Welcome to my studio


This is what you see when you first arrive at my studio.  It's the deck I built just outside my studio door, and door itself.  They are examples of my amateur woodworking. Projects like these permeate the studio and help give the space a warm personal character that is aesthetically pleasing.  Simultaneously relaxing and stimulating.

photo by Mike Olson

photo by Mike Olson

photo by Mike Olson

photo by Mike Olson

photo by Mike Olson

photo by Mike Olson

Here's a view of the exterior door from the inside. None of those little pieces of curved wood are stained in any way.  I just selected woods of various colors to create what you see.

This shot was taken from inside my control room, looking into the West foyer.  I use foyers on both sides of the control room as part of my "sound lock" system of double walls and floating floors, which help to dramatically reduce the amount of sound that is able to penetrate into the control room. 

The control room is a completely floated room within a room, using a Kinetics RIM floatation system. The room is not absolutely soundproof, but it is very, very quiet. No mechanical systems in the building can be heard in the control room. All of the windows use special low sound transmission glass. It even has a complex low sound transmission air handling system that completely prevents any sounds from the furnace from getting into the room. I sometimes feel like I'm almost wearing this room when I'm working at the mixing desk. The room is so quiet and it's interior surfaces have such an effective balance of sound absorption and diffusion, that I am unaware of the room imparting any coloration to the sound coming off the studio monitors.

The room is two stories high, with an isolation booth on the second floor overlooking the control room below.  (Kind of like a choir loft.)  The sight lines between the booth and control room aren't great, but having the large window makes the booth feel bigger when you're in it, and the angled glass provides another diffusion surface. 

One advantage of having the 20 foot ceiling, is that it reduces low frequency distortions by allowing the longer wave lengths to physically exist in the room in a purer way than would be possible in a room with a smaller cubic volume.  At the same time, the bass is controlled through the use of bass traps for absorption, and it is diffused by large solid geometric forms that are part of the complex multi-facetted tetrahedron that defines the interior space the room itself.

My Workspace  

photo by Mike Olson

photo by Mike Olson

I strove to retain as many hard surfaces as possible in the room, which meant I had to pay particularly careful attention to diffusion. I did this because high frequencies are easily absorbed and lower frequencies are not.  So, if I had treated the interior of the room with nothing but soft, sound absorbing surfaces, it would sound very bass-heavy. Seeing as low frequencies are difficult to absorb, and therefore will be present in the room, the goal was to strive for a balance of all audible frequencies to be present in the room, but broken up through the use of diffusion to avoid unwanted sonic coloration.  In a word, the room sounds good - or perhaps more accurately - the room is sonically invisible.  

The other part of the equation when it comes to having a good sounding control room is the audio equipment used.  I am using Tannoy System 15 main monitors, driven by Bryston 7BST monoblocks, (amplifiers).  Very clean.  Very accurate.  For secondary near field monitors, I'm using self-powered Genelecs on the meter bridge.  I also have a powered "junk" speaker hooked up, just so I know what my work will sound like on people's crappy speakers.

photo by Mike Olson

photo by Mike Olson

photo by Mike Olson

photo by Mike Olson

The control room is so quiet, we had to create a little machine room for anything that makes unwanted noise.  We converted this closet to serve this function.  It is physically outside of the floating control room structure and it has it's own air circulation system, which is completely separate from that of the control room.  As you can see, it contains the CPU, along with hard drives, a printer and some other peripherals.  It also houses the Brystons and power conditioning for the control room.

photo by Mike Olson

photo by Mike Olson

The control room couch, for when I can't stand it anymore - the second floor isolation booth, with it's beautiful carpet - and the cool Etruscan planter next to the couch in the control room.

