Back in Black

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.

All signals will pass through the TL Audio M1-F

Live room window frame under construction, with a sample of the black 'spongey stuff' that goes in the void between panes.

Live room window frame under construction, with a sample of the black 'spongey stuff' that goes in the void between panes.

And here's the spongey stuff fitted into the frame - it will eventually run all the way around.

And here's the spongey stuff fitted into the frame - it will eventually run all the way around. The glue has to be completely dry because the unit will eventually be air-sealed.

The control room window will be quadruple-glazed, with 2 x 10mm panes in the interior and 2 x (angled) 6mm panes on each side - that's 32mm of glass.

The control room window will be quadruple-glazed, with 2 x 10mm panes in the interior and 2 x (angled) 6mm panes on each side - that's 32mm of glass.

Snap the Power

Dimmer switch socket and fan speed control for the aircon

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.

Back wall of the live room, with light location in the ceiling.

Back wall of the live room, with light location in the ceiling.

Not too Aston Villa, I'm hoping?

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.

Once the frame is made, Artis stretches the hessian over it and staples it in place.

Once the frame is made, Artis stretches the hessian over it and staples it in place.

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.

And here's the same frame resting up against the wall, ready to be nailed to the MDF/rockwool stud wall. In this pic you can see the different blues - greyish-blue for the walls, lighter blue for the ceiling.

And here's the same frame ready to be nailed to the MDF/rockwool stud wall.

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.

Heart of Glass

This is the door to the Mac area - note the grooves in the bottom for cables.

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.

The exterior glazing is now fitted; looks like Jeff's off to practise his gondola technique.

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…

Pretty Green

Artis stretches the hessian covering over the MDF frame - in the small area of the frame at the front you can see where the mains sockets will go.

Artis stretches the hessian covering over the MDF frame - in the small area of the frame at the front you can see where the mains sockets will go.

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?!

Mr Blue Sky

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…
This is the Mac hidey-hole, which will be sound-insulated and allow Mac fan heat to escape into the void.

This is the Mac hidey-hole, which will be sound-insulated and allow Mac fan heat to escape into the void.

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!

The studio features as a specially-constructed coleslaw cooling area.

This studio preserves coleslaw.

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…

Different light

He's not called Artis for nothing, you know!

He's not called Artis for nothing, you know...

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.

Think this looks easy? YOU try hanging a door with 1mm accuracy!

Think this looks easy? YOU try hanging a door with 1mm accuracy...

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!

Moveable light fitting, fitted into the wooden panel that forms the lower side of the 'lighting cube' in the ceiling

Moveable light fitting, slotted into the wooden panel that forms the lower side of the 'lighting cube' in the ceiling

Here's how the lighting panel will fit into the ceiling. Artis tries valiantly to get out of shot but realises at the last minute that his arms aren't long enough...

Here's how the lighting panel will fit into the ceiling. Artis tries valiantly to get out of shot but realises at the last minute that his arms aren't long enough.

Air refrigeration units run wild and free in the forests of Bath, you know...

Air refrigeration units run wild and free in the forests of Bath. You just have to know where to go hunting.

It’s a bass trap… (and you been caught)

Live room air inlet

Live room air inlet

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.

Ceiling duct, drawing air into the live room air supply pipe

Ceiling duct, drawing air into the live room air supply pipe

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.

Door frame air duct - under construction

Door frame air duct - under construction

Door frame air duct with chipboard covering

Door frame air duct with chipboard covering - the upright rectagular hole in the centre will extra warm air from the control room

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.

Control room bass trap, viewed from the doorway. Rockwool panels will hang in front of the plywood, and hessian will be stretched over the whole thing.

Control room bass trap, viewed from the doorway. Rockwool panels will hang in front of the plywood, and hessian will be stretched over the whole thing.

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!