the staff (which you can do, apparently, if there is minor damage to the stock).

The control room floor is a combination of wood-effect laminate and carpet tiles. The laminate is actually preferable to wood, because I’ll need to be able to scoot around on a wheeled office chair (between analogue desk, Digi002, Mac and music keyboard) and a real wood floor wouldn’t be as durable as the high-quality laminate that Jeff uses. We’re only using laminate as far as the left-hand edge of the music keyboard (facing the live room window); the rest will be carpet tiles to avoid any reflections coming off the floor. The live room floor is all laminate – and I’m still asking around for rug ideas for the drum kit. What kind of rugs do drummers like anyway? Most drummers I’ve worked with seem to use a thin and moth-eaten Persian rug that smells a bit damp – but that may be an economic choice rather than a musical one.

We’re treating the lobby as a utility area so its look is, er, utilitarian. We’ve painted it all white, and left the hard surfaces of plasterboard panels, OSB ceiling and MDF door panels. It will be a great room for one particular guitar sound that I love – the loud-amp-in-a-small-room effect – although I don’t yet know how much ‘room’ I’ll be able to create in a space that size. Reamping was never really an option with my previous setup because of the need to avoid noise pollution for the family – looking forward to fiddling about with mic placements etc.

Lobby area fan unit for the control room.

Control room fan unit.

The air fans are now fitted and working, so the cooled air in the lobby can be pushed through the ducts at the front of the control and live rooms – there’s a variable speed fan for each room. Jeff has advised me to locate the control for the live room fan outside the room in the lobby (“we don’t want drummers fiddling with it”). Personally I’d rather like to have a speed control for some of the drummers I’ve met ;-).

It's like, how much more white...

It's like, how much more white...

...could this be? And the answer is...

...could this be? And the answer is...

...none. None more white.

...none. None more white.


The music keyboard area - the laminate goes as far as the left hand piano part. Mustn't play too many low notes.

The music keyboard area - the laminate goes as far as the left hand piano part. Mustn't play too many low notes.

And our final B&Q purchase was a pair of black handles. These are purely to help with the ‘garage door’ illusion and neither of them are fixed to a real door.

The finishing touch is the black handle. It's purely cosmetic (it's actually just screwed into a plywood wall) to achieve that 'garage door look'.

The finishing touch is the black handle. It's purely cosmetic (it's actually just screwed into a plywood wall) to achieve that 'garage door look'.

The final look of the exterior - guttering has been added, and the door lock is now fitted.

The final look of the exterior - guttering has been added, and the door lock is now fitted.

And here, for comparison, are the original garage doors.

And here, for comparison, are the original garage doors.

Jeff and Artis are off to start a large-scale acoustics job at Coventry University, so we all had a few beers last night to celebrate the end of the build phase of the project. During the evening Jeff impressed us with his uncanny ability to identify specific models of Ducati engine by the sound only.

And Artis, of course, introduced us to yet more Latvian music. We got into a long discussion about how Skyforger have gone mainstream since they started introducing electric instruments, and started investigating which traditional instruments they played. This got us into talking about the Kokle – a Latvian zither/dulcimer/harp. Here’s composer Laima Jansone performing variations on some traditional folk tunes on the kokle.

But you want more eighties hits perfomed by Latvians, don’t you? Happy to oblige. This time Artis has introduced us to an a capella band called Cosmos – sort of Flying Pickets with proper beatboxing. Check out this amazing version of Billie Jean.

Next time I’ll be blogging about kit and tech spec – Jeff calls this stuff ‘small wires’ and won’t countenance any discussion of it on-site. Don’t worry – Howard will be here in a week or so, and normal geek service will be resumed…

Shape of my heart

Launching home-made UFOs at a Gloucestershire campsite.

Launching home-made UFOs at a Gloucestershire campsite.

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.

A simple duct cover, in front of the control room baffle.

A simple cover, in front of the control room cool air duct...

  Although it conceals Artis' secret signature inside the duct, which reads "Built to last by Lazy Fat People, 9-6-09".

Although it conceals Artis' secret signature inside, which reads "Build Till Last (built to last) by LAZY FAT PEOPLE."

And in the live room, here are the works of art…

Shape of my heart2

The circle represents the banjo - the headstock is from my banjolele. Cool air comes from the now-concealed duct.

And this is my banjolele - the first musical instrument I ever bought. It was £10 in 1980, and is responsible for my love of playing music. Explains a lot, perhaps.

And this is my banjolele - the first musical instrument I ever bought. It was £10 in 1980, and is responsible for my love of playing music. Explains a lot, perhaps.

On the opposite side of the live room is the warm air outlet, and this time Artis has gotten really creative…

The body shape is based on my Yamaha classical guitar; the headstock is two pegs from the top of the Takamine.

Live room warm air duct cover. The shape is based on...

The curve of the Yamaha body...

...the curve of the body from my Yamaha classical guitar...

Shape of my heart6

...and the pegs of the Takamine's headstock

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.

Here's the live room laminate floor, which Artis laid this morning. Beautiful!

Here's the live room laminate floor, which Artis laid this morning. Beautiful!

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.

Laminate floor with UFO lights, archetrave, mains socket and hovering banjo...

Laminate floor with UFO lights, archetrave, mains socket and hovering banjo...

KIBÄK - one of the many classy rug designs available from IKEA (not that Im trying to compromise your right to a free democratic choice)...

KIBÄK - one of the many classy rug designs available from IKEA (not that I'm trying to compromise your right to a free democratic choice)...

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…

Rug-a-round… now!

Leave a light on for me…

“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…

Live room light fittings. UFOs overhead.

Live room light fittings. UFOs overhead.

Ta-daaa!

Ta-daaa!

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.

Control room light fittings - these will be directly over the engineer/work area.

Control room light fittings - these will be directly over the engineer/work area.

Control room lights set to 'interrogation mode'...

And here they are set to 'interrogation mode'...

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.

The sound of breaking glass… when I’m cleaning windows

The double-glazed window pane has shattered and will need replacing.

The double-glazed window pane has shattered and will need replacing.

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.

As any window cleaner will tell you, part of the job is to figure out...

Artis checks the panes to see where the marks are. As any window cleaner will tell you, part of the job is to figure out...

...which side of the glass needs cleaning. Safest to do both sides!

...which side of the glass needs cleaning. In this pic, he's actually using a razor blade to get fragments of glue off the glass.

More soap! Still not clean enough!

More soap! More light! Still not clean enough!

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.

Lobby floor and door-frame. See that line of shadow on the inside of the pine panel by the door...?

Lobby floor and door-frame. The gap at the bottom is where extracted air will escape into the lobby. See that line of shadow on the inside of the pine panel by the door...?

Breaking Glass11

...it doesn't touch the frame. So no part of the structure touches the lobby doorway, keeping the whole of the control room completely isolated from the outside.

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.