Wednesday, March 30, 2011

La Fabrique

Currently enjoying the pleasure of working at one of Europe's premiere residential studios, La Fabrique. Located near St. Remy in the Provence region in the South of France, the recording studio rooms of La Fabrique are set up in one part of a very long 3 story building that's been divided up into various residential and working facilities.

Assistant engineer Damien Arlot said that the building dates back to the latter part of the 19th century and was originally a textile mill that made red uniforms for the French army, hence the name La Fabrique. I also relate it to the notion of music weaving together the fabric of the Universe.

Apparently the textile making ceased sometime around the First World War when it was quickly discovered, by painful experience, that red unforms make great targets.

La Fabrique's Control Room is quite large, over 300 square feet with an equally spacious recording area adjacent to it. The walls on either side of both the Control Room and Recording Area are lined with one part of a massive collection of vinyl stored in oak paneled, glass encased shelves. I asked Damien how large the collection was and was told about 3000 but that figure must be a mistake in translation. According to an interview in Resolution magazine with Herve Le Guil who owns and operates La Fabrique with his wife Isabelle, the collection contains about 200,000 vinyls (almost exclusively classical music), 40,000 films and 160,000 books on music and film. It was assembled by musicologist Armand Panigel.

A Pro Tools 002 work station is set-up in one small room, lined floor to ceiling with books on music, for the purpose of digitizing this collection.

The rear of the Control Room has two large picture windows that bathe the room in natural light all day long. The mixing desk is a 72 channel Neve 88R that sounds warm and beautiful and comes equipped with Encore Flying Faders automation. The standard Pro Tools HD rig is augmented with top of the line analog recorders, a 24 track Studer A800 and a 1/2" Studer A80 that I mixed down to. Monitors consist of a set of K & H near fields and a large Amadeus speaker stack for the big speakers. I found the sound of the Control Room to be clear, accurate and easy to get used to. No doubt all the oak paneling helped.

A favorite La Fabrique feature for me is the choice of various "live chambers" that could be utilized for natural reverb. I took full advantage using various reverb chambers on different songs. A very large storage room with a high sloped roof and stone walls gave a bright and lively natural ambience without sounding too big. An arched stone corridor with stairs leading up one flight had hollowed out walls and a sound much more reverberant - great for drums.

The entrance to the Control Room leads through the old mill, a stone room with lots of irregularly shaped surfaces, It gave a very live and warm ambience, also great for drums.

Another interesting acoustic area was in the stairwell leading to the two floors above where the client's and visiting staff residential suites are located. I had a speaker placed on the ground floor pointing up and miced it with 2 stereo condenser mics up on the third floor. This also gave a powerful reverb sound that reminded me of the classic drum sound from Led Zeppelin's, When the Levee Breaks.

Herve, Isabelle and the La Fabrique staff really go out of their way to support the client and visiting technicians. As soon as I set my bags down on the evening I arrived, Herve, also an accomplished engineer, asked me what kind of monitors I like to use? I said Pro Acs. The next day a pair of Pro Acs showed up brought down by their son Maxime who manages and engineers at their sister studio in Paris called Plus XXX and who happened to be coming down for another matter.

One day my laptop decided it wasn't going to power up anymore. The studio very thoughtfully provided me with an Apple Imac to access the internet in my room.

Maxime is also involved with organizing a set of mixing workshops with well known audio professionals such as Michael Brauer, David Kahne, and Andy Wallace. Collectively known as Mixing with the Masters, each workshop is a week long and has limited enrollment. The first workshop is scheduled right after my project with engineer Peter Katis. Tchad Blake has just come on board and is scheduled for a couple of weeks later in the fall.

St. Remy is close to the city of Arles. Both places and the surrounding region were settings for famous paintings by Vincent Van Gogh who spent much of his life in this area. It is said that the light in the south of France is inspirational for artists. I can verify this, although I find it hard to describe. The incredible quality of light gives the effect of everything seeming to be illuminated from within. The psychedelic, luminous quality of Van Gogh's paintings is understandable after seeing the light here.

Every morning I descend two flights down well worn stone steps with this beautiful, invigorating light streaming in. Often, at the bottom of the stairs, a door is open looking out to the lavishly green, well kept landscape of the La Fabrique grounds. Two small potted trees with well-pruned, symmetrically spherical tops line each side of the doorway. They look like bonsai plants only too big, yet much smaller than regular trees. This attention to detail and the light, combined with staying in a large older house near the forests of south France gave the feeling of what I imagined it was like staying at the Prieuré, the school established by G.I. Gurdjieff in the early XXth Century in Fontainebleau.

One morning I noticed that the light even made the ordinary breakfast items: the bottles of juice, the bread, preserves, the cups, saucers and eating utensils appear magical, as if illuminated from within. I can't help but wonder what effect this light has on audio perception because, as I mentioned, it bathes the studio Control Room all day long.

St. Remy also has the distinction of being the birthplace of the famed visionary Nostradamus.

I will talk more about the incredibly talented artist I'm working with at another time when the project is complete.

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