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Thomas Dolby’s Studio Harnesses Windpower

Pop music and the ecology have gone together ever since rock fans got covered in mud at Woodstock. It’s a bit surprising, however, that there aren’t more studios powered by natural resources. Perhaps fittingly, one of the more unusual solar-powered studios out there is The Nutmeg, a restored 1930s lifeboat that collects wind- and solar energy throughout the day so that its owner, 1980s synth stalwart Thomas Dolby, can record inside it deep into the night.

The view from The Nutmeg, Thomas Dolby’s restored 1930s lifeboat/
solar-powered recording studio.
Pop music and the ecology have gone together ever since rock fans got covered in mud at Woodstock. Today, Mother Nature-minding musicians release tunes digitally, eschewing plastic and metal CDs; go on “green” tours, buying carbon credits to offset their journey’s carbon footprint; and of course, sell plenty of merchandise made out of hemp.
The ecological mindset has infiltrated the recording space, too. You can get sound proofing made from recycled materials; outfit the control room with furniture made from reclaimed wood; and, since this is the studio world we’re talking about, record using ancient, revered gear built in eras whose other technologies have long since left for the landfill.

It’s a bit surprising, however, that there aren’t more studios powered by natural resources, be they wind or solar energy. Considering that personal recording spaces have shrunk in size, and entire racks of gear are now mere plug-ins, it should be easier than ever to create such facilities, if only because they consume far less power than they used to.

Perhaps fittingly, one of the more unusual instances of a natural-powered facility is a private recording space owned by Thomas Dolby. Yeah, that Thomas Dolby—the 1980s synth whiz behind “She Blinded Me With Science,” the one who always sported an image akin to A Portrait of the Mad Scientist as a Young Artist. These days, Dolby’s not quite as young, but the forward thinking remains. After leaving music in the 1990s, he founded Beatnik, a company whose sound technologies are used in more than 3 billion phones worldwide.

Now he’s retired from the company to return to music and focus on other projects, including the creation of his unusual recording space: the Nutmeg, a 1930s lifeboat that he restored in the garden of his UK beach house. During the day, the Nutmeg collects energy from solar panels on the roof of its wheelhouse, as well as from a 450-watt turbine up the mast—quite apropos for a guy who released a single called “Windpower” back in 1982.

For a better look at The Nutmeg—as well as an opportunity to hear Dolby’s first new song since the early 1990s, “Love is a Loaded Pistol”—check out this video from his talk at the February, 2010 TED Conference:

Natural energy-powered recording facilities aren’t merely the domain of the project studio, however. The approach has been successfully used in a number of full-fledged, professional spaces, perhaps most noticeably with London’s The Premises, whose solar-powered Studio A sports an SSL AWS900 console with a Pro Tools HD2 192 set-up that’s been used to record Hot Chip, Lily Allen and Bloc Party, among others.

The Premises looks like a calm, convenient place to get things done, but as notions go, the romance of recording in an ancient lifeboat like Dolby’s is hard to top. Plus there’s the added benefit that he mentions in the TED clip: “Now, when the polar icecaps melt, my recording studio will rise up like an ark!”

If that’s not recording with an eye on the ecology, what is?