Kampo Music Studios

Feb 1, 2001 12:00 PM, SARAH BENZULY


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In 1971, the Kampo Cultural Center was created in Noho, a fixture of downtown culture that joins Soho and the East and West Villages, as a means of fusing art and creativity. The following decade, the complex gave birth to Kampo Music Studios, which has gone on to create a mystique all its own. A single-room facility centered around an SSL E Series console, Kampo soon grew right along with the surrounding area, based on the ideal of combining music and art and promoting the downtown vibe.

The highest level here is the artistic interest, the artistic integrity, says studio manager Alex Abrash, who joined the staff in the early 1990s after stints at Electric Lady Studios, Unique Recording, Sigma Sound and Hit Factory. We're trying to make a place that encourages art and creativity.

I came in here a little naive, Abrash admits, because I figured, Well, why isn't this place packed? So I just closed it down for a month, did some modifications, built some things and it just took off.

Part of that revamp involved contracting John Storyk to design Studio C, to get the job done right, Abrash says. The control room saw the early '99 installation of an SSL Axiom-MT digital console, a move Abrash admits was a calculated gamble but has since paid off. I wanted to put something that was going to not only be current, but was also going to be future-ready as well, he says. We've had 100 percent success with the Axiom. Our installation went off without a hitch, and we've had nothing but positive feedback from the engineers who have sessioned on the board, including Bruce Swedien, Eddie Kramer and Ray Bardini.

Unlike many of the digital boards out there, the Axiom is very user-friendly, Abrash continues, especially because it so closely resembles the hugely successful J Series console. That was a significant factor. I knew I wanted to go digital and provide the best possible fidelity for mixing projects off of Pro Tools and other high-quality source machines.

After installing the 96-input MT into the same space where he previously had a 40-input SSL E Series, Abrash began to market Kampo's surround capabilities. Studio C is very unique in New York, because it's a surround-ready room. There's nothing you've got to plug in or patch or anything. I've got everything from the monitor systems to the mixdown machine [Tascam DA-78, 24-bit 8-track]. One of the more exciting projects to make use of the 5.1 capabilities was the remixing of Jimi Hendrix's Isle of Wight performance for DVD. Eddie Kramer did some amazing things manipulating those old tapes to provide a rich, real-sounding concert experience. It was a thrill to witness him pull out that classic Hendrix sound, the Eddie Kramer sound.

Rounding out the control room are a Genelec 1038 surround monitoring system, Pro Tools MIX Plus, and a slew of digital outboard gear, including Sony's 777 reverb and the TC Electronic System 6000.

Kampo houses three music rooms, along with a private, producer-owned Pro Tools suite. Studio A works as a recording/mixing suite and is able to accommodate a variety of musical stylings. We're doing a string quartet, we see alternative rock bands, so much of everything, Abrash lists. A lot of jazz, a lot of recording. The music studio is on the second floor, and on the third floor, we have the Axiom and Studio B, which is a post-production room. You never know who you're going to bump into. We have David Byrne coming in at the same time we have Lauren Hutton doing some kind of commercial.

Despite his digital leanings, Abrash is quick to point out that clients often like the hybrid, making use of the 56-in SSL G Series for tracking and the Axiom for mixdown. We certainly cater to both sides of the spectrum, he says. We have a nice-sized tracking room, with classic Neve mic pre's, a Steinway piano and analog outboard gear.

Musicians who come through our studios always have different things to say regarding what they like about Kampo, Abrash adds. But they all seem to be of one opinion about the relaxed, creative vibe of the place. Some things are just intangible, and I think that it is not something you can buy or sell. It's here, it's special and it's not something that we designed in. It's just part of what this has turned out to be.

For more information, visit www.kampo.com.

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