this quick, illustrative photo shoot using only
a single studio flash unit bounced off the ceiling would document
a space that was specifically designed to be the
anti-Architectural Digest. As a loose mimic of a similar
creative environment in London, this stateside inception in Massachusetts
would bring the same colorful and childlike whimsy to The Writing
Room more informally known as The Play Room
some general, some technical ... for two different
take away what you please.
A Child's Room for The Immature Adult in a Matured
Just beyond the front door of the nearly 100 year old home, one can deftly
navigate their way in a small and less-than-considerate entryway thats
somewhat reminiscent of a generous European phone booth with stairs
leading straight to the second floor
and yet another entrance
door to the ones right. While the second story would be dedicated to
the more conventional fare of living room, dining room, kitchen, and a couple
of bedroom spaces, the right-hand door in the entryway leads to a world less
Beyond the second door is a more formal and inviting foyer space, featuring
a gas-driven fireplace, flanked by antique sconce lighting, just above the
mantle. This, as a more modern reflection of the gas lamps that once illuminated
the house, with the previous gas-filled pipe work that exited the walls,
now capped off in more contemporary times. Indeed, the first modernized revamp
of the 1920s would sport actual electrical service generously delivered
through one outlet, per room. And the 15 amp circuits, sometimes shared,
would provide all the power required for the post-industrial, technological
marvels of a table lamp and radio.
As time moved on with more offered in the way of newfangled
contraptions that couldnt be powered by a horse or housewife
of equal standing the floors would be adorned with a series-parallel
array of snaking extension cords. The more industrious would drill electrical
cord access ports between rooms, stapling the wire runs to
baseboards. In fact, the archeological and forensic evidence of these assiduous
approaches would be periodically unearthed for the next 80 years
least as found in those residences that didnt burn to the earth.
Enter the age of power tools where the first, historic circular saw
to buck and seize upon its chance encounter with a knothole would
render the house
dark. This, simply because one chose to cut up the
old coal shoot in the basement that accommodated the heating fuel
of a previous era. But with periodic updating over several decades, much
would improve with the new challenges of blow dryers and microwave ovens,
leaving modern man and woman with more leisure time to trek into the basement
for the continued renegotiation of circuit breakers.
From The Foyer to The Great Beyond
But there one would be, in the foyer of This Old House, where
the wanderer would have three options: Turn around, and head back out the
entrance door, fearing the homes eccentric inhabitant; make a left
and wander down the hallway to other first-floor spaces towards the back
of the house; or pass though a wide and generous threshold that offered the
more inviting sitting/reading room with wall-mounted bookcases and a large
reading table by a wall-occupying expanse of angled windows. This all sounds
more lavish than it is. One could merely think of it as a living room area
with a purpose an actual utility, foreign to many such spaces.
And from this area, one couldnt help but notice yet another wide
pass-through to a room that popped the eyeballs and excited the retinas with
a colorful boldness that could invite controversy. It would be The
Above the refinished and heat-painted radiator is a signed and numbered
print by German artist, Ferdinand Just the ex-husband of my
dearest friend who passed on all too soon. She would never get to see this
space or home on terra firma, but she's present
Her nude torso is abstractly rendered in the print with multiple passes
of the silk screen. When the neighboring lamps are turned off, the colored
tones of the tulip shades vaguely key-in with some of those in the print.
A similar work from the series is hung on the opposing wall, just above
the expansive desk space.
The wall color in this instance is more reflective of the room's tone
under nighttime, incandescent illumination being far more
subdued than its bright-light, daytime (or photo flash) presentation.
For this particular room, I wanted something that wouldnt be
typical of an Architectural Digest Visits spread. A place to
write whether words or music that would excite and inspire.
And yet, in the very same instant, would be free of distracting clutter.
An organized and versatile space that could readily adapt, within a matter
of minutes, to a variety of creative endeavors. And, in tow, the ability
to be entertained as one wished to consider the creative works of
others. This would all have to come together in a space that wouldnt
come across as static and contrived, maintaining an always-on
sense of casual comfort.
