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What's that on the wall at Abbey Road?

For reference:
Abbey Road - Studio - Studio Two

I see sheets or curtains hanging, and I see monster gobos. In the other Abbey Road studios, I see the strange panels on the wall that bulge out like pyramids or something. What are these things and what do they do? How do they work? Forgive me if I'm just not seeing the obvious.

All in all, it looks rather reverberant. I don't see much absorption, but what do I know?

How can you get a tight focused sound in such a live room? Is it because things are close mic'd and the room is huge?

Or, from another angle, what is it about the ROOMS that give the "Abbey Road" sound?

Thanks!
-Johntodd

Comments

anonymous Mon, 03/11/2013 - 05:41
To me, they look like simple absorber panels that are hung to allow an air space behind them.

FWIW, The Beatles didn't really like the Abbey Road studio all that much. The live room was pretty sterile, not much more than a box. I think it looks better now than it did then. It was very "industrial" looking when the Fabs were there. They recorded there because their label - EMI - owned the studio and the management of the label wasn't going to pay another studio to record their act when they already had one at their disposal.

Abbey Road was notorious for being the last studio in town to make upgrades or add new equipment. They had a new 8 track reel to reel that sat around for several months in storage because it was missing a power supply and EMI management didn't want to fork out the dough to purchase one.

There were more than a few interviews with all of the Beatles where they complained quite a bit about the studio. George mentions there being a lock on the studio lounge's refrigerator, and that if they wanted milk for their tea they had to actually break into the fridge to get it. Ringo mentioned that the toilet paper used in the bathroom was similar to sand paper. I find it funny that the biggest band in the world at that time was treated with not a whole lot more courtesy than the bands recording there that no one had heard of at that time.

Geoff Emerick, in his book "Here There And Everywhere", talks about how they had to do things behind the studio management's backs... like adding enhanced low end to songs like Paperback Writer and Rain... Paul had come back from a trip to Motown Studios in 1966 and he had been impressed with the amount of low end that those Detroit records had. He returned to Abbey Road and mentioned that he wanted that kind of low end on future Beatles records, and Emerick said he could do it... as long as they kept it quiet and didn't let the management know... because he could lose his job if they found out.

The steps in the picture lead up to the control room, and it was a place that surprisingly, The Beatles didn't go up to very often. In those days, it was a sort of "line of demarcation" that they rarely crossed.

These days it's very common to see an artist sitting next to an engineer or producer at the console. But in those days, it was rare. That room was George Martin's realm, and he didn't like people in there, other than cats like Emerick or Phil McDonald (or a very young Alan Parsons). He would put up with it occasionally, but he didn't like it.

fwiw
-d.

anonymous Mon, 03/11/2013 - 06:59
I don't believe it was anything close to "free', John. I'd bet that the studio bills came off the top (gross) from the album sales.

There would be no way Abbey Road management would lock down that studio for 24 /7 access for the better part of 6 years for nothing. And, from around 1966 to 1968, after the Beatles came off the road and quit touring completely, the band worked nocturnal hours- arriving at the studio at around 7 pm and working through the night, which meant that the engineers and staff that had to remain there for those hours were probably getting paid a higher rate. The management at the label was notoriously tight-fisted, money wise. You can bet they got paid for the years of sessions somehow. ;)

The Beatles ended up at Abbey Road because EMI was the last label that Epstein approached before throwing in the towel. It ended up being the only label that would take them. It was a kind of last-ditch effort by Epstein, the last stop, after he'd made the round of all the other labels and had been turned down time and time again.

EMI assigned them George Martin, who had a reputation at that time for taking on "quirky" acts (he had been working on comedy albums with people like Peter Sellers and The Goon Squad), and considering that up to that time, EMI's main revenue turning roster were "serious" and "legitimate" classical and orchestral acts or adult oriented crooner types, the Beatles were considered "quirky" by the management at the label. They gave them to Martin simply because they didn't have any other staff producers who were willing to work with the band.

It was one of "those" scenarios that ended up being a legendary relationship between artists and producer.

Funny thing though...As late as 1965, even after the infamous Ed Sullivan show, 4 World tours, 4 mega-selling albums, a slew of HUGE selling singles, and two feature length movies that garnered great reviews, the upper level management at the label was still considering the Beatles to be a "flash-in-the-pan" craze, and one that would eventually sputter and die out.

fwiw
-d.

