Information: ChromaStatic Studio
What is ChromaStatic studio? Does Hypnos run a professional recording studio that's open to the public?
ChromaStatic Studio is the name of the personal, home studio of Hypnos founder Mike Griffin (aka M Griffin). It has gone through several incarnations, and this document will chronicle some of the changes in location, gear, and functionality of the various studios ChromaStatic. Photos coming soon.
The First ChromaStatic studio, 1995-1998, NW 23rd Ave., Portland, OR, USA
Prior to the founding of Hypnos Recordings, I created a rudimentary studio in the corner of
my bedroom, in the old apartment building I lived in on NW 23rd.
I built a workstation & shelving unit out of lumber & plywood, which held my old PC (486dx with 32 mb ram), my Mackie 1202 mixer, Sony 7506 headphones, ART CS2 compressor and ART FXR multi-fx unit, Sony portable DAT deck, and midi interface connected to Roland JV880 and Korg O3R/W modules. Next to that was a keyboard stand with Roland D50, Roland W30 and Ensoniq EPS, which were also connected to the mixer.
The PC had a Zefiro Acoustics digital audio interface, which I used to connect my DAT deck to my PC. I would record "live" (using MIDI sequencers to "play" several synthesizer parts at once, through the mixer in real time) through the Mackie and into the DAT, then I would dump the digital audio from the DAT onto the PC's hard drive, where I could edit and master using Sound Forge. As I got busier with DAT tapes I bought a Tascam DA20-II deck so I could give my Sony portable a rest.
From the perspective of 2004, as I document this, the setup described above sounds almost embarrassingly archaic, but I was more comfortable and productive in that studio than I have been anywhere since. Though I was sitting on a wooden kitchen chair at a desk of unfinished plywood and 2x4 lumber, I felt quite at ease and in command of my tools, and the creativity flowed easily. This is where I created Sudden Dark, where David Tollefson and I recorded the first Viridian Sun album Solar Noise (David playing his guitar parts while sitting on the hardwood floor next to the creaking and popping steam radiator), where I designed the original hypnos.com web site from scratch, where I corresponded by email with all the artists who went on to contribute to The Other World, and to form the foundation of the Hypnos roster of artists in the coming years.
ChromaStatic 2 studio, 1998-2000, NE 16th Ave., Portland, OR, USA
I moved out of the trendy & cool old NW 23rd apartment into a newer, much smaller,
fairly non-descript apartment across the river, near Lloyd Center. Hypnos had just
released its 4th or 5th CD, and the mail order side of Hypnos had just started, so
Hypnos was given its own room (the 2nd bedroom) in this apartment. Still, using one
small bedroom for a recording studio and mail order room, presented some challenges.
I disposed of the rough wood desk and purchased two heavy-duty stainless steel shelving units. On each, on the middle shelf, I clamped a plywood "desk" that stuck out far enough for a keyboard and mouse. The upper and lower shelves were used for printers and scanners, and rack-mounted studio gear. I sold the W30 and the EPS and JV880, purchased an ESI4000 sampler, and got my first Mac (to augment the PC, not replace it), a very slow Performa 6200. I planned to use the Mac for both audio and graphics work, but found it too slow for either, and quickly replaced it with a more modern Umax Mac clone (yes, Mac clones were briefly available during this time, from Umax and a couple other companies). I also got my first 21" monitor, which was truly amazing (and expensive) at that time. I started using some Mac software like Metasynth and Peak, though the Mac really became my art & graphics & design computer.
There was no space to put my remaining keyboard, the D50, so I had a mostly keyboard-less studio. At the time I thought, "I'll just get the keyboard out when I need it," but it had the practical effect of leading me to work in a different style: less keyboard-playing, less use of Midi instruments, and more computer manipulation.
It was during this time that I started work on Altara with A Produce, and on that project, A Produce provided 100% of the sound sources, which I then processed, layered and collaged. My primary tools at this time were Sound Forge and Acid for Windows, and on my Mac, Metasynth, and Thonk. My effects plugins from Waves became possibly the most important "instruments" in my arsenal, and I also made good use of a seemingly-simple Vocoding plugin from Opcode. I briefly made a foray into understanding and using Csound, before deciding I lacked the patience (or intelligence) to make good use of it.
In this studio, David Tollefson recorded his second album Near and Far, virtually all in one evening, using the new Pro Tools setup on my Mac. It was as if he had the entire thing, all the layers and most of the processing, already composed in his head, and he just needed me to "roll tape" on one part after another, and one song after another, to turn it from an album in his head to an album for the world to hear. I have met many talented and creative people in my time with Hypnos, but watching Dave work with just one electric guitar and a few simple effects boxes, and create such a deep and varied album almost without a single re-take, ranks as one of the most impressive things I've witnessed. David and I also did the second Viridian Sun album Perihelion at this studio.
Lastly, in the first instance I had experienced of a Hypnos artist wishing to watch over my shoulder as I remastered his work, Jeff Greinke visited and took part in the remastering of one of his earliest albums, Places of Motility, which became his Hypnos debut. My other big remaster job at this time was Jeff Pearce's Daylight Slowly, which was created from some 4-track cassette "sketches" Jeff had made, and which we both believed merited CD release, though sonically they were, well, 4-track cassettes.
Quite a bit of good work was done here, though the space was very cramped, and I was becoming increasingly busy with Hypnos Mail Order. Actually, the busiest months in Hypnos history occurred in this location, following the releases of Humidity, Outfolding, The Surreal Sanctuary, and the biggest Hypnos surprise "hit" so far, Jeff Pearce's To the Shores of Heaven. Hypnos had grown from a new and small label, to a more established label, with more "known" artists on the roster, and some very well-received releases. But I was bursting at the seams in this little apartment, and was getting a little old to be renting an apartment anyway, so it was time to buy a house.