And, as a Play Room, it needed to have some whimsy even
containing some visual jokes, if a few would only be known to me. Many early
childhood nods to the Pop 60s inclusive of color selection
would come into play
ones less frequently considered by true adults,
of which I am a highly reluctant and resistant member of the tribe. In short,
I wanted a room where I could sit on the floor, plowing down injection-molded
soldiers with Tonka toy trucks and in my Time Machine listen
to the WOR broadcasts of Jean Shepherd, when I wasnt listening to music.
For I knew that the truly creative
never completely grew up. They
couldnt. (After all, I only synthesize adulthood for the benefit of
the grown-ups so they can feel a little less uncomfortable around me. It's
a complete ruse. A total fake. What bullshit.)
And then there would be The Toys. Oh, the toys.
The College Years would also be reflected in the utilitarian
furniture I would fashion myself along with the more youth-oriented
selection of poster prints that would play along side with somewhat
more mature, signed and numbered artworks. The House could 'rock',
among chairs that could roll and spin as a favorite of twenties-something,
intra-room transport. And the Frat-House Couch would invite one
flop. In short, outside of the area rug and a few architectural
details, there could be nothing even remotely 'Ethan Allen' about this room.
It had to be 'Kid Stuff'.
The lighting essentially color-gelled by the contemporary take on
tulip shades could change the entire tone of the room. With a particular
selection of rotary switches, profound warmth could be assigned
the bluest of rooms. I could make the walls 'advance'; I could make them
receded, looking more slate-like in tone. I could provide both, in the same
instant, depending upon direction. Overall, the room coloring would, indeed,
be heavily geared towards the rendering of nighttime illumination with
low-wattage accent lighting serving as the overall room lighting - having
no 'general lighting' to speak of. Popping a studio flash off the ceiling
for this pictorial renders many of the details ... but captures little of
But in all, it would be a space that would be carefully considered
without coming across as being highly contemplated.
The Look Around
The heart of music composition, with recording and playback equipment
stacked under the two tables at their outer perimeters. Additional equipment
may be rolled in, as required, to also fit below the table tops. Other guitars
come in and out of the room on a rotational basis, depending on mood or
The piano seating would be an adjustable-height office chair with its
arms and back not attached after being pulled from the box. This, combined
with a home fabricated piano stand specifically built be lower than regulation
height, would reduce fatigue for long sessions. The forearms would remain
more relaxed while the hands could still navigate even the more demanding
Along with an array of guitars situated around the room, next to the Fender
Custom Shop Telecaster, is the heart of the 'music composition center': A
Yamaha Digital Grand Piano -- that which has the digitally recorded sounds
of a $30,000 Yamaha CF IIIS, 9 foot concert grand piano tucked into a black
box with 88 keys.
For those not familiar, the technology digitally records (samples) each key
of the actual concert grand, one note at a time. In addition - and of equal
significance - each of the 88 keys is sampled at a variety of dynamics (loudness
levels) and articulations. These recordings are then stacked below each key.
With that, in the comfort of the studio - or home - one can then trigger
(play) the samples at the keyboard, as if sitting at the actual piano. In
fact, the keyboard action is also replicated with weighted keys and, to Yamaha's
credit, it also accurately mimiced the differences in action (Graded Hammer
Action) from the bottom octave, up to the top - just as it would be on the
If 'recording' is your stage (such as a CD or digital download) - as opposed
to performing live in a concert hall - then the replication of the original
grand piano is truly exceptional. And Yamaha did a bang-up job, auditioning
and 'ear-selecting' from an array of their own pricey pianos before bringing
it into the studio to digitally sample ... after it had been custom tweaked
by their piano technicians. It would then be recorded with the finest studio
microphones, spaced at different locations, to ultimately be selected from
a switch on the more compact, digital inception.
But there'd be more to the piano-style keyboard ... By way of a communications
protocol known as 'MIDI' (Musical Instrument Digital Interface), the keyboard
can access the over 2,000 instrumental sounds - in a variety of articulations
(which is how one gets to over 2,000 sounds) - stored in the Mac computer.
These would include full-scale recorded samples of Steinway and Bosendorfer
pianos, among others, but none have yet quite equaled what Yamaha provided
right out of the box, as concert grands go. Still, this array, combined with
software, allows for full orchestral scoring, inclusive of printouts.