JohnTodd Mon, 03/11/2013 - 07:41
DonnyThompson

Are you talking about those curtains? Are they panels, too?

Also, I should be more specific. The Beatles royalties were never taken for studio/engineer bills. The label recouped personnel expenses via other means, ie, merchandising, etc. As for the studio itself, EMI never claimed money for that since they owned it. The Beatles had access when they wanted with the understanding that they must continue to make the label good money. It was a wise move on behalf of all parties, albeit nobody really knew how it would work out in the long run.

When they quit touring and went in for night sessions, they were using a lot of "spec" time, ie, unbooked time. Other acts used the studio during the day with The Beatles gear shoved off to one side. This was relatively consistent during the studio years, although it did vary. They didn't get exclusive access, just a lot of it.

Boswell Mon, 03/11/2013 - 08:07
Many years ago I was an assistant engineer on a session in Studio 2. The studio itself was very configurable in acoustic terms with wrap-around drapes that could be drawn back in various amounts and also the de-mountable absorption panels on the walls. It could cope with the amount of reverb needed for symphony orchestras as well as being set relatively dead for pop track recordings. There were many gobos on wheels that could be positioned around instrumental sections (quite an advanced thing back then), and I remember being impressed by how little sound emerged from a full drum kit surrounded by gobos.

There were strict union rules about not tracking instrumental parts without vocals, so we had to have the vocalists outside in the corridor with a single mic recording a scratch track while the instrumental parts were being laid down. In overtime (after the end of the instrumentalists' shift), the singers were brought back into the main studio for recording "corrective overdubs", which was when their vocal tracks proper were recorded.

Kurt Foster Mon, 03/11/2013 - 12:21
yeah! those lousy unions, they only kept the musicians working. those pesky rules! things are much better now. and we all know that it's way better to overdub vocals than to track live with the band! yeah .......! that's it. facepalm

the pyramids are diffusion .. the boxes with holes in the face are absorbers ... they are stuffed with rock wool most likely. the curtains are indeed very thick / heavy / absorptive. if they needed to record a dry track they put up gobos and absorbers. it was a very organic approach. also remember that the larger the room, the fewer acoustic issues you have. if you build it large enough, even a cube will sound good. Abbey Road is huge!

while Abbey Road was a bit primitive in terms of track counts and techniques the equipment and acoustics were stellar. tracks recorded there sound better to me than tracks the fabsters recorded at other studios. those emi guys knew their stuff. I suspect the management didn't really see the need for 8 tracks, after all the boys were doing just fine with 4 track machines. what's all the fuss?

my take is the sound that was captured with the two 4 tracks / sub mixing/ subsequent compression and generation loss was delicious. mixing to mono was better too. i read an article years ago where Kieth Richard said the same thing about the Stones recording. he thought things sounded better in mono and bounced / compressed ..("it's the sound of rock and roll," ... or some rot like that).

Davedog Wed, 03/13/2013 - 12:19
Everything you see attached to the wall and hung from the rafters can be moved and reconfigured for any type of sound. There were many great rooms back in those days who had this concept down, especially those that did movie tracks. Studio 2 could comfortably accommodate 55 musicians in an orchestral setting. It is approx. 60' X 38' X 28' and has a reverb time of 1.2 seconds. The 'curtains' were made of a combination of fabric and eelgrass called Cabot's Quilt. They installed these in the 50's. However they also proved to be quite the fire hazard so they were replaced in the 80's with a more modern material but still along the same lines as far as what they did to control the sound. All the other panels and boxes are either bass trapping or the adjustable swing-out panels. They also have three large Indian rugs that they put over the solid wood floors to create a dead end to the room.

Yes, there is a 'sound' associated with Abbey Road. These rooms are unlike any others in the world. Realize that they were built before rock and roll and the sound of a room used in recordings then was the biggest part of the recording process. All the things we can create these days electronically were created acoustically.

Also as a footnote to this facility, they made almost ALL of the parts that went into the building of this studio complex. EMI had real engineers on staff and whatever new and interesting concept and idea was put forth, if it was deemed worthy, the engineering department would conceive and build devices, sound control, everything that would be needed to instigate these ideas into reality. There are such a large number of little grey boxes that were added to the Beatles recordings simply because someone wanted something that made a sound like nothing anyone had ever thought of, its no wonder that replicating these sounds is so difficult. Plus the one-of-a-kind sound of the room.

Antonios Wed, 05/01/2013 - 05:03
Cheers for the useful info to the folks above.

