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Author Topic: CBS Records' 30th Street Studio Presentation  (Read 861 times)

Dan Mortensen

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CBS Records' 30th Street Studio Presentation
« on: October 04, 2017, 03:29:57 am »

Hello,

My apologies for taking so long to realize that I should post this here.

For the last nine years I've been looking into the history of this New York City studio, and fairly intensely for the last four years or so.

This interest was triggered by getting to know famous recording engineer Frank Laico after he moved to Seattle and started coming to our Section's AES meetings. He was Tony Bennett's engineer for 40 years, did Barbra Streisand's first 16 albums, several albums with Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, and a ton of other recordings during his nearly 34 year career with Columbia Records and CBS. Many of those were done at the 30th St. Studio, and other people also engineered really fantastic sounding records there, too. As most of you undoubtedly already know.

It was sold in 1981 and torn down in 1982, and its legend grew as its particulars faded from memories. There are more than a few people who think it was the best sounding studio ever, but I'm not qualified to judge that.

I did post in this forum back in 2008 when we were putting together our first Section meetings looking specifically at Frank's career (and got some good info from regular Dominic, who I've gotten to meet and know), and again, I think, when Frank died in 2013. Since live sound is my career, I've since spent most of my time in the Live portion of this website, and not here.

Despite that, as time went on I looked around for more information about the studio than Frank could tell us, and I've only been getting more and more into it as found answers generated more questions that also needed answers. My research has stepped up over the years, and got knowledgeable people involved from another forum (not sure of the decorum of naming it and them here; please advise).

At the next AES Convention in New York, I'll be giving a talk on Saturday Oct. 21 from 10:45am-12:15pm in the papers area, so behind the paywall, in the Archiving and Restoration track (because it involves things that happened long ago?), about the overall history of the studio, which went from 1875-~1946 as a church (hence its nickname "The Church"), through its time as a studio and ending with its demolition.

Crikey, they listed it as a featured presentation. That's new since I last looked.

There's so much to talk about during its studio days that I fear its place in New York City history (and one of its pastors was a very significant figure in New York if not American history and culture) will need to be shortchanged in order to spend enough time on the details of its studio life. My Section let me do a dry run of it last week and there were a lot of questions and comments so I need to trim it down to fit into the allowed time. (That last link should be valid for another week or so until we post our next meeting announcement.)

We've gathered a ton of information about the studio, who was there and what they did, and its fascinating and surprisingly central place in the culture of the city, country, and the world during its existence, beginning after Europe and Asia were pretty beat up in WWII and the musical and artistic intelligencia of the world flocked to America and New York.

That said, I'm going to be concentrating on its evolution as a studio architecturally, acoustically, and electronically as recording technology underwent radical changes and refinements.

A pre-presentation (walk-in) video will name as many of the engineers, studio staff, producers, A&R people, studio attendants, artists, actors, etc. as I have been able to find out, and we will see a relative few of the people who recorded and worked there in the presentation. There were a lot, though, and many if not most of the artists at least will certainly be left out. I did fit in over a thousand total, though, which is why it has to be part of the walk-in and not the presentation, with most of their names seen but not heard.

Please consider stopping in if you are coming to the Convention and have a way to get in to the papers.

I would also like to present it to people who are not going to be at the Convention but are in or near New York City, so if anyone has any connections with someplace in Manhattan that could hold 20 or 30 people and has a screen or white wall for projections (I can bring a video projector if need be), please say so. I'll be in NYC before and a little after the Convention and would love to share this subject that is near and dear to me. There are a few people who worked in the studio who would like to see it, too, but won't be able to get in, so I'd invite them, too.

Thanks!
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Fletcher

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Re: CBS Records' 30th Street Studio Presentation
« Reply #1 on: October 04, 2017, 09:23:09 am »

This sounds wonderfully cool!!  ...a bit before my time [not by much], but certainly fascinating. 

I don't know of a place in Manhattan, but if its any assistance, I have a place about 45 minutes north of Manhattan with a screen and seating [as well as full bar / restaurant].  If you think this may be of some interest to you, please feel free to PM me.

