Enjoying the Movie Music? You Might Have NYC's Grandest Ballroom to Thank
The superb acoustics of the Grand Ballroom have made this venue perfect for music recording
By Sebastian Thaler
The very first film score in cinematic history-for Warner Brothers' Don Juan, starring John Barrymore and Mary Astor-was recorded in the Grand Ballroom in 1926, using then-new Vitaphone technology to capture the sound of the 107 musicians of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Then and now, the superb acoustics of the Grand Ballroom have made this magnificent venue perfect for music recording, whether the project is a full-blown orchestral film score, a live concert or other album recording, including those of Broadway shows. The natural reverberation of the room produces a particular sound quality that defies emulation.
Academy Award-winning film scores and Oscar-nominated soundtracks are frequently recorded in the Grand Ballroom. Since the mid-1990s alone, the film scores recorded or mixed at the Manhattan Center have included those for Interview with a Vampire, Fargo, Batman Forever, The Red Violin, You've Got Mail, Everything Is Illuminated, TinTin, Frida (for which its composer, Elliot Goldenthal, won an Oscar), Across the Universe and dozens more. This room has seen the birth of countless one-of-a-kind performances, including film scores, classical recordings, broadcasts and telethons. "The acoustics are top-notch," says Darren Moore, the Chief Audio Engineer of Manhattan Center Productions. "We love the artists who come through these doors, so we make sure they have the best experience possible." (Besides film scores, other album recordings in the Grand have been made by Tony Bennett, Sting, Harry Connick, Jr., Chick Correa, Herbie Hancock and Leonard Bernstein.)
The Grand Ballroom sports a state-of-the-art Nexo concert sound system and a dazzling 40-foot-high ceiling including strategic rigging points catering to any production requirement, and it is interconnected to Manhattan Center Productions' audio recording studios and HD television control rooms.
A separate recording studio, the "Log Cabin," combines the ease and efficiency of digital technology with a Pro Tools HD Accel system, to the proven warmth and musicality of a best-of-breed 72-channel analog console, complete with classic outboard gear and the latest plugins. A self-contained studio complete with a spacious live room, isolated drum booth, lounge and kitchen, the Log Cabin is a producer's, artist's and engineer's dream studio. The roster of celebrated composers who have taken advantage this facility for movie soundtracks alone, include David Arnold, Danny Elfman, Terrence Blanchard, George Fenton, Carter Burwell, Elliot Goldenthal, John Corigliano, Howard Shore, Stanley Clark, Stephen Trask, Marcello Zarvos, Theodore Shapiro (for Walter Mitty) and Clint Mansell (for the upcoming movie Noah). More recently, Elliot Goldenthal and Julie Taymor, along with various child actors, were engaged in recording activities in the Log Cabin related to Ms. Taymor's new production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, currently running at Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn.
Then there is Studio 7. This studio houses a unique custom-modified Neve VR 96-channel console recording to 5.1 surround on a Pro Tools HD Accel system, or to any of a variety of digital or analog multitrack tape formats. It is wired to record or mix sound from the Hammerstein Ballroom or the Grand Ballroom. "With all these amenities, we believe these studios are truly a producer's, artist's and engineer's dream," says Joel Scheuneman, Director of Audio Engineering at Manhattan Center Studios. "Our intention is to keep them coming back by keeping them on cloud nine."
Finally, Manhattan Center offers more than 20 edit rooms of varying sizes able to accommodate the most demanding online or self-supervised offline editing clientele. These post-production suites have fiber and copper connectivity to over 48 terabytes of shared network storage on an EditShare.
Due in part to its reputation as the ideal venue to record and mix film soundtracks and other types of productions, the studios at the Manhattan Center continue to attract a wide variety of musical clients.
For example, when Myspace made the decision to showcase live performances of today's hottest up-and-coming musical acts, it chose the Log Cabin. To date, Myspace's Live at the Log Cabin series has hosted a wide variety of acts whose live performances have been posted online, ranging from Manchester, UK-based alt rock band The 1975 to American hip-hop duo Run the Jewels. Joseph Patel, VP Content & Creative at Myspace, has described the Log Cabin as a "hidden gem of a studio in the middle of Midtown Manhattan."
And in October, when Martin Audio Ltd., a designer of leading-edge live performance systems, wanted to conduct a series of exclusive demonstrations of its award-winning MLA Compact(tm) Multi-cellular Loudspeaker Array, it set up shop inside the Grand Ballroom for a two-day special event for members of the concert industry.
As these facts demonstrate, film soundtrack recording and production is just a part of Manhattan Center's allure. Meanwhile, incentives provided by New York State for in-state movie production ensure that Manhattan Center Productions will remain a popular choice for studios' film score recordings for years to come.