Masterdisk Remembers Lou Reed

Lou Reed TransformerI joined Masterdisk in 2010. A lifelong musician, I had also been working as a marketer in the staffing industry for 10 years. Joining the Masterdisk team was a move I was very excited about. I knew the legacy of the studio, the work of the engineers, and the parade of stars whose music had passed through the Masterdisk mastering consoles.

In my first week on the job full-time — it might have been the first day — I’m going into the men’s room, and who’s coming out, but Lou Reed.

LOU FUCKING REED.

I had that amazing sense of being in the right place (the studio, not the men’s room.) He looked older and frailer than I expected, but he had not been in great health for a while. He still looked cool though. On that occasion he was working with Scott Hull on a video soundtrack. I would see him again a number of times over the next few years.

I think I saw him once around the time of his Metallica collaboration, “Lulu,” that he mastered with Vlado Meller. Same Lou, maybe moving a little slower, still cool.

And then in the last few months I saw him a few times again, as he returned to the studio to do some extensive remastering work with Vlado. One day I was working in the back lounge of the studio, which was then next to Vlado’s room. Lou came in one day, walking very slowly. He made it to Vlado’s room, the door shut. After a little while some of the most iconic sounds in all of rock and roll started vibrating out of the walls. A famous bass line. Vocal lines that have become part of all our DNA. It was an eerie feeling knowing that the creator of those sounds was in that room next door, reviewing them. Revisiting them. Full songs were played all the way through. Some were played a few times in a row. I felt like I was eavesdropping on a very intimate moment.

Later that afternoon, after Lou left, I popped in to Vlado’s studio. “What happened in here today?” I asked. “Lou’s very happy,” Vlado said. “He said he thought his CDs sounded like shit, and he wanted it done right. We got new transfers off the master tapes, and they sound great. You want to hear an A/B?” Yes I did.

Vlado played me “Walk on the Wild Side.” The old CD against the new transfer. And the difference was astounding. The old CD sounded so thin compared to the vastness of the sound in the new transfer. The bass sounded like a BASS. It sounded like a Miles Davis or Mingus record. You could hear fingers on the strings. You could sense the size of the instrument and the size of the room it was in. It had physical force, air and space around it.

This new version sounds incredible, beautiful, startling. It choked me up. Apparently it made Lou tear up himself as he says around the 4-minute mark in this video:

I asked Vlado about his experience working with Lou.

“Lou was gracious. He had a sense of humor too,” Vlado said. “He was appreciative. He thought the sound was amazing and he was so happy. He said ‘nobody will probably buy them but I don’t give a shit.’ He was a true artist.” A&R man Rob Santos was in attendance on at least a few sessions and Lou was very appreciative of him, and the label as well, for putting up the funding to get the records to sound the way he wanted them to sound. He had a lot of appreciation and thanks to go around. Lou Reed remastered fifteen albums with Vlado over the past few months.

Scott Hull worked with Lou on a number of projects over the years as well, starting with the “Mistrial” album in 1986. Scott at that time was primarily a digital editor — that’s before DAW workstations when digital editing was an extremely specialized skill.

“The call came in in the afternoon that Lou wanted an editor, and it needed to be done that evening. He had been working on the record at another studio and they had made a digital copy of their edit. Lou listened to the original edit and the copy, and was hearing a difference in the tone. The engineer insisted that it was impossible that there was a difference, because the numbers were the same: there’s no degradation and no difference in a digital copy. Well, Lou didn’t agree. He heard a difference. And that was the end of that working relationship. He called us that day and he finished the record at Masterdisk with Bob Ludwig.”

“It’s not that Lou was so stubborn, necessarily,” Scott said. “If he felt something wasn’t right, you weren’t going to convince him that it was otherwise. He trusted his perceptions completely. He trusted his team, and if he didn’t have a very strong opinion about something he would take other people’s input. But once he knew something, that was it.”

Lou Reed New YorkScott said that over the course of his 30-plus year career, there aren’t many artists he encountered with that same level of confidence. “It’s interesting, because their music is so different, but Lou and Donald Fagen are alike in that way. So confident. So familiar and deeply in tune with the music. Donald’s emotional reaction to his music is similar to Lou’s.

