Friday, August 23rd, 2019

Peter Keeling : “Recording Studio in a Truck”

By editorJuly 1, 2012


Peter Keeling (56) started his Audio Electronics business way back in 1978 manufacturing everything from 2” tape recorders to PA equipment based in the beautiful county of Shropshire.  The early 90s saw recession and rapid growth in digital recording so, with a keen interest in construction and acoustics, Peter undertook his first private studio project 1993 for Nick Murphy, Bassheads.  That worked out well and quickly led to many more Studio design and Build projects both UK and overseas.

Today he manages a 30+ team of designers, engineers and builders alongside wife Wendi and sons, Jamie and Joe.  His passion for electronics and music means the company can provide a real turnkey solution to most Studio projects.  With extensive travelling a key requirement when visiting clients, Peter flies himself (and sometimes staff) to sites in the company aircraft based at Welshpool…so aviation is another passion of his and blends perfectly with the day to day role he has within the business.

Says Peter “imagine standing inside the cargo hold of an Antonov AN124 watching your studio get loaded by 20 Ukrainians at East Midlands Airport….cool!”  Let’s see what he has to say about this fascinating project …

          This project, completed only recently (January 2012), is certainly among the more unique studio projects that we have ever undertaken.  Ultimately destined for a location on the West coast of Africa, this project was nevertheless undertaken and built entirely at our own facility in Wales.  Why?  Because the building to be used in this case was, in fact, a full size articulated lorry trailer.  Coming complete with its own 70kW generator in a front compartment, more than ample for anything that might be required by this setup, this is the ultimate in self contained studio arrangements.

          Commissioned on a very short timescale, this job presented a particularly unusual challenge – essentially attempting to fit an entire Studio facility into one really long, thin room (in many ways little more than a wide corridor), whilst keeping standards of acoustics and aesthetic appearance as high as possible.

          One other particularly unusual aspect of this project, however, is that we were left entirely alone by the client, in terms of requirements and choices.  The studio itself was being given as a surprise present to somebody, and as such no preference could be specified by them.  The person paying for the Studio, not being a musician at all, completely lacked any knowledge or expertise in the area of Studios and acoustics, and was not going to be the person using it once it was completed, so was completely unable to provide any specifications whatsoever as to what was actually required.

          As such, our full design brief for this entire project assumed our own expertise in the field and was honestly little more than “Make a great studio” (although he was fairly generous with his budget).  We set to work.

          The most pressing concern right from the word go (apart from the timescale) was of course space requirements – whilst we had plenty of length to play with down the run of the truck, our space across the build was very limited indeed.  As such, we needed to think very carefully about every inch of width.

          Having rooms side by side, or even having a thin corridor along the side of the truck, was immediately out of the question.  The only arrangement that would work was simply having various small rooms in a run, each one leading into the next.  Whilst this would certainly not be a desirable arrangement for a commercial studio, when it is a private setup to be used by only one person this can often prove the most space efficient method since it negates the need for any corridor space.

click to enlarge image

          It was decided to go for a floor plan of four spaces – a Technicians Office at the front, near the cab of the lorry, leading into the main Control Room, leading into a fully floating room-in-room Voice Booth, leading into an equipment cupboard in the rear of truck, also opening to the large shutter doors on the rear end of the trailer.

          For a normal build project of course, we have to send out our construction teams to the project site.  In this case, however, we had the great luxury of bringing the construction site to us!  The truck, once here, was backed to one of our truck loading bays, essentially turning this Studio build into a temporary extension of our own home workshop.

          Of course, it was still necessary to follow standing job procedure as much as possible, and despite our free-leash on this job it was of course still vital to make sure that the client was aware of and approved our decisions.  As such, we provided our usual service and produced computer visualisations of the proposed space.  As was expected of our client at this stage, however, the response was “Looks great, go for it!”.

          Once the build was underway, the work itself differed little from any other standard project, except that the transport distance for our teams and all shipped items was non-existent.  An item could be finished in the workshop, and less than an hour later be fully installed inside the studio.

          Since we had such freedom on this one, and because we had quite a lot of budget to use, we were able to play with some fancy ideas that were otherwise not generally an option since most clients already know what they want.  This time, we could choose what we wanted…

          As such, we decided to really have fun with the few decorative surfaces available in the Control Room (essentially just the ceiling and back wall).  Of course, this does require some thought since it is very easy to go overboard and ruin the look, and decoration must still conform to acoustic requirements.  The greatest tool in decoration is often lighting, since it can be hugely varied and can be changed to suit the mood at any given time.

          With this in mind we created dropdown cutout shapes to go into the acoustic ceiling treatment and some of the rear wall features, into which would be installed a fully dynamic, controllable LED lighting strip, capable of displaying differing colours independently at every point along its length, and also ‘animating’ these light settings to create coloured waves, fading patterns, or any other effect that may be desired.  This lighting arrangement can even be connected via standard audio jack, allowing the lights to ‘dance’ to music that you are playing.          Once finished, we then faced the task of taking the studio to its new home, on a very short timescale.  It was far too much of a hurry to allow the 2-3 weeks required on a cargo ship, and we did not have the ability to have it driven over land. The only remaining option was air-freighting.

          Given our timescale, there was no cargo service already running that route that was available to us – thus, it was necessary to charter an aircraft.  Given the size of our cargo, there were only two models of aircraft in the world capable of taking the load, and so we found ourselves on the phone chartering a 175 tonne leviathan, a Russian built Antonov-124 cargo lifter.

          Our trailer was loaded onto the plane along with several large crates of Studio items for a further studio for the same client, to be built into a building once in Africa, and finally became airborne, the first of our recording studios ever to do so…

Peter Keeling
Studio People

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