Peace
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CN Fletcher

mwagener wrote on Sat, 11 September 2004 14:33
We are selling emotions, there are no emotions in a grid


"Recording engineers are an arrogant bunch
If you've spent most of your life with a few thousand dollars worth of musicians in the studio, making a decision every second and a half... and you and  they are going to have to live with it for the rest of your lives, you'll get pretty arrogant too.  It takes a certain amount of balls to do that... something around three"
Malcolm Chisholm

Dan Mortensen

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Re: CBS Records' 30th Street Studio Presentation
« Reply #2 on: October 04, 2017, 01:37:07 pm »

Hi Fletcher,

That's super generous and I wish I could take advantage of it. Are you on a train line or some other public transportation? I know Manhattan pretty well but am a fail about the rest of the region and what's involved in getting around. I'll be staying near Penn Station so that part is doable. Maybe.

It would be nice to not lug a projector (do you have that part, too?) across the country again.

Thanks!
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Fletcher

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Re: CBS Records' 30th Street Studio Presentation
« Reply #3 on: October 04, 2017, 04:35:16 pm »

We have a screen [75" - if there is an audio component it can be played in the bar / restaurant without a struggle], we're on public transport -- NY Metro North and Jersey Transit both stop at "Suffern" [on the Port Jervis line]... there is also a "Coach USA" bus from Port Authority, which stops about 75-100 yards down the street from the pub.
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CN Fletcher

mwagener wrote on Sat, 11 September 2004 14:33
We are selling emotions, there are no emotions in a grid


"Recording engineers are an arrogant bunch
If you've spent most of your life with a few thousand dollars worth of musicians in the studio, making a decision every second and a half... and you and  they are going to have to live with it for the rest of your lives, you'll get pretty arrogant too.  It takes a certain amount of balls to do that... something around three"
Malcolm Chisholm

Dan Mortensen

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Re: CBS Records' 30th Street Studio Presentation
« Reply #4 on: October 04, 2017, 05:25:15 pm »

This sounds pretty good and I am seriously considering it.

I think I know who the audience would be in Manhattan, not sure about in Suffern. Can you get some audio people together there? I don't need a lot...

It looks like there's NJT trains there regularly from Penn Station, transferring in Secaucus.

I think I'd prefer either Sunday, the 15th or the 22nd, in the early afternoon so I could get back to town before it was too late.

There's one other remote possibility for a Manhattan space that would be best close to the convention if not during, but I'm not holding out too much hope for it.

Let's keep talking, and see if anyone from this forum wants to be there. If this works out, I'll bring it up on the other forum (what's the etiquette for talking here about competing forums?) and see if anyone there could come to Suffern.

Thanks!

What do you think?
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Dan Mortensen

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Re: CBS Records' 30th Street Studio Presentation
« Reply #5 on: October 06, 2017, 11:34:18 am »

Crickets?

All I hear is crickets?
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Fletcher

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Re: CBS Records' 30th Street Studio Presentation
« Reply #6 on: October 06, 2017, 05:54:19 pm »

Oh gee sorry... I worked until 5am this morning... was back in at 9a to get the tap lines cleaned [we have 17 of them], and two subsequent meetings [I love doing 7 hours on my "day off", especially after a 20 hour day... its kinda like when I was doing audio but with a much weaker pay scale] -- so please, go light on the "crickets" thing... this is at best a "part time" gig, and seriously far from my main one.

That said -- I have no idea if there are "Suffern folk" who are into audio.  There used to be a very bad assed studio less than a mile from my house called "Bear Tracks"... but it has been shuttered for about a decade.  As far as Manhattan folk go, if they want to travel, we're on a bus line and a 3-4 minute walk from the train station.  The venue is available should you so desire... if not, no harm - no foul, and I sincerely wish you the best with this endeavor -- it appears to be a 'labor of love', and you've obviously put a boat load of time into it.

There are no "competing forums" here -- feel free to post whatever you like, wherever you like... and hopefully you will find an appropriate audience.  If you do desire to use our venue, it can be available on the 15th as I'm out of town on the 22nd [and I'm hesitant to let the "bar staff" attempt the audio / video interface].