The next record Scott worked on was “New York” (1989). “For Lou, it was his guitar tone,” Scott said. “It was everything. Lou’s acoustic reference, for years after, was the first minutes of ‘Dirty Boulevard’. Just like an engineer has a reference recording you bring to a new room, Lou had that. He only needed to hear a few seconds of the guitar part and he understood the room he was working in.”

The last major project Lou worked on with Scott was the remastering of “Metal Machine Music” (2010). Scott remembers, “he was passionate about it. There was nothing arbitrary about it at all.”

The project was remastering the album in both stereo and quad formats. “When we compared the new transfers to what had been released we realized that so much of the low frequency information had been eliminated when they cut the record. For whatever reason. So it was a new experience with all this low frequency energy. What do we do with it? Is it good? It certainly changed the impact. So we spent a fair amount of time going over how that change in tone impacted the listener.”

“The original was stereo,” Scott continued. “Lou and Bob [Ludwig] had worked on a quad master way back. The thing is that Metal Machine Music was a live two-track [stereo] record, so there were no other assets to put into channels 3 and 4. So what they decided to do was to take the entire recording and record it backwards, and THAT became tracks 3 and 4. We manipulated the relation between these channels quite a bit when we did the quad remaster.”

Lou Reed Metal Machine Music“What I remember most about those sessions,” Scott said, “is how emotionally draining it was to listen to the album at a decent level. Even Lou wasn’t really able to listen to the whole thing with intese focus. It just took so much energy as a listener. It’s taxing. The QC [quality control] guys had to listen to it all the way through — two passes. It wasn’t easy work. You had to stay really focused. But when you did, it took you on a journey, maybe a once-in-a-lifetime journey.”

“Lou knew that nine-tenths of the population would dismiss MMM as noise,” Scott continues, “but he opened a lot of listeners to new concepts in music. Minimalism. Maximalism. The avant-garde.”

“I got the chance to work with Lou through several different phases of his career,” Scott said. “When he was deeply into his solo career. Then when he was more focused on performance art and avant-garde music. He reminds me a little of someone else — John Zorn — in the way that most people have a singular idea about him. People have an image of Lou that he’s this ONE WAY, that he makes THIS kind of music. But he was very multi-faceted.”

“I remember when we were working on Laurie [Anderson’s] album “Homeland” (2010). Lou attended the sessions. It was a more relaxed Lou, but he was really involved in the process. It was clear that Laurie and Lou worked well together. I remember around that time their dog was having some medical problems and it was really stressful… and so there’s another completely different side of Lou. Collaborating, offering support. Worrying over his dog. He was a three-dimensional guy.

The sadness around the Masterdisk offices, and the city, and the whole music world has been palpable in the weeks since Lou’s death. There’ll never be another one like him, but we can be glad he was here. And we can continue to listen to the legacy he left behind — listen, feel and learn.

Daniel Freedman: Percussionist, Composer & World Traveler

Percussionist, drummer and composer Daniel Freedman’s latest album, Bamako by Bus, on Anzik Records, was recently mastered at Masterdisk. I wanted to find out Daniel’s tricks of the trade, but it turns out there are no tricks. Hard work plus talent got him where he is today. We chatted on the phone the other day, here’s what he had to say about making music, New York, and travel.

Q:What’s it like to be a working musician?

A:It’s a challenge of course! I have always done a variety of things to get by, but as long as I am doing music….  I used to play for afro cuban dance classes, modern dance sometimes Alvin Ailey or Martha Graham as well as playing a lot of gigs.  At the time I wanted to learn more percussion, so dance classes were perfect.  Things come organically… in 2000 I got in to the home studio thing and I started recording more and more things, and some people asked me to write for picture and produce tracks for them.  The past several years I’ve been on the road a lot and I try to balance playing and producing. My advice is to stay open, because you may have to do many different things.  Very few musicians only play the music that they want to play in order to make a living. That said, I still try to put my head in the sand and do music that I want to do.  

Q:Easier said than done.

A:Setting up the environment so that you can stick your head in the sand and work is so helpful.  Same goes for practicing. Time is so limited I have to get right to it. Also I guess I rely less and less on inspiration these days and just get to work until something sticks.

