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White Mark’s David Bell Uncovers An Old Friend In Moscow
Suffolk, UK: Acoustician Dave Bell, director of studio design consultancy White Mark Ltd, had an unexpected surprise when he visited the Moscow-based Russian State Music TV and Radio Centre. For there, in the control room one of the of the Centre’s classical recording studios, was a Neve DSP-1 console – the first digital
audio mixer ever to be released as a commercial venture.
“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Dave Bell says, “Not only was this a very rare console but it was also one that I’d been involved in designing back in the early 1980s.”
At the time Bell was working as an engineer at the BBC and was part of the BBC SCPD team (headed by Brian Binding) that designed the control surface and operational interface of the consoles. The basic digital processing research was conducted at BBC Research department at Kingswood Warren under the guidance of digital audio pioneer Guy NcNally. Work here included research into Digital Signal Processing for mixing and processing of sound and minimum loss encoder/decoders for data reduction in transmission.
“An agreement was reached with Neve to put the research work into commercial production,” Bell explains. “My involvement was, with Sean Meehan, to design the assignable control surface so that it could easily be configured for any requirement from multitrack recording and post production, to live broadcasting.
This involved interviewing over 300 BBC sound engineers on the application of assignable technology to their work practices.”
In the early 1980s, the Neve DSP-1 was hailed as the next generation of consoles and was a staggering design achievement that helped pushed the boundaries of digital audio. But despite its design pedigree, it didn’t succeed in the commercial world because it was simply too expensive for customers to buy. The price paid by CTS Studios, the first facility to take delivery of a DSP-1 in 1985, was reportedly ?310,000. In today’s world that equated to over ?750,000 – an
amount that even the richest commercial facility would find unsustainable.
However, despite its exorbitant price tag Neve did manage to sell a few of these consoles. It is believed that a total of 14 were ordered but only about seven or eight were actually delivered. One of these was to the Head Music Department of the All-Union Radio, a unit of the USSR Gosteleradio, which became the Russian State Music TV and Radio centre in 1996. It is this desk that David Bell believes he has uncovered.
“Apparently the desk hasn’t been operational for some time but it was well loved
by the engineers who used it when it was first delivered,” he says. “Some of
those who used it were present during the visit and recalled the impression given in the West that the purchase was only to take advantage of the technology within the processing. This was obviously not the case and the recordings made using the system were highly thought of once the skills required to get the best out of the headroom and processing limitations were understood and applied.”
Bell adds that from his point of view he was just stunned to see it in one piece.
“When it was originally designed, we used old-fashioned drawing methods, pens and ink, with personal computers being some years away from general use. It is very heartening to be reminded of the innovation that was undertaken at that time – the SSL 4000 series console was also in its infancy - and the fact that Britain led the world in a wide area of the professional audio technology field.”
About White Mark:
Established in 1997 by David Bell, John Dunnill, Derek Buckingham and Alan Cundell, White Mark Ltd specialises in production facilities for music recording and the film and television industries. Over the last decade it has designed and supervised the construction of over 170 audio production suites worldwide. The company’s impressive client list encompasses some of the world’s most famous music recording facilities including Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios in the UK, Hit Factory in New York (for which the company won a coveted TEC Award for Best Acoustic Design), Hit Factory/Criteria Recording Studios in Miami, Strongroom in London and private studios for producers and musicians such as William Orbit and Damon Albarn. In the area of audio post production, White Mark has completed over 100 studios for more than 40 companies in Soho alone. The list includes Grand Central, Hackenbacker, Envy, Scramble, Lipsync, Molinare,
Ascent Media, Wave and Boom. This impressive achievement means that a
significant proportion of mainstream British television output passes through
rooms designed by White Mark.