Music as Art and Listening as Art Appreciation
The German artist Wolfgang Tillmans believes that ‘some records are just perfect artworks’, at Best Reviews we are inclined to agree. Listening to music on a high quality soundsystem is one of the most edifying experiences around. For Tillmans there was an injustice in the way galleries work for visual art and the lack of a similitude for recorded music. Of course gigs are great, but the art of sound production is something else entirely.
Playback Room is a simple concept, a room, some studio quality speakers and a place to sit and listen. The art-enabling-art work has toured around the world, opening during 2014 in Berlin at Tillmans own Between Bridges gallery, in 2017 I was fortunate enough to visit it whilst at the Tate Modern. What struck me was Colourbox, an album from a group who rarely tour or play live, so perfectly fitting for inclusion in Playback Room. The only issue with such a high quality playback is that afterwards some pieces are not the same. I have since listened to Colourbox through my own speakers and headphones, I was slightly disappointed.
Home studio or listening room?
Some of legendary albums have been recorded at home. But are you creating a home studio or somewhere to listen to your collection of vinyl and digital records? Or is it somewhere in between? For starters, you need to consider the room you are looking at converting or using. Does it border with neighbours who might not enjoy the sounds as much as you plan to (bass can really puncture thin walls or floors), does the room have a natural echo, does the room have enough power supply?
Yes, do not spoil your own fun by choosing a poorly placed room, with nothing to absorb the sound. You’ll ruin it for yourself and your neighbours. Soundproofing doesn’t have to be extensive, a few well placed pads of foam will kill echo and reverb for yourself, but not for others!
When it comes to external soundproofing- for your neighbours sake- you can add a later of drywall in the extreme, or you can hunt out the gaps and thin walls and windows. For door-gaps add a sweep or cushion to prevent sound travel.
Windows can be covered with thick curtains and foam padding around the edges, weather proof stripping is budget friendly, although there are professionally-designed acoustic sealants available. More discreet than windows are heating or cooling ducts, don’t forget about these. Remember that renovated buildings may have had ducts covered but only by thin MDF or plaster, have a knock around the walls to find any hollows which may allow sound to escape. Bookcases are another good way to thicken walls, your vinyl collection could also help dull the sound while being useful for inspiration and reference whilst creating.
On the floor thick rugs or carpet can prevent sound from reflecting (yes sound reflects, just like light). One thing to avoid are egg boxes or mattresses, they are ugly and have been shown not to work. Fabrics are available on sites like Amazon or eBay which will do the job far better. Plants are a surprisingly good addition for soundproofing your room to, choose something with big leaves, dense and verdant. You get some free natural inspiration and decoration as well as keeping the air fresher if you’ve been getting into some riffs.
Space and Place
Not everyone has a mansion to rig up, so when you want the box room as your studio-come-music den make sure to think about arrangement. Can you add shelves to keep unnecessaries off the floor? Many instruments can be hung from walls or ceilings, large amplifiers and speakers can also be fitted with wheels to easily re-arrange, because these things take some time to settle into the right configuration.
Should you have the space you might want to have a small area for making cups of tea or coffee. Anything you feel you need to get the right ambience and environment. Yes the kitchen might be a room away but you may be in the zone and making progress. Also think about temperature, open windows are not great for sound quality and if working late are a bit of a no-no, so an air conditioner or heater is a good option. Creature comforts are cool.
If you don’t have a full room to spare but do have a portion of a larger room a wall divider is a perfect way to create a sense of privacy or difference from the more standard lounge or dining room. Seating is also important, you might need an ergonomic chair for working at the mixing desk and a sofa or futon for lazing back and letting your sounds do their thing.