Deep Brooklyn by Daniel Freedman

Q:How did Bamako by Bus evolve as a project?

A:The song “Darfur” was created years before and then we finished it live. I thought about which musicians I really loved and I wrote with their voices in mind.  It’s different from other records I have done, it started off as a project with Avishai Cohen: I would create bass lines and grooves and then he would improvise over them and we would edit the pieces into songs.  I could never seem to finish, and I asked Meshell Ndegeocello if she would be into playing on some of our sketches and she was enthusiastic about it.  So two tracks were done at my house, and then we finished the rest in the studio. Jason Lindner helped a great deal, he’s a master of harmony and form, but everyone was really helpful. There was direction, but with that level of musicians it’s great to leave things open.

Q:And production-wise, how did that go?

A:Jean-Luc Sinclair mixed the record at my house.  We then took it to Michael Perez Cisneros‘ studio and he helped give it a more analogue feeling. Matt Agoglia mastered it and is a real pro; he had a musical quality to his approach and was generous with his time.

Q:Do you think growing up in NYC gave you good opportunities as a musician?

A:Growing up in New York seems to have chosen my musical direction for me in a way.   My father Joel played on a bunch of free jazz records in the ’60s and my uncle Alan is a great guitar player. He’s on a ton of records. My uncle is the rocker so he got me Marley and Prince records. Also hiphop and breakdancing was such a huge thing in New York and I was into that. I discovered my father’s record collection when I was about 12 and fell in love with Art Blakey and Coltrane records. Going to Laguardia High School was a really pivotal time for me. Many of the students there were already working musicians around town and I knew that’s what I wanted to do as well.

Q:How do you like writing music for pictures?

A:Its almost always fun for me and certainly takes a different sensibility.  My mother is a painter and my grandparents were as well.  I wanted to be a painter myself before I found the drums. Writing for pictures requires that the music serve the picture first of all; that brings the emotion of what you’re viewing to life.  But you’re limited, especially with commercial work, you have a very short turn around time and it has to sound great right away.   

Q:Listening to this album it’s clear you’ve done some traveling; where have you been so far?

A:I always felt a connection to all different music from around the world, and New York is such a great place to be if you are into hearing and experiencing so many different cultures. I also felt that hearing/experiencing music at its source would be incredibly helpful. I had maybe a dozen “study” trips: Mali, Egypt, Cuba, Brazil, Morocco, and Senegal come to mind. Jazz of course lends itself to using almost anything that you can find and with groups like Third World Love, we have been doing this for a while, bringing these influences into jazz or whatever you want to call it.  This isn’t new. Duke Ellington was doing that kind of thing way before I was born! But all those sounds and experiences influence my writing and playing. I try not to make it too deliberate but have it inform my general language and vocabulary.

Q:Did you pick up any traditional forms in your travels?

A:There are so many sounds that I heard around the world and loved. Sabar is one, senegalese percussion…mostly really fierce stick and hand.  Jeff Ballard showed me some of that way back.  Recently, I’ve been playing with Angelique Kidjio’s band and the percussionist is Senegalese, so it’s been great to hear that sound consistently on the road and learn more about it.  I always was moved by music when it was in front of me and loud! And I always wanted to experience music by being next to it and feeling it. You know, to play jazz you eventually have to come to New York, so I felt that it would help me in a similar way to go to Africa, Cuba etc…To sit next to the real thing and hear how loud and powerful it really is. In New York I used to hear Elvin Jones, Art Taylor and Billy Higgins all the time and there is nothing that can replace sitting next to the person making the music and soaking it in. Those trips charge my battery and I need to recharge every so often. I’m looking forward to going to West Africa again this winter.

LAMC: Music Industry Tips #3

Tip #3: The best idea is going to come from a 15-year old.

Toy Hernandez, producer for the latest hit machine out of Monterrey, Mexico 3BallMTY (Tribal Monterrey), and Sebastian Krys, producer for La Santa Cecilia, Kinky, Shakira and various other Grammy winning artists, talked about being a producer of a certain age and experience at LAMC in NYC in July.

Krys said, as a producer, “you have to stay on top of the game, and the way that you do that is by accepting that the best idea is going to come from a 15-year old, it’s not going to come from you and your experience.” 

