Detroit techno pioneer and future-facing explorer Jeff Mills is currently at world famous London recording studio, Abbey Road, a venue known for hosting iconic sessions from the likes of The Beatles and Pink Floyd. Mills is there mixing his forthcoming album, The Planets, based on English composer Gustav Holst's 1916 orchestral suite of the same name. The record takes on the theme of our solar system in 18 suites, and it was recorded live at Portugal's Casa da Música with the Symphony Orchestra of Porto. The record is due in early 2017 on Mills' own Axis imprint—which recently launched an audiophile-focused sub-label—and is actually not the first time the producer and DJ has worked with an orchestra.
After each of his three days at the studio, Mills plans to generously share an in-depth update on his social media accounts reporting back about his experience. He's already shared his message after the first day, which you can read below, so we've certainly got more to look forward to in the coming days.
Today was one of these special and memorable points in my career when it would be logical to stop and think about "how on earth did I get here?" We arrive at Abbey Road Studios after a brisk walk from our hotel to arrive shortly before 12 noon. As we approach this discreet all white building, I can see the famous striped crosswalk that generations have come to recognize as the cover of the Beatle's album Abbey Road. The Beatles tourists had not arrived yet by this time, so the crosswalk stood calm as it served its original purpose as a walk for people to not get hit by the busy traffic.
The front façade of the building is simple, but elegant. No circular driveway of valets waiting to park cars, just a plain sign appears over the front door, but to anyone that knows the significance of this institution knows that its what's inside that really makes it stand apart from any other recording studio. We enter and register at the receptionist at a very clean, almost financial investment firm type of atmosphere.
After waiting for a few moments, we're greeted by Jonathan Allen, the chief engineer that we'll be working with the next few days. We immediately make our way through the hallways passed large autographed posters of such works of great composer and producers like John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra on Stars Wars trilogies and other terribly famous films. Many rare Beatles studio photos are everywhere. We climb a few flights of stairs to the top and fourth floor where the Penthouse studio is located - very nice room because of the skylights and natural light that illuminates the large mixing console and the 7 surround speakers.
I never knew how large Abbey Road is. Known for orchestral works, the main studio, where the Beatles recorded is a 4 story high ceiling that looks almost as it was since the 1960's. We were taken into the control booth to see how large and equipped it is. It really felt like a spaceship cockpit with a floor to ceiling glass wall overlooking the enormous room. Abbey has a fantastic canteen that rivals any trendy London café. Adorned by more rare photographs, we can see Maria Callas, the Beatles, hard at work with George Martin, etc.
After a brief lunch and short discussion with Jonathan, we start the session by me explaining what Planets is all about, how I made the original tracks, how they were arranged for orchestra by Sylvain Griotto and more importantly, how we want the listener to feel while listening to it. It's a complex and detailed soundtrack that requires extra attention to the intricacies of the sound quality. Every instrument and sound should be clearly heard and felt so using the stereo field is considered as a empty foundation in which we'll create architecture that addresses each Planet and its physical make-up.
We worked for a few hours as we slowly worked our way from the beginning of the score, stopping every 20 seconds at times to discuss and fine tune. Today, we discussed:
- the perspective of the listener and how to give the sense of weightlessness.
- 5.1 Surround strategies. Sound movements that resemble the mobility of animals.
- Slight editing of tracks.
- Transitional strategies and selected outboard effects.
The arranger Sylvain Griotto and I left Jonathan around 5PM so that he and his assistant could work on the tracks. Tomorrow, we'll examine what they did and I suspect its going to be fantastic.
I write more and report tomorrow.