L.A. Grapevine

More changes for the burgeoning empire owned by multi-Platinum Japanese artist/producer Yoshiki. Both the SSL 9000-equipped one on one North, on Lankershim

More changes for the burgeoning empire owned by multi-Platinum Japanese artist/producer Yoshiki. Both the SSL 9000-equipped one on one North, on Lankershim in the NoHo arts district, and the vintage Neve-fitted South (previously Brooklyn Recording), on Beverly Boulevard in L.A., have now become part of the Extasy Studios group, with former Brooklyn Recording chief engineer and general manager Bill Dooley named director of recording for both facilities.

Extasy North in its late-'80s incarnation had been near the top of my list of favorite L.A. studios, so I dropped in for a visit to see what changes have taken place. Back then, as Jim David's one on one, it was among the first facilities to combine SSL and vintage Neve technology. While the main console was gleaming new and state-of-the-art, there was also a whole wall of patchbay-accessible 1081 and 1073 preamp/EQs cannibalized from a previous console. And, although one on one was one of my favorite rooms, I rarely got to work there; it was in almost perpetual long-term lockout. Major rock acts like Metallica, Van Halen and Jane's Addiction were frequent denizens, appreciative of the large tracking room as well as the comfort provided by lots of private lounges.

In recent years, Extasy North's NoHo neighborhood has undergone plenty of changes. After suffering through several years of disruption from Metro Red Line subway construction, the area is breathing a sigh of relief. The energetic block that surrounds Extasy is now awash with coffeehouses, restaurants, vintage clothing shops and small theaters.

A tour of the spacious studio complex showed that its endearing qualities remain. Now, the recently revamped Studio A features one of the world's largest SSL J Series desks, with 104 inputs, but the rack of 24 Neve modules is still there, along with plenty of other outboard, from Fairchild and Yamaha to AMS and API. The studio decor is different, but the ambience remains much the same. High ceilings and black, gray and silver tones make for classic studio style, and a sense of serenity and order prevails in the control room. one can't help but note that Yoshiki is definitely a perfectionist-even the banks of Apogee converters have been custom-silk-screened to accommodate the color scheme.

The overall control room design has been kept intact. While some structural work was done to fit in the giant console, most of the revamping, by Peterson/LaTouf construction and technical consultant Gary Starr, was done to provide acoustical improvements. Now, Genelec 1035B mains grace the soffitts, and a back-wall treatment designed by Starr has made for more even sound dispersion.

"We kept the basic shape, but we made remarkable differences in acoustics with the changes to the speakers and the modifications to the back wall," Dooley says. "There was only one place where you could really hear correctly before, in the center sweet spot. Now, you can sit all the way across this console and hear exactly the same frequency response. And Gary [Starr] did a great thing using Helmholtz resonators; even that bass buildup you'd normally expect to hear when you're sitting on the couch in the back of the room is gone. You sit there and hear the same thing you hear at the console. And the Genelecs are a real improvement. They sound really sweet."

The enlarged central machine room serves a Pro Tools suite and both Studio A and Studio B, which is mainly used as Yoshiki's private composing room. It houses four Sony 3348s, which the complex uses in a unique way, with some special wiring. "We wanted to do 48k/24-bit recording," explains Dooley. "But, for us the 3348HRs didn't quite work. For one thing, they're not really 24-bit unless you use external converters. And, since their tape speed is a lot faster, the rewind time is a lot longer, which didn't fit in with Yoshiki's style of recording. So, what we're doing is bit-splitting with Apogee AD8000SE converters between two 3348s, and it really sounds amazing. We call it 'Multidestination Hi Res.' It allows us to record simultaneously to the 3348 and to the Pro Tools MIX Plus system."

Recent projects in Studio A have included Don Henley and Brooks & Dunn, both with producer/engineer Rob Jacobs, and Ricky Martin, working on a commercial spot for Pepsi with Desmond Child producing and Matt Gruber and Jules Gandar engineering.

