KAS Music & Sound’s Joe Castellon at the Neve V-60
is shot upstairs, but that doesn't mean KAS Music & Sound kids around. Actually, this studio deep inside the historic Kaufman Astoria Studios complex in Astoria, Queens, is one of the most intriguing facilities in New York City.
Sporting one of the largest live rooms in the five boroughs and a quirky history, KAS Music has been continually, quietly working with some of the top talent in the industry, including Keith Richards, Placido Domingo, Tony Bennett, Andrea Bocelli, Destiny's Child and the Backstreet Boys. While the tradition of excellence that comes with Kaufman Astoria Studios, which features six large soundstages (including the largest outside of California), doesn't hurt, KAS Music is also a place for recording on the edge.
“People come here to get a project done that hasn't been done before,” says Joe Castellon, executive creative director of KAS Music. “I have that reputation, and I get pulled into jobs like that. For me, it's the biggest joy to say, ‘How are we gonna do this?’ and then figuring it out and getting it to work.”
To trace the roots of KAS Music, you have to go back to 1921, when the space was the original Paramount Studios — conveniently close to Manhattan for the Broadway actors who were doing film strictly as a sideline. After Paramount packed up for the West Coast, the U.S. Army built its own top-secret pictorial center within the space to make all of its wartime films and remained encamped there until 1972. Next, it was a scoring stage, with classic films such as The Wiz, All That Jazz and Hair going to work inside the space until 1984. That's when Castellon — a producer, arranger and audio engineer — showed up, helping to build the current facility within that space.
The decades of creativity seem to have soaked nicely into the walls of Studio A's sizable 40×60-foot live room, which sports 22-foot ceilings. “I feel that it's the best-sounding large room in New York,” Castellon states. “When we built it, the R&D that went into the sound of the rooms was incredible. We have two-and-a-half seconds of reverb that's absolutely flat. We're afforded the opportunity to change the sound of the room, and we can even change the sounds of certain parts of the rooms, which helps with orchestras and ensembles.
“What makes this room so perfect is that you're not worried about getting a certain sound from putting mics in a certain spot or worrying about reflections — it's so good that the choice of placing the mics is a lot easier and the room is able to give you that sound,” he continues. “For example, they recently re-recorded the music for Leonard Bernstein's Peter Pan here with this delicate 25-piece orchestra. It sounded just as at home in the right spot in that room as when two days before we had a very loud [electric guitar ensemble] rocking out.”
If you feel an interesting little buzz in Studio A's two adjoining iso booths, it may be from the highly unusual materials used to construct them: Farraday shielding, a conductive enclosure that absorbs radiant energy and directs it from the Earth. “It blocks out radio waves — the Army was afraid of being bugged,” Castellon explains. “The Farraday shielding doesn't impart characteristics, but as you pass from the studio into the iso booth, it's just completely dead. We like to record drums and brass there, and it's also used a lot for animators because we're able to put up three stations in there so everyone is isolated but have visual contact.”
The control room is also a tight ship, centered on a Neve V-60 with Diskmix automation and Pro Tools|HD3. “It's a Neve V-60 that we've re-capped twice and the preamps are stunning,” says Castellon. “This is a wonderful-sounding ‘live-end, dead-end’ control room, which means there's no reflections within the room. There is a very wide sweet spot behind the console, and just about everywhere you stand in the control room you hear what everyone else hears.”
With so many different kinds of projects coming through the studios, flexibility is the guiding principle of the equipment list. In addition to the Pro Tools system, KAS Music features a SADiE workstation with eight tracks of DSD, three 2-inch analog machines and multiple other analog and digital tape recording formats. A Weiss Harmonium helps maintain 24-bit/96k quality throughout the production whenever possible. “Our normal format is going into Pro Tools at 24-bit/96k, and with that Harmonium, which has EQ, dynamics and some mixing inside, we're able to keep the project in that format through to the master,” Castellon notes.
KAS Music is also wired to the other five soundstages throughout the facility. “If they're doing a big musical show on the stages, we have fiber-optic connections so everything can be recorded and processed here and sent back up to them,” Castellon adds.
With such productions as Law and Order: Trial by Jury, Sesame Street and multiple movies, TV commercials and others constantly in motion throughout the KAS facility, Castellon's live and iso rooms are often blessed with a stream of built-in business. “We can work in all these different parts of the business, and we save the producers a whole lot of money and time,” he explains. “KAS Music is really a one-stop facility.
“We usually do the work for all the TV shows that are filmed here,” he continues. “The shows do their ADR, voice-over and music here, and we're also able to help them when they're shooting movies. Frequently, the movies that the stars were in before they came here to shoot their current project are in post-production, so we end up doing the ADR and those things for what the stars did before. They just come down in the elevator and get it done: Once, Whoopi Goldberg did four different projects here without leaving the building. The people that work here end up loving it. It's also a good arrangement for us because we're able to go into different aspects of the business and get the exposure of being in this type of facility.”
KAS Music may have found just the right balance of tradition, audio precision and the experimental spirit to thrive. “With a lot of the studios going away, we're really one of the last places that can do certain types of work, like movie scoring with large ensembles,” Castellon points out. “On the other end of it, rock bands and jazz projects are just incredible here. Because of our sound and experience with doing so many different types of music, and our love for the music, we have a real home-type environment. It's a nice way to work.”
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