ChromaStatic 3 studio, 2000-2004, NE 8th Ave., Portland, OR, USA
There's nothing quite like buying your first house, and the location of ChromaStatic 3 was
the first time there was room to expand. One room for the recording studio, one room (more
of a large walk-in closet really) for storage of many CD boxes, and one room for Hypnos
Mail Order. Virtually the entire finished basement was dedicated to Hypnos.
For the studio, for the first time I purchased a comfortable and efficient work station from a great company, Anthro, which happens to be located here in Portland. I can't speak highly enough of these desks and carts from Anthro. This allowed me to have both a PC and a Mac at the same desk (using a shared KVM switch), with the new Mackie 824 monitor speakers at just the right position. Very productive!
I also discovered that having room for gear will definitely encourage a person to purchase more gear, to fill up all that room. I upgraded my mixer to a Yamaha 01/V digital mixer, upgraded my PC (with a new audio interface from M-audio) and my Mac to a new Powermac G4 dual (with a new MOTU 828 audio interface). Now I can monitor and mix and record the output of both computers. At that time, I was using Digital Performer on the Mac, and still making great use of Sound Forge and Acid on the Windows machine. I made use of Sonic Foundry Acid for my first collaboration with Dave Fulton, The Most Distant Point Known (which we actually started working on while I was in the last studio). I was growing to hate Windows more and more, though, and yearned to replace both Sound Forge and Acid on my Mac. I could get around Sound Forge using Peak and Spark, but I had no good alternative to Acid until Ableton came out with their fantastic real-time looping software, Live. This remains one of my favorite tools, and though it works differently from Acid (meaning that I still resort to Acid some of the time), I find it one of the most inspiring and useful tools I have ever come across.
I wanted some more synthesizers, so I could get back to playing a bit, creating sounds in real-time in a more hands-on way, rather than just sound-designing on a computer. I received a Kawai K5000S keyboard in exchange for some graphic design work I did, and though it has not appeared prominently in any yet-released recordings, I find it to be a strange and unique machine -- very inspiring and impossible to replace. I also wanted a better, weighted keyboard controller, so I purchased a Yamaha S80 keyboard, which is both a pretty good synth, and a very useful, weighted, full-size piano-type Midi controller. The new studio gear kept rolling in... a Nord Micro-Modular (fantastic value, a great little machine), a Waldorf Microwave XT (cool sound, very nice), and a Korg Trinity (not sure I'm getting the most out of it, but it sounds great, and that touch-screen interface is very seductive). I got a good deal on a used Yamaha TG77, something I had wanted for a long time. Result: too many synths.
I wanted a good hardware reverb, to augment my computer plugins, so I bought a TC M2000, which was very nice, but then I found a great deal on what I had really wanted all along, which was a Lexicon PCM91. I also bought a used Alesis Wedge reverb, for live performance (since it's so small). Result: too many reverbs.
I wanted a good hardware compressor, to augment my computer plugins, and I bought an FMR RNC for minor compression of individual instrument outs, and then later bought an Avalon 747, which includes a tube compressor stage, and a pretty helpful 5-band EQ stage at the end. It's an amazingly solid unit, built like a tank, and lends a lot of sonic character to a signal. I would definitely consider Avalon gear in the future, if ever shopping for a high-end compressor or EQ. The flavor of this unit is most prominent on my remasters of Athlit by Oophoi, and Numina's Sanctuary of Dreams.
At this time, I was becoming more Mac oriented and moving away from my Windows PC (not because I couldn't figure out how to make Windows work, since even at that time I had been earning for years a living as a Windows NT network administrator, but just because I grew tired of dealing with the instability and unreliability of Windows). Soon I bought an Apple iBook portable, both so I could go over to Dave Fulton's studio to start work on our second collaboration, Imprint, but also so I could travel with a simple and portable version of my recording setup: the iBook running Ableton Live, my MOTU 828 mixer outputting to my old Mackie 1202 mixer, with the Alesis Wedge reverb on an FX send. I also included my Nord Micro-Modular in this setup, really just using it for squiggly-squelchy self-perpetuating sequences, mixed low.
It was this setup I used not only to record the album, but also to travel to Philadelphia and perform live at the Gathering concert with Dave Fulton (and in a finale, as an unrehearsed trio with Jeff Pearce), as well as a post-concert performance on the Star's End show on WVKR, hosted by Chuck VanZyl. Photos of the Gathering are still available here. Several people told me, both immediately after the concert, and later via email, that when they saw me sitting on the stage behind a laptop and a mixer, that I was simply creating the light show (actually created by Jeff Towne of Echoes radio) and the sound mix (which was actually by Art Cohen), and had no idea I was actually contributing half the music! I have to admit that sitting near-motionless behind a laptop, working a mouse with one hand and a mixer with the other, does not present the most entertaining stage presence. But musically, we killed!
I found that even after finishing work at Fulton's studio, and travelling across the country, I was still very satisfied and comfortable with my "travel rig," and I often worked in my home studio using just this same stuff, ignoring all the racks of more expensive and extravagant gear. I re-started work on my long-delayed solo album, Fabrications, using the same iBook/MOTU828/Live/1202/Wedge setup.
This incarnation of the studio could be described generally as "too much" -- too many synths, too many reverbs, too many computers, too much software, too many options. I was actually less productive here, and less comfortable here, than at my more restrictive previous studios. Luckily, it eventually came time to move.
ChromaStatic 4 studio, 2004-present