Meanwhile, across the hill, the popular South studio stays busy with mixing and overdubbing. In November '98, the Neve 8078 console was enlarged and now boasts 80 inputs and 32 monitor channels fitted with 104 faders of GML automation. In 1999, South played host to such clients as Tracy Chapman with producer David Kershenbaum, Fiona Apple with producer Jon Brion and engineer Rick Costey, and Marilyn Manson with engineer Dave Sardi. The complex that houses the studio, previously home to Madonna's Maverick Records, has now also become part of Extasy. The offices are being used for the newly formed Extasy Records International, which is signing and preparing to record an eclectic roster of talent. And the expansion's not over yet. We suspect a third facility, but the inscrutable Dooley would only say, "There are exciting plans in the works...I just can't talk about them yet."

Renovations are under way at Buddy King's Soundcastle Studios, including the installation of an SSL 9k. Set in the artsy Silverlake district with its lively musical scene, '60s and '70s antique shops, and cool restaurants, Soundcastle just might have the hippest location in town. And, as I discovered on this trip, if you take the 5, it's actually easy to get to.

Entering through the gate on Rowena Street, you notice that the exterior of the two-room complex doesn't look like any other studio in town. Built by King in the mid-'70s, the multistory redwood-and-glass structures that comprise the facility have an airy architecture unlike the typical recording studio bunker. King, although originally an engineer, is well-known for being an artistic visionary, and the basic design of the buildings reflect that trait, as well as the California style of the period.

A few years ago, King decided to semi-retire to Las Vegas, removing himself from the day-to-day operations of the studio. But, it seems that retirement didn't take-he's back and recommitted to making Soundcastle a player in L.A. To that end, he's refurbishing the complex, beginning with Studio one, where he's replaced the Neve VR with the 80-input SSL 9000 J Series, purchased new outboard equipment and made cosmetic improvements.

on the day I dropped in, chief engineer Thom Roy was readying Studio one for its shakeout session, smiling like it was Christmas morning as he opened boxes of Avalon and Focusrite equipment and installed them in the racks. ("When you don't have enough racks," he laughs, "that's a good problem.")

Roy is thrilled with the console selection: "A 9000 was really the only choice for this room. Something we really like about it is the way it handles the extremes; it sounds great on both strings and on grinding, in-your-face power music. I never thought we'd see those two worlds together, but this console can do both of them."

George Newburn and Jackie McNaney of Studio 440 consulted on the new bronze-and-mahogany color scheme and wall treatments for the control room and the expansion of the glassed-in entry porch into a larger lounge. "I love the existing architecture," Newburn says. "We wanted to do something that went along with the era."

"Working with George from 440 is interesting," King muses. "Sometimes he's almost like a psychiatrist. one of the things I like about the process with him is that he's very sensitive."

King says it was time to invest in the studio. "Recently, spurred on by a friend's comments, I realized that it was time to either put some money into the studios or to get out of the business entirely," he explains. "And I've always felt that spending five or ten thousand on a Band-Aid is just throwing your money away."

New studio traffic and client services manager Michelle Reiner reminded me of the classic albums that have been recorded at Soundcastle, including projects by The Jacksons, Earth, Wind & Fire, Tupac Shakur, REo Speedwagon and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

"Soundcastle offers artists a creative environment where they can fully express their music, regardless of style," Reiner comments. "We feel it is very important that all artists feel welcome and at home at the studio."

on the day I visited, Coolio was ensconced in Studio Two working on his latest release with guest vocalist James Ingram and engineer Gabe Chiesa. other recent projects have ranged from rap to rock, with artists including Mary J. Blige, B.B. King and Sean Lennon, as well as producers and engineers Keith Crouch, Booker T. Jones III and Michael Schlesinger.

Further remodeling is in the works, with upgrades and a possible console change planned for Studio Two (currently equipped with a 72-in SSL 4000 G Plus). And yes, the forward-thinking King does have other projects in the works-at this point, mainly a company dubbed PictureTalk, which he says will develop "musical programming for interactive post-production."