I sincerely hope it all works out.

Peace
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CN Fletcher

mwagener wrote on Sat, 11 September 2004 14:33
We are selling emotions, there are no emotions in a grid


"Recording engineers are an arrogant bunch
If you've spent most of your life with a few thousand dollars worth of musicians in the studio, making a decision every second and a half... and you and  they are going to have to live with it for the rest of your lives, you'll get pretty arrogant too.  It takes a certain amount of balls to do that... something around three"
Malcolm Chisholm

Dan Mortensen

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Re: CBS Records' 30th Street Studio Presentation
« Reply #7 on: October 08, 2017, 04:53:35 am »

Fletcher, I'm sorry about the crickets comment and see why you'd think it was directed at you.

I really felt that you made this great offer which would make it easy for someone in the reasonable area to come see and hear what I hope will be an interesting and entertaining presentation about something hopefully germane to this forum, but while I can see people are reading it no one is responding but you. That was what I meant.

Addressing your working till 5am as a very valid reason for your not responding IMMEDIATELY, I realize that I'm in a glass house on that one as I've had a real long couple days of my own, although not till 5am, and also regret that I threw that rock and then didn't post in the thread for a couple days.

With that all said and moving on, I've had time to think about the meat of your note and think that if we can get 6 people (counting you) together that it would be very worthwhile for me to make the trip and share what we now know about an interesting place during its interesting times.

6 people because I don't really want to make a career of traveling around doing one-on-one presentations, but 6 seems like a nice number of people to get to know a little and share with. Announcing now that saying you'd be there and then not being there would make me angry and disappointed. (Specifically NOT addressed at Fletcher, since he can probably be counted to be at his own place.)

The other forum that the thread about 30th St is in is the Steve Hoffman forums, and the thread is called History of CBS Records' 30th Street Studio (many pictures) .

Anyone can read that thread, I think, but posting in it needs a free membership.

The thread's storyline kind of wanders as we figured out how to approach it and what to look for and who is in the pictures I and others post, as well as peoples' discoveries of music and movies that were done in 30th St and which show the studio and some details of it (in many cases). There are lots of links, some of which don't work anymore but did when they were posted a couple years ago. There are, in fact, lots of pictures.

I think it's nice to be able to share information that is on another forum which will be interesting to people on the present forum. Thank you for this. Other forums, Gearslutz at least, deletes mentions of forums other than itself, and even though they have much good to offer that anti-others feeling alone makes it difficult to want to read much.

I posted in my Hoffman forums thread your offer in general terms, and one person replied that he could come either weekend (I did name the city but not you or this forum) and would try to round up a couple friends.

I also created a group called The Friends of the 30th St Studio (did I mention that? I'm kind of dinggy tonight from too much work/too little sleep) which has a number of people who used to work at 30th St or worked at CBS after 30th St was gone, and perhaps one or two might be able to come. A note to that group will go out tomorrow. Senior tickets on New Jersey Transit are only $6.25 each way, regular are I think double that, so it's not too bad.

The 15th would be fine with me if we can get it together. I met you once or twice at an Ampex list/Pro Audio List dinner/gathering, and would like to see your place and talk and listen. I can bring a 15' HDMI cable; is that what your screen uses? Or I can bring a VGA cable. Or both, just in case. Or do I need to bring a projector, although if I can avoid it that would be nice?

Is the space somewhat isolated from people who just want to not be bothered, or would they and us be bothered by the other? I don't want to be annoying, but think it important if people can be able to concentrate.

I, too, hope this can work out and encourage readers to chime in if you could be there that day. Fletcher, is the afternoon a good time?

It's nice to participate and read forum posts, but nicer to get together and chat about audio stuff, which is one reason I like being part of the AES. We can talk about that, too, if anyone is interested.

Thanks, Fletcher.

