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Paradise Re-Found

Southlands Studio

Paul Ireson goes in search of paradise and finds it in the newly renamed and refitted Southlands Studio in Chiswick, London.


Paul Ireson goes in search of paradise and finds it in the newly renamed and refitted Southlands Studio in Chiswick, London.


The relentless march of technology has brought changes to every aspect of the way music is written and recorded. Strangely, professional studios have often seemed to lag behind many home recordists and musicians in their application of some of the fruits of hi-tech progress, though there have always been exceptions. One such was London's Paradise Studio, which in 1984 became one of the first studios to adopt a synth/sequencer-oriented approach to recording, and was more unusual still in including a Fairlight II in the price of studio hire. A few years on, Paradise has just changed hands and name, been completely re-equipped, and I'm admiring my reflection in the screen of a Fairlight Series IIIX in the control room of what is now called Southlands.

The original studio was born out of the problem of what to do with a privately owned and somewhat under-used Fairlight Series II. The answer was to build a studio around it, and the result was Paradise - a very appropriate name judging by its popularity. When the original owner decided to sell the studio in 1988, Hi-NRG maestro and regular client Ian Levine decided he liked the place so much that he bought it. Manager Adrian Fry and engineer/programmer Phil Da Costa have been retained from the Paradise days, and Adrian is confident of attracting the business that Paradise had.

"We know we can get all the clients we had before, because the studio hasn't changed that much, it's only improved: a better desk, better monitors, and a better Fairlight."

The better desk is a 36 into 24 DDA AMR24, the monitors are by Quested, and the Fairlight is a brand-new Series IIIX (Rev 7) - apparently the first new machine to be sold in the UK for 18 months! Paradise had a Fairlight Series III until the end of last year, but that left with the change of owners, and so a new machine had to be bought. Along with assorted synths and space-consciously racked effects, all this is crammed into a relatively small control room. Next door is the live area, awaiting the arrival of a new piano.

Southlands looks set to carry on in the same sort of direction as Paradise in terms of the kind of clients. Well-known clients include Swing Out Sister, who recorded their last album here, Bronski Beat, The Kane Gang, Errol Brown, and most recently Mica Paris. According to engineer Phil Da Costa: "About 70 or 80 percent of our work is pop music - a lot of dance music. We've only ever had two drum kits set up in here. But we've done some AV work (a U-Matic video facility is available), some BBC soundtracks, and music for the next James Bond film with John Barry."

Lavishly equipped though the studio is, Phil is well aware that all of this equipment is only really useful if it's used in a way that fits into the artist's modus operandi.

"We work how the client wants to work. It's very important in the first hour or so of a session with a client you don't know, to try and find the way they want to work. People work differently and expect different things.

"Ian's sessions follow the same pattern - he'll come in with ideas for a track, we'll go through and get a drum and bass part together on RS [the Fairlight's built-in sequencer], copy it through, then work on a verse/chorus arrangement. Put in pads and other keyboard parts, extra percussion, do a pass onto tape, bring in a vocalist, and that's it - a song in a day.

"Another sort of session is like the Mica Paris session we just did, where a lot of stuff is already programmed - in this case on Pro24. They came in with an Atari and Steinberg Pro24, listened to a few drum sounds, and once we'd got the drum kit together with everything running off Pro24, that went down onto tape. It was then a matter of going through the other parts they'd programmed, getting the sounds right."

On the equipment front, one of Southlands' most interesting features is, of course, the Fairlight. The example at Southlands has a 520 Megabyte hard disk for sound storage, and an 8-track hard disk recording facility has just been installed. The instrument seems to have crept a little out of fashion these days, particularly with the availability of cheaper 16-bit sampling systems, but sound reasons lie behind the choice.

"First of all, familiarity. We'd had a Series III in here for a while and really liked the way it worked. The waveform editing's better than on any machine I've ever seen, and it just sounds brilliant. If there was something cheaper that did the same job then we'd buy that, but there isn't. That's why we bought the machine again."

Nevertheless, £60-80,000 is an awful lot of money, and there have to be sound financial reasons for any studio to spend that much.

"The Fairlight makes us different – machines like the Akai S1000 sampler will be standard equipment, but not many places can offer a Fairlight included in the price. And it's got pulling power... people are drawn to Fairlights.

"Also, studios are booked partly by record company A&R departments. They just have a list of equipment that makes you a good studio - either an SSL desk, a digital multitrack, or a Fairlight. If you say, 'I've got an S1000', it just won't impress the A&R girl."

This also influenced the choice of a DDA console as a replacement for an Amek Angela, though equally important were its outstanding ease of use, compact size (very important at Southlands), and the split configuration which allows the studio to undertake 48-track work.

"It's also got a very clean sound. You can solo a channel, get some EQ going, and there isn't a huge rise in noise. All you're boosting is noise inherent in the signal. We found that when we started plugging everything back into the new DDA desk, some bits of gear suddenly seemed very noisy. The Angela was a very good desk, but it had its own inherent noise, which did mask some noise from equipment. It's interesting that all the synths sounded much cleaner through the DDA, especially some ambient sounds on the Fairlight."

