by Janice Brown
New York, NY (November 23, 2005)–One of New York City’s most unique commercial recording studios, Theater 99–located in a 1940s vaudeville theater–was sold and privatized nearly three years ago. Luckily for adventurous recording artists everywhere, producer/engineers Guy Benny, Raeann Zsocke and Walker Pettibone took over space in the back of the house, which at one time functioned as a “B room” for Theater 99 and the original theater’s loading dock. Guy Benny (left) and John Siket work at The Space on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Pooling their collections of gear and making some new investments, they set up shop in “The Space” almost two years ago, and it’s since become “a big indie meeting spot,” according to Benny.
That it attracts tons of NYC rock bands is no surprise, for the same reason its name is so appropriate. The main “boom room” tracking area at The Space is a like a huge brick-laid rectangular silo, dwarfing whatever drum kit or big engineer is in session. An overhead shot of the facility’s main tracking room.Its 4-story, or 60+ foot ceiling provides a lot of vertical room to work with, and on the ground, there’s ample room for any live band setup. Isolation is easily achieved too, says Benny. “We have this vocal booth off to the side of the room, also brick with a very high ceiling, which acts like a chamber, and we have two tracking rooms downstairs. And every space is wired to our control room.”
The control room is another anomaly, located upstairs from the main tracking room, and packed full with gear and TV monitoring of each room in the facility. Tom Nastasi originally built the room as part of Theater 99, of which he was a former owner with producer/engineers John Siket, Ray Martin and Dave Seitz. Soffitted Augspurger custom monitors with TAD components provide the main monitoring in the room, which is equipped with an Acoustilog GB-1 console acquired from former NYC studio, Sorceror Sound. Zschoke is quick to point out that the Acoustilog has a built-in Spectrum Multilyzer and Oscilliscope, while Benny calls attention to the Neve sidecar with 33135 modules. The engineer/partners are both totally at home and sincerely excited by their surroundings at the same time.
For all of its Lower East Side charm, The Space is a cool hangout, and with the downstairs tracking rooms doubling as rehearsal rooms for rent by the hour or week, it’s clear why the studio has become a big meeting spot. The rooms sport none of the commercial recording studio pretense, with all of the capabilities, and a few off-the-wall alternatives to the standard set-up-and-play live recording style. The miking possibilities in this room can only be inhibited by a fear of heights. And, truth be told, Benny admits, “It’s not hard to get an amazing sound in here.” Zschoke adds, “I recorded a viola in here, and it’s like you set them up in the middle of the room and put a mic up, and it would be hard to make it not sound good.”
Benny says they’ve done a lot of jazz sessions in The Space, noting, “We did this one jazz session with drums, double bass, clarinet, trombone, trumpet, piano, and they played live, all together. We had everything individually miked and then a [Neumann] 67 set up in the middle of the room, and everything sounded great, but we ended up going with just the 67. As jazz players they were so good at getting their own blends, and since they were going for a vintage recording sound, it was one take through the 67 and they were done.”
Benny and Zschoke may already have the predisposition to experiment with sound, and they have the rooms, booths and gobos galore for a variety of setups, but the main room itself inspires even the bands to try for new and interesting sounds. “We can try something new every time,” says Benny, and adds, pointing up to a ledge of questionable depth, “Interpol wants to come record here and put the drum kit up on the third-floor landing.”
Three tape machines (3M M56 2″ 16 track; ATR-124 2″ 24 track/16-track; and Ampex ATR-102 1/2″ 2-track and 1/4″ 2-track), three tall racks of outboard EQs, compressors and mic pres, effects and reverbs, and even an EMT Plate complement the room, and satisfy just about any sonic curiosity. Pro Tools and iZ Radar II systems are the hard-disk recording and editing platforms.
Zschoke recently recorded a group for an upcoming off-Broadway show at The Space, while recent clients such as the “British Invasion”-reminiscent rock band, Locksley, and country/bluegrass singer/songwriter, Pat McGrath, have been keeping Benny busy. Other clients of note include White Light Motorcade, The Mooney Suzuki, The Blue Van, .moe, and The Rapture. Siket, whose esteemed work with Phish, Sonic Youth, and Dave Matthews Band draws attention from artists, also engineers on many sessions at The Space.
“I can confidently say that no one has a space quite like this,” assures Benny. “Part of the reason we can make it is because we do good work, but the other part is that we have a real space, and you still need that to record live drums, and entire live rock bands and jazz sessions. Without all the unrelated bells and whistles, it’s an impressive place to work, a place to make a great record.”