PS Here are a few Don Hunstein pictures of the studio space in the mid 50's or so.
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Dan Mortensen

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Re: CBS Records' 30th Street Studio Presentation
« Reply #8 on: October 08, 2017, 04:55:36 am »

Pic 2, 1956-03 My Fair Lady, with Robert Coote, Julie Andrews, and Rex Harrison
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Dan Mortensen

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Re: CBS Records' 30th Street Studio Presentation
« Reply #9 on: October 08, 2017, 05:08:57 am »

1960, I think this is Igor Stravinsky
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Fletcher

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Re: CBS Records' 30th Street Studio Presentation
« Reply #10 on: October 08, 2017, 08:52:51 am »

Hey Dan... we're all good on the "crickets" comment... its in the mirror, let's focus on what's in the headlights.

First, I would highly suggest you contact Jules at Gearslutz [he runs the show there, and for all intents and purposes is a good egg] and let him know about this event -- and see if you can't work out a "quick promotion" kind of thing with him.  His email is:  jules@gearslutz.com   -- while we're here -- you should also throw a post or two up there, just don't mention "other forums" [like we do around these parts... I'm of the opinion that the free flow of information is important... but I don't feed my family from this so who am I to judge].

So -- a 15' HDMI cable will be more than sufficient... FWIW, the audio output from the TV is converted from TOSLINK to AES/EBU -- sent about 50 or so feet to the D/A converter where it meets a Manley [tube] pre-amp... which then splits off to the jukebox for distribution around the building.  I haven't tested it quite yet, but I'm 99% sure I can split off the audio to the dining room ceiling speakers [which are powered by a Macintosh 2100... because the jukebox company told me I needed an external amplifier to make the dining room its own zone... and that was the smallest of the Mac amps lying around my basement... I digress]... so the guys at the bar can either listen to music or football while we get to check out the presentation [fortunately its early enough in the football season where none of the customers is going to bitch about us monopolizing the big TV].

I will shoot you an email with my phone number... if you have any questions, comments, thoughts, etc. please feel free to reach out.

Peace

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CN Fletcher

mwagener wrote on Sat, 11 September 2004 14:33
We are selling emotions, there are no emotions in a grid


"Recording engineers are an arrogant bunch
If you've spent most of your life with a few thousand dollars worth of musicians in the studio, making a decision every second and a half... and you and  they are going to have to live with it for the rest of your lives, you'll get pretty arrogant too.  It takes a certain amount of balls to do that... something around three"
Malcolm Chisholm

Dan Mortensen

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Re: CBS Records' 30th Street Studio Presentation
« Reply #11 on: October 08, 2017, 05:40:51 pm »

This is great, Fletcher, thank you! It sounds like your setup will be ideal, so let's give it a try and see what happens.

I'm in process of composing a note to Jules, but you reminded me that my email address here was out of date. I just corrected it, so please send your phone number again and I'll give you a call. How late is too late to call you? I've got to run out this afternoon for a while but am going to polish the presentation tonight and could easily call you then. Or if there's a good time to call let me know. I'm gone tomorrow from about 2pm-6pm your time, but am around most of the rest of the week. Some friends who couldn't come last week are going to come Tuesday and Wednesday evenings to give me more opportunities to polish and refine the thing, and doing it again at your place will make it even better.

Thanks!
Dan
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Dan Mortensen

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Re: CBS Records' 30th Street Studio Presentation
« Reply #12 on: October 09, 2017, 08:42:27 pm »

So just to be consistent, here is an official meeting announcement that was put together after talking with Fletcher (Thanks, Fletcher!!!!):

History of CBS Records’ 30th Street Studio Presentation

Sunday, October 15, 2017, 1:30pm — ?

Plan B
114 Orange Avenue
Suffern, NY 10901

Plan B website

New Jersey Transit Trip Planner

Fletcher says it's a 4 minute walk from the train station.



Presented by Dan Mortensen at Fletcher’s (formerly of Mercenary Audio) Plan B Pub, as a dry run for presentation  at the New York AES Convention on October 21 (see below)


There was a wonderful yet somewhat inscrutable place called the 30th Street Studio at which dozens if not hundreds or even thousands of remarkable-sounding recordings were made for over 30 years. It was located in Manhattan NYC at 207 East 30th Street.