This may be hard to accept, but it’s true.  You should recognize that new ideas drive the industry and that your contribution is to refine them and get the most out of them.  “Those days are gone, my friend,” he said, and then roused the audience by calling for artists to make up their own formats, song lengths and album lengths, which earned him a few minutes of applause and approving heckles.  If you are moved to create something, he urged, don’t let the form hem you in.  

LAMC: Music Industry Tip #1, Story Is Everything

The Latin Alternative Music Conference hosted five panels last week to inform and inspire visiting and local attendees alike.  I donned my artist hat, took the wheel and sat down for a spin.The room was full of working artists and producers from Mexico to Argentina, and from Puerto Rico to Chile asking questions, and seeking a more complete picture of their industry.

Tip #1: Story Is Everything!

Licensing your music can be a good source of income for artists.  Carmelo Rodriguez from Vidal Partnership, an advertising agency, said that when he is searching for artists to license for commercial purposes, unknown artists are actually in the best position since larger artists tend to “eat” the commercial their music accompanies.  Most important is your skill at storytelling within the music. Besides the lyrics, does the music tell a story?

Also, can you tell your own personal story and does it translate to your audience and to corporations interested in using your music?  The way you talk about your journey is important.  Roberto Isaac from mun2 seconded the idea of story being vital to an audience “getting” the musician.  He said that people fall in love with an artist’s story and then they find the artist’s songs.

So, go crazy, tell people where you were born, where you grew up, what first inspired you to play and write music, who are your mentors and idols and what makes you tick.  Be generous with your life details and people will be generous right back.  Check out the Wikipedia, Last FM, and Myspace pages of your favorite artists to see how they did it.  Bands with good “stories” include Calle 13, Carla Morrison, 3BallMTY, Ximena Sariñana, and the list goes on.  Make it easy for people to learn about who you are.  The clearer your story, the easier it will be to promote and license your music.

Tip #2 will be about licensing your music.

LAMC 2012 Shows

Nacional Records’ 13th annual Latin Alternative Music Conference is happening again July 11-14 at the New Yorker Hotel and all over NYC.  You can register online until July 1, but you don’t have to be registered in order to attend some of the amazing shows they have lined up. There’s something for everyone here from showcase to stadium-size shows.  Here are a few artist videos to give you a taste.

Performing Wednesday, July 11th at Central Park Summer Stage:

Latin Grammy winner, Mala Rodriguez, along with Ximena Sariñana, Profetas and The Sconek-T

Performing Wednesday, July 11th at the Indie Showcase at The Mercury Lounge:

Latin Grammy nominated La Santa Cecilia, along with Monica Lionheart, Martin Buscaglia, ArtOfficial, Alex Anwandter, Gepe and Xenia Rubinos

Performing Thursday July 12th at Gramercy Theater:

Grammy and Latin Grammy nominated La Vida Boheme, along with Carla Morrison, Psycho Realm, Javiera Mena, Adrianigual, Jot Dog and Cero39

Performing Thursday July 12th, The Acoustic Showcase at SOB’s:

No te Va a Gustar, along with Pamela Rodriguez, La Santa Cecilia, Las Acevedo, Carla Morrison, Ana Tijoux, Alex Anwandter, Adrianigual and Martin Buscaglia

Performing Friday July 13th, Celebrate Brooklyn at Prospect Park:

Ana Tijoux along with Calle 13 and Ritmo Machine

Performing Friday July 13th, Passport Fridays at the Queens Museum:

Paté de Fuá and Las Cafeteras

http://youtu.be/Iu9PQueAKzE

Performing Saturday July 14th at Central Park Summer Stage: 

Latin Grammy nominated Kinky along with Los Auténticos Decadentes, 3Ball MTY and DJ Raff.  This video was shot in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, enjoy!

http://youtu.be/kSzeCP5lX74

 

A Conversation with Composer Mikel Rouse

Photo of Mikel RouseMikel Rouse is a multi-talented, multi-disciplinary artist who’s been a vital part of the Downtown New York scene for 30 years. He’s done so much work, and such varied work, that it’s a challenge to try to squeeze even part of it into an introduction. So here’s a real whirlwind pass through some career highlights: With his ensemble Broken Consort, Mr. Rouse released several albums including A Walk In the Woods (which was listed as one of The New York Times‘s “Ten Best Records of 1985”). He has written three operas, directed and scored films, created a CDROM library of prepared piano samples from John Cage’s Sonatas & Interludes, scored International Cloud Atlas for multiple iPods set to “shuffle” (commissioned by The Merce Cunningham Dance Company, the John Cage Trust and Betty Freeman), toured with a production of Cage’s The Alphabet playing the part of James Joyce, and he has released 29 albums of music.

