Executive Stereo Blogs

Fire in the Hole!

Recording engineers and producers are always looking for that unique sound to make their productions stand out, and a great natural reverb or echo sound is one of the “holy grails” we look for. So in my quest to get a great natural reverb sound, I inadvertently became a fire bug !!
I was working at a very nice but relatively unknown studio in Ft. Erie, Ont, right across the border from Buffalo. The studio was housed in an old movie theater, and had a large recording room, which stretched about 80 feet long . In response to me asking them about getting a natural reverb sound somehow, the owners showed me the old air conditioning shaft under the studio floor, which ran from the front lobby of the theater, and was accessed through a hidden trap door under the lobby’s carpeting. It was made of cement about 4 feet in diameter and stretched out of sight into darkness from the entrance in the lobby to the back of the recording studio room. Well, I thought gleefully, here’s my new “signature” reverb sound , which everyone will want to emulate , but will never figure out how its done…(kind of like Hendrix and Eddie Kramer using an old stairwell, or the Beatles and Led Zeppelin using various acoustic spaces in their recordings….)
So I asked the studio owners for a small speaker that I could put down in the tunnel, and I put 2 microphones facing it at different distances down the tunnel, crawling on my hands and knees to place them in position. They had given me a nice B&W monitor that they took over to Buffalo and used for recording and monitoring the Buffalo Philharmonic for their weekly radio broadcasts. It was small enough to go into the tunnel and produced a nice enough sound when I fed a snare drum signal into it from the recording console.  So I’m working away in the control room, trying to get a great drum sound for the band I was working with, and trying to incorporate this new “trademark” reverb sound into the mix, but it just wasn’t ever quite loud enough, so I started sending more level to the speaker from the snare drum feed, and at some point later , I noticed that the “tunnel reverb” had disappeared….So I left the control room and walked out into the studio foyer/lobby, which was quite large and  had a reception desk and was the entrance from the street to the studio building , and lifted the trap door into the tunnel…….well you can probably guess what had happened.
I had sent so much signal into this small speaker, that when I lifted the trapdoor, billows of black and grey smoke came rushing out, filling the lobby and I could see fire down below where the speaker was in flames!!
I called out for water and my assistant rushed off to find a pail, but it was much too late..I had totally destroyed the studio owner’s favourite monitor speaker.
To my amazement, (after a few glasses of wine at the local pub, to calm everybody down) they took it rather stoically, and even though I offered to replace the speaker, they declined and said they’d probably just start looking for some new speakers…..but they would be very pleased if I would talk the studio “up” in Toronto and elsewhere, to try and make some amends for my recording studio arson! So after it all, I ended up not with a Holy Grail, but a Holy Smoke!!

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