Just a few weeks ago, I was in the midst of pulling together all the beautiful photographs and background information for the 19 facilities in our annual salute to new studios, The Class of 2019. The process begins with a solicitation of the world’s leading studio designers, to see what they worked on the previous 12 months. Sometimes we get amazing photos of new rooms completely out of the blue, from all over the world. I’ve always loved this issue. A fine studio space represents the best of technical and creative excellence.
So there I am gathering materials. Some designers respond immediately, with everything lined up and ready to publish. Others ask for extensions. Same as anything else. I find that it takes a lot of time to wrangle and condense and select all these photos and write up the blurbs. For years I’ve relied on the supreme talents of longtime colleague and writer/editor Barbara Schultz in putting together the Class Of feature. She’ll be back soon, thankfully.
Related: The Class of 2019, by Mix Editors
Anyway, I noticed that I haven’t received a package yet from Fran Manzella, one of the world’s finest designers and builders of “musical” studios. He’s been a trusted contact and longtime friend, from back in the 1990s AES New York days and occasional rides in limousines through San Francisco. Just as I was about to reach out to Fran and a few others, Steve La Cerra, Mix’s technology editor for live sound, sent in his bi-weekly blog, along with a few photos. And there was Fran Manzella, in two of the shots!
Apparently, Steve had been asked by the director of the music program at Mercy College if his students would be interested in setting up and running a quad sound system for an electronic music performance. They did, and it’s a wonderful story of how students can learn on the job. But for me, the larger issue was Fran. I knew he played, but I didn’t know to what extent.
It turns out that Fran creates and performs under the moniker sym.bi.otism, an electronic music project he started in 2016, and he was there at Mercy with other special guests Tundra Ghosts and Steve H. Now, just a few weeks later, one of the studios he designed and built over the past year, Old Mill Recording in East Arlington, Vt., is featured on the cover of Mix.
Once again, it’s that left-brain/right-brain combination that fascinates me, and I find that the interaction between art and technology is especially prevalent among studio designers. Chris Pelonis, one of the finest designers on the West Coast, is a monster guitar player, songwriter, producer and engineer, not to mention photographer and martial arts expert. Martin Pilchner from Toronto has invited me many times to his annual New Year’s Eve party-cum-jam session on The Beaches, which typically runs through sunrise; and Martin still plays out. John Storyk, the godfather of all modern studio designers, may not pick up his guitar much today, but he did kickstart his brilliant career alongside that guy named Jimi.
After 30 years at Mix, it’s finally hit home why studio designers refer to their rooms, their creations, as an instrument. They are an instrument, every bit a part of the resulting sound as the guitar or drums. One even told me how the selection of woods is similar to the process a luthier goes through in building the perfect body for the perfect tone in the perfect instrument. It’s not that different from floating floors, and hanging clouds and bass traps—the space that the guitar and drums and keyboards interact in. Abbey Road, in that sense, might one day be considered the sixth Beatle.
The landscape has changed dramatically for studio designers over the past two decades. The days of building multi-room commercial facilities where budget is no object are over. Many are designing more personal spaces today, for composers and musicians and producers in their home or private facility. Many are putting in high-end home theaters and listening rooms. Others are working with schools and tech companies. Many design for live event spaces, branching into the architectural.
But they all seem to start with music. So in this, our annual salute to the best new studios of the year and the people who create them, we toast the musician inside every studio designer. Keep rockin’.