Sonic Surgery Studio in Union Beach, New Jersey wound up under five feet of seawater after Superstorm Sandy, turning most of the audio gear in the facility into moldy, muddy trash.
When Superstorm Sandy slammed the East Coast, it caused billions of dollars in damage as it upended lives and businesses. For Patrice Devincentis, however, Sandy did both, as it demolished Sonic Surgery, the studio she's owned and operated for the last 24 years.
Founded in 1988, Devincentis’ facility was a full-fledged studio housed in her extensively rebuilt garage, complete with isolation room, floating floors, audio workstations, a variety of instruments and more. There, she tackled any project that came through the door—editing radio shows, voiceover work, tracking band demos, mixing Electronic Press Kits for major labels like EMI, or simply recording MIDI orchestrations for area theater groups. If she wasn’t behind the console, the single mom (and cancer-survivor) could probably be found teaching audio engineering at Bergen Community College or giving piano lessons—like many entrepreneurial small studio owners, Devincentis wore many hats in the process of keeping the doors open.
Over the years, hurricanes would occasionally hit the small, one-mile-square town of Union Beach, but Sonic Surgery had never been seriously affected. “In 1992, there was a horrific storm; everyone here talks about how horrific it was, and I only got an inch of water in the studio,” Devincentis recalled. “Literally, all I had to do was replace the rug—and yet everyone always said, ‘That’s the worst storm we’ve had in 100 years.’”
"The studio had been submerged under five feet of water.
The piano had been completely pushed up against the console.
The Genelecs were loaded with water...."
Nonetheless, when warnings about Sandy started coming out, Devincentis took appropriate cautionary steps. “I put as much equipment as I could up about four feet, wrapped the piano and thought that would be fine. I emptied my isolation room which was in the front and said, ‘This will be OK; it’s never been that bad.’”
Still, warnings about Sandy only got more and more dire, and Devincentis switched hats once again, from Studio Owner to Parent: “I have a 12-year-old, adopted daughter and I thought, ‘Maybe it’s best that we don’t stay. Let’s leave and we’ll come back.’
“So we left—and then a friend of ours sent us some photos of what it looked like right after the storm and my heart sank. The studio door was gone, equipment was all over the front of the yard.”
“When we arrived, I went into the house proper and even that had been hit,” she recalled, days later. “The first floor was under two-and-a-half feet of water, and the studio had been submerged under five feet of water. The piano had been completely pushed up against the console. The Genelecs were loaded with water, the 24-channel board completely submerged—the only equipment that survived was at the very top of the racks. It’s been entirely gutted, including the floating floor and isolation room.”
Some gear, including a Mackie mixer, a cable roadcase and a vintage keyboard, simply floated away. While some external drives remained above water, Devincentis’ main client drives are now undergoing data recovery—a cost expected to run at least $4,000. Even the external drives are inoperable for the moment—while they remained above the waterline, their power supplies were ruined underwater, plugged into the wall.
Volunteer Pamela Taylor helps clear out Devincentis' workstation, post-Sandy.
Friends helped to gut the studio—a process as painful as it was exhausting, particularly when they had to take a sledgehammer to Devincentis’ prized Yamaha grand piano in order to get it out the door. “I had to walk away for that one,” she admitted.
A prized Yamaha grand piano, ruined after being submerged, had to be sledgehammered apart to remove it from the studio.
"I had to walk away for that one," said Devincentis.
As the day progressed, the ruined pro audio gear stacked up by the curbside—favorite microphones encased in mud, mangled acoustical treatments, a portable PA and the studio’s trusty Soundtracs Solo 24 console were all left to be hauled away as useless trash.
“The next day, I went back and spent four hours dumpster-diving to try to find the pictures of the evolution of the studio that had been thrown out by mistake,” she recalled. “I found them, but it’s silly—the stupid little things you go looking for when something like this happens. I had to find the little guy from the Muppets with his organ who looks like Dr. John [Dr. Teeth]—I was like ‘Where’s the organ?’ I wanted it to remind me, I guess—just something to hold on to.”
The toy organ may be as close as Sonic Surgery gets to music for a while. Devincentis has been able to complete some client projects in the studio facility at Bergen Community College where she teaches, but is limited by the basic but well-used gear and the fact that other classes have to use the space as well.
For now, Devincentis looks forward to rebuilding, but Sandy may turn out to have been only the first obstacle of many.
“Flood insurance doesn’t cover contents; neither insurance is covering contents—none” she sighed. “Nobody is covering anything. FEMA gave me a very small amount to rebuild because they said it’s a garage. The studio’s got heat, electricity, it’s been functioning for 25 years and they’re telling me it’s not a living space. Now I have to re-appeal once I get all the invoices.”
Sonic Surgery Studio, now gutted;
note the waterline above the broomhandle.
Despite all that she faces, Devincentis considers herself one of the lucky ones in Union Beach—“38 houses in our town, they can’t find them,” she says—and remains determined to carry forward the business that she built over the course of decades.
“I’m just struggling to rebuild Sonic Surgery and continue to be of service to the local community and others through audio,” she said. “I’m not stopping—I’m not giving up and I’m not going to let Sandy end this.”
Friends and clients of Devincentis have founded a donations page for Sonic Surgery at http://www.gofundme.com/1hb8q8. Please consider donating.
Sonic Surgery Studios