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The Magic Of Enigma Studios

Mike Collins investigates the magic behind Enigma Studios, a MIDI-based recording facility in London's East End.

Mike Collins investigates the magic behind Enigma Studios, a MIDI-based recording facility in London's East End.

"I'd like to put the mystique and magic back into music!", says Tony Chapman, co-owner and engineer/producer of Enigma Studios. "I want to know that 'Alice In Wonderland' is alive and well!" An odd way, perhaps, of articulating a dissatisfaction felt by many with much of today's music, but one that makes a little more sense when you know that Tony was a magician before he turned musician/studio owner. The studio is located inside a converted private house in London's East End, and I first came across it while looking for a suitably well-equipped MIDI studio in which to pursue a synthesizer-based recording project.

Tony's change of career from globetrotting prestidigitator into the world of music came about as a result of his constant contact with musicians. His interest in music grew, and six years ago he decided to take it up full time. Initially, he set up a community studio in Barking Road, Upton Park, with financial assistance from his partner, Paul. The studio was one of the first to feature an extensive MIDI installation, and it served the local musical community well for about three years. At this point, Tony and Paul decided to move the studio to its present location, and to upgrade the equipment and facilities. They also decided to open the new studio as a commercial venture, as the demand for the facility seemed to be there.


The control room of the new facility is fairly small, but well laid out. It has a very intimate feel, especially when the lights are dimmed, and the combination of the many LEDs on equipment and concealed lighting above the keyboards provides a 'magical' glow! Tony's collection of magician's memorabilia scattered around the building adds to this impression, of course. From the producer's chair you can easily reach virtually everything in the control room, which has to be a good feature for speed of operation.

The studio performance area is in what used to be the living room of the house, which should give you some idea of the amount of space available. By my estimation, a maximum of four or five musicians could be accommodated comfortably. There are tie-lines through to the control room, and a large window area has been cut into the wall to provide good visual communication between control room and performance area. There is a very comfortable relaxation area upstairs, with a good hi-fi system, a television, and two video machines. Very handy for checking out tapes, or simply relaxing in between sessions.

The studio is based around a customised Studiomaster Series II 40-16-2 console and Tascam MS16 16-track recorder with dbx noise reduction. Tony has a good relationship with Studiomaster, and some of his suggestions were incorporated into the design of this particular model, such as the handy reverse pan switch. Main monitoring is via Tannoy SRM12Xs, with the option of nearfield reference from Teac LSX7 or JBL Control 1 monitors.

A good selection of synths is on hand: Yamaha DX7II, Roland JX10 and D50 with their optional programmers, Kawai K1, MemoryMoog, and Prophet VS. Rackmounted items include a Prophet 2002+ sampler, a Korg DVP1 digital vocoder, and a 360 Systems MIDI Bass. An Akai S900 shares sampling duties with the Prophet 2000 and its rackmount offspring. All the various synths are hard-wired to the desk. MIDI routing is obviously important with this much MIDI equipment, and an Akai ME30P programmable MIDI patchbay and a Quark MIDI Link are used to handle this side of things.


The popular Steinberg Pro24/Atari ST combination is used for sequencing, and also for MIDI-controlled muting on the Studiomaster desk. A Steinberg SMP24 SMPTE/MIDI convertor allows synchronisation of any sequenced parts to tape. Besides its obvious use as a powerful 'conventional' sequencer, Pro24's facility for recording simultaneous performances has proved invaluable, allowing up to four independent players to 'jam' together into the sequencer. This system allows a group of musicians to use MIDI sequencing in a similar way to the traditional medium of tape, but with the added benefits of computer recall and editing.

Effects available include Roland SRV2000 and Ibanez SDR1000+ digital reverbs, as well as an Alesis Microverb. There is a Korg SDD2000 digital delay, an Aphex Aural Exciter, an MXR Flanger/Doubler, and an MXR System II digital delay. All in all, a comprehensive selection of gear, MIDI and otherwise!


Although the studio is well equipped with modern keyboards and samplers, it's interesting to find that Tony keeps files of synth patches, and instruction and service manuals for all the synthesizers that have belonged to the studio in the past. This back-catalogue of gear includes equipment ranging from the humble Korg MS20 monosynth through to the mighty Yamaha CS80, and there is information on many popular Roland, Korg, and Sequential Circuits synthesizers, as well as most of the Oberheim range. Obviously, these files could prove to be very useful if anyone brings an old synth into the studio. The original factory sounds for all the synths are available on disk or cartridge.

