Doug Rogers and Ken Scott
Engineers and artists who've put in time at Western Recorders, more recently known as Cello, are certain to be disoriented when they enter the hallowed edifice, brilliantly designed by Bill Putnam in 1961. “Nothing looks the same except the studios — that's the whole point,” says Doug Rogers of EastWest, who bought the rundown facility in January 2006 and reopened it two years later as EastWest Studios.
The acquisition of Western/Cello ended Rogers' search for a set of great-sounding rooms to make virtual instruments, one of EastWest's primary product lines. “Having a very successful software company enabled us to spend more here than the average studio owner,” he asserts. “It would be financially impossible to do what we've done here if that was our only business. But there are only two producers in our company, and we can't use all five studios. The other three rooms that we're not using will be hired out.”
It was Rogers who had the brainstorm of bringing in Philippe Starck — who's renowned for his nontraditional designs of hotels like New York's Royalton, Paramount and Hudson; San Francisco's Clift; and L.A.'s Mondrian — to radically reconfigure the look of one of L.A.'s most beloved recording studios.
“When I bought this place, I only bought it for the sound of the rooms,” says Rogers. “But then I asked myself, ‘What do I do with it?’ I brought in some designers initially to give me some ideas, and they all had the same idea — to turn it into the same as every other recording studio. I kept saying to them, ‘No, I don't want that. We're in Hollywood, which is becoming the center of L.A. once more and has glamour. This studio had glamour, so we must be able to re-create the glamour once more.’ They kept saying, ‘Well, what kind of style do you want?’ I'd say, ‘Well, what Starck does with hotels.’ And after about the third time, it was like, ‘This is crazy. Maybe I'll ask him.’”
This entry area is part of Philippe Starck’s “jewel box” design.
Rogers didn't know Starck, but he sent him an e-mail and a month later got a reply from the intrigued designer, who flew to L.A. to survey the site. “When I arrived, there were five gems covered by a mountain of shit,” says Starck in his thick French accent, sitting with Rogers at a table in one of the studio's posh lounges. “I said, ‘Okay, the building will be a jewel box with the five jewels inside.’ Just this one phrase — and Doug said, ‘Love it! We'll do it.’”
“It just totally made sense to me,” adds Rogers. “I think that if you're asking people to create and deliver something extra-special, then you need to put them in an extra-special environment to bring that out. And this was anything but. The studios themselves were magic and have had that magic for 50 years, but everything around them was in utter disrepair. We could've simply repaired it, but that wouldn't have created the vibe that we've got now.”
“The only way to proceed was to protect the jewels in a religious way,” Starck explains. “That meant to absolutely not touch the studios, to be sure that the acoustics were protected. Finally, we made a sort of globe, like in the museum, to display and protect these five jewels. And now we have these five principal temples, and around them we create life. We create a sort of village where we think they can feel free and concentrate very comfortably.”
Starck describes his design as “a boiling bucket of culture, and you cannot even define the style. There is no style, just the addition of surprises, of strange light, of perspective, which bring you into a sort of Alice in Wonderland where you lose gravity and you can create music. It's a home now, a home for creators.”
Rogers did make one significant change to the control rooms, installing ATC SCM300ASL (dual 15-inch, three-way soffit-mounted) and the SCM150ASL (single 15-inch, three-way, mid-field) monitors. “Our acoustic consultant, Nick Whittaker of Electroacoustics, recommended them highly, as did both Doug Sax and James Guthrie, Pink Floyd's engineer and producer. We got an evaluation pair, liked their sound and, more importantly, their brutal accuracy, so we purchased ATCs for all the rooms.” Consoles within the five studios are Neve 8078 and 8028 in Studios 1 and 2, respectively; a Trident A Range was purchased for Studio 3; and a rare EMI REDD tube console and EMI TG12345 in 4. Studio 5 is now used as a digital editing/programming room.
“Doug spent, I'm sure, 10 times what he wanted to spend, and 10 times the time he wanted to spend on it,” Starck acknowledges. “But I've never had a partner who was so obstinate, so stubborn, to have the right result, and so confident.”
The proud owner runs his eyes over Starck's dazzling creation and sighs with satisfaction. “Everybody wants to come here,” he says. “They already know that the place sounds amazing, and they can't wait to see what this man, who virtually reinvented the hotel, has done to reinvent the recording studio. We hope that it stimulates artists and producers to create something special, because that's ultimately what this is all about. If they walk out of here with a great record, we've done our job — it's a success.”
Bud Scoppa is Mix's L.A. editor.