Coda?

Here’s another story from the Times, and for me, it’s a mighty sad one:

The Music May Stop at a Storied Manhattan Studio

The facility in question is Avatar Studios, which has for almost forty years been one of the finest recording studios in the world. It is now up for sale, and if history is any guide (and readers of this blog will know that I believe it usually is), it will soon be replaced by luxury apartments. It’s already dodged this bullet once, back in the mid-90’s, and it isn’t likely to be so lucky now.

The news is particularly painful to me because I was a staff engineer there from 1978 until 1987, back when it was still called Power Station. There I learned the record-maker’s craft under the tutelage of some of the greatest engineers of the era — Tony Bongiovi, Neil Dorfsman, Scott Litt, Larry Alexander, Phil Ramone, and the incomparable mixer Bob Clearmountain, whose apprentice I was for more than a year. As exemplars of the art of production I had, as well as the men I’ve just mentioned, Nile Rodgers, Tony Visconti, Jack Douglas, Jim Steinman, Mike Mainieri, Arif Mardin, Manfred Eicher, Roy Thomas Baker, and many, many others. With three or four rooms running at any given time, the place in its heyday was a 24-hour salon for the world’s premier recording artists, and all of us in the engineering staff were fortunate enough to work on many of the most memorable projects of the age. Any one of has stories that would fill a book. (Perhaps I should think about that!)

Power Station had the best of everything: revolutionary acoustic spaces, the best consoles (Neve and SSL) that money could buy, live reverberation chambers, Studer multitracks, hundreds of Neumann and other top-end microphones, and a vast assortment of outboard gear (including, for you audio geeks, 24 channels of Pultec tube equalizers in each control room). The holdings diminished gradually after the place was sold in ’96, but the new owners, the Imamuras, held on to as much of it all as they could for the studio’s second incarnation as Avatar, and to this day Studio A remains the best tracking room in New York, if not anywhere.

I hope against hope that this historic studio will find an angel to buy and preserve it, but I am not optimistic: the economic realities of modern recording, in which acoustic spaces and analog consoles can now be modeled on a laptop, are simply overwhelming this time around, I fear.

Perhaps, Readers, if we all chipped in…

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4 Comments

  1. Whitewall says

    Malcolm, as a last resort you could dip into your stash of cash and buy it, then sell shares.

    Posted September 30, 2015 at 12:21 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Would that I could. My stash, alas, is woefully insufficient.

    Maybe Donald Trump would like his name on the place…

    Posted September 30, 2015 at 12:56 pm | Permalink
  3. ron d says

    Mal,

    I, too, was sad to read this article. I was at Power Station only a handful of times and I loved every minute of it. And 24 channels of Pultecs in each room, meaning 96 Pultecs? Wow. Yes, I am one of the audio geeks you speak of.

    I have always said that the history of the Power Station is the greatest book never written. Speaking of writing a book, I just finished reading a great book called “The Wrecking Crew: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll’s Best-Kept Secret” by Kent Hartman. Though it talks about the LA studio scene in the 1960s and 70s, I could not help relate this amazing story to the great studio musicians in NYC during the late 70s and 80s, which much of it took place at the Power Station. And to take it one step further, I can relate the Wrecking Crew story to my own personal experience when I was working at Look (recording studios) when I was lucky enough to be working along side our host of this blog, Malcolm. We had our own small version of the Wrecking Crew and Malcolm was a part of it. As I have mentioned in the past, Malcolm is too humble to tell you how amazingly talented he is, so I am always glad to tell people for him.

    I think the best way to describe Power Station/Avatar to the layperson is that it is the American equivalent to Abby Road Studios in London (which I was just visiting last week, btw). It will be a sad day if Power Station/Avatar does close for good.

    Posted September 30, 2015 at 1:20 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    “My blushes, Watson!”

    Posted September 30, 2015 at 1:55 pm | Permalink