Boost|False Doors is Mikel’s 30th album — and it’s a double album actually.

Mikel brought Boost|False Doors to Masterdisk’s Matt Agoglia for mastering, and after the project was done Matt brought it to my attention as something “really special.” And he was right — Boost|False Doors is a fascinating collection of music.

A couple of weeks ago Matt brought me into his mastering suite to play me some of the music. We listened to a number of selections (and I have to say it sounded incredible on Matt’s system), and then Matt gave me a copy of the CD to take away and absorb. Because, as Matt told me, the music works as an ALBUM. It’s not just a concatenation of tracks: it’s a thought out experience for the listener; a story with a beginning, middle and end; ups and downs; and a wide spectrum of emotions. These are the kinds of projects Matt likes to work on. His primary interest as a mastering engineer is in the art of the album. And he certainly had a satisfying time working on this one.

Mikel and I had the following discussion via email.

James: Hi Mikel. Good to meet you. Let’s start off with some basic background stuff. Where did you record Boost|False Doors?

Mikel: It was recorded at Center of the Earth. That’s the name of my studio, which during False Doors and Boost was located at 321 West 44th Street in New York.

James: I read in your piece at the Wall Street Journal that it took 960 hours to record Boost|False Doors — that’s over 3 months of 10 hour days! Can you describe a typical day working on this project?

Cover art of Boost False DoorsMikel: For False Doors, it started as a follow up to Corner Loading (Volume 1) which was a solo guitar/vocal record (sort of a country blues approach, hence the title, but with the guitar and vocal often doing intricate counter rhythms). So I recorded the guitar and lead vox live. But then it seemed to want some other stuff, like the prepared piano samples (I produced a John Cage Prepared Piano Sample library in 2000 — so I like to use those samples). Then it seemed to want mellotron. Then, quite a backwards way to work: drums and percussion. So I recorded the drums at 321 [West 44th Street] with Rob Shepperson, my old band-mate from Tirez Tirez. Now, I really exaggerated the tempos cause I thought it was gonna be a solo recording. So this presented a challenge. But it ended up giving the recording a funky loping feeling, similar to those 60s recordings that sometimes laid rhythm tracks after the songwriter had recorded his parts. I like that sound, as it’s odd and could only be done in a studio.

Boost is just the opposite (except for the unique sound of steel guitar with beats) and is a pure sonic electronic sequenced record. It uses all the kinds of sound so current today, but because of the shifting metric combination, it’s much more musical and interesting, well, at least to me. You might also notice that Boost is dedicated to Ron and Russell Mael of the LA band Sparks. They did some groundbreaking pop music in the 70s including a pop/disco record with Georgio Moeroder.

James: What is your composition process like? Is it connected to the recording process or separate from it?

Mikel: It’s both. A lot of stuff starts with a musical sketch or a lyric snippet. False Doors especially came out of songs in progress or songs composed while walking down the street. Then I fleshed them out. Boost on the other hand it a typical (well, not so typical 😉 ) made-in-the-studio recording. Starting with all of the formulaic beats, changing the metric structures and getting some really hard hitting and solid grooves, and then letting those grooves dictate the guitar and vox. I also continued my interest in sampling conversations (seen in Recess) and using dialog I overheard in cafes and bars. That whole diatribe in “The Movie We’re In” is from our local bar Rudy’s [on 9th Avenue].

James: Matt told me that Boost and False Doors were recorded at separate times and were not initially linked. Can you tell me how they ended up together?

Mikel: Thats correct. I saw False Doors as a recording whose theme revolved around accepting things you can’t change. And obviously, it’s a more organic sounding recording. But as the lyric content of Boost started to develop, I could see them, both lyrically and sonically, as bookends. They kind of reference each other in interesting ways. And I’ve loved the fact that the reviews have been very good thus far, but some people focus more on one disc than the other.

