On the Cover: Pianella Studios

Sep 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Matt Hurwitz


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By opening the barn doors, Beltrami can change the acoustics of the interior space.

By opening the barn doors, Beltrami can change the acoustics of the interior space.

The parallel walls of the high ceiling are lined with 8x4-foot classic-core ¾-inch maple panels treated with a polyurethane finish, resulting in a highly reflective tower, in a sense, above the musicians. The lower-level walls are lined with an untreated Plyboo panel material made of compressed bamboo, and the studio floor is built of white oak, also uncoated, except for a slight wax-oil treatment. “Marco said to me, ‘What if someone spills coffee?’” recalls Kurlander. “I told him I would personally clean it up! [Laughs.] So what we have is the livest surface—the hardest surfaces—up in the air, and the surfaces where the players are, such as the sidewalls and floor, are relatively softer.”

The main three-microphone tree picks up the overall sound, plus that natural reverb, with an additional pair of mics attached to the back wall of the high wall, recording mostly room alone, giving the engineer added flexibility during mixing.

“Everyone said to us, ‘But won’t you get a terrible slap?’” Kurlander says. “Yes, but nobody’s going to be up there to hear it. We’ve done impulse-response tests, and, empty, it measures a smooth 2.3 seconds and about 2.1 with the orchestra present. With that decay time, we have a recording space unlike anything available anywhere else in Los Angeles.”

Pianella also features on its first floor, two iso booths—one big enough for a piano and the other, narrower, behind the conductor for a few soloists. There is also a kitchen and a single restroom, which Beltrami quickly realized would not be enough for the multitude on break between cues. “When we did our first session with an orchestra, I made an announcement suggesting the gentlemen make use of the bushes outside, leaving the restroom inside for the ladies,” he says with a laugh. Expanded facilities are already in the works.

Upstairs is a lounge, as well as a work area for copyists to make any between-session changes. There is also a balcony over the rear of the stage, on which either musicians can be placed and miked from below, or microphones can be placed (and connected through tielines) to record the musicians below. “It provides a different perspective,” explains Sanders. “On The Thing, there were some effects we were trying to get with the woodwinds. We wanted them to sound distant so we had the players up on the balcony and recorded them from down on the floor.”

The upstairs is also home to Beltrami’s warmly decorated writing room. Both he and Sanders work in MOTU Digital Performer; Sanders works below, in a portion of the control room and in the main studio, creating sounds that are sent up to Beltrami to incorporate in his compositions. “Buck records sounds that we use in a template of sounds to be used in the film, and then I start working on cues,” Beltrami explains. “Our work together has evolved since we started 15 years ago. I initially had brought Buck in because I needed someone who was technically savvy, but we also co-compose.”

With the exception of some basic orchestral sounds used for mock-up purposes, the pair avoid using any sample libraries in their scores. “What really sets us apart from other scores or composers is that we have a place where we can fully experiment and create sounds that you can’t get from a sample library,” Sanders says. Adds Kurlander, “It’s one of the things that characterizes their scores; it’s completely organic. If you hear what sounds like a drum loop, that means Buck has just made a recording and created a 4-bar pattern and looped it. Or they’ll use something like the sound from the thumping of a piano pedal—Buck turned that into something.”

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