Studio Aesthetics III

An appreciation for architecture is something that only came to me later in life – in my youth if someone used the word I would instantly think of horrible old gothic buildings… After my first ever trip to Japan a decade or so ago I came back with a newfound passion for minimalist architecture and I came to realise that it really is a matter of what you have experienced. Sure anyone can look at photos of a building but until you actually experience it & spend time in it, it is just a concept – it isn’t real & it doesn’t truly imprint on you. You don’t have memory of the experience & you can’t be permanently altered by it the way experiencing great architecture does.

So thanks to a well researched but slightly random, instinctive visit to Naoshima, I became a fan of Tadao Ando and continued to locate & experience as much of his work as possible, while also researching & learning about other great architects…. But a conversation with a friend has stuck with me, dating back to soon after that first discovery at the Chichu Art Gallery on Naoshima. I was ranting about the experience & she quietly explained her theory about how art galleries are like churches for the non-religious. Wow! But of course they are! The reverential quietness & respect for both your surroundings & the other visitors. The exhilirating sense of stillness & enlightenment after you leave – it all made sense. But so I started thinking; are sound & music studios actually temples?

studio as temple?

I’ve ranted before on this topic & I won’t repeat myself – you can read here and here, but I will continue to write about it because it is a never ending process; evolving the ideal sonic temple..

While I love the highly refined ideas & execution of architectural minimalism there is the issue of practicalities. Whenever I look at “lifestyle” magazines I always wonder: where is all their stuff? Where are the books, the records and the tools that let people be creative? One answer seems to be hinted at in the hilarious site unhappyhipsters but as far as studios go it begs a specific question. The only real path to minimalism is to attempt to do everything in the box ie in a computer, because then the messy clutter can all be nicely put away on your hard disk & lovely minimalist order is restored… Years ago I might have believed that but not now. If you want to play analogue synth, no softsynth will suffice. If you love the idiosyncratic tones of a space echo, no plugin will satisfy. And you only have to be in love with an acoustic instrument to know that no sample library even gets remotely close to the experience of making music in the real world with that instrument. We need the clutter, in fact we love the clutter!

So its about finding a balance, and that also is a constantly evolving process. But as I discovered back in Naoshima, the space around you does influence you, constantly and in hindsight I was naive to not always be truly aware of that fact. And I wasn’t totally unaware. Back when I was a university dropout I rented an unused modernist church in the middle of Christchurch – the big room even had a tap in the corner (presumably for holy water?) but I specifically remember what a great place it was for music because of the high ceiling height & the light. Many great parties & jams were had in that space!

So being much more aware of the kind of space i want to be able to create in, its really interesting to see what other people have arrived at to meet their creative needs. The LA Times recently had an article & photo series featuring’s (The Blackeyed Peas) new studio – obviously budget wasn’t an issue, but still…

will.i.ams studio

CheeWee Ong who hosts the Leave Luck To Heaven blog often posts photos of studios along with many other examples of beautiful design, but he has also recently started an Emberapp site to archive just the studio photos – check it out here and a great example from his collection:

studio ex pugsfly blog

I also came across this intriguing DIY project on the Tiny House blog: a portable studio being built on the back of a trailer! I couldn’t find any photos of the completed tiny studio, but what an intriguing idea. I could think of a lot of great places to park that solar powered trailer!

studio tiny house

A great resource for practical studio building advice is this forum run by John Sayers who builds sound studios for a living. His work ranges from the high end, to this studio built into a shipping container – check this thread to see photos of the completed studio.
Its great to have access to someone as knowledgable & experienced, as for example when you come across seemingly related posts on other sites such as this one: 10 seriously cool workplaces you realise none of those ten look like somewhere you would make music in. A sonic temple is a unique workplace!

the black ark
The Black Ark – Lee Scratch Perry’s studio

Updated (thanks to the commenters below)

Hans Zimmers studio


Hans Zimmers studio
Hans Zimmers studio (photo credit)

Amsterdam Mastering studio
Amsterdam Mastering studio (photo credit)

11 thoughts on “Studio Aesthetics III

  1. Felix

    I love this post. I think the space around us totally has an effect on what we create. I live in a really, really cluttered and tiny bedsit and there is always stuff over and on top of and around whatever I am trying to do. At a glance right now I can see a knitting project I’m working on, a huge heap of open safety pins that need putting away from same knitting project, a pile of post, my phone, pens, several balls of yarn that are waiting to be wound into skeins, my open diary where I have been scheduling recording times, Pauline Oliveros’s Deep Listening book which I was reading yesterday and the pile of Framework 250 CDs that I am making my way through… out of this ongoing and constant mess emerge podcasts, art projects, drawings, ideas… this space is my studio, which is why everything I record at home has the subtle drone of traffic outside my windows on it.

    Minimalism isn’t nearly as exciting.

    Have you read George Perec’s essay ‘concerning the objects on my desk?’

    I found it an amazing exploration of how objects and the creative workspace come together in stuff and things and clutter.

  2. Dan

    Slightly off-topic, but I find the ergonomics of a studio interesting too. How are you when you work? How’s your posture?

    I knew a guy who had a huge lazy boy chair that went all the way back. He’d fixed a keyboard to one arm, and a mouse pad to the other. His computer screen was hanging from the ceiling above him, so he basically worked lying down. It was kind of funny to watch him.

    On the other hand, I’ve read that Walter Murch edits standing up, which sounds like a much more healthy approach.

    Great post Tim. Love the Black Ark… how does he find anything?

    cheers, Dan.

    1. tim Post author

      Funnily enough I know two sound editors (hi Ray & Chris!) who pursued Walter Murchs idea by commissioning a desk that has a motor built into it, so it can be raised. So they have the best of both worlds ie can work in normal sitting position or work standing up! I think the latter is definitely better for making music. If anyone is interested I could get the details from them about it? It was built locally…

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  4. Jeff Pitts

    Tim (and all),

    I’m sure you have seen this room but it is my absolute favorite!

    He also has a build photo set on his site. The attention to detail and quality of workmanship is amazing. I envision myself working in a space similar to this in the future.

    1. tim Post author

      love those quadratic diffusors!
      i have my reservations about living 70% of my waking life in a windowless air conditioned room though 😉

  5. Enos

    I do most of my work in a very clean and isolated studio I have access to. It looks and feels very professional but I am hoping to soon set up a small basic setup at home so I can most of the sound editing from there! With windows and daylight and in such a nice environment as one’s home!

    My girlfriend does jewellery and painting and our studio will be slightly combined so will look crazy…with a protools editing suite, painting and brushes and tubes, jewellery workbench, torches, drills, hammers…looking forward to that…she works elsewhere so I won’t have the hammers banging all day though… :p

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