James: What were your primary tools used in recording the albums?

Mikel: Gear. Lots of gear. You can see from the photo [in the CD package]. I swear by the Barefoot monitors. The DW Fearn compressor is my go-to compressor for very clean sounds. And I love the combo of the Cranesong EQ with the Manley EQ. I used 414 mics on the drums. Just two as I wanted to go for that Ringo Star “swoosh compression” sound on the cymbal/bass drum attacks. I’m particularly pleased with that effect. U47 mic for the vocals and acoustic guitar. U87 for steel guitar and percussion.

James: A lot of your music is rhythmically complex, but the complexity is not “difficult” sounding or academic. Nor does it sound “organic” — one gets the impression, rather, of multiple radios or TVs playing different programs at the same time. Can you talk a little about rhythm in your work?

Mikel: I love that you notice that. I’ve always been interested in complexity, but through known vernacular music. So i’d hate it if it sound academic. I would make the argument that it is organic, as I use multiple metric combination to achieve a new kind of harmonic resolution. So think if you have a combination of 3 against 5 against 7. It would take 105 beats for all three permutation to come back together. And if you’re skillful (and lucky) you can make that metric conversion feel like a resolution, in the same way that a I IV V cadence has a harmonic resolution. I’ve been using this technique in pop music for 30 years. You don’t have to understand the mechanics (another reason it’s not simply academic noodling) to feel that something is ‘right’ just as ‘Ti’ resolving to ‘Do’ feels right.

James: I think I didn’t express my thought well in the ‘rhythm’ question, but I love your answer. What I meant by ‘not organic’ is that the rhythmic layers sound intellectually designed, rather than a product of chance or intuition or ‘feel’… they’re too consistently orderly and extended for that to be the case. And yet the result is a very natural “feel” anyway. Having worked with rhythm this way for a long time do you do it ‘off the top of your head’? What is your process of working these rhythms out in your songs?

Mikel: It’s become pretty intuitive now. I actually think of music this way. If I hear a tune on the radio, I’m always harmonizing to it in a different meter. I can play guitar and sing in a totally different meter and it feels natural. Like rubbing your head one way and you stomach the other. So I hear the ‘resultant’ combinations in my head and sort of write them down or program them from that.

James: Can you tell me something about your approach to mixing?

Mikel: I’m going for a very understandable sonic signature. I want the mix to sound clear, like a good pop production. That’s no small challenge, as my mixes are usually incredibly dense with metric information. Even with False Doors, which feels organic and acoustic and open, there’s a ton of metric stuff going on. Check out the acoustic guitar counterpoint in “Blow Dried Bodies.” It all locks together and has a nice warm analog feel to it. But listen closer and you see that the guitars are circling each other. It has to sound as normal as two acoustic guitars playing together even though it’s much more complicated than that. It took me a long time to figure out how to make the mixes non-fatiguing.

James: What led you to choose Masterdisk for mastering?

Mikel: I got to know Matt through the 3 years i was over at 321 W 44th St. [Matt’s mastering suite is down the hall from where Boost|False Doors was recorded.] I liked his very wide knowledge of music. I’d always wanted to do something with him, and as Boost was recorded quickly I thought it would be a great opportunity. He did a test of “Hurdle Rate” which I loved so I had him do the record. Then, when I started thinking about combining Boost|False Doors, I thought it would be great to get his take on False Doors. Also, as the two recordings are somewhat different, I thought a similar sonic stamp from Matt would help bring them together.

James: What are you working on next?

Mikel: Working on a score for a new piece starring the actress Olwen Fouere based on James Joyce text. Also working on a new theater piece with Ben Neill and Bob McGrath called The Demo, based on the 1968 demonstration given by Douglas Englebart which accurately predicted the work of personal computing and the internet. Also and always, working on the next record. Number 31.


