A mu­sic stu­dio is hit­ting all the right notes just a stone’s throw from Angkor Wat

Just a stone’s throw from the an­cient ru­ins of Angkor Wat, 60 Road Stu­dios is en­tic­ing global mu­si­cians and train­ing a new gen­er­a­tion of Cam­bo­dian record­ing tech­ni­cians

Southeast Asia Globe - - Contents - By Claire Knox

IN a cool record­ing stu­dio not far from the banks of the Siem Reap river, all is still and quiet for a few sec­onds. An­tic­i­pa­tion floats through the air. First comes the high­pitched war­ble of the chapei dang veng, a tra­di­tional two-stringed Cam­bo­dian gui­tar. A few mo­ments later, del­i­cate chimes and flutes trickle in. Next it’s the smooth rhythm of per­cus­sion in­stru­ments – bar­rel drums and a thon, a gob­let-shaped drum played by hand. Fi­nally, these au­then­tic sounds of the Cam­bo­dian coun­try­side are in­fused with the raw gui­tar twangs of award-winning blues and rock mu­si­cian Amund Maarud; two seem­ingly dis­parate gen­res merg­ing seam­lessly into a dreamy, in­trigu­ing com­po­si­tion.

Maarud, an ac­com­plished Nor­we­gian per­former who’s re­garded as one of Scan­di­navia’s best gui­tarists, is just one of sev­eral in­ter­na­tional acts that 60 Road Stu­dios, a young record­ing com­plex on the fringes of the an­cient ru­ins of Angkor Wat, has at­tracted since open­ing.

The Nor­we­gian first vis­ited the stu­dio on the eve of its open­ing in Fe­bru­ary 2015 while on hol­i­day in Siem Reap. He was fasci- nated by the spir­i­tual sounds of 71-year-old chapei master and na­tional liv­ing trea­sure Kong Nay, re­turn­ing nine months later to record and play a live set with him at a lo­cal mu­sic fes­ti­val.

The seed for 60 Road Stu­dios was first planted in 2013 when ex­pat Ian Croft, a for­mer fi­nance worker who’d been liv­ing in fast-paced Hong Kong, met IT pro­fes­sional Clive But­ler and sound en­gi­neer Steve Blox­ham over beers and Brit­pop tunes in a Siem Reap bar. They mused on the lack of fa­cil­i­ties to nur­ture lo­cal mu­si­cal tal­ent in Cam­bo­dia and de­cided to pool their funds to build a state-of-the-art record­ing stu­dio. The aim is to at­tract record­ing busi­ness from ac­com­plished in­ter­na­tional acts while of­fer­ing dis­counted or free train­ing to young Cam­bo­dian sound en­gi­neers, as well as pre-pro­duc­tion, ar­range­ment, mar­ket­ing and man­age­ment ser­vices for promis­ing lo­cal mu­si­cians.

The com­plex two-year con­struc­tion process in­cluded in­stalling 10cm-thick lay­ers of high-grade in­su­la­tion in the walls for sound­proof­ing – one of the most costly el­e­ments of the ren­o­va­tion, said Croft.

“Stu­dios need to ei­ther dif­fuse or ab­sorb

sound so that noth­ing bounces off walls. We’ve got the ideal six sec­onds of re­ver­ber­a­tions, and each part of the room is de­signed to break or ab­sorb fre­quen­cies,” he said. Over­seen by Sin­ga­porean and French sound spe­cial­ists, the de­sign in­cluded 300kg acoustic ‘clouds’, or dif­fusers, that drip from the ceil­ing to tem­per re­ver­ber­a­tion.

Artists also have ac­cess to an im­pres­sive ar­ray of im­ported in­stru­ments and equip­ment: 30 dif­fer­ent mi­cro­phones; a ter­abyte of synth sounds and sam­ples; drums and snare drums; a Fender Stra­to­caster and 1959 Gib­son Les Paul reis­sue; and var­i­ous tra­di­tional Kh­mer in­stru­ments.

“Stu­dios in big­ger cities would be un­likely to have such an ex­ten­sive in­stru­ment list be­cause peo­ple would rather bring their own gear. Mu­si­cians will be more en­ticed to come and record some­where ex­otic if they don’t have to cart around their amps and guitars as well,” Croft said.

