Like so many other studios in the 1980s, New York's ClintonRecording opened as a jingle house. However, unlike most of itscontemporaries, Clinton survived the recession, the project studiorevolution and the skyrocketing rents in midtown Manhattan.
Lately, the two-room facility has been busier than ever withhigh-profile sessions by the likes of James Taylor, Blondie, JoeJackson, new act Good Charlotte and the cast album for JaneEyre—not to mention an unmentionable household-name artistwho popped in to cut some tracks for an upcoming album.
Taylor's project is the artist's first new “pop”album since his 1997 Grammy-winning Hourglass collection, which hetracked in a rented house in Martha's Vineyard using Tascam DA-88sand the then-new Yamaha 02R. Produced by Russ Titelman, J.T.'snewest material is slated to end up on a Columbia Records album duesometime in 2001.
Blondie enlisted producer Craig Leon to track songs recentlywritten by group co-founder Chris Stein; the sessions—whichmay become the next Blondie record—were cut to DA-88 andOtari RADAR.
The Jackson project was an Acoustic Café radiointerview/listening session on which the multifaceted artist wasjoined by bassist Graham Maby. Jackson and Andy Cahn produced,Clinton veteran Troy Halderson served as chief engineer and JeremyWelch assisted.
For the Sony Classics Jane Eyre project, seasoned Broadwayproducer Mike Berniker worked with Clinton owner/engineer Ed Rakand assistant Keith Shortreed on a week-long tracking/mixingmarathon that took advantage of both Clinton's massive recordingspaces—large enough to accommodate 85 musicians—and itsmixing capabilities, with a Flying Faders-equipped Neve console andthe outboard gear to match.
In other Clinton news, the 17-year-old facility has promotedlongtime bookings manager Bill Foley to operations manager andacquired four LA-2As and four 1176s.
You expect New York to have the tallest skyscrapers, the busiestairports, the most crowded streets and the most taxicabs per capitathan any other city in the world. But when it comes to Gothiccathedrals, surely the great European capitals must have the BigApple beat in every respect.
Wrong. The biggest Gothic church in the world is the Cathedralof St. John the Divine, right here in Manhattan. (Yes, yes, I know.Paris, Rome, Chartres, Rheims, Cologne and countless other OldWorld cities have more attractive, more historically significantand more architecturally interesting churches, but we're talkingsize here.)
The reason I bring this up has nothing to do with religion andeverything to do with surround sound. You see, at a time when therecording industry is on the verge of its second multichannelrevolution (following the quad fiasco of the '70s), St. John theDivine is the site of a ritual that must be the pinnacle of thesurround sound experience. I'm referring to world musician PaulWinter's Winter Solstice concert, a pan-cultural, nondenominationalmusical celebration that takes place annually around the time ofthe longest night of the year (usually December 21).
A sprawling space with 125-foot ceilings and seeminglyinterminable aisles, St. John boasts a reverb time estimated atbetween seven and eight seconds (depending on the time of year). Itis, in the words of Winter front-of-house engineer Jody Elff,“a spectacular-sounding place—if you use the room toyour advantage.”
That means respecting the room's awesome acoustics, knowingwhich elements to leave out of the house mix (like the organ, whichis loud enough on its own to drown out the P.A.) and—byGod—never using artificial reverb. “You can never stopbeing aware of the room as you're mixing there,” says Elff.“The minute you forget you're mixing in a space like that,the room will win.”
Additionally, using the room to one's advantage means allowingits dimensions to provide an unparalleled surround experience, anart Winter has mastered in his 21 years of Solstice concerts at theCathedral. Among his signature techniques are playing his sopranosaxophone at one end of the church while anothermusician—this year it was Uillean piper DavySpillane—responds from the other end.
“When Davy is playing, I can hear him, but he's reallyfaint,” says Winter. “That, to me—drawinglistening out of people—is one of the objectives of ourshow.”
An open-minded, inclusive artist whose collaborators have runthe gamut from Irish-born Spillane to veteran Brazilian guitaristOscar Castro-Neves to Turkish sensation Arto Tuncboyaciyian, Winterbelieves that spreading the sound around the church space is a wayto “get voices from all over; not only all over thecathedral, but all over the planet.”
His views on surround sound are similarly expansive. He says,“In so many situations, the sound is right in your face. Yousit in your seat, fasten your seatbelt and get deluged. In most ofthose venues, you have a kind of us-and-them setup. You have theperformers onstage and the audience out there in rows. At thecathedral, it's all us; there is no them. My wish is for people tofeel they're part of this whole village.”
Watching and hearing the Winter Solstice shows over the pastseveral years, I've been awestruck by the otherworldly sound of thesoprano sax so far off in the distance that I couldn't see itsplayer, while low timpani would rumble behind me. At other times inthe set, I've marveled at the all-enveloping sound of the organ,whose main pipes are at one end, while its state trumpets are atthe other extreme.
The show's climax, too, is a surround sound-lover's dream. APaiste “sun” gong measuring 80 inches in diameter ishoisted on a platform along the back wall of the church, whilepercussionist Scott Sloan strikes it repeatedly, making its soundwash over the vastness of St. John.
Now that home theater is well-entrenched and DVD-Audio is uponus, it's time someone—anyone with the chops and the courageto try it—mixed the Winter Solstice in surround sound. Ican't imagine a more impressive showcase for the multichannelmedium.
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