Another View With A Room
Yes, one can keep on eye on the news - or The Queen - while playing at
the keyboard. But the large flat screen can also display the output of the
Mac computer, functioning as a massive monitor. Seated at the piano keyboard,
and with the aid of a wireless mouse, the recording software can be negotiated
Sometimes referred to as my 'Wall of The Dead English', the flat screen
is flanked by the pshycedelic, 1968 Look magazine shot of John Lennon
by photographer, Richard Avedon -- and a photo-mosaic print of Princess Diana.
The latter image was created entirely with small photographs of daisies being
used as 'pixels' to form the final image. The inside joke to myself was that
this would be the essence of how a television 'illusion' is created, flat
screen or otherwise. The two images would be bridged by the 'Daisies' print
(yes, more daisies) from the New York Graphic Society -- further carrying
the tones over from the Avedon print of Lennon. And this from a
The loudspeaker monitors on either side of the flat screen -- somewhat sizable
for 'satellites' of these days -- are supplemented with a subwoofer, driven
by its own dedicated amplifier, crossed over at 125Hz. These particular monitors
are a customized Frankenstein creation -- marrying modified, wide-dispersion
Lineaum tweeters to remarkably smooth and silky mid-bass drivers, sourced
from Vifa of Denmark that truly can be run up to 4000Hz for
higher crossover points, as required. The crossovers were entirely reworked
and all of the components are housed in stiffened enclosures, fully sealed,
and lined with non-hardening modeling clay to suppress resonances, inclusive
of the front baffle speaker mounting board. The non-hardening clay would
also be selectively applied to the structural speaker baskets of the mid-bass
drivers. In short, the system walks all over the ever-popular (and
long discontinued) Yamaha NS10s used as near-field monitors in pro studios,
the world over -- at least for pop music production, being wholly unsuitable
to check classical mixes.
And yet, with banana jacks at the ready, these pictured monitors may be readily
swapped out with a manageably sized pair of B&Ws, pulled from another
room ... or even a pair of ... yeah, Yamaha NS10s I have stacked in
the closet -- so I have the option of hearing what wretched thing other people
(inclusive of professionals) are listening to. (NOTE: In their defense, there
were reasons for the ubiquitous presence of the Yamaha NS10s. For
the technicially astute, providing a different perspective, you can find
one of the best discussions on the monitor
here at 'The Yamaha NS10 Story. While there
are some statements advanced that I don't entirely agree with, it's an
excellent read -- with some valuable take-away considerations for
those pondering other reference monitors).
But no matter what monitors might be patched in at a given moment, the actual
end-game here was the ability to hear the intended mix (or currently recorded,
non-acoustic track) from the piano's seating position. Headphones are used
when microphones come into play - for acoustic instruments or vocals - during
the actual recording process, naturally.
the nemesis of my existence has always been cabling -- wires of any kind.
They trip me up ... literally. Beyond this, imagine having to untangle the
Christmas lighting pulled from the attic, each and every day of your life.
In this room, much of it would remain hidden. While there's still something
of a forest in the back of the equipment, the actual intra-room runs would
be trafficed through the baseboards. In fact, additional baseboards were
added to the existing ones, channeled for the runs of wiring around the room
(inclusive of rear channels for 'entertainment-style', surround presentation).
Additional wiring would be handled from the basement, below.
And yet, there are still those necessary umbilicals to the electric or electronic
instruments, out towards the middle of the room, inclusive of the required
power cords. Still, the space remains relatively clean in its wiring. There's
little to trip you up, and not much in the way of tangled, visual messes.
The trick was to retain patching versatility in a room that would have varying
requirements, and much of that would be handled with patch-points located
in the closet space.
But the point in all of this was the ability to record tracks -- even those
created in the writing process -- that could be brought into the more formal
or elaborate studio, without diminishment to the final recording. Yet, depending
upon the nature of the music, entire wotks could be recorded and mixed in
this very space, exclusively -- using the Mac computer as the digital multi-track
recorder and mixing console (Macs - along with garden-variety PCs - are commonly
the 'recorders' in pro studios, in any event -- even when married to massive
mixing desks ... the latter not entirely required for one person, recording
all of the instruments themselves, a single (or stereo) track at a time.
Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software provides most of what you need,
aside from quality mics, preamps, converters, and a good monitoring system.
Controlling Acoustic Splash: The Even More Technical
Breeze past this section, as you please. The 'Desk Space' will soon follow
As it relates to acoustics spaces -- for either playback or recording, the
nightmare from Hell would be a perfect cube, with all dimensions being equal,
inclusive of the floor to ceiling height. This would be particularly true
of a room without open apertures, where the entrance door would be shut.
Across the sound spectrum, some wavelengths (frequencies) would be unduly
reinforced, peaking heavily in certain regions, while other wavelengths would
be suppressed (often referred to as 'cancellation', but that never really
happens in the absolute). In fact, with a given set of room dimensions at
hand, one can roughly calculate the frequency behavior across much of the
spectrum -- the low and early mid-bands, in particular -- relative to a given
source location (using a single speaker -- two of them, as in stereo,
complicate matters) . It should be noted that these calculations wouldn't
consider furnishings and fixtures -- nor the absorption rate of different
materials, from walls to the stuffed furniture.
Essentially no parallel or perfectly perpendicular (full) walls can found
in The Play Room. But even the window blinds come into play as a means of
altering the room's acoustic signature, along with the rather unusual molding
pieces custom-fabricated for the wall to ceiling junction ...
It's a rather good thing that few people live in a perfect cube with highly
reflective surfaces -- like a bathroom, say. But several rooms approach it
-- though rectangles are more common, certainly. Still, even 'perfect rectangles'
(as if such a thing existed) can present similar challenges to the cube,
creating a jagged response curve in the room. One can smooth the 'playback
curve' by moving the speakers to different locations, relative to the boundaries
(as just one part of a larger equation). And the 'recording curve' can be
adjusted by seating location and direction, sometimes combined with the use
of acoustic screens -- commonly called 'gobos' in the studio, though their
most typical application is for sound isolation among instruments
In a quick, related aside, it's utterly amazing how many pro-level studios
spend so much time and effort tweaking the acoustic profile of the recording
space ... while having an absolutely horrid environment for playback in the
control room -- where critical decisions are made. 'Near Field' monitoring
-- with smaller monitors at 'close range' -- can help, reducing the room
equation. But it's truly damn-near impossible to successfully equalize around
the secondary reflections bouncing off the mix console, itself -- "combing"
the response pattern in the critical mid-band and lower treble registers,
in particular. Even in 'The Play Room', for more critical monitoring, the
satellite speakers are pulled to the front ledge of the table to eliminate
its reflection. I can better 'control the floor', particularly as it relates
to near-field monitoring.
(NOTE: There are other reasons that one uses near-field monitoring -- with
other benefits. Their presence is also commonly supplemented by other - often
larger - monitors situated away and beyond the mixing console. Yet still,
there are many engineers and producers who have used near-field pairs - such
as the NS10s - as their 'reference standard'.)
Be that as it may ...
As it relates to an enclosed space -- even one with apertures -- for both
recording and playback, one can adjust the acoustic profile with placements,
materials, and dimensions. Materials can adjust the absorption rate and
reverberant decay characteristics -- though not its time, so much,
as it relates to 'first and second reflection'; that's more a function of
space. But all three parameters cited, inclusive of placement and dimensions,
work in harmony -- or collusion, more commonly -- to define the room's response
curve as it relates to frequency balance.
As it was, the home's innate architecture provided gifts ... Chief among
them would be the varying wall angles throughout the house. In fact, the
only spaces where pure rectangles can be found are in the rear room on the
attic floor (an abbreviated 'third floor', of sorts), and in the kitchens
(yes, there are two of those, hailing from a time when two generations of
mass-reproducing Irish Catholics within a 75 mile radius of Boston would
occupy the same home).
But without getting into the specifics of mathematical calculations, the
seven angles within The Play Room would help reduce 'standing waves' and
provide very nice, relatively even-handed acoustic diffusion across the audio
spectrum. But there would be more added to the mix ...
While generous and weighty cornice moldings can be seen adjacent to the ceiling
perimeters of many colonial-style homes, the more contemporary inception
found in The Play Room would be fabricated almost entirely from acoustic
sheeting panels to help control reflections at the wall to ceiling junction.
