When initially planning Manifold Recording — a newly constructed music production facility in North Carolina’s Triangle high-tech business and education region — Michael Tiemann envisioned rooms with acoustics so good that the mixing consoles would be needed for little more than routing signals where they were needed.
API Vision console at Manifold Recording. Photo by Ed Freeman
“The naïve vision was that the acoustics alone could do all the work,” explains Tiemann, the general manager and coowner — with his wife, Amy, an author, educator and multimedia producer — of the new recording studio and media production facility. “If you had sufficiently fantastic acoustics, that the music would basically mix itself.”
Located in Pittsboro, North Carolina (equidistant from Chapel Hill and Raleigh), Manifold Recording was four years in the planning and two years in construction. Wes Lachot designed the carbon-neutral complex, which comprises two buildings — a music recording facility and an adjacent studio annex — set in over 16 acres of countryside, taking inspiration from renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The main control room features an automated 64-channel API Vision discrete analog console, while the studio annex houses a Harrison Trion digital desk and DAW control surface.
“In the original construct, to me, the console was just a necessary evil that would bring a lot of signals together and provide monitoring and so forth,” Tiemann elaborates. But Lachot soon disabused him of that notion, he says; following a tour of studios in Nashville, he realized “what it came down to was that in a big tracking facility like the one that we were building, there is nothing like an analog console to match the capabilities of the room. That was lesson number one.”
Lesson number two came down to personal taste. “Wes and I have similar tastes in quality of sound, and Wes has an API console in his own studio. We were really drawn to the API sound.”
A visit to John McBride’s famed Blackbird Studios in Nashville, which houses a variety of API models, allowed Tiemann and Lachot to evaluate the options. “The API Vision gave us everything we wanted, which is full capabilities on both faders of the dual-input modules, the fantastic API sound, and a rock-solid foundation for building monitoring and mixing into the studio.”
He chuckles. “I had rejected the Vision as an option early in the studio design process, but Wes kept a vision of the Vision in mind as he laid out the control room and ensured that there would always be room for it. When I evaluated all the other options, it just came down to that one!”
As it turned out, the Vision was the perfect Goldilocks-like solution: “Not too much console and definitely not too little,” offers Tiemann. “The Vision perfectly scaled to the control room.”
The 12-foot-long Vision console is laid out so that the engineer is ideally within the equilateral triangle of monitor coverage in Manifold’s 475-square-foot control room (where the ceiling rises to a peak of 16 feet). “We really wanted to have the patchbay be part of the console, and we really wanted the center section to be in the middle,” he explains.
Harrison Trion console. Photo by Michael Tiemann
The left-hand, double-wide patchbay includes provision for 96 lines to, and 96 lines from, outboard processing gear, housed in two three-rack credenzas. Both credenzas are mounted on wheels and can be moved out of the way or out of the room as required. Both 100mm faders on each dual-input module are automated and each has full surround capabilities. “If you really want to mix with 128 moving faders, you can do it,” observes Tiemann.
Custom 12-position bays above the double patchbay house a selection of 500 Series modules. “We didn’t want any space to go to waste,” says Tiemann. “I have a 200 Series and a 500 Series lunchbox sitting in the credenza of the digital room, so we can bring an analog front end to the digital room if we want.”
With such an emphasis on acoustics and high-quality analog, why install a digital desk in the annex? “First of all, nobody does instant recall like digital,” Tiemann points out. “Every person who has come to us so far is starting in Pro Tools, although we have had inquiries about supporting Nuendo and Digital Performer. The second reason is that I discovered that Harrison was building consoles using open-source software infrastructure as opposed to proprietary software.”
Tiemann, a singing prodigy with four album releases by age 14, was the founder of the world’s first open-source software company. He went on to an executive position at Red Hat, the world’s leading opensource provider, based in nearby Raleigh. “Because of my history, I thought, ‘If these guys know anything at all about making mixers, I’ve got to go with it just to support the cause.’ Lo and behold, Harrison knows a lot!”
Tiemann is thrilled with the Trion’s capabilities. “I’ve spent the last week playing around with the Harrison, and it’s just a real delight. It has a lot of functionality. It’s an 88-channel, dual-input, digital console; there’s 96k processing on all channels, there’s a massive matrix of 48 mix busses, four stereo program busses, and every type of surround monitoring configuration known to man because of Harrison’s film heritage.”
That film heritage led to a control surface modification, as Tiemann relates, after Manifold chief engineer Ian Schreier visited Harrison’s Nashville factory for training. “He observed that the volume knob was at the very top of the center section. In the film world, that makes perfect sense — you get it dialed in to 85 dB, and you don’t touch it.” But in music recording, the engineer is constantly listening at different volume levels, he notes. “So they remade the center section panel so we have the volume knob where a music mixer wants it, and we have more esoteric console functions higher up on the section.”
Manifold ordered a variety of Harrison peripherals to integrate the Trion console into the studio’s digital audio network, which ties the rooms together and also includes a fiber link directly into the local internet provider’s office. Three Harrison open-source Xdubber hard-disk recorders, originally developed for the film industry, are available for recording and playback and are each capable of running 64 tracks at 96 kHz. Four Xrouters provide the softwaredriven hardware to move audio, video and word clock between consoles and rooms. “We have many more Xrouters than I ever thought I would own,” admits Tiemann, noting that the three Xdubbers potentially require a lot of bandwidth. “We needed more Xrouters than we thought because we have more channels at 96k to pass between them.”
Harrison also customized the I/O boxes that offer access to the Xrange DSP units associated with the Trion. “Harrison custom-made for us I/O cards that do 32 analog in and 32 out on each card. You can put two cards in a single I/O unit, so there are 64 channels in a 3U space. We have several of those to feed the console. Harrison also custom-made AES cards that will do 64 AES in and 64 out. That handles all of the video ins and outs, effects units and other bits of digital infrastructure.”
“Harrison has fantastic customer service,” Tiemann notes. “Everybody in the company is supportive of the project, looking for ways to improve their console, get feedback, make improvements. It’s a very innovative company. I’m really excited to be working with a group of people who seem to be as interested in my project as I am. One of the frustrations that many people express is how difficult it is to work with some proprietors of software who basically tell you how it’s going to be … or worse, who don’t tell you how it’s going to be! So I’m really looking forward to the ongoing relationship with them.”
As the facility ramps up to full operation, Tiemann is enthusiastic about the interoperability of its component parts. “We have the ability to link these two consoles within the infrastructure, or split them completely.” For example, he offers, “We can be running a big tracking session in the main room and simultaneously monitor in surround sound in the annex. And we have video feeds, so we can be watching monitor multiplexers, mixing surround and giving directions to the camera guys. We’ve tested it, and I’m dying to put it to use.”
Contact: Manifold Recording | manifoldrecording.com
Steve Harvey is the West Coast editor for PAR’s sister publication, Pro Sound News.