Ask 10 audio pros what you need for a great portable recording rig, and you’ll get 10 different answers. One will name his favorite laptop and DAW software; another might talk about JoeCo BlackBox recorders hooked up to a club’s FOH mix area; and at least one will start raving about an app that’ll let you multitrack on your phone.
The problem with all these answers, however, is that they’re the result of thinking small—of thinking, quite reasonably, about what you can bring with you. After all, if the rig is too big to carry, or at least roll in a rack, it’s not portable…is it?
That kind of thinking is just boxed-in. It’s not like you have to think “outside the box,” however; you just have to redefine what the box is. And if you’re Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen—a part-time guitar slinger worth an estimated $15 Billion—you can afford a pretty awesome box.
To be fair, he’s found at least one way around the portability problem: He owns lavish private studios in cities around the globe, so he can pick up his six-string and lay down some tracks whenever he happens to be in town.
But to really be portable? That brings us back to redefining the box, and in Allen’s case, that “box” can be defined as Octopus, the largest expedition superyacht in the world. We’re talking the kind of 414-foot boat that has its own pool and basketball court, as well as two helicopters and a pair of submarines (because you never know when you might need a spare, right?).
As you might imagine then, the onboard recording studio ain’t exactly one of those iPhone apps. According to the latest issue of Guitar Aficionado, one of our fellow NewBay Media magazines—which just happens to interview Allen this time out—being in this Octopus’ Garden means having a lot of toys at your disposal.
Paul Allen's portable studio
The studio onboard Octopus is configured as a single room with a few iso booths but no separate control room. It’s based around the world’s largest SSL Axiom MT console—a 96-channel mainframe with a 16-channel SSL 9k sidecar—plus Pro Tools HD and a slew of vintage analog processing gear and microphones. Monitoring options include systems by PMC Loudspeakers, Dynaudio and Adam, plus the usual array of Yamaha NS10Ms and Auratones….
Peter Gabriel, Robbie Robertson, Dave Stewart, Bono and The Edge are among those who have cut tracks in Octopus’ studio. The vessel has also been the site of start-studded parties, such as Allen’s annual shindig at the Cannes Film Festival. The host and his band usually perform at these events; one of the studio’s walls retracts and the space becomes a stage facing out onto the main deck. It’s all very Austin Powers.
It also sounds kinda Jimmy Buffett, albeit on steroids. Elsewhere in the article, Allen notes, “You can’t write an angry song on a boat. It’s hard to be angry when you’re floating around the ocean in the sun, relaxing in the tropics. If you want to make an angry album, you’re probably better off in a dark basement.”
Sadly, most of us will just have to take his word for it, and while the “dark basement” route worked pretty well for The Rolling Stones when they recorded Exile on Main Street in the rotting wine cellars of a French chateau, it’s fair to note that Mick Jagger has also recorded on Octopus in recent times, making him a cellar dweller no more.
So what’s your idea of the perfect portable recording rig? Share it in the comments section below!