This, combined with the area rug -- and some additional absorption material
affixed to the undersides of the tables would further control the room's
acoustic 'slap'. Additionally, the couch -- spaced a couple of feet away
from the angled window banks -- would provide something of a 'bass trap'
for low frequency control. But we wouldn't be quite done, just yet ...
Additional acoustic panels of another, softer material (similar to judo mats)
would be fabricated to compression-fit within the window frames, behind the
blinds -- easily removed for daylight, as desired. With this, some adjustment
could be made to the relative acoustic absorption and reflection of the room
by opening or closing the blinds by varying degrees. This technique - more
commonly using wooden louvers - can be seen in some top-flight recording
studios, as well as in a few contemporary concert halls where the louvers
are actually navigated by motors. For me, the absorption panels are inserted
behind the blinds when I want to do something rather serious in the room
-- inclusive of critical listening playback in two environments contained
within the same space.
The Non-Executive Desk Wall
The desk space - truly a table, with a generous depth - is the companion
piece of the other, shallower table that supports the flat screen television
and monitors. Each of the two home-fabricated units would have their legs
tapped in different locations in consideration of the loads that needed to
be distributed. For example, the 'flat screen table' has its legs kicked
in more towards center, while also being in a location that would support
a variety of monitors on the vertical axis. For the computer table, legs
would be kicked towards the edges for the freest of leg space span as one
rolled in the office chair. Even the additional audio equipment below, towards
the left side, is pushed back towards the wall for a free knee space. And
that piano stand that was made to be lower than regulation height? It, along
with the piano, can be slid underneath.
I applied the finishes in-place, after the walls were painted, to get
the relationships I wanted in color and tone. Semi-gloss clear coats were
then applied in micro-thin layers. The childlike Choo-Choo train, carrying
similar tones, sits above.
And so now I sit, at the very computer pictured ... The Word Machine (aside
from the one in my head), The Audio Production Studio, The Video Editor,
The Photographic Darkroom -- all before me. And all on hard drive backup
- just for the critical media files.
But the desk remains relatively clutter-free. Even the printer is situated
off the table, to the right, sitting on a night stand with drawers filled
with paper and ink supplies. A scanner fits in there too. I hate computer
peripherals. They annoy me. They distract me. With open spaces I can place
open magazines and newspapers at will. Or nothing at all.
Yes, there are speakers - but not shitty 'computer speakers', mind you. Looking
much like miniature 'Mac Towers' they're small and highly modified
units that can be legitimately used as another pair of 'near-field monitors',
aluminum color matched to the Mac -- again crossed over to a true and actual
subwoofer ... all of it powered by dedicated audio amplifiers, split by an
electronic crossover. If I need to listen a bit more critically from
this location, the mini-monitor satellites are placed on small pedestals
and foam panels are placed on the desktop in front of them to reduce secondary
surface reflections off the table. In all - from a specified seating
location, sitting in front of the computer the ensemble, inclusive
of the much-required (mandatory) subwoofer, is better than many people's
home 'stereo systems'. Certainly with better 'imaging' or 'sound-staging',
and without an over-pumped bass region.
A small digital modeling guitar amplifier sits to the extreme left. While
one could technically record with it, the unit more commonly functions
as a quick 'note taker' with internal effects that can be stored and recalled.
It may moved at will, even by weaklings, and replaced with other amps for
the final recording. Or, the electric guitars can be sent through a preamp,
and patched directly into the recording software where 'virtual amplifiers'
and associated effects can be called up on-screen.
To the left of the 'table-desk' is a closet - partially obstructed by an
office chair with a Gibson Byrdland guitar comfortably nestled within during
this photo shoot. The closet houses mic stands, booms, an array of studio
mics, patch cables, an additional pair of monitors, and other related equipment.
And yeah, the 'full featured' office chair may be rolled in front of the
computer ... or the truncated piano chair may be rolled over for that seating
location instead - back and forth, to and fro ...
The Final Analysis
In the final analysis, I know that many would cite this room as being 'typically
male' -- or at least a male with a somewhat artistic or eccentric flair.
But as it relates to the collective female eye, they say ...
"It needs some plants."