It was described in various places as an abandoned Greek Orthodox church that Columbia turned into a recording studio which was recognized as so perfect-sounding immediately upon acquisition that the decree went out: Don't change anything in it, don't wash the floors or paint the walls or fix it up in any way. Leave it like it is!

It was also described as a gargantuan space (100' x 100' x 100') that had perfect reverberation.

We know for sure about the extraordinary-sounding recordings that came out of it and we still listen to today, but the particulars of its structure and spaces were lost to demolition, and as more questions are asked the details in the answers get fuzzier.

Dan Mortensen, co-moderator of the AES’s Pacific Northwest Section’s 6 or 8 meetings looking into his career with Frank Laico, Columbia Records’ recording engineer for over 30 years (his career there roughly coincided with the life of the studio), became more and more interested in those nagging details and has been pursuing research into it ever since his first meeting with Frank in December 2008.

Dan has also founded a group to memorialize the studio called Friends of the 30th Street Studio (Fo30St), and has held four meetings in New York since 2012 in which people who worked there or are interested in its memory gather to discuss it and to see the fruits of Dan's and other people's research and share memories.

The truth is that Frank and others who were there were remembering through nearly 50 years of memories without much physical evidence, and as entertaining and plausible as the memories were they were not fully accurate. The spirit was entirely correct but not the complexity of reality.

Come join us and see and hear our current understanding after 9 years of research of what the studio was like over its 33 year life span and how it evolved in that time. There will be lots of pictures, and some but not a lot of music, as this is about the studio and not its product. The studio story is complicated enough, as you will see.

This presentation is a dry run for a presentation at the next New York AES Convention, when Dan will present it on October 21 from 10:45am-12:15pm Room 1E08 (Archiving and Restoration track, AR04) in the Javits Center. Your input for improvement will be appreciated.

We will have time in Suffern to talk about other audio subjects, too, so if you have some pictures of something interesting bring them and we’ll do our best to fit them into the time available.
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Fletcher

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Re: CBS Records' 30th Street Studio Presentation
« Reply #13 on: October 11, 2017, 04:53:46 pm »

I should mention... if you're taking the bus... you will leave New Jersey and enter New York.  About ½ a mile down the road on your right you will see a construction site [5 story building... they have the fire stairs and elevator shafts done].  Next to that construction site [OK... 3 doors down], you will see a black and gold little pub called "Plan B"... get off at the next bus stop, walk back to the bar... maybe 200 yards.

If you're coming by train, take the stairs down to the street and turn right.  There will be a bridge behind you... as  you walk up the street you'll see the fore mentioned construction site -- walk toward it, turn right, at the top of the small ramp road you will hit the main avenue.  You will see the train tracks in front of you... until you turn right.  Walk past the construction site, and you'll see a couple of red umbrellas with some tables... and once you're actually past the construction site, you'll see a black and gold little pub called "Plan B".
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CN Fletcher

mwagener wrote on Sat, 11 September 2004 14:33
We are selling emotions, there are no emotions in a grid


"Recording engineers are an arrogant bunch
If you've spent most of your life with a few thousand dollars worth of musicians in the studio, making a decision every second and a half... and you and  they are going to have to live with it for the rest of your lives, you'll get pretty arrogant too.  It takes a certain amount of balls to do that... something around three"
Malcolm Chisholm

Dan Mortensen

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Re: CBS Records' 30th Street Studio Presentation
« Reply #14 on: October 14, 2017, 01:22:25 pm »

...a black and gold little pub called "Plan B".

That's a real pretty-looking place, Fletcher. I'm looking forward to seeing it in person.

Just a reminder to the group that it's tomorrow at 1:30pm. Since there's a non-zero chance that there will be absolutely no one there (other than Fletcher), note that if that occurs I won't post an update here, out of embarrassment.

If there is someone I'll be happy and will write a little report with a few pictures, because I think it's an interesting subject. And it's nice to have a gathering of people interested in audio so we can talk about the subject we love.

So I hope if anyone reading this is able to get to Suffern without suffering too much, that you will join us.

Thanks!
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