A room of one's own: So, this studio manager places a classified ad that reads: “REC. FACIL., dwntwn, seeks prod/eng. w/following to lease “B” room. Access to MCI console, Neve sidecar, other gear. Maint. staff on-site, creative vibe.”
At the same time, a well-known producer places this ad: “PRODUCER/ENG. w/noted track record — Bowie, T-Rex, Moody Blues, etc. — seeks studio in comfortable, prof. dwntwn facil. Good acoustix & vibe a must; maint. staff a plus.”
While leafing through the newspaper the following week, they both cry out in a synchronous burst, “Eureka! That's exactly what I've been looking for!” Well, that's not quite the way it happened, but Looking Glass Studios manager Kara Bilof and iconic producer Tony Visconti are happy to have found each other.
“I first worked at Looking Glass two years ago when I did a string arrangement for David Bowie,” says Visconti about the downtown New York facility. “I liked the place and ended up using it again for David's vocal overdubs on a project I produced for Rustic Overtones.” Looking Glass is owned by composer Philip Glass and runs as both an outlet for Glass' work and as a commercial studio for outside clients.
When Visconti was asked by Bowie to produce the artist's latest opus, the ISO/Columbia release Heathen, Looking Glass seemed like a good venue for overdubbing and mixing. (Basic tracking was done at the sprawling residential facility Allaire Studios in Shokan, N.Y., two hours north of the city.)
The dynamic duo of Bowie and Visconti, who had not worked together on a full-fledged album production in 20 years, camped out in Looking Glass' flagship Studio A in the fall of 2001, tracking, overdubbing and mixing the material that would become Heathen. Equipped with a Solid State Logic 4048 G Series console with E Series EQ, Studio A offers plenty of space in the control room (27×20 feet) and tracking area (31×15 feet). Other highlights include a 10-channel Neve BCM mixer with 1073 mic preamps; an Otari MTR90 II 24-track; a Pro Tools TDM rig featuring six Apogee AD-8000 converters; ADAT, DA-88 and Sony 3324 digital tape machines; and a full complement of state-of-the-art reverbs, compressors, effects, equalizers, preamps and microphones.
In short, Studio A has everything that Bowie and Visconti might need. There was only one problem: Studio A became unavailable to them before they could wrap up the project. Glass had taken over the “A” room to record his score to the upcoming Godfrey Reggio film Naqoyqatsi, the last installment in the Reggio/Glass trilogy that also includes Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi. (Check out Mix's April 2002 issue for more on Glass' work for this film.)
Although Visconti could have booked any number of other New York studios with a G Series SSL and state-of-the-art processing, he and Bowie were determined to finish Heathen at Looking Glass. The vibe was right, it was in the neighborhood, and all the hard drives were in-house.
Coincidentally, Looking Glass' Studio B had just opened up following the departure of its longtime tenant, engineer Pete Keppler. Visconti, who had been looking for studio space near his East Village apartment, promptly signed a lease for the room, effective March 1, 2002.
A 21×19-foot control room with a vintage MCI JH-600 36-input board, a Neve Kelso 10×2 mixer and a good-sized isolation booth, Studio B might not have been the most lavish room in the city, but it offered a viable alternative to its big brother down the hall. Visconti was sure that, with a little conversion, he could make it work.
“I knew that with my Logic Audio setup and the MCI console, we could mix tracks for the album in Studio B,” he says. “We were in full-scale production mode here, so we wanted to keep going. Plus, every bit of equipment in Studio A was made available to us. If I needed a Fairchild compressor, it would appear as if by magic.” Running 24 analog channels of Logic through three Digidesign 888|24 interfaces into the MCI console, Bowie and Visconti remixed the tracks “Slow Burn,” “Afraid” and “I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spaceship,” and, presto, Heathen was finished.
Visconti says that he was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to work in Studio B, noting how consistent it was, acoustically and otherwise, with the flagship room. “We found that this MCI board had a lovely transparent sound, and that the room had nice acoustics, with a very honest low end,” he says. “Also, it helped to have a lot of my old gear there — some nice vintage stuff like dbx compressors, a Saturator, a Shure Level Loc, an old Audio & Design Scamp processing system, and all the synths and modules we could possibly need, between the ones I brought and the stuff Philip has in his keyboard storage room.”
Visconti also brought his vintage Neumann U87 mics, as well as a handful of Audio-Technicas; he monitored through his KRK 6000s and Genelec 1034s, which he has been using in tandem for several years.
Since completing Bowie's album, Visconti has worked on material by rock band the Dandy Warhols and up-and-coming New York singer/songwriter Kristeen Young. He is now looking forward to continue ongoing writing/production projects with Annie Haslam and Richard Barone. “I thought this would be a demo studio, but it's turned out to be a professional facility for me,” says Visconti. “There's a tranquil, family-like atmosphere here and a sensitive vibe.”
Bilof, for her part, is glad to have found a long-term tenant to fill the void left by Keppler's absence. “We wanted someone who had equipment to complement what was already in Studio B, and a strong base of clients to maximize the room,” says Bilof. “Tony was the perfect fit. We love having him here. We all share resources and collaborate on projects. It's a win-win.”
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