News

14 Oct 2021

Listen Here: From The Ocean To The Windy City

by Andy Stewart

(Lead Pic: In Byron, Lto R – Jan Muths, Kerabangara Whewell, Carl Weir, Ben Funnell, Chilli Chillcot, Kristian Gifkins-Webb, Toby Smyth, Zane Keighran)

There are times when getting something done requires a monumental effort by a large group of energised people. During statewide lockdowns that degree of difficulty multiplies exponentially. This is the story of a guy who chose Victoria’s Stage 6 house arrest (or was it 7?) to move an SSL K-Series analogue console interstate. Oh the fun we’ve had (so far)!

The other day I woke up to the lingering memory of a dream. In it I was buying an SSL 9000 K-Series analogue console (one of my dream boards it must be said), shipping it interstate through militarised checkpoints, and installing it at The Mill through heavy double doors on the south side of the studio. I knew I’d been dreaming because there are no such doors on that side of the building, only a window.

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Then reality struck, like waking to the jarring memory that you still haven’t done your tax. “Holy hell, that wasn’t a dream, was it? I’ve actually bought a K-Series! What was I thinking trying to pull this off during a pandemic, and where on earth am I going to find the money to pay for it?”

K-RIKEY 

The decision to buy the SSL 9000 K-Series ‘Super Analogue’ console (as it’s known) happened quickly, although, I guess if I’m honest I’ve been daydreaming about owning something like this for years. I’d been tyre-kicking the idea around in my head mostly, occasionally running the idea past a good mate of mine, Rick O’Neil, who would typically say something encouraging like, “Either shut up about it or go and by one from somewhere, pay good money for it, and move on!”

Rick is so sensitive…

But my daydreaming turned to something a little more public last summer when I started making enquires around the traps to see what was – or might soon be – out there. I’ve had an SSL before, a 5000 series, and for the last 17 years I’ve owned a Neve 5104, but lately I’ve been feeling like it was time for a change… I can’t have a holiday after all! 

But as the last couple of weeks have unequivocally proven, it’s a damned sight easier (not to mention cheaper!) to dream about something than it is to live the reality. Hitting the ‘Go’ button on a purchase like this has been a whole other matter, complicated no end by the fact that I haven’t been able to travel from Victoria to NSW to organise any of it. Indeed, the console was literally bought sight unseen!

My involvement at the shipping end of this saga has been limited to a thousand tedious phone calls to everyone from the guys co-ordinating the shipment, Chilli Chillcot from Byron Sound Lounge Studios and Jan Muths from Byron Bay SAE (where the console has lived for the last 18 years), to Bruce Sheaffe the forklift driver in Lismore and Simon Lynch from Cape Byron Removals. To those guys specifically, I am forever grateful. 

These guys took care of the console like it was their own, and it made all the difference in the world knowing that it was safe in their expert hands.

Rewind The Tape

But to back up for a moment and frame this story a little wider, I should mention how this purchase came about. The option to buy the SSL came almost completely out of left field only a month ago, proving that although I’d been daydreaming about it for years, I hadn’t really prepared myself mentally (or financially) for a decision if one came up. 

So there I was in the studio one day in August, minding my own business, hiding from the world during yet another lockdown when I got a message from a mate of mine, Simon Stavenuiter, telling me that an SSL console was coming up for sale and did I want it? He knew I’d been tyre-kicking the idea for a while now, and although it wasn’t the model I’d been talking about, he thought I should know.

“Wow, that’s pretty amazing news, man,” I said to him, choking on my morning coffee. “I actually remember mixing on that board up in Byron when it was about three weeks old.”

How could I have forgotten that day! Tom Misner, who had just taken delivery of only the third 9000 K-Series SSL to arrive in Australia (no-one knew at that stage it would also be the last) had invited me up to the SAE Byron to show off his new pride and joy, and while I was there, play me a mix he’d just pulled together on it. 

“A mix you’ve just done?” I asked, somewhat astonished. “I didn’t know you mixed music. I thought you were just a rich guy who liked boasting about owning all this stuff!” I added, in a friendly sarcastic tone.

I then sat in front of the most amazing, brand-spankingly new SSL, and listened politely to the most unremarkable mix I’d ever heard summing off a console. 

And what a console it was. The SSL was a sea of perfectly arranged switches and knobs, myriad solo and mute controls and endless channel strip options all glowing red, white and green in the soft studio light. I love a good outdoor environment, believe me; a deserted beach, a walk through the bush, but there’s something about a big console in a control room with the lights down that really makes me feel at home. After all these years I still get a kick out of it.

Winding the clock forward too many years from that day, suddenly I’m the owner of the very same console, and today it arrives here at the Mill to begin its second life as the centrepiece of my mixing room. Initially it’s going into an adjoining building while I work out how to get the beast into the studio. Currently it doesn’t even fit through the door! And before it can go in the Neve 5104 needs to be sold and shipped to its next home.

To help unload the behemoth I’ve enlisted the help of friends and neighbours; a dairy farmer, a couple of wine makers, a saxophonist, a trombonist, and a jazz guitarist. It’s a motley crew but they come with a smile and some decent tools that will aid in the delivery no end. Both winemakers have pallet jacks, and the dairy farmer, my neighbour Paul Kent, has a 7-tonne four-wheel drive tractor that will make extremely light work of the enormously heavy console. Even with 10 people at the ready, at 870kgs with the channel modules removed, lifting this beast is basically out of the question. Anyway, the truck is due shortly, so I’m gonna put my laptop down now and get back to this story in a few hours with hopefully good news to report… 

The Eagle Has Landed

We are in! All went incredibly smoothly. The horrible weather backed off, coinciding perfectly with the truck’s arrival. Ten minutes earlier we had been enjoying 80km/h winds and hail!

Rather than employing the use of Paul Kent’s giant tractor, we instead decided to back the truck right to the entrance of my big shed, put the dollies from Bunnings that we’d used in Byron to load the console onto the truck in the first place under the console’s feet, roll it very slowly out onto the 2.5m long hydraulic tailgate, swing it very carefully 60 degrees, and lower it to the ground! Simple. 

James Wilkinson, who was on the downward side of the console while it was still high on the tailgate had a few slightly nervous moments, thinking the board was going to roll onto him and squash him flat, but thankfully we held it safely and lowered it to the ground without incident.

Now the big task begins of cleaning the console (for possibly the first time in almost two decades), reconnecting all the fader cassettes, centre section and belly box, and starting the long-haul process of making sure it all works well and has any repairs done to it that need attending to. 

Oh, and I have to add a 40 Amp circuit to the studio’s sub-board, to accommodate the power-hungry SSL supplies. I’m also going to add another 5.5 kilowatts of solar power to the studio’s roof, to help pay for the running of the console, and save the environment from a mountain of burning coal at the same time. 

I’ll let you know how it all works out next issue…

’Til then.

Andy with his New Baby

Andy Stewart owns and operates The Mill studio in Victoria, a world-class production, mixing and mastering facility. He’s happy to respond to any pleas for pro audio help… contact him at:
andy@themillstudio.com.au or visit:
www.themillstudio.com.au

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