Sequencing and MIDI are well integrated in the Southlands recording environment. Two MIDI matrix units allow great flexibility in routing MIDI signals, and allow any extra gear brought in by clients to be instantly incorporated into the system. A variety of sequencers is available, to suit different tastes. RS are popular both with Phil and many clients: as with many other aspects of the Fairlight's operation, it scores over alternatives in speed and convenience, vital in a studio environment where time really is money - £75 an hour. Passport's Master Tracks Pro and Mark Of The Unicorn's Performer are both available on the Macintosh, and an Atari ST and C-Lab Notator sequencer are due to be acquired in the near future.

The current selection of instruments ranges from the Fairlight's state of the art digital to the classic analogue of a MiniMoog. In between are a selection of modern day 'classics', including the ubiquitous DX7, D50 and an Oberheim Xpander. Interestingly, in this hi-tech heaven, the ageing MiniMoog turns out to be almost as popular with clients as the Fairlight.

Phil: "It's been MIDI'd up by Kenton Electronics. Absolutely brilliant: it responds to velocity and aftertouch now. I think I use it on every session, because it's such an exciting synth."

There are voice libraries for all the synths courtesy of Opcode and Digidesign software for the Mac: around 1000 voices for the Xpander are on call, and "literally thousands" for the DX7.

Future additions to the equipment list, apart from the Atari/Notator combination already mentioned, include an Akai S1000 sampler, and more channels and automation for the DDA desk. One item that is not likely to appear, however, is a digital multitrack tape machine, a development that Adrian sees as something of a dead-end in studio technology.

"It's a very unwise financial investment. In about three years time, there'll be multitrack recording based on optical disc. Given that working with tape is such a limiting way of doing things, I think you'll end up with an extension of sequencing. The problem with hard disk recording is that you can't take it away; you can dump it to a tape streamer, but that takes a long time, and studios need a medium that you can take away."

Phil concurs: "It also has to be universal, which digital multitrack on tape is not. Before studios throw away their analogue 24-tracks, the alternative has to be cheap enough, reliable, and a universal standard. Only then will it be a good economic investment for studios. That's going to be a difficult transition for studios to make, because they know what's safe: the Otari 24-track's been going strong for years, and it's still the basis of making very good records."

Whatever the prospects for the future of digital multitrack, the transition from Paradise to Southlands has clearly been made without any obvious hitch. The new facilities are excellent, and the policy of offering everything in the price of studio hire - no extras for Fairlight and programmer - will doubtless ensure a continuing flow of discerning clients.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Adrian Fry, Southlands Studio, (Contact Details).

SOUTHLANDS STUDIO EQUIPMENT LIST

RECORDING:
  • DDA AMR24 console
  • Otari MTR90 II 24-track
  • Otari MTR12 ½" 2-track
  • Otari MTR12 ¼" 2-track
  • Studer A810 ¼" 2-track, centre timecode
  • Sony DTC1000 DAT recorder
  • Nakamichi CR2E cassette decks

MONITORING:
  • Quested main monitors
  • Yamaha NS10M nearfield monitors

MICROPHONES:
  • Neumann U47
  • AKG C414
  • Sennheiser MKH40
  • Sennheiser MD441
  • Shure SM58
  • AKG D58

SIGNAL PROCESSORS:
  • Lexicon 480L digital reverb
  • Lexicon PCM70 digital reverb
  • AMS DMX 15-80S 1.6 secs delay
  • Yamaha SPX90 reverb
  • Alesis XTC reverb
  • Roland SDE3000 delay
  • Klark Teknik DN27 graphic EQ
  • Orban 642 parametric EQ
  • Urei 1176 limiter
  • DBX 165a compressor
  • Drawmer DS201 gates
  • Drawmer DL221 compressors
  • BBE exciter
  • Symetrix noise reduction

INSTRUMENTS:
  • Fairlight Series IIIX (Rev 7)
  • Fairlight 520 MB hard disk
  • Kurzweil 1000PX
  • Kurzweil MIDIboard
  • MiniMoog (with MIDI retrofit)
  • Oberheim Xpander
  • Roland D50 (with PG1000 programmer)
  • Roland MSQ700
  • Roland MKS80 Super Jupiter
  • Roland MKS70 (JX10) module
  • Yamaha DX7
  • Yamaha TX802
  • Yamaha acoustic piano

COMPUTERS:
  • Apple Macintosh SE
  • Apple Macintosh Plus

SOFTWARE:
  • Mark Of The Unicorn Performer
  • Passport Master Tracks Pro
  • Opcode and Digidesign voice editors
  • Opcode and Digidesign voice librarians
  • Digidesign Sound Designer

MIDI PROCESSORS:
  • Akai ME15F dynamics processor
  • Sycologic M16 MIDI Matrix
  • Opcode Studio Plus 2 MIDI interface
  • DMC MX8 MIDI matrix and processor

SYNCHRONISERS:
  • Friendchip SRC1
  • Friendchip SRC-AT



Previous Article in this issue

Fighting Hard!

Next article in this issue

How to Set Up a Home Studio


Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.

 

Sound On Sound - Feb 1989

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman

Feature by Paul Ireson

Previous article in this issue:

> Fighting Hard!

Next article in this issue:

> How to Set Up a Home Studio


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