I recently found this truly delightful appreciation of the Abbey Road studios where some of the great music by the Beatles was recorded.
It’s a long report on a talk and conversation with the authors of a major book on the Beatles, Recording the Beatles. The conversation rotates around music recording and the relationship of space, place and technology to the sound of a record.
We are, of course, in a time in which technology enables recording almost anywhere, and does not even require musicians to be in the same place or even record at the same time together. Recordings from Abbey Road studios, however, had a certain rich quality of sound that characterized the Beatles and certain other recordings made there by Pink Floyd, The Hollies, The Pretty Things, and others.
Most of this was because in days before digital recording techniques, the space where the music was recorded mattered. One of the authors, commenting on Abbey Road says, “you had to make sure the source material was as good as it could be. So they laboured over making the rooms as sonically pleasing as they could be, and that room is unique – everything sounds good in it.”
That “unique room” at the core of this appreciation is Studio Two at Abbey Road– “The Space.”
It’s a concept that’s almost disappeared from pop recording: the space, the room. Plenty of modern music, of course, has no need for physical space, its sound-world being entirely virtual. But any record which uses traditional instruments, or features ensemble playing, can benefit from a sympathetic room – and not because of any inherent superiority in “organic” recording (much of the best work done at Abbey Road, in fact, specifically aimed to alter or subvert the live sound). It’s more that the basic discipline of musicians working together in one clearly-defined space – where things sound good from the off and can be tweaked and enhanced from there – creates a certain mood, a fire which doesn’t quite catch when records are pieced together over many months in a chaos of different studios, or in one of those secluded capsules with no ambience, no sound of its own.
What a fantastic reminder about the power of place and space! Most of the spaces where we work are the products of considerations that are very remote and abstract, and far from this kind of sensitivity to the “tuning” of the space and thoughtfulness about people “working together in a clearly-defined space.” Imagine what’s lost as a result.
Or rather, imagine how Abbey Road informs the workplace. Imagine the potential creativity and output that could be had by “making the source material as good as it could be” and by “laboring over making the rooms as pleasing as they could be.”
Imagine a workplace designed for “the basic discipline of people working together in a clearly-defined space.”