NY METRO REPORT
Feb 1, 2001 12:00 PM, by Paul Verna
Like so many other studios in the 1980s, New York's Clinton Recording opened as a jingle house. However, unlike most of its contemporaries, Clinton survived the recession, the project studio revolution and the skyrocketing rents in midtown Manhattan.
Lately, the two-room facility has been busier than ever with high-profile sessions by the likes of James Taylor, Blondie, Joe Jackson, new act Good Charlotte and the cast album for Jane Eyre—not to mention an unmentionable household-name artist who popped in to cut some tracks for an upcoming album.
Taylor's project is the artist's first new “pop” album since his 1997 Grammy-winning Hourglass collection, which he tracked in a rented house in Martha's Vineyard using Tascam DA-88s and the then-new Yamaha 02R. Produced by Russ Titelman, J.T.'s newest material is slated to end up on a Columbia Records album due sometime in 2001.
Blondie enlisted producer Craig Leon to track songs recently written by group co-founder Chris Stein; the sessions—which may become the next Blondie record—were cut to DA-88 and Otari RADAR.
The Jackson project was an Acoustic Café radio interview/listening session on which the multifaceted artist was joined by bassist Graham Maby. Jackson and Andy Cahn produced, Clinton veteran Troy Halderson served as chief engineer and Jeremy Welch assisted.
For the Sony Classics Jane Eyre project, seasoned Broadway producer Mike Berniker worked with Clinton owner/engineer Ed Rak and assistant Keith Shortreed on a week-long tracking/mixing marathon that took advantage of both Clinton's massive recording spaces—large enough to accommodate 85 musicians—and its mixing capabilities, with a Flying Faders-equipped Neve console and the outboard gear to match.
In other Clinton news, the 17-year-old facility has promoted longtime bookings manager Bill Foley to operations manager and acquired four LA-2As and four 1176s.
You expect New York to have the tallest skyscrapers, the busiest airports, the most crowded streets and the most taxicabs per capita than any other city in the world. But when it comes to Gothic cathedrals, surely the great European capitals must have the Big Apple beat in every respect.
Wrong. The biggest Gothic church in the world is the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, right here in Manhattan. (Yes, yes, I know. Paris, Rome, Chartres, Rheims, Cologne and countless other Old World cities have more attractive, more historically significant and more architecturally interesting churches, but we're talking size here.)
The reason I bring this up has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with surround sound. You see, at a time when the recording industry is on the verge of its second multichannel revolution (following the quad fiasco of the '70s), St. John the Divine is the site of a ritual that must be the pinnacle of the surround sound experience. I'm referring to world musician Paul Winter's Winter Solstice concert, a pan-cultural, nondenominational musical celebration that takes place annually around the time of the longest night of the year (usually December 21).
A sprawling space with 125-foot ceilings and seemingly interminable aisles, St. John boasts a reverb time estimated at between seven and eight seconds (depending on the time of year). It is, in the words of Winter front-of-house engineer Jody Elff, “a spectacular-sounding place—if you use the room to your advantage.”
That means respecting the room's awesome acoustics, knowing which elements to leave out of the house mix (like the organ, which is loud enough on its own to drown out the P.A.) and—by God—never using artificial reverb. “You can never stop being aware of the room as you're mixing there,” says Elff. “The minute you forget you're mixing in a space like that, the room will win.”
Additionally, using the room to one's advantage means allowing its dimensions to provide an unparalleled surround experience, an art Winter has mastered in his 21 years of Solstice concerts at the Cathedral. Among his signature techniques are playing his soprano saxophone at one end of the church while another musician—this year it was Uillean piper Davy Spillane—responds from the other end.
“When Davy is playing, I can hear him, but he's really faint,” says Winter. “That, to me—drawing listening out of people—is one of the objectives of our show.”
An open-minded, inclusive artist whose collaborators have run the gamut from Irish-born Spillane to veteran Brazilian guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves to Turkish sensation Arto Tuncboyaciyian, Winter believes that spreading the sound around the church space is a way to “get voices from all over; not only all over the cathedral, but all over the planet.”
His views on surround sound are similarly expansive. He says, “In so many situations, the sound is right in your face. You sit in your seat, fasten your seatbelt and get deluged. In most of those venues, you have a kind of us-and-them setup. You have the performers onstage and the audience out there in rows. At the cathedral, it's all us; there is no them. My wish is for people to feel they're part of this whole village.”
Watching and hearing the Winter Solstice shows over the past several years, I've been awestruck by the otherworldly sound of the soprano sax so far off in the distance that I couldn't see its player, while low timpani would rumble behind me. At other times in the set, I've marveled at the all-enveloping sound of the organ, whose main pipes are at one end, while its state trumpets are at the other extreme.
The show's climax, too, is a surround sound-lover's dream. A Paiste “sun” gong measuring 80 inches in diameter is hoisted on a platform along the back wall of the church, while percussionist Scott Sloan strikes it repeatedly, making its sound wash over the vastness of St. John.
Now that home theater is well-entrenched and DVD-Audio is upon us, it's time someone—anyone with the chops and the courage to try it—mixed the Winter Solstice in surround sound. I can't imagine a more impressive showcase for the multichannel medium.
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