Programme leader of Creative Music Technology at the University of Salford by day and producer/engineer whenever possible, Brendan Williams could not resist the challenge offered when an old recording room was unearthed in the recently vacated central Manchester ITV/Granada buildings. Seeing the huge potential in the forgotten space, he teamed up with Dan Parrott and Katie Popperwell to reinvented it as a new recording studio, they named Low Four.

The space comprises a large live room with a viewing gallery and a control booth, and has been equipped with an Audient ASP8024 mixing console to serve recording duties, as well as paying its part in a bespoke events and live TV-style streaming.

Low Four‘I had no idea that there had been such a high-spec, purpose-built music facility in Granada,’ confesses Williams, whose recent work includes releases from Gogo Penguin (Blue Note Records) and Dutch Uncles (Memphis Industries). Built in 1956, the facility was acoustically refurbished in 1979, and was where the orchestral music for the television series Jewel in the Crown and Brideshead Revisited was recorded.

By the 1990s the studio was decommissioned, and relegated to occasional green room for visiting artists, so sifting through the archaeology of half a century’s worth of wiring was a huge job. ‘One of the on-site electricians [who’d been employed previously by Granada Studios] joked about how new technology had been literally piled on top of old in some parts of the building – that seemed to be the case here too.’

Williams enlisted the help of university colleagues and students to asses the technology infrastructure. When partially removing the floor in the control room, they were met with ‘a writhing mass of audio and coaxial cables’.

‘Over time we’ve stripped pretty much everything out and established 12 more lines between the booth and the control room, and lines to the gallery for the Low Four TV shows,’ he reports. Today, Williams likens it to BBC’s Maida Vale studios.

Dan Parrott and Brendan Williams‘We are up and running,’ he announces. ‘Bringing in the ASP8024 has improved the workflow dramatically, so we’re in the process of putting everything we need on the bays in an intuitive fashion. This is happening stage by stage, so we can keep recording as we go. Currently the group outputs are normalised to the A/D inputs as you might expect for multitracking, but I’m going to play around with using the inserts as balanced direct outputs, as it will free the group faders for both the live to two-track mix and better workflow with the TV-style shows.’

No stranger to Audient, Williams has taught a generation of music tech students using the British consoles for more than ten years at the University of Salford. ‘What I really value is the way that they are laid out physically,’ he offers. ‘Both from a user and educator’s point of view, they’re really intuitive and uncluttered. The preamps are great and the EQ is really musical. If budgets allow I prefer to mix in stems and sum in the analogue domain, the ASP works really well in this context.

‘It’s great to have so many auxes too, invaluable when you’re dealing with multiple headphone mixes and real-time effects processing and re-amping. The stereo bus doesn’t impart a huge amount of character on the mix, which I like; I prefer a clean “open-sounding” board, which accurately reflects the processing I’m doing in the analogue or digital domain.

‘It’s about workflow really,’ he adds. ‘You can make great sounding recordings with a small amount of – relatively affordable – gear these days but sometimes you want to have a lot of instruments permanently set up, so that over the course of a big project you can flit around as the mood takes you. For this you need lots of channels, flexible routing and lots of auxiliaries.

Low Four

‘The ASP8024’s centre section is also really useful in the context of the live shows,’ he xontinues. ‘I need to be able to listen to different sets of speakers or alt inputs and to be able to send the stereo mix to multiple sources. The ergonomics are also really important; when you know a board well it’s undeniably a faster way to work in a high-pressure situation.’

Along with the ASP8024 console, Low Four runs Adam P22a and NS10m monitors, with AD/DA is handled by a pair of UAD Apollo units, which are chained using UAD Apollo Expanded over Thunderbolt 2 to provide It's 24 inputs and 26 outputs.

‘In addition to the preamps on the Audient, I have eight CAPI VP26 preamps,’ says Low Four’s Brendan Williams. ‘I don't run loads of outboard, but I have some Lindel compressors, old digital verbs, which I use a lot – SPX90 and Lexicon PCM80. I also use a SSL G Series Bus Compressor clone on the stereo bus for the live shows, which a local tech built for me. He’s also putting some Sure Level Loc clones together for us in the near future. I've also got an EMT 240 plate at the moment, on loan from another guy in the building. I like analogue delays; we have an Echopet BBD and I use an MXR Carbon Copy (along with other guitar pedals), re-amped from an aux.

There are also plans for an educational partnership between Low Four and the University of Salford: ‘It’s early days but we’ve been working very closely with current and recently graduated students to produce the shows and run some of the recording sessions, the students are invaluable to the project. I’d like to be bringing in groups of students more formally as the project progresses.’

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