MAKE:TNT Tools 'n' Tips

Temples of Sound: Inside the Great Recording Studios, by Jim Cogan and William Clark

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“Those studios were built with some incredible technology. For instance, the studios were built on four or five inches of cork. A cement slab was then floated (suspended) inside the building that did not touch the walls of the building, and then the wall of the studio was supported by that slab. There was no physical contact between the outer walls and the inner walls. This was all Bill’s design. A huge studio, about eighty feet by sixty feet, with a thirty foot ceiling, it had variable acoustics with rotating panels. Magnificent room.”

That’s how sound engineer Bruce Swedien describes the design of Universal Studios in Chicago, built in 1957 by Bill Putnam. Putnam was, by many accounts, the grandfather of modern recording studio engineers, a technological innovator with golden ears and a will to build whatever he needed to capture what he heard. Along with other greats, he ushered in an era of American popular music that had “the sound” — that certain something, a rich presence that many digital engineers are still trying to replicate.

Temples of Sound is a fascinating insider tour of the legendary recording studios of the 50s, 60s, and 70s — the rooms that recorded the most revered American pop music of the twentieth century: the sounds of Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Brian Wilson, Aretha Franklin, Barbara Streisand, Simon and Garfunkel, the Mamas and the Papas, the Rolling Stones, Marvin Gaye. They all had preferences for certain studios, and certain engineers. Jim Cogan and William Clarks’ lovingly narrated travelogue brings you back to an era when the materials and physics really mattered: hand-built consoles, echo chambers, ribbon microphones, and acoustic tile. Even the locations, some of them scrappy, converted offices, bathrooms, and garages, were recognized for their particular sound, and exploited by a handful of audio geniuses with a serious DIY effort.

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