Does anyone know if the perforated acoustic panels (shown better in the 5th picture) are metal panels like the sliding ones used in industrial applications?
I have seen similar metal panels in "industrially looking" studios and they do offer a descent absorption and due to the metal sheet surprisingly enough they absorb some low frequencies as well.

Kurt Foster Wed, 05/01/2013 - 12:11
i've seen pictures of George Martins studio AIR /London that has these same panels. they're also seen in pictures of the control room of Abby Road 2 circa 1968 / 69. i've wondered about them as well. i would guess they are stuffed with rock wool or ridged fiberglass. the long slats make for a semi reflective surface so things don't get too dead and probably afford a modicum of diffusion.

Space Thu, 05/02/2013 - 09:11
" due to the metal sheet surprisingly enough they absorb some low frequencies as well."

This shouldn't come as a surprise. The metal has more mass and resists vibrations at a lower frequency, the main issue is, given the potential weight of a LF metal faced Helmholtz panel, is it attached securely enough :)

And you will get high frequency thrown back into the room...things to consider.

paulears Wed, 04/23/2014 - 00:16
Perforated hardboard! Found in loads of studios of that period, especially BBC ones where they would be made in different depths and sizes and worked as absorbers filled with acoustic wadding rather than rock wool, and the panels let sound through to the wadding and also acted as membrane absorbers. Nice and simple and they worked surprisingly well. The hardboard with holes in was also used by shops as wall panels and hooks could be fitted into the holes to support stock and shelves. It was simply a useful sheet material, cheap and easy to decorate. In that era, the modern style of studio design was only just starting. Abbey Road's structure was very conventional, so all hard solid surfaces with treatment added, as has been said, to tame the natural acoustic.

anonymous Wed, 04/23/2014 - 05:23
I had an area on a side wall of my old commercial studio control room that was nothing more than a 4" deep frame filled with Corning pink, covered with a peg board that could be used to hang things like mic cables, headphones, etc.

I can't prove that it did all that much good, but I don't believe that it hurt anything, either. That being said, it wasn't the only acoustic corrective device in the room. I had some broadband absorbers on side and back walls, along with two diffuser panels, and two bass traps in the corners as well.

anonymous Wed, 04/23/2014 - 05:30
FWIW:

Medium-Density Fiberboard Plant Capacity and Production Trends

Medium-density fiberboard (MDF) product classification has been the subject of
considerable discussion since it was first commercially manufactured in 1965.
It has been classified as both a hardboard and a particleboard product. In 1973 a United
States Custom Court ruled that MDF was subject to the same tariff regulations as
hardboard (9).

source:
http://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/documnts/fplrb/fplrb06.pdf

fummunda Wed, 04/23/2014 - 06:54
Space, post: 414027, member: 32398 wrote: Prove it.

We can not be certain that medium density fiber was available in the 60's....prove what you say.

If it isn't actual MDF then it's chipboard. In any case it isn't metal, and I base that on my having been there numerous times. It's actually pretty fragile stuff and there are places where they could use a good patching.

anonymous Wed, 04/23/2014 - 07:28
Numerous times? I'm jealous. ;)

I've been told by others who have been there that there is a certain "vibe" in those rooms; one of these people described it as a kind of reverent sensation - a bit of "feeling the ghosts" of all the classic sessions that occurred there over the years, as if the creative spirit of so many engineers, artists and producers has embedded itself into the walls.

A few questions...

How many studios are in the complex?

When you were there, did you notice which studios were functioning and currently handling projects?

Studio 2 looks absolutely gorgeous in the pics, and the photos and description of what is in the control room sure makes it look like it's certainly a cream of the crop facility. Is it still the main room?

Man, I want to track there soooo bad. :notworthy:

fummunda Wed, 04/23/2014 - 07:49
Studio Two is the one most people want to record in for the obvious historic connections, but the much larger Studio One sees a lot of use for film scoring these days. Studio Three has been extensively remodeled; it bears almost no resemblance to its original layout. There's also a "Penthouse" studio upstairs for smaller projects and a fifth room mainly for mixing. My experience there has been limited to Studios One and Two; I visited between projects there so I could get a good sense of their space. If you want a dead pop sounding room go elsewhere.;)

anonymous Wed, 04/23/2014 - 08:12
fummunda, post: 414060, member: 48026 wrote: Studio Two is the one most people want to record in for the obvious historic connections, but the much larger Studio One sees a lot of use for film scoring these days. Studio Three has been extensively remodeled; it bears almost no resemblance to its original layout. There's also a "Penthouse" studio upstairs for smaller projects and a fifth room mainly for mixing. My experience there has been limited to Studios One and Two; I visited between projects there so I could get a good sense of their space. If you want a dead pop sounding room go elsewhere.;)

