Chiswick may not be the hub of the throbbing metropolis but it has much to commend it—a nice stretch of river, non-trendy real ale pubs and a compact music centre called Eden.
Down a quiet residential road near Chiswick Park Eden stands, externally unimpressive until you pass under its arched entrance and then things are different. On a blazing summer day you're plunged (well almost) into a continental courtyard with Russian vines, garden chairs, sun shades and ice-cream. A small door hides a very calm and relaxed 24-track recording studio that belies some of the more frenetic music generated there by people like Elvis Costello, Graham Parker and the Rumour, and Nick Lowe.
The calm and collected Piers Ford-Crush, one of the trio who started and still run Eden, introduced himself. Mike Gardner appeared a fraction later but the third, Philip Love had completely vanished from the face of the earth in a frenzy of moving house.
Piers and Mike worked together as technicians in the Beeb. Philip, then a budding song writer, was introduced and the demo studio developed from there. These were the heady days when demos were mostly on acetates and you could still charge £8 an hour for 4-track. After five years of successful part-time operation the studio, then in Eden Street, Kingston, was compulsorily purchased which prompted the decision to go full-time, big-time.
The studio was built inside an existing store building and Piers is convinced that starting as near from scratch as possible yielded the best results. "It took us over three years to find these premises, the main requirements being a large open space – very hard to find without building from nothing". They brought in Ken Shearer for the basic design because the trio felt in sympathy with his attitudes about sound treatment. It is very much a room-within-a-room design with a respectable sized studio and a moderately low ceiling. "It works out very well in fact, just as Ken Shearer said it would. We can get, without a word of a lie, a 35 piece line up in here, brass strings and timps."
The studio, control room and vocal booth are in fact built completely separate from each other with small air gaps between all the internal walls. A 60cm airspace separates the inner complex from outer wall. As there was no external LF vibration, the deeply concreted floor didn't have to be floated but a lot of energy was expended in making the control room as massive, in weight, as possible. Piers explained, "the control room has been heavily concreted on top. If you are going to drive it at the kind of sound levels you need, it's got to be a really massive structure. I'm sure that the ideal control room would be built like the Tower of London." Working from scratch has really paid off here, the bass in the control room is very firm even with the recently installed JBL 4350s driven flat out.
The Shearer treatment was executed by Graham Anthony and Peter Wadley, two 'real' architects who have contributed enormously to the atmosphere of Eden. The walls are finished with panels that are multi-diaphragms that selectively remove the room fundamentals. Slipped in between the irregular ceiling panels is light tracking, a new innovation at the time the studio was built three years ago. The lighting is in various colours and can be used up full when the studio is packed or turned down to make the studio more comfortable for vocals and solos.
In the far corner is a semi-permanent drum booth sectioned off with four of Eden's rather smart screens. These were done by Anthony and Wadley around Ken Shearers basic principles – they're bright blue with large windows and notches in the top and bottom giving the impression of a giant N. To complement these, the half screens are waist height E's and D's just to remind you where you are. The idea of a permanent booth had been kicked around but its present form has a lot of advantages. First it works as a booth should with no spillage, but at the same time the drummer still feels part of the studio with no sense of claustrophobia. On the back walls of the booth is another simple and effective touch, again on Ken Shearer's suggestion—two fairly short curtains that can be drawn across for a dead 'disco' sound, or left open, as they were now, for a much more live effect.
Everything was ready for an album session with the Rumour who had booked Eden (again) for four weeks. Among the usual complement of AKG 45/s and Neumann 87s were one or two unusual beasts. The team were initially appalled at Roger Bechirian's (resident engineer) choice of Soundstars for the booth and especially toms. But now they defend them totally. "Sometimes you find a mic that has exactly the right sound without any EQ and that happens to be one of them." So there.
"Phones are an eternal problem with studios," Mike Gardner said picking up one of the well used and taped up Beyer DT100s, "so with a regular turnover of cables being pulled out or otherwise destroyed, something easily replaceable from our own stock of spares is important."
Eden's aim seems to be towards allowing groups to feel at home with people and a place that is easy and comfortable to work in rather than go hell for leather into every new device available. Everything about the control room reflects this attitude.
