Sounds like nice work if you can get it: “We have 20 acres, nine cats, 15 sheep, two dogs and a lot of grass to cut, and I enjoy my studio,” says Mark Blaha, the happy owner of a new ground-up project studio in Chadds Ford, Pa. Blaha and his wife, a teacher and textile artist, have lived on Cannonhill farm for six years, and they used to share workspace, as well. A 150-year-old bank barn on their property was divided in two: half for Mark Blaha’s music and recording projects, and half for tapestry weaving.
However, “she said, ‘get out, because I need the whole space,’” laughs architect Peter Archer, AIA. “So, we said, ‘Let’s move you, create a new structure for you that will have the look of a traditional barn, but inside will meet all of your technological and acoustical needs for a music studio and hangout space.’” Archer, of Archer & Buchanan Architecture Ltd. (West Chester, Pa.), designed a new bank barn where Blaha’s studio occupies the upper level and farm equipment can be stored below.
Because the studio is situated in the middle of a rolling countryside, sound isolation was a lot less of a concern on this project than on most. So, any money that might have been used for floating floors and double-thick walls was happily spent on the magnificent new timber construction, exposed structural beams and period touches, such as the multi-paned window between the control room and recording space. (“You can see that the window is certainly not a barn window,” says Archer, “but it transcends that sort of timeless nature of old barns versus new uses.”)
Archer also enlisted the help of acoustician Tony Hoover of Cavanaugh Tocci Associates. Archer says that Hoover, president of the National Council of Acoustical Consultants and a professor in acoustics at Berklee College of Music, usually works on music spaces as impressive as his credentials, and that he took on Blaha’s project because of its unique beauty and style. Hoover worked with the architect using the room’s shape and planes to create the desired acoustical spaces. “If the ceiling had not been angled the way it was, and with very significant beams,” Hoover explains, “we might have looked for a different type of shape. We were trying to control reflection of sounds in certain areas, looking to scatter sound in a variety of ways. And one of the big elements there is the roof structure. We were pleased to have significant structural timber members there, because it really demonstrated that it would scatter the sound in a very desirable way.” Hoover also suggested the room’s “L” shape: “Instead of de-signing a long shoe box shape, we varied the dimensions and the geometry, resulting in slightly different delay times and ambience at different locations, providing the engineer with a more colorful palette.”
Blaha, whose interest in recording stems from his days touring and playing locally with rock ‘n’ roll and blues bands, chose all of the studio equipment himself, including his 24-channel Tascam M 2600 mixing board, Fostex RD-8 multitrack, Tascam DA-20 DAT and Alesis Monitor 2 speakers powered by Alesis Matica 500 amps. Blaha also uses a Roland SP 50 music workstation, a Mac iBook running Digital Performer, Alesis processing gear, and mics such as E-V RE-20, Audio-Technica 4033A and Shure SM57.
“I was in a blues band in this area, Red House, and I’ve had them in to record,” Blaha says, “and a few other local bands. But more or less, I do this for myself. I don’t mind having some bands in, but I wouldn’t want to do a large-scale commercial operation. And if people do come in, the location is great. It’s very peaceful, and it’s a different environment to relax in and lay some tracks.”
“The studio looks and feels wonderful,” Archer says. “He has one of the nicest Martin guitars I’ve ever seen, and when he strums, it resonates just beautifully. And he’s got a big smile on his face, just as happy as can be. I’m not sure he’s left the place since it was finished.”