By way of more up-to-date sounds, the studio boasts a large selection of DX patches, and there are several thousand percussion sounds available for the various samplers. A Simmons SDS9 kit, located in the studio performance area, is connected to all the MIDI gear in the control room, providing an alternative to a keyboard or sequencer for triggering percussion sounds or recording/programming drum parts into a sequencer. Many different 'kits' of drum sounds have been preprogrammed and are available for instant recall, and numerous different 'scales' have been set up for the synthesizers.

It would be all too easy to lose track of this many synth patches and drum setups, so Hybrid Arts' Genpatch software is used to load and save all the synth patches. The program has proved itself virtually indispensable in such a complex setup. Also on the software front, Steinberg Masterscore is used for writing scores, and an Amstrad PCW computer is available for documenting session notes and studio administration. Filters have been fitted to the mains to give the clean electricity supply which is essential for computers and sophisticated electronic equipment.



  • Customised Studiomaster Series II 40-16-2 console
  • Tascam MS16 16-track recorder with dbx noise reduction
  • Revox PR99 2-track
  • Sony PCM F1 digital recorder

  • Harrison DSA 800 power amp
  • Tannoy SRM12X main monitors
  • Teac LSX7 nearfield monitors
  • JBL Control 1 nearfield monitors

  • Yamaha DX7II
  • Roland JX10
  • Roland D50
  • Kawai K1
  • MemoryMoog
  • Prophet VS

  • Prophet 2000
  • Prophet 2002+
  • Akai S900 sampler
  • 360 Systems MIDI Bass

  • Simmons SDS9 kit
  • Roland TR505
  • Roland TR707
  • SCI Drumtraks

  • Steinberg Pro24
  • Steinberg Masterscore
  • Hybrid Arts Genpatch librarian
  • Atari 1040ST

  • Akai ME30P programmable MIDI patchbay
  • Quark MIDI Link
  • Steinberg SMP24 SMPTE/MIDI convertor

  • Roland SRV2000
  • Ibanez SDR1000+
  • Alesis Microverb
  • Korg DVP1 voice processor
  • Korg SDD2000 digital delay
  • Aphex aural exciter
  • MXR flanger/doubler
  • MXR System II digital delay

The studio has one double bedroom and a large kitchen area, and off-street parking for up to four cars is available at the rear of the building. It would be quite feasible to regard the studio as residential, with room for one or two clients to sleep in comfort. At a pinch, a band could stay overnight - provided some members were prepared to sleep in the living room with sleeping bags! The location of the studio makes it easily accessible (via British Rail at nearby Stratford or Barking, or Tube at Upton Park), often an important factor in the choice of studio.

Current in-house projects being pursued by Paul and Tony with various keyboard players include a synthesized version of Stravinsky's Rite Of Spring, and a synthesized version of a 40-part Choral Motet written by Thomas Tallis. They are also working on a version of Wagner's Tannhauser. Another current project is a new version of George Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue, featuring keyboardist Andy Robinson. Tony played me excerpts from the Stravinsky and Thomas Tallis projects: I was most impressed by the results, and felt encouraged to consider Enigma very seriously for various synthesizer-based projects I am working on at the moment. Others who've decided over the last two years that Enigma is right for them include the BBC, ITV, CBS, Elektra, Big Red Records, EMI, Paul Young from Mike And The Mechanics, and the producers of a Lennon-esque rock album for ABC Records in the USA an impressive roster!

The studio is eminently suitable for most types of pre-production or demo work, and it is large enough and sufficiently well-equipped to cater for a variety of bands and artistes, especially if they are MIDI-based. Whilst the various monitors on offer are adequate, I would probably wish to bring in a pair of NS 10s for nearfield monitoring if I were working at Enigma. Masters can be produced for a variety of purposes - for broadcast use, or possibly for the smaller independent labels - but, obviously, the studio does not currently compete with the major West End studios. The charges are reasonable at around £20 per hour, and special deals are available. The accommodation and extra facilities available could be an important factor for people who do not live locally, especially as no extra charge is made for them.

Tony is a total music enthusiast, and I can well believe that he will achieve his aims of putting the magic back into the music of all who choose to work at Enigma.


Enigma Studios, (Contact Details).

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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 - Apr 1989

Feature by Mike Collins

Previous article in this issue:

> Shape of Things to Come

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> Postcard from Keele

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