steps in a users primer for reconstructing the recording studio's
around green design and architectural practice
II) the core ecological design issues for eco-recording studio's
This section explores a microexample of the music industry, the
recording studio, and the sustainability dimension of recording
studios, envisaging ways of how studios can be transformed along
green design principles.
Buildings are both a central part of the contemporary process
of music making, and include at their heart many aspects of the
energy resource and materials questions that making society in
sustainable need to face. Today the making of music is invariably
practised inside buildings of infinite varieties - from one person
learning an instrument to vast ensembles rehearsing - these invariably
occur in the regulated conditions of interiors, with a roof or
a ceiling over the music, and a number of walls around it.
of green architecture over the last thirty years has accompanied
the gradual realisation that many ecologically suitable and practical
features can be incorporated into buildings, and be designed using
nature as the design template.
The effects of design and building decisions can be divided into
three main headings; the Energy, Resources and Health. An initial
point concerning energy is that buildings ideally should be designed
using materials which need the least amount of energy to make
and construct, and indeed should be constructed using low energy
methods. Materials such as metals and plastics use considerably
more energy to make than timber and stone, particularly if these
latter natural materials are from local sources. Bricks need four
times the energy to make compared to timber and a steel beam nine
times that of a wooden beam. The building of a brick house is
said to use twelve times as much energy compared to a light weight
self-built timber house. Once built, the building should be designed
to use as little energy as possible for the energy requirements,
principally heating, lighting, ventilating, etc. Renewable energy
would be the obvious ideal source of energy, and design could
take advantage of buffer rooms and lobbies to protect inner rooms.
One primary aim of all green architecture is energy conservation,
including embodied energy (the energy used in the creation and
transportation of materials, as well as during the construction
of buildings.) materials are fully or much more sustainable -
in the way they are made, including how they will last potentially
recyclable.) Another element is once the building is up and running
the source of energy it uses once any building is up-and-running.
The convention is the national grid, but it can be feasible to
use renewable energy: solar, photovoltaics, wind, and water, or
a combination of these energy sources.
advances have been made over the last two decades in practical
and design terms in the integration of renewables into the design
of buildings. Below the particularly unusual example of Real World
Resource issues are clearly important. Using renewable materials
is usually the primary aim. The renewable dilemmas around rainforest
woods is common western knowledge, though less well known are
the issues around home grown temparate forest woods, such as half
the softwood used in Britain derives from non-sustainable temparate
sources. Buildings can be designed to be green resources themselves,
recycling their own waste and water, for instance.
Health, is possibly the field the public are least aware of. It
makes clear sense that materials are as non-polluting as possible,
few look either at the toxic and other polluting effects that
occur whilst building materials are themselves being produced.
There are also health risks of any possible site for building;
toxic wastes and high voltage electricity lines. Within any building
there are the further issues of whether the building can 'breathe'
thus helping to avoid 'sick building syndrome'; the health choices
of either synthetic or natural 'gentle' materials, paints, stains
and other finishes; and the effects of electromagnetic fields.
issues are clearly as relevant to the music world as for any other
section of society. The attractions of Green architectural practise
being incorporated in music industry buildings is, if one is committed
to a non-nuclear future, primarily that one is helping solve the
problem of lessening energy use and contributing to sustainability.
It seems bizarre that the likes of U2 and Kraftwerk get involved
in supporting Greenpeace campaigns against Windscale Power plant,
yet demonstrate no commitment to designing alternative music making-energy
interfaces, beyond Kraftwerk's Ralf and Florian's laudable obsession
with cycling. It's also not difficult to imagine, maybe if you
are of an apocalyptic turn of mind, alternative energy studio's
being off the grid and self-sufficent, or indeed part of a self-sufficient
One view expressed about green studio's is that energy use concerning
studio's isn't really the problem. It could be seen as similar
to when a few years ago people were buying environmentally-friendly
detergent. It wasn't people who were causing the problem, rather
big companies like ICI who were the principle guilty parties,
polluting rivers. By this line of thinking, studios consume negligable
amounts of energy compared to electricity used to heat things
or move things round. In this view, average studios if 'average'
studios exist, use about the same amount as a medium sized house,
the heaviest consumer of the units are for lights, and the real
culprits are big factories which use exponentially vastly more
quantities of power resources than the joe average studio household.