Read more about Mikel Rouse at his website www.mikelrouse.com

The Bunker Studio: Williamsburg’s Best-Kept Secret Won’t be Secret for Long

Photo of a tracking room at The Bunker.
The Bunker Studio 2.0
I stopped in at Aaron Nevezie’s and John Davis’s new-and-improved Bunker studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn earlier this month. Both Aaron and John have been sending projects to Scott Hull and Randy Merrill for mastering over the past couple years — projects which, we’ve noticed, consistently sound excellent. It was time to find out a little more about these guys — especially since they’ve just reopened their successful studio in a larger and beautifully designed space.

John and Aaron met while studying in the Jazz program at The New School in the late ’90s. Their primary instruments were bass and guitar (respectively), with engineering experience developing, as it does for so many of us, through recording themselves and their friends.

Before too long the space they were living in was accumulating gear to a degree that wasn’t conducive to normal human habitation, and eventually recording won out and the place became their first studio.

This converted basement spot in Williamsburg, where they worked for about eight years, saw The Bunker slowly aquiring experience, clientele and equipment. While at this location they recorded the track “Tighten Up” from the Grammy-winning Black Keys album Brothers. They also worked with Mike Stern, Charlie Hunter, Matisyahu, Chris Speed, James Iha, Moby, Ben Allison and many more. Label clients include Tzadik, Wind-Up and TVT.

Sometime in 2010 Aaron and John realized they might have outgrown the basement location. The way John tells it, they had some friends looking for studio space, and went along on their scouting trips to see what was out there. It was only after they saw the (now built) location on South 2nd Street that they realized that they did, in fact, need to upgrade.

Photo of the Studio A Control Room at the Bunker
The Studio A control room.
And what an upgrade it is; the new space is beautiful. I’ll let Aaron & John describe it — this is from their website.

The new space was opened in November 2011 and was designed by Rod Gervais. Studio A easily allows for live tracking of large ensembles with excellent sight lines and isolation. The huge live room with 25′ ceilings, string and rhythm rooms and iso booth each have their own unique character and provide inspiring acoustic environments in which to play.

Studio B is a great overdub and production studio with a large control room with natural light. The live room is 230sqft with 12 ft ceilings and is home to the Yamaha upright piano and is plenty big enough for tracking drums, a string quartet or anything else that doesn’t require multiple rooms.

Both studios, but especially Studio A, are aesthetically inspiring. You definitely feel like you’re in a special place — and that’s a tremendous plus when you need to focus and get creative.

Not mentioned in the description above is the control room, which also has a pleasant, inspiring atmosphere. The room features a Custom 26 channel Auditronics board (heavily modified by Joel Hamilton and Purple Audio). The sound is great — controlled, but alive.

It’s very impressive that in a time when studios are supposed to be struggling, Aaron and John have dug in to create a clearly expensive space like this. They kept the costs down by pretty much doing everything themselves. They know how many nails got hammered. And they pretty much do everything on a day-to-day basis too. From opening up in the morning, mopping the floors and paying the bills to booking the sessions, setting up the mics and pressing “record” It’s usually either John or Aaron doing it.

Photo of John Davis and Aaron Nevezie building the Bunker.
Ah, the glamour of the music biz. John Davis (left) and Aaron Nevezie in the thick of it.

Does it get to be a bit much? “Sometimes I’ll get home from a session at 10 p.m. and I’m looking forward to getting some rest when I realize that some emails have come in and I need to handle some booking. So at that moment, yeah, it can be a little tiring. But for the most part we split the work load really well between us. And at the end of the day, it’s worth it. That we have this place is amazing. And there really isn’t any other way we could pull it off.”

Aaron and John both stressed that they aim to keep the place affordable — and it is, very much so. Booking Studio A costs $750 a day, and Studio B is $450, both including engineer — really incredible, especially when you consider the kind of sound you can get, and the atmosphere you get to create in. Artists and labels clearly know what a good deal it is, because both rooms are well-booked through April.

So, don’t sleep on the new Bunker studio — we can’t recommend them enough here at Masterdisk.

MORE INFO
The Bunker Studio website: http://www.thebunkerstudio.com/
Gear list: http://www.thebunkerstudio.com/gear/
Bunker profiled at Sonic Scoop: http://www.sonicscoop.com/2012/01/25/brooklyn-2-0-the-new-bunker-studios-offers-next-level-recording-experience/

Downtown Musicians Come Together for Japan

In case you haven’t heard about this. 5 concerts for Japan in NYC!

