Jazzanova: Room at the very top29 January 2016
There’s no lift, so you have to clamber up four floors if you want to visit Axel Reinemer’s Jazzanova Recording Studio. While that might knock the breath out of some artists, it hasn’t stopped R’n’B star Jason Derulo, New Zealand’s Lorde, US singer Melody Gardot or UK indie rockers Sundara Karma making the ascent to see the palace of recording delights above.
The view across the city’s not bad too. Hang on, below us: isn’t that where the Wall used to be?
“Oh yes,” confirms Reinemer (pictured). “This used to be a Stasi listening post.”
It’s not obligatory to talk about how life changed for East Berliners from 1989 onwards, but a brief glimpse of it seems appropriate here. Reinemer recounts the excitement he felt after buying his first “western” drum machine when the Berlin Wall came down; how he was “crazy about music and technology”, began as a freelance engineer using “compressors and ADAT” and how he would “read manuals late into the night”. This last point, he wears like a badge of honour.
Reinemer formed the Jazzanova collective with friends in about 1996, absorbing DJ and hip hop culture to form a fusion of jazzy beats and electronics, which defined his band’s output (three albums, over 25 singles and EPs, a wealth of remix and compilation appearances). And while Jazzanova had its own studio, yes, and a successful record label (Sonar Kollektiv) too, it was only when Reinemer discovered the rooms at the top of this tower in the northern part of the city that he would rest in his search to find the space he always desired.
Two and a half years after moving in, Jazzanova Recording Studios comprises a central 38sqm live room, an equally spacious control room, a couple of smaller recording spaces for drums and keyboards, plus a separate project studio room (currently rented out to Colombian multi-instrumentalist, David Lemaitre).
The layout and design is very much Reinemer’s own, with building work undertaken by Berlin-based acoustician Karlheinz Stegmaier. Creating the studio included, firstly, gutting the place (“It smelled so smoky!”) and then laying down a floor sufficiently acoustically absorbent to enable Reinemer to work “when I like”. Also a priority was a comprehensive cabling infrastructure, linking together the recording rooms for any kind of audio (or video) transmission around the studio and, ultimately, into the control room.
“Quick set-up is very important to me,” emphasises Reinemer. “When the bands come in, everything should be prepared and ready to go. This way you can work fast and don’t stop the artists’ creativity. They say, ‘Can we set up this mic?’, I say, ‘Yeah!’ Boom!”
He may be on the fourth floor, but he knows how to hit the ground running…
Now the studio has shifted up another gear, as it has become the first commercial facility to partner with Sennheiser/Neumann as a showcase for the company’s microphone and monitor technology.
“I worked with producer Mousse T. (Sex Bomb, Horny),” Reinemer explains, “and he loved the studio and said I needed to meet Sennheiser. He introduced me to [joint CEO] Andreas Sennheiser. I thought it would be good for me to form a partnership/collaboration.”
It couldn’t be more logical, given the studio’s centrepiece.
“It’s a Neumann desk, they were all custom made for radio stations, theatres and recording studios. This one was at the Berlin Opera House.”
No question, it’s a dark and handsome analogue beast, bristling with channel strips, modules, buttons and faders and more.
“When I had my first studio I had a console and ADATs and stuff. Then I went totally in the box with Pro Tools for a couple of years. Then I decided I needed a desk. I wanted to have faders!”
The partnership, led by the manufacturer’s Pierre Morant, who heads up the Artist Relations Department, has seen Sennheiser supply a range of microphones (Neumann and Sennheiser) and a suitable arrangement of control room monitor speakers to the studio. Reinemer reveals how he’d started out with a trusty pair of Genelecs, but a particularly demanding big-name client requested more “bottom end”. The Neumann 420s, still in their box, were unpacked and set up with a subwoofer – and they did the job. “I’m really happy with them,” says the young producer. “There’s a lot of headroom, no distortion, they always feel relaxed to listen to.”
“The clients have to be happy,” he continues. “One client told me, ‘We want to use the Genelecs’. I said, I can set them up but you should try the 420s first… and the Neumanns stayed.”
Visiting artists will not find Jazzanova short on microphone choices, of course.
“Before the partnership I had many tube mics already: U 67, U 47, C 24, ribbons etc. I was very vintage! Now I also have the modern mics which I also enjoy working with.”
It ́s always a good idea to compare mics when it comes to tracking vocals, says Reinemer. “Usually we end up with a 67, 47 or C2 4, but lately, the M 149 has got a lot of use, especially with younger talent who seem to like its slightly brighter, more ‘modern’ character. The sound is more toward the Sony C800 which a lot of RnB singers use.”
He’s a big fan of the Sennheiser MKH series too. “The MKH800 is the best for nylon guitar, bright but so detailed.”
For room and ambient recording, Reinemer favours the Neumann KMA system, with its ability to swap capsules as need arises. “The KK133 capsule,” he pinpoints, “is an omnidirectional diffuse field capsule; I quite often use them as ambient mics for drums placed as an A-B stereo pair in the kitchen.” There’s a tip you won’t find in a cookery book. “Compress it hard for a massive sound.”
But while JRS is a Sennheiser partner, Reinemer is not confined to using German microphones exclusively.
“This is what’s fun about recording: to choose the mics to paint the sound picture, to create depth, to alter EQ. It depends on the style of the music and it’s nice that we have a full palette of mics to choose from,” he says.
While being able to work with agility is a key component to Reinemer’s methods, he’s also learned to be bold with his tools. “I’ve learned that from working with other producers; when they record they put the sounds with compression, EQ and FX direct to tape rather than doing all that in the mix. They just commit to the sound during the recording process.”
He gives an example: “When I worked with Justin Stanley (Beck, Eric Clapton), it was nice to see [his] tempo, [his] decision-making. I got a lot from that: don’t be shy, put your energy into it!”
Getting to know the Neumann console intimately has, of course, played its part in his confidence.
“I can crank the EQs and it doesn’t hurt. I can boost and cut: the sound is nice and round. You don’t have to think so much. The desk is reliable even though it’s 24 years old.”
A testament to solid German engineering?
“Yes, and it’s easy to service because it’s modular. I have the service manual and, if something goes wrong, it’s easy to find out where it is.
“It also meant that we could take it apart to get it up the stairs. Even so, it was tough because the frame alone is heavy.”
Should have fitted that lift after all.