photo by Mike Olson

photo by Mike Olson

photo by Mike Olson

photo by Mike Olson

This is the outer door to the East foyer, (below).  I like this door pull.  I was visiting the shop of a woodworker I knew, when I noticed an oak log he had leaning up in the corner. It was hollow and had a hole in it where a limb had detached from the tree at some point. The tree had continued to grow for quite a while after the limb had detached and the wood had kind of flowed around the lip of the hole as it grew. I asked if he could saw the hole off of the log so that I could use it as a door pull.  He did, and it made a great pull.  The way the wood flows over the edge around the lip of the hole looks very fluid and it's a completely natural form.  I love it.  He also provided me with the section of burl that I used for the push plate on the opposite side of the door.

photo by Mike Olson

photo by Mike Olson

photo by Mike Olson

photo by Mike Olson

photo by Mike Olson

photo by Mike Olson

The door(s) to the isolation booth.  This room also uses a Kinetics RIM floating floor system and is even more heavily isolated than the control room.  The room-within-a-room construction method was strictly adhered to, including the ceiling, and it uses a low sound transmission air handling system and glass, just like the control room.  This room, though not an anechoic chamber, is exceptionally quiet.  It looks nice too, (if somewhat difficult to photograph). In the background of the image at the right, you can see the angled sound deflecting wood panels, which are suspended from the ceiling of the control room beyond the window.

photo by Mike Olson

photo by Mike Olson

photo by Mike Olson

photo by Mike Olson

My World of Analogue Modular Synthesis

 
photo by Mike Olson

photo by Mike Olson

 

Historical Perspective:

I had my first exposure to analogue modular synthesis at the University of Minnesota in the 1980s.  They had a couple of Moog 55s that were kind of just barely working and an ARP 2500 that was completely non-functional. They were marvelous, fantastical machines, but by that time had been largely supplanted by cheaper simpler instruments.  They were very expensive and hard to maintain, and they were basically just not available.

A few years later I was given a large Polyfusion modular (right) to use for three years, but was never able to acquire it. The instrument had originally belonged to Herb Pilhofer, a prominent commercial music composer/ producer in Minneapolis.  He donated it to Intermedia Arts as a tax write-off in the '80s when people were abandoning the old modulars in favor of the new digital synthesizers. It eventually fell into disuse there at Intermedia, and a friend of mine who worked there asked if I would like to have it. (YES) It was mine for a while, but unfortunately, they would never quite sell it to me, and eventually someone wanted it back as a teaching tool. I periodically made inquiries to see if they might be willing to sell it, but they never did, and then one day I heard that they had sold it to someone else.  (sound of heart shattering) 

photo by Mike Olson

photo by Mike Olson

A Second Chance:

Over the years, vintage modulars became more and more difficult to find and quite expensive. I'd given up on ever being able to own one, until one day when I received a phone call from my local bicycle mechanic asking if I had any interested in an old Moog synthesizer.  It belonged to a friend of his.  It had been given to him by his father, who used to use it in a Rock band decades earlier. It had been in a storage locker and was a total wreck. It looked like it had been through hell and it didn't work at all. He wanted some fairly serious money for it, and it was a gamble for me to buy it not knowing if it was fixable or how much the restoration would cost.  I rolled the dice and wrote the check. It was a Moog Model 12 modular synthesizer. I packed it up and shipped it off to Kevin Lightner in California, who took about eight months to complete the restoration work. It was worth it.  The instrument restored beautifully and sounds absolutely fantastic. 
 

Before and after Kevin's restoration job on the Moog Model 12.

The "before" picture.

photo by Mike Olson

photo by Mike Olson

The "after" picture.

photo by Mike Olson

photo by Mike Olson

Hardware Revolution:

In 2013 I became aware of the revolution in contemporary analogue modular manufacturing that had been developing for a few years.  I was literally shocked to find that there were around 100 small companies building modules, mostly in the eurorack format, which I was completely unfamiliar with at that time.  I became familiar with it in a hurry and found myself plunging in with both feet. I discovered that I could directly inter-patch the new eurorack modules with my vintage Moog modular - expanding and enhancing the capabilities of both.  I've also now added some 5U format modules from the artisan module builder, Bruce Duncan of Modcan, and I have a bit of a laundry list of additional modules I'm looking forward to adding to my ever-growing modular monster.   

photo by Mike Olson

photo by Mike Olson