TRI Studios

Nov 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Blair Jackson



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Overview of Slightly Stoopid Webcast

Overview of Slightly Stoopid Webcast

During their 30 years together, the Grateful Dead established themselves as audio innovators of the highest order (no pun intended). They were the first group to use top-shelf hi-fi components as part of their SR setup, and among the first to regularly employ monitor wedges. They hot-rodded everything from guitars to amplifiers to loudspeakers in search of cleaner and more powerful sound, and their justifiably legendary Wall of Sound system in the early ’70s remains a model (albeit a financially impractical one) of how to deliver pristine audio to large numbers of people. The Dead also always supported up-and-coming instrument and gear artisan, from Alembic and Doug Irwin on the guitar/bass front, to Meyer Sound loudspeakers and Gamble front-of-house and monitor boards. Guitarist Bob Weir and drummer Mickey Hart were both home studio pioneers.

Sixteen years down the line from Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia’s death, both Weir and Hart continue to push the sonic envelope onstage and in their studios, always looking for that next cool audio thing—often putting their own money toward redefining the “state of the art.” In Weir’s case, that has led to a fascinating new venture known as TRI Studios in San Rafael, Calif. TRI—an acronym for Tamalpais Research Institute (Mt. Tamalpais being the most prominent topographical feature in the region)—is an 11,500-square-foot warehouse studio complex that includes two large rehearsal/recording/performance spaces, two audio control rooms, a video-editing room, five iso rooms, machine rooms and a handful of offices. Initially designed to be, in Weir’s words, “the ultimate playpen for musicians,” it is fast-evolving into something much bigger. The past few months have seen several hi-def Webcasts featuring Furthur (Weir’s jam band with Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh and others), stoner reggae/rock/hip-hop groovers Slightly Stoopid and the supergroup Chickenfoot.

Weir did have another rehearsal space in San Rafael he hoped to turn into a proper studio, when the building that now houses TRI—the former home of Bay Area Sound Studios rehearsal studios—became available. “I’d just come off the [2009] Dead tour and had some nickels in my jeans and it came on the market,” Weir says. “The deal is it had close to $1 million of acoustical treatment put into it [by BASS], so for almost anyone who would buy a building like that, all that would have to come out and it would be really expensive. The asking price was real cheap on that account so I waited and bought it. What really caused all this to happen was at the end of the fall of 2009, the good folks at API were doing a little show at AES in New York and they invited me to come back and play their little hoe-down. In return they offered me a real swell deal on their top-of-the line, all-the-bells-and-whistles 5.1, 48-in board. So I jumped at that.”

With that choice API Vision board as the anchor, Weir next enlisted a pair of old friends to help him turn the new building into a world-class facility. Studio COO John Cutler had been in the Grateful Dead orbit since the early ’70s, as an equipment designer, mixer for numerous live broadcasts, co-producer and engineer on their two ’80s albums (In the Dark and Built to Last), FOH engineer for the Jerry Garcia Band for many years and, ultimately, for the Grateful Dead from the spring of ’94 until Garcia’s passing in the summer of ’95. Another tech expert, Dennis “Wiz” Leonard, also came onto the Dead scene in the early ’70s and has worked on and off with them ever since while establishing himself as an in-demand film sound supervisor and mixer.

Wiz comments, “John [Cutler] and I and a guy named Matt Lavine from a company called Bug ID [pronounced “bug-eyed”; a Bay Area A/V system design and integration firm] designed the wiring infrastructure, and the three of us chose the gear. I did all the renovation drawings for the control room and did all the acoustics and the performance room.”

In addition to the API console, the main control room contains Meyer Sound Acheron mains and HD-1s for near-fields, X-800 subs, six UPJ-1p surrounds in the soffit, three large video screens under the mains, Pro Tools|HD DAWs, a pair of Studer 824 multitracks, and plenty of high-end analog and digital processing gear. The “B” control room is centered around the Sony MXP-3000 console that was part of Weir’s home studio. All of the performance, control and iso rooms can be tied together.

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