If I wanted a dead sounding pop room I could easily find a multitude of those within a 25 miles radius. ;)

LOL... what I want is the sound on the Rubber Soul album. I'm afraid that without the desk that was in there - circa '66 or so - as well as someone like Geoff Emerick twisting the knobs, my expectations may fall a bit short... ;)

anonymous Wed, 04/23/2014 - 09:34
JohnTodd, post: 414065, member: 39208 wrote: How about Rubber Soul with more bass in it? It's my favorite Beatles album, but I always find myself reaching for the treble knob to turn it down.

LOL... and I'm fairly sure that Rubber Soul was recorded after Paul came back from a visit to the States - and Motown - where he was knocked-out impressed by the low end that they were getting in their mixes.
Myth has it that the engineers at AR at the time would actually be disciplined if they added more bass on recordings than what was stipulated in the rules handed down by the upper echelons at EMI.

But...then I listen to recordings like Paperback Writer or Rain, and think that at some point, Paul must have finally gotten through to those who made the rules... because the bass guitar/low end on those tracks is awesome. ;)

Space Sun, 04/27/2014 - 19:03
paulears, post: 414039, member: 47782 wrote: Perforated hardboard!

Exactly.

Perforated hardboard not MDF which some others are staging a case of support for. Nevermind the suggested "circa 196ish" development period for medium density fiber. It was either hardboard or an A class plywood.

Belvedere Mulholland Mon, 04/28/2014 - 13:44
DonnyThompson, post: 414067, member: 46114 wrote: LOL... and I'm fairly sure that Rubber Soul was recorded after Paul came back from a visit to the States - and Motown - where he was knocked-out impressed by the low end that they were getting in their mixes.
Myth has it that the engineers at AR at the time would actually be disciplined if they added more bass on recordings than what was stipulated in the rules handed down by the upper echelons at EMI.

But...then I listen to recordings like Paperback Writer or Rain, and think that at some point, Paul must have finally gotten through to those who made the rules... because the bass guitar/low end on those tracks is awesome. ;)

Kind of like that. The Beatles collected American records as we know - it's where they came from, and the bass was clearly better, they didn't need to visit. They asked for more bass. The bass on Paperback Writer was a deliberate attempt to improve. Different stories credit different Motown records as the inspiration. The engineers were disciplined, not for adding more bass but for using a loudspeaker as a mic. Paul also switched to using his Rickenbacker. The rules didn't change... The Beatles just broke them, as they had before. But (see below) EMI were making soo much money from them they allowed them to get away with it. Other acts didn't... until Pink Floyd.

On a couple of previous points... the board is what we call perforated hardboard, it is a kind of fibre board but not MDF. Possibly low density if there is such a thing. It's a different product to MDF though... you can still get it.

Regarding paying for studio time... finances were very different back then. The Beatles got a very low record royalty: half an old penny per side (or something like that) when singles sold for about 6 shillings and 9 pence. So for two sides they were paid about 1/80 of the retail price. EMI were pocketing at least 25/80, probably more like 50/80... although they did provide the studio time. It was this imbalance and George Martin's fixed salary (£30/week if I remember rightly) that led him to go freelance fairly early on. He was already freelance by Paperback Writer.

paulears Tue, 04/29/2014 - 00:30
For what it is worth, in the UK, what we now call MDF was not around in the 70s. Wood sheet materials commonly available were hardboard, usually the hard oil tempered surface type, chipboard and plywood. The other products available were insulation board - the notice board stuff, which was also available in tiles with holes the same size as the perforated hardboard. I was using modern style MDF certainly by 1980, but I think the surface was not as rock hard as the current stuff. I remember it having a slightly 'fluffy' feel.

Belvedere Mulholland Tue, 04/29/2014 - 02:20
I don't suppose anyone knows what the surface of the walls is made of? You can see it clearly in the first pic of Studio 2.

It's painted over, but it doesn't look like any 1930s brickwork I've seen. Also, it's laid tile-wise rather than overlapping courses as you would get with any kind of brick. And it's much smaller than a brick would be. I'm guessing it's some kind of tiling.

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