"Pillow-factory" - that's a good description of the first 'engineered'
studio I encountered. I'd started as an announcer in a station housed in a
hotel suite where the studio had no acoustic treatment at all. Across town
at the better-funded public station (!), their studio was state of the art
1970, or maybe a design that was a throw-back, built as a combo
recording/broadcasting room. It was such an unnaturally dead space it was
weird to even be in it. And when you spoke, your words seemed to disappear
right past your lips. A ca. 2000 broadcast studio I worked in was not nearly
so damped and didn't feel unnatural, just controlled.
If I can speculate, I'd think that early on the major concern in
broadcasting was for clarity. Any extraneous sound, internal ambience or
external noise, would work against that, as well as risk the waste of
transmitting power in an AM system. Radio quickly became a much bigger
business than records and also seems to have led the technology for
electrical recording. The record business also used radio studios for some
percentage of its production, so it seems reasonable that the influence
would carry through and persist. Valid? As time went on, bigger radio
studios seemed to allow for more ambience. For instance, before the tower,
Capital used a CBS radio studio to good effect. Stoky prevailed on RCA to
open up 8H.
One other aspect is that a 'dead' studio provides a blank acoustical slate,
on which you can apply whatever effects you have to create whatever sound
you're looking for (Electric Lady?). That might be the idea, anyway, though
it's clear in retrospect that it was the studios that had a sound of their
own that are best remembered and most successful for acoustic music (30th
Street). Page's tales of recording Bonham in a big room just one example.
OTOH, the sound of 70s art-pop is intimate; Joni Mitchell, The Eagles, etc,
etc. Big-ambience ala Tony Bennett sounded old-fashioned.
From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List
[mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Tom Fine
Sent: Thursday, September 18, 2014 3:32 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] recording booths
Another wrinkle on this involves the legendary Robert Johnson recordings.
The booklet notes in the newest remastering includes discussion of exactly
why Johnson wanted to record facing the corner walls of the hotel room.
Speculation had been that he was "shy" or wanted to "hide" the tricks of his
technique, but a new avenue of thought is that he understood the acoustics
of the corner and used it to his advantage, enabling him to highlight
certain guitar tones and picking techniques in service to his songs. The
latest remasters include some very audible room acoustics, and there is a
tonality very different from recordings made in highly damped studios. It's
also worth noting, as a point of comparison, that the hotel rooms Johnson
recorded in were probably bigger than the tiny booth-like studios Paramount
used in Chicago and Wisconsin. Also bigger and definitely less deadened than
One person who was very much against the industry norm of highly deadened
recording spaces was John Hammond. He preferred lively room acoustics and a
single mic or very few mics. He found a kindered spirit in my father, who
was chief engineer at Majestic Records' then new studio in the late 40's.
Hammond was very much responsible for sheparding forward the single-mic
techniques that were later used on Mercury Living Presence in the mono era.
When my father moved to Reeves Sound Studios, he took down the heavy
curtains and installed diffusers in the big orchestra-sized studio, to allow
for more lively-sounding recordings.
I wonder if the idea of highly-damped and small-room recording spaces came
from early radio studios.
I remember reading in Barnouw's first book about early studios being little
shacks with heavy padding on the walls and ceilings, similar to the
description of Paramount's studio in Wisconsin. I don't think Edison or
Berliner went to great lengths to damp studios, because they needed a good
amount of sound pressure to collect at the horn mouths.
-- Tom Fine
----- Original Message -----
From: "Richard L. Hess" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Thursday, September 18, 2014 3:12 PM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] recording booths
> On 2014-09-18 1:48 PM, Tom Fine wrote:
>> One more point about recording booths. I think some of what we like
>> about the more primatively-recorded blues, hillbilly and other "folk"
>> musics recorded in the 30s and 40s is a result of the highly damped
>> small recording spaces often used. I've read accounts of Paramount
>> artists talking about a small studio so blanketed and damped that they
>> could barely hear themselves or their instrument.
> When I was at ABC-TV in the late 1970s, the ABC morning show invited the
choir of men and boys
> from St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue to perform a short segment. I had
been recording the choir
> for a while and became good friends with the late Dr. Gerre Hancock, the
> When Gerre returned from the gig (which I had no involvement in) the next
time he saw me, he asked
> "Richard, why do you make these studios sound like pillow factories?"
> He was most displeased with the sound to no one's surprise. I think this
took place in TV-2 which
> was half of what used to be a horseback riding arena and went between 66th
and 67th Streets, but
> it might have been TV-13 in the then new Seven Lincoln Square building--a
project I did work on,
> but not for acoustics--that was 8,000 square feet (let's say 240,000 cubic
feet and highly padded.
> Dr. Hancock was used to conducing in a stone church of about 2,200,000
cubic feet according to my
> friend David L. Klepper's 1995-07/08 JAES article.
> Just to point out the other extreme of the continuum of acoustical space
> Richard L. Hess email: [log in to unmask]
> Aurora, Ontario, Canada 647 479 2800
> Quality tape transfers -- even from hard-to-play tapes.