Fakin’ it

Small door painted - allThe 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.

Exterior wall with bare plywood covering
Exterior wall with bare plywood covering
Jeff has started to add strips of plywood to create cosmetic 'frames'.
Jeff has started to add strips of plywood to create cosmetic 'frames'.
The full wall length, with the six fake 'garage' panels. The third panel - painted white here - is actually the door. You can see the hinges on the right.
The full wall length, with the six fake 'garage' panels. The third panel - painted white here - is actually the door. You can see the hinges on the right.

And here's the finished panels with the first coat of white Sadolin applied.
And here are the finished panels with the first coat of white Sadolin applied. Looks like a garage, don't you think?!

Blinded by the light

The 30cm high strip above the doors runs the width of the building, letting natural light into both rooms.
The 30cm high strip above the doors runs the width of the building, letting natural light into both rooms.

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.

The control room window frame - the black areas shows where natural light will come in.
Control room window frame - the black area shows where natural light will enter.

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).

Do these holes look innocuous? They are the result of 2 hours of heavy-duty Latvian drilling!
Do these holes look innocuous? They are the result of 2 hours of heavy-duty Latvian drilling!

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.

A real door (the wooden one on the left) partly concealed by a fake door (the garage door is going to be scrapped).
A real door (the wooden one on the left) partly concealed by a fake door (the garage door is going to be scrapped).

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.

True colours

Don't mess with the Sandworms - they can bite your arm off.
Don't mess with the Sandworms - they can bite your arm off.

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!

Light grey
Light grey
Red
Red
p_1600_1200_50C4F522-8CEE-45AF-A543-F76B2D29F13B.jpeg
Light blue
Light green
Light green

Aircon pipe feed on the left-hand wall of the live room, seen here from the lobby.
Aircon pipe feed on the left-hand wall of the live room, seen here from the lobby.

The boys are back in town…

l-1600-1200-a73f9a39-36cf-456f-ab1c-a05808a6db3d.jpegThe studio build has started again after a 2-week break. Jeff and Artis are back, and despite a 3am arrival last night they were up and working by 10am.

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.

The lining is stapled onto the frame
The lining is stapled onto the frame
Lining of the baffle/air duct is nearly finished
The lining covers all three sides of the right-angled triangle that forms the duct interior, protecting the live room musicians from from nasty airborne rockwool particles.
Another layer of thin rockwool is added, providing more acoustic isolation from any sound that may have penetrated the air ducting.
Another layer of thin rockwool is added, providing more acoustic isolation from any sound that may have penetrated the air ducting.
Now, a layer of plasterboard in front of the rockwool. There's be some more SterlingOSB added onto this, so we can screw in the timbers for the final rockwool/hessian layer.
Now, a layer of plasterboard in front of the rockwool. There's going to be more SterlingOSB added onto this, so we can screw in the timbers for the final rockwool/hessian layer.

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.

Oh, we’re halfway there

Front view with raised roof

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!”.

Control room ceiling and window frame
Lobby and live room
Shelf for aircon unit
14 days' solid work - finally a tea break!

Float upstream…

Live room wall, doorway and window frame

Lobby area and doorways
Control room ceiling and window frame

View into live room

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…

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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.

Back on the Chain Gang

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!