Thursday, November 4, 2010

Paul Judge's Interior Place Essay

My dream is to make music. Over the past seven years, I have become very good and very efficient at making instrumentals and producing hip hop music, so much so that when I met one of my best friends, Kyle Parks, a.k.a O.V., and began making music with him my freshman year at Mizzou, I became convinced that producing music was my true talent in life and that I should pursue it despite all protest from parents, friends, teachers, etc. So the summer after my freshman year, I moved to O.V.’s house in St. Louis to pursue our mutual dream of making it in the music world.

We worked eight-hour shifts by day at the Forest Hills Country Club in Chesterfield, and would come back to O.V.’s house at night and make music in his room. However, the sound quality was bad, the air conditioning was broken, and the room was cramped and claustrophobic with wires, keyboards, computers, and headphones strewn all across the floor. So we moved our operation to the basement and built an 8’ x 4’ vocal booth and a mixing station, simply dubbing it “the studio.” The studio became an arena for my dreams and my fears, my desires and my insecurities, my love and my hate, and it is one of the most singularly important interior places I have ever and will ever encounter in my life.

I define the studio as a “place” because, while it does serve a functional purpose and is used as a “space” by others (when we invite guests over and charge them to record), to myself and to O.V., the studio is a very personal place that is as much defined by its physical dimensions as by the memories, emotions, and ideas that have been created, recorded, and produced within.

A large part of my sense of place associated with the studio comes from the feeling of ownership that I have, because O.V. and I worked extremely hard, often late into the night to build it. We cut the wood to build the support structures for the walls, spaced, measured, and nailed the studs, attached the several layers of insulation, built the roof, rigged the lighting, built the door, and soundproofed the entire booth. At the time, the last thing I wanted to do after coming home from an eight hour shift at the country club was work until four in the morning, building, cutting, and lifting materials, but when it was finally completed, the feeling of completion and ownership was worth the long weeks of toil. We had made our own place to make music, and no one in the world could interfere now with our creativity.

The vocal booth is basically a large wooden box. We built it into an enclave in O.V.’s basement that measured about twelve feet by six feet, so the booth takes up the majority of the space. From the outside, it looks like a large plywood cubicle. On the short side of the booth, we built a door that opens out into the small four-foot gap that we left for people to walk in and out of the booth. When we finally finished building it, we adorned it with spray paint, tagging our names and June 26th, 2009, the day it was finally completed.

When you walk into the booth, you are immediately in a different world. The wavy, black corrugated foam that lines the entire booth gives a kaleidoscopic, mesmerizing effect, so it looks larger than it really is. Once you close the door behind you, you are in an airtight, echo-less chamber in which the only thing that you can hear is the sound of your own voice. There is one single fluorescent light that hangs from the ceiling, illuminating the small space completely. The only objects in the booth are the headphones, the mic stand, a stool for sitting during playback, and a mirror so you can look at yourself as you perform.

Because he was the rapper, O.V. spent the majority of time in the booth, while I spent most of my time at my mixing station. I set up an actual cubicle made of old partitions we found at the Salvation Army, with a desk, a small fluorescent light, and a shelf. The walls of the cubicle are at an angle from the booth, which helps to keep the audio from the large studio monitors from creeping in towards the mic. I spent the majority of my summer sitting in my chair, recording O.V., mixing and editing his voice, talking to him through the walls, and getting up and walking to the booth to make sure the door was sealed tight.

For the most part, though we did sometimes have sessions with other artists to make some money, the studio was by and large used as our creative playground. Anything goes in the studio, and the more time spent down there means more opportunity for the wildest ideas to come out. If something doesn’t work, fine, delete it – it’s our own studio, and we’re not paying for session time. Many nights, O.V. and myself would drink a few beers and a can of Monster and stay up until four or five a.m., working on tiny tweaks to background “oohs” and “uh huhs”. It was this limitless opportunity for creativity (interrupted only by the next shift at the country club) that really allowed us to develop our understanding of both of ourselves, not only as musical artists but as human beings.

The studio encourages freedom of expression and creativity, but really more than that, it encourages spontaneity and experimentation. If you go back and listen to our songs that we recorded, say, first semester of my freshman year at a commercial studio in downtown St. Louis, you will hear pretty simple, basic songs that are the result of having only one or two hours to get everything down. If you listen to the mixtape we produced that summer in the studio, O.V.’s The Fore-ward, you will hear a lush, diverse array of every single idea that we could fit into a sixteen song, 60 minute mixtape, because the studio gave us both the opportunity and the confidence to try out and test every concept and idea that came into our heads.

This freedom, combined with the countless memories and emotions, is really what makes the studio a “place” for me. I go back to St. Louis constantly, usually to record with O.V. and another rapper from Mizzou named Goone at Jupiter studios near SLU, but when we go back to O.V.’s, we always hit the studio to jot down some ideas or work on a few tweaks. I am always reminded of the late night sessions, of when I couldn’t quite get the echo right on an ad-lib on the hook and we were frustrated and tired and had to go to work in four hours, or when I went in and laid down the hook for our song “On My Way” and it came out so unique and perfect that we both freaked out and started jumping around the basement like little kids. The memories and emotions that are contained within the studio are always carried with me, and whenever I go back to St. Louis and sit in my old chair at my mixing station, and O.V. steps into the booth, I am, without a doubt, exactly where I should be - home.

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