Again, it is a comfortable size, seating about eight. In a perfect world Piers might have considered something a little larger but in fact it has turned out to be ideal. "You don't always want people in the control room and if it's crowded then that's a good reason for people to get out. If somebody hasn't got a seat they probably shouldn't be there anyway." A lot of what Piers and Mike said related to the long chain of human problems, the way people use things and react to equipment. It was no surprise to find that communications between the control room, studio and the overdub booth down the side of the control room, were excellent. Large windows, so that everyone can see everyone else, and a comprehensive talkback system that includes microphones in the roof of the studio and booths to avoid mimed gesticulations when overdubbing instrumentals.
The mixer was built and designed in-house whilst the rest of the building work was going on. It is a basic 20 input design, with a centrally placed 24-track monitoring section – all very compact. At the time it was built, none of the big manufacturers could produce a desk with the same facilities in the same space so everyone was happy with the end result.
Over the years minor things have been added or removed. For example, at the time of installation 'quad' was all the rage so originally the mixer was built completely quadraphonic with quad pots that have since vanished. Only one quad recording was ever made and that was cut in Japan, never to be heard of again. Although the studio started life as 16 tracks, all the design work had to take into account early upgrading to 24 so when after 18 months of operation, the Ampex 1200 was installed, everything was already prepared.
For speed, when changing the desk to mixdown mode, one knob switches all the input channels from mic to the Ampex output. Individual overrides are on each channel if needed. The output routing to the two stereo machines, a Studer A80 and B67, is also instantly switchable.
Mike went over the effects side in detail. A separate console contained a DN22 graphic, an Orban three input de-esser which was considered excellent and simplicity itself to use, Eventide Flanger and Harmonizer and Audio & Design parametrics. Echo is provided by a stereo EMT plate, two A77s, one at 76cm/s, the other 38cms which can be vari-speeded and are operated by the same switch on the desk, and also occasionally a heavily modified H&H multi-echo in addition to the delay facilities on the Flanger and Harmonizer.
The control room is positioned side-on to the studio — this was done to avoid musicians being confronted with gawping faces peering out over the mixer at them but it also means that the monitors don't have to be set in the ceiling. In fact Eden have recently changed from Tannoys to the enormous JBL4350. There were some problems in the initial installation trying to get the pair set as a mirror image, but now everyone is knocked out with them. Between Elvis Costello tapes Piers told me, "the room was here, we just needed the right speakers. With these it's not fatigueing. You can work at that kind of level and not come away concussed. I just can't understand why more studios don't use monitors of that standard". They are driven by a DC300 at low frequencies and a Quad 405 for the HE section, and the end result of control room design and monitors is obviously good enough for the Rumour bass player, who was spotted later happily playing in the control room with everyone else coming over the monitors.
Eden do not favour a tape-op in the control room so an autolocate is essential for the Ampex. Their present one does most of what is required without getting too complex to handle quickly and easily. Later developments have been tried but the present unit looks as though its going to stay for a while.
About this time the Rumour started arriving, so we moved off to the rest of the building where expansion work had started. The studio is now pretty well booked up five months in advance with afternoon and night album bookings including Elvis Costello and Dr Feelgood. The mornings are often reserved for remixing and other work.
The new building work represents a new phase in the development of Eden. The finishing touches are being put to a tape copying room with Leevers Rich and Ampex machines for basic copies and a pair of Mk1 A77s for low speed work. The copying room has taken a lot of pressure off the control room and will be linked to the adjoining offices, one of which will be used as a songwriting room, the rest as normal offices. On the other side of the courtyard, the large ex-store room is about to be turned into a games room for everyone to relax in after long sweaty sessions.
The whole of Eden is geared to this approach, trying to get a sense of involvement with the people recording, getting the best out of them by easing things along and trying to foresee problems before they happen. So now they are expanding. Philip and Piers are hoping to develop production and publishing and hence the new offices. In the nearer future, an 8-channel extension unit is due to be installed on the mixer in July and plans are afoot for a completely new mixer although this may wait on further developments in digital technology. As there are no criticisms of the general layout that haven't already been resolved, that will remain much as it is.
Piers is happy about the way things are going and wants to keep it that way. Just to prove the point Bob Andrews (yes the Rumour again) was smiling all day. Something had to be wrong, the topic was broached by the concerned engineer. Still smiling Bob replied, "No, nothing, I just like being here. Every time I come back I still feel at home."