From John Zorn:

We are all overwhelmed by the tragic devastation that has been happening in Japan and want to do what we can to help. These 5 benefit concerts came about because of people’s selfless generosity and open hearts—because of the power of friendship and love. Events of this kind do more than raise money, they bring people together and help us to heal. Please join us. —John Zorn

MARCH 27 at MILLER THEATRE

8pm
JOHN ZORN
CIBO MATTO
MEPHISTA
MIKE PATTON & URI CAINE
MARC RIBOT
SONIC YOUTH
YOKO ONO & SEAN LENNON

Miller Theatre (at Columbia University)
2960 Broadway (at 116th Street)
New York, NY 10027
http://millertheatre.com/Events/EventDetails.aspx?nid=1447


APRIL 8 at ABRONS ART CENTER

6:30pm
JACK QUARTET
MILFORD GRAVES
MARK FELDMAN & SYLVIE COURVOISIER
ELLIOTT SHARP
IKUE MORI & JOHN ZORN
JAMIE SAFT AND NEW ZION TRIO
MIYA MASAOKA
AYA NISHINA and FRIENDS
ERIK FRIEDLANDER
ALHAMBRA TRIO WITH ROB BURGER
NED ROTHENBERG
MASADA STRING TRIO
GYAN RILEY
MATTHEW SHIPP
THURSTON MOORE

9:30pm
JESSE HARRIS
SEX MOB
ELYSIAN FIELDS
JG THIRLWELL’S MANOREXIA
BUKE AND GASS
VINICIUS CANTUARIA
NORAH JONES

Abrons Arts Center
466 Grand Street (at Pitt Street)
New York, NY 10002
http://support.henrystreet.org/site/PageServer?pagename=AACHOME_homepage


APRIL 9 at JAPAN SOCIETY

1pm
PHILIP GLASS & HAL WILLNER
LOU REED, LAURIE ANDERSON & JOHN ZORN

6pm
RYUICHI SAKAMOTO SOLO
BILL LASWELL BAND WITH GIGI

Japan Society
333 East 47th Street
New York, NY 10017
http://www.japansociety.org/event_detail?eid=10a81178

The Masterdisk Neighborhood: Hells Kitchen, NYC

While I’m working on a couple other stories for The Masterdisk Record I thought I’d put up a quick post about Hell’s Kitchen, the neighborhood Masterdisk calls “home”. No, it’s not a very nice name for a neighborhood, but don’t let that fool you — we’re in a pretty cool part of NYC. We’re just a block and a half away from the restaurants and hustle & bustle of the Theater District, and in the other direction we’ve got the Hudson, riverfront parks, and a few… boats.

First, here’s a look at where the two Masterdisk locations are. “A” shows our main location over at 545 W 45th Street, and “B” is the location of Howie Weinberg’s room at 321 West 44th Street. Note, for purposes of some photos below, the spot on the left where it shows the Intrepid, and the dashed line that runs vertically between 10th and 11th Avenues — that’s the West Side Rail Line, which runs under street level.


View Larger Map

Here’s the facade of the 545 W 45th Street location:

Masterdisk HQ
Our studios are actually in the rear of the building, on the 5th Floor.
Masterdisk entrance
The entrance at 545 W 45th Street.
Masterdisk Office
Looking west out of the Masterdisk office windows. Note the ship in the red circle.
Other ship
Here's that ship you could see from the office window -- it's not the Intrepid; it's a ship that was docked here for Fleet Week. This view is from the east side of the West Side Highway.
The Intrepid
And this is the Intrepid. It's rather large.
Stable
Across the street and a little east from us are some horse stables.
Bridge Paintings
Further east on 45th Street, but looking west, is this nicely decorated overpass. The West Side Rail Line runs below -- currently used by Amtrak.
west side rail line
The West Side Rail Line. It runs under the streets, and under some buildings too. This is looking south from 45th Street.
cook
One of the panels on the overpass. Hell's Kitchen, presumably.
birdland
Lastly, for now, here's the view looking east from 321 W 44th Street. We're right next to Birdland. You can see the Met Life building in the far distance and some theaters in the middle ground.