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 Gennett's studio.
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 director.
> 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 influence.
> Richard L. Hess email: [log in to unmask]
> Aurora, Ontario, Canada 647 479 2800
> Quality tape transfers -- even from hard-to-play tapes.