The notion of an ecologically resourced studio may be viewed,
from such a view, as a really 'weird' idea . Although they maybe
as much as anybody into the green perspective, such an approach,
and enquiring about how much electricity is used monthly in a
small scale studio or the average length of making an album may
be viewed as completely 'obscure' questions.
perspective appears to completely ignore the Green Architecture
and design dimension. There is, as has been mentioned, various
notable advances that have been taking place in the field of Architecture
and sustainability. Green Architecture is possibly the biggest
thing happening in the discipline, and any number of architectural
initiatives are unfolding. And many of these are surely applicable
to the studio scenario. There is the sustainable dimension of
using sustainable and natural products as much as possible - if
not completely - which can be obtained from ecologically responsible
materials outlets. You can use local materials, which is orthodox
Greenthink, thus fitting into the neighbouring regional economy
and acting locally. You can use the various Green support materials
such as ecologically-sound non-toxic paints and lightbulbs, etc
and you can refrain from using the various unhelpful materials,
from concrete to steel, as much as is possible. If you're building
the building from scratch you could build in wood, rather than
brick, or if you live in a stone producing area, stone. Next there
is the apparently controversial area of linking the electricity
supply to an alternative source of power. These could be solar
pannelling on a roof or roofs (think south facing north of the
equator), although it may be a problem in maintaining a constant
temperatures for acoustic considerations. The roofs don't have
to be those of the studio itself though. In a windy area, wind
power is completely feasible, and if a river (or rivulet) runs
through it, or near to hand, mill or water power becomes a serious
option. Photo-voltaic battery sources are another alternative
energy option to consider. If needs be, and it probably would
be any of these options could be backed up by being connected
to the main grid.
to be aware of, and already mentioned, is that of electromagnetic
radiation and fields. There could be systems to shut off the current
to the walls, because they create residual elecromagnetic radiation.
These include fuse-box systems and detectors to work with the
flows and fluxes of electricity. The air quality of the studio
is important becuse often it's a sealed and enclosed space. As
mentioned the priority would be to use as non-toxic materials
as possible. Paints; adhesives, carpetting, and if wood is stained
as low toxicity as possible. If plywood is being used, use presswood
and ensure it is formaldahyde free.
From an aesthetic
point of view as well as the health angle plenty of plants - particularly
spider plants - are always good news. The spider plants particularly
because they eat up the toxins in the air. Recording at night
is beneficial because it keeps costs down, and coming off the
grid will reduce pollution with less people using it.
And again from an aesthetic point of view, and a creative one
making music in beautiful, maybe wild places, connected and close
to nature, far from the world, deep within mountains or surrounded
by old growth woodland or whatever you're into is surely good
for the creative juices. Rural studio's, and the idea of the studio
fitting into the rural economy could be a way to go. Urban studio's,
which are the majority, I would have thought, can be depressing,
alienating experiences which bring little to the quality of recording.
architecture and building fusing with the music world, eco-studio's
and the like are only one particular small step in moves towards
sustainability. What's been outlined here are a few possibilities
on the cusp of making such a new hybrid. And although maybe not
completely there quite yet, with developments in technology I
think this cusp will be reached. Although these developmentsmay
face challenging teething troubles (as someone wrote to me 'I
don't know any musicians who would trust a wind-powered mixing-desk')
it seems a next logical step for the forward looking in the two
domains to take and make. Many in the music world, beyond the
accountants, are into the green perspective, and similarly a fair
degree in the green world are into whatever musics they're into.The
exemplars and possibilities are in place. Surely it's a reasonable
expectancy to envisage such a form of fusion occuring. It'll be
interesting (and instructive) to see if, actually, such a track
begins to happen, in the next few years, small scale or otherwise.