“For the price point that we’re at, we’re very com­pet­i­tive in the re­gion. There are a cou­ple of very good stu­dios in Thailand and four in Sin­ga­pore that are world-class, but they’re far more ex­pen­sive. What we can of­fer through the size and treat­ment of our record­ing room and our equip­ment brings us up to that level.

“We also don’t want to be a clone of an­other stu­dio. We’re try­ing to cre­ate some­thing quite Cam­bo­dian, some­thing unique, so we’re grad­u­ally adding to our mem­o­ra­bilia and art­work – lots from the 1960s – as well as tra­di­tional in­stru­ments.”

An­other band to sam­ple some tra­di­tional Kh­mer melodies into their al­bum at 60 Road was pop­u­lar Hong Kong-based in­die rock­ers the Sleeves, who recorded a 20-sec­ond in­tro of Cam­bo­dian skor, or drums. The four-piece band, which has sup­ported big-name acts such as Un­kle and Peaches, spent a week work­ing on their sec­ond al­bum at the stu­dio. Front­man Keith Good­man said the fact they could com­pletely im­merse them­selves in the process of mak­ing mu­sic full-time, rather than dip­ping in and out of a stu­dio, was the big­gest at­trac­tion 60 Road pro­vided.

“Once we had set up the stu­dio with all of the in­stru­ments it was com­pletely ours for

the week. You just can’t get that in Hong Kong… When we recorded our first al­bum it was quite a stress­ful ex­pe­ri­ence. Ev­ery day we’d have to set up the stu­dio from scratch. We worked out that it was ac­tu­ally cheaper for us to buy all of our flights to Cam­bo­dia, record at 60 Road and book­end the week with a chilled out hol­i­day by the beach than to record back at home over a month,” he said.

In­spi­ra­tional des­ti­na­tions have long at­tracted some of the world’s great­est mu­si­cians – the Bea­tles wrote most of the tracks for their rev­ered White Al­bum while in In­dia, and it was a pe­riod spent in Berlin that moved David Bowie to pro­duce Low. Good­man said that hav­ing the ma­jes­tic ru­ins of Angkor to traipse around in when creative blocks arose proved a saviour.

“I liked the fact that af­ter a long day, or in the early morn­ing be­fore a ses­sion started, we had the ru­ins to step out into. We were also able to shoot some of our [mu­sic] video there, which was pretty spe­cial,” he said.

One of Cam­bo­dia’s most in­ter­na­tion­ally suc­cess­ful home­grown bands, the Cam­bo­dian Space Project, had just wrapped up a ses­sion in the stu­dio when South­east Asia Globe vis­ited. While they’d recorded pre­vi­ous al­bums in Aus­tralia and other over­seas lo­ca­tions, gui­tarist Julien Poul­son said it was ex­cit­ing to see a pur­pose-built stu­dio set up in the King­dom. “The fact that the stu­dio in­vests in hir­ing and train­ing lo­cal tech­ni­cians is a great thing, and we want to sup­port this,” he said, not­ing that stu­dio as­sis­tant Si­tung Hama is the coun­try’s only fe­male sound en­gi­neer.

Giv­ing a boost to Cam­bo­dia’s blos­som­ing mu­sic in­dus­try was in­deed one of the mo­ti­va­tions be­hind 60 Road, said Croft, who be­lieves that the coun­try’s in­de­pen­dent mu­sic scene is now at a turn­ing point.

“I think that the main mu­sic mar­ket is be­com­ing much more di­verse – just five years ago it was dom­i­nated by adapted cov­ers. Now there’s a new genre of orig­i­nal pop singers – Laura Mam, Adda An­gel, Nikki Nikki,” he said. “What ex­cited me most is that it seems the younger gen­er­a­tion is get­ting re­ally se­ri­ous about [mu­sic] pro­duc­tion… The tech­nol­ogy only keeps ad­vanc­ing, and so does Cam­bo­dia’s mu­sic in­dus­try.”

Clock­wise from top left: the ex­te­rior of 60 Road Stu­dios; Ian Croft (front) and Steve Blox­ham; the stu­dio’s mix­ing room; Hong Kong-based rock­ers the Sleeves pic­tured in front of Angkor Wat; 60 Road’s ar­ray of Cam­bo­dian in­stru­ments; the

stu­dio’s mix­ing desk

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