On the Cover: Manifold Recording

May 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Tom Kenny


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Manifold Recording co-owner Michael Tiemann, left, with studio designer Wes Lachot at the 1983 Yamaha C3 grand in the Music Room.

Manifold Recording co-owner Michael Tiemann, left, with studio designer Wes Lachot at the 1983 Yamaha C3 grand in the Music Room.

Projects like Manifold Recording don’t come around often in a studio designer’s life. A client with knowledge and passion for the way music works in a space and the way every bit of detail contributes to the whole. A proposal for a carbon-neutral, ground-up facility that starts with the sweet spot in the control room and the musician in the live room and develops from there. A request for drawings that include 24-foot ceilings and visual continuity from control room to music room to three iso booths and two sound locks, through windows onto the 16-acre property in the hills south of Chapel Hill, N.C. A budget that was comfortable—not unlimited, but better than most. It did, however, grow over five-and-a-half years while other projects started and finished. And studio designer Wes Lachot had no idea what he was getting into.

“When I got the call in February 2006, I had three or four other projects in development and told him that I was too busy, but if he called back in four to six months, I could sit down with him,” recalls Lachot. “I had no idea what this was about, and I almost blew it! But right at six months, he called back, told me what he had in mind, and it has turned into one of the most rewarding professional experiences of my career.”

Michael Tiemann, co-owner of Manifold Recording with his wife, Amy, laughs at the memory. “I went to Google and put in ‘Frank Lloyd Wright Recording Studio Chapel Hill,’ and Wes Lachot pops up out of nowhere. I looked at some of his designs and projects and could see that he had the kind of sensibilities I wanted to work with. I sent him an email and said I wanted to build a recording studio, and he said he was too busy! But I waited the six months, called him and convinced him that I was willing to go all the way to achieve an aesthetic and a creative vision.”

The creative vision Tiemann proposed was based around the musician and an environment where the Music Room would function as an extension of the instrument, be it solo or ensemble, voice or piano, guitars or drums. The aesthetic was very much influenced by Wright, based on an organic approach to architecture where you start with a seed, the sweet spot, and build out so that the building grows into the world around it, and every piece is part of the whole.

“It is certainly a luxury to not be constrained by walls at the outset,” Lachot says. “The physics of sound don’t do well with rectilinear geometry but behave more like a sphere. And we as designers are often forced to fit these round pegs into square holes, and it’s our job to take away some of the awkwardness. With Manifold, we were able to start with an equilateral triangle at the listening position, then work outward from there and develop this hexagonal type of geometry, meaning there are three axes of symmetry rathern than two [see floor plan diagram]. It has more in common with a beehive than the block you played with as a child. Everything else is an expression of that, down to the ways that the terraces flow into the land.”

Michael Tiemann is a highly intelligent man, and this is no case of an outsider buying his way into the recording industry. He knows why he wants a flat response down to 25 Hz and is equally animated discussing the performance of the glass diffusors circling the control room wall as he is in explaining his personal conversion to an analog/digital hybrid model. In conversation, you get the sense that he is opening Act Two of his life, and in some manner he is returning from a detour in high-tech back home to his love of music.

As a 10-year-old in Manhattan, he appeared on his first record as part of the renowned St. Thomas Choir. Four more would follow. His mother was involved in professional music, as was his grandmother, and he was exposed to opera, symphonies, jazz and sometimes string quartets in the living room. His godfather, Russ Payne, was one of the engineers on a number of Miles Davis Columbia sessions of the late ’60s/early ’70s, and at some point drove home to young Michael the concept of layers in music and the magic of the recording/mixing/mastering process.

He wound up in the San Francisco Bay Area and was instrumental in the founding of the open-source software movement. It was an exciting time, he says humbly, and one gets the sense that by creating and selling a few companies, he was allowed the opportunity to pursue his original passion: the musical experience.

“While in Silicon Valley, I met up with this musician, Drew Youngs, who was at the time playing Latin jazz, who was incredibly talented,” he says. “I offered to fund his album and he recorded it, then brought it to Greenstreet Records, now Polarity Post in San Francisco. I was present for mixing and mastering, and it was an amazing process for me—to sit down and listen to how a record comes together. And it opened many more questions in my mind, including, ‘How is it that we can make an amazing-sounding record that the intended audience never really gets to hear?’”

A few years later, he bought the 17 acres outside of Chapel Hill, called Lachot and is now all set to open Manifold Recording this month.

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