Book Review: RAThe Book
By Roger D'Arcy and Hugh Flynn (illustrator), with photographs by Neil Waving. Foreword by Adrian Kerridge. Black Box Limited (London), 2011. $215. Hardcover, 15" by 10.5" by 1.25", 350 pp. ISBN 978-1-907759-16-1. Available from www.ra-thebook.com (ships from within the US).
In July 2004, I reviewed Jim Cogan and William Clark's Temples of Sound: Inside the Great Recording Studios, a collection of the business histories of 15 US recording studios. Each chapter covered a particular studio, focusing on its role in the careers of the recording artists most associated with that studio; eg, United Western Recorders and the Beach Boys.
Whereas Temples of Sound was more about the music business than about recording studios, RAThe Book: The Recording Architecture Book of Studio Design is a lavish, premium coffee-table book about cutting-edge contemporary architecture in the design of recording and mastering studios and postproduction facilities. The 125 projects detailed within vary in size from home studios to commercial spaces that can accommodate a full orchestra. All of these facilities have been designed and built, over the past 25 years, by the British firm Recording Architecture Limited, which published the book.
The locations range from the US to India, with the greatest concentration in Europe. RA's client list includes Rick Astley, Neneh Cherry, Lenny Kravitz, Manfred Mann, Gilbert O'Sullivan, Sade, Ronnie Woodand Adrian Kerridge, who wrote the foreword and was a colleague of the legendary Joe Meek, whose career progressed from the Dave Clark Five to recording music for major film studios.
The book's production values are in sync with its subject matter. The paper stock is very heavy and the layout is restful, with lots of white space. The photography, by Neil Waving, is first-class. When this large-format book is opened, its 21" by 15" expanse approximates the Golden Rectangle of classical landscape paintingand indeed there are several dramatic two-page spreads. The first such spread, of the Hulgrave Hall Studio control room, made me say "Wow!" out loud. All told, there are more than 140 project plans, 330 details and drawings, and 150 color photographs in a hardcover book weighing 7.7 lbs.
RAThe Book is divided into five sections; projects are grouped by genres such as "Private and In-House Music Studios" and "Mastering and Cutting (Editing)," followed by a vitally important section that lays out the "Work Stages" for studio design and construction. The Work Stages move from the structural modification of an existing building and sound isolation through electrical service, HVAC and HVAC noise control, acoustical treatments, audio-cable management, lighting, and fitting out. In the Technical Appendix there is even a full-page project timeline, and a complete Request for Proposals for an installation at Pinewood Studios.
In the preface, the publisher says, "This is not a theoretical guide but a detailed presentation of tried and tested techniques as applied to real, built projectsin many of the case studies, the actual drawings issued for construction are reproduced." Among these are drawings of Recording Architecture's distinctive studio furniture.
Practical advice abounds. My two favorite bits of wisdom: "never use wood-laminate flooring in a studio"it doesn't wear well in high-traffic areas such as behind the console, and its acoustical reflections have an unpleasantly thin and hollow sonic signature; and "never over-do acoustical absorption"it will make your room sound dead. The Technical Appendix depicts, describes, and gives sources for specialized acoustical materials of all sorts.
A continuing thread is the use of dimensional acoustical treatments as a signature element of a studio's visual design. I applaud that. Over and above the acoustical risks of "misguided over-application" of fabric-wrapped flat acoustical panels, too many flat, beige panels can make a music studio look like an office cubicle.
Early on, Recording Architecture's work became known by the distinctive, large-hole design motif of their engineered acoustical treatments. In time, grids of large holes came to be replaced by slots. Perceiving a need for semi-stock acoustical treatments for clients who lacked the budget for a from-scratch design, RA's subsidiary, Black Box, offers two grades of semi-stock panels made to order.
RAThe Book is so exhaustively complete that there is even a section at the end where principal photographer Neil Waving discusses his equipment and techniques, paying particular attention to two photographic examples. (Well, they did say that nothing would be held back!) The Technical Appendix on the physics of sound, complete with a full-page table of the frequencies of musical notes and their first seven harmonic overtones, is just about the clearest introduction to these important concepts I have seen.
As I looked at all the photographs of studio control rooms, I noticed that, while there were monitoring loudspeakers from PMC and ADAM, ATC monitors predominated. An important part of RA's approach to studio design is that monitoring loudspeakers should be placed on massive supports. In that regard, RA faults professional audio for lagging behind high-end consumer audio.
Who will want to buy this book? Architects, acousticians, whole-home systems integrators, and ultra-high-end audio salons, for starters. Any well-heeled audiophile thinking of building a large, dedicated music room will also benefit.
The $215 price is the equivalent of two hours (or less) of consulting time from a genuine expert. If your interest in recording studios is anything more than idle curiosity, RAThe Book is a bargain. And if you're merely curious, $215 for a coffee-table book might be a bit steep, but that's your call. Highly recommended.John Marks