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Black Ark Studios
Related: Lee Perry - studio - recording - Jamaican music - reggae - dub
Albums: Super Ape (1976)
Lee 'Scratch' Perry at Black Ark Studio during the early 70's, photocredit unidentified
image sourced here.
Lee Perry's Black Ark Studio (Photo by A. Boot)
image sourced here.
The Black Ark was the recording studio of legendary reggae/dub producer Lee "Scratch" Perry, located in the yard of his family's home in the Washington Gardens neighboorhood of Kingston, Jamaica. Although the studio itself was somewhat rudimentary in its set-up and particularly basic with regard to some of the dated equipmentment employed by Perry, it was nonetheless the breeding-ground for Jamaica's (and arguably the world's) most innovative sounds and recording techniques.
Innovative Musical Techniques
An example of Lee Perry's inventive style was his ability to overdub layers of sound effects and instrumentation on each recording track of a basic 4-track machine, with such precise timing and in such a way that the resulting sound would destroy the competition from Jamaica's other top producers using the latest 16-track mixing consoles. Perry once buried microphones at the base of a palm tree and thumped it rhythmically to produce a mystifying bass drum effect; his drum booth at the Black Ark was for a time surrounded with chicken-wire to further his distinctive sound; many of his songs are layered with a variety of subtle effects created from broken glass, ghastly sighs and screeches, crying babies, and a mooing cow children's toy. These and other notable recording techniques helped define the Black Ark sound, as well as Lee Perry's creative legacy.
Musicians and the Black Ark
In addition to providing pioneering sounds for such reggae stars as Bob Marley and The Wailers, Junior Byles, and Max Romeo, Lee Perry and his studio were formative in creating the highly innovative reggae sub-genre called Dub, in which the producer/engineer becomes the focus of the music, manipulating a pre-recorded track and creating something entirely new using his or her mixing console as nothing less than an instrument.
In 1978, following years of increasingly bizarre and erratic behavior, Lee "Scratch" Perry set fire to The Black Ark studio, effectively ending an era during which much of Jamaica's most delightfully creative sounds had captured the world of music. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Black_Ark [Jun 2005]
Equipment [...] And it was all recorded at Black Ark with only a four-track 1/4-inch Teac reel-to-reel, 16-track Soundcraft board, Mutron phaser, and Roland Space Echo. Bouncing tracks together to create 16-track thickness, albeit with considerable signal degradation and tape hiss --Sasha Frere-Jones via The Village Voice
Using fairly simple equipment, Perry was able to take four tracks and make them sound like eight or more by dumping several tracks onto one and then repeating the process. With less than state of the art technology, Perry managed to create a huge bag of tricks that many producers still puzzle over today. "It was only four tracks on the machine," Perry explains, "but I was picking up twenty from the extra terrestrial squad." http://www.reggaemovement.com/Artists/Leeperry.htm
According to "People Funny Boy" Scratch used
these in the early days of Black Ark (1973-75):
- Alice mixer (Scratch: "They weren't professional machines they were only toys")
- Grantham spring reverb
- Roland Space Echo RE201
- Marantz amplifier for instruments
- AKG drum mic for vocals
- Teac 3340 1/4 inch 4-track recorder
- Teac 2-track recorder for mix down
In 1975 he added some new equipment:
- Soundcraft mixer (replaced the Alice)
- Mutron phaser (an early demo model)
- better mics
- Around 1979 he was given a Teac 1/2 inch 8-track recorder but he didn't like it and almost never used it.
If you want to see Scratch working this stuff at Black Ark get the video "Roots Rock Reggae" from
Shanachie. And the book "People Funny Boy" by David Katz is a must also. In the course of telling Lee Scratch Perry's life story he tells the whole story of Jamaican music. The best book ever on reggae.
In discussing Tubby Katz says that his equipment was mostly handmade and can't really be duplicated. --http://www.interruptor.ch/cgi-bin/discus/messages/1/32.html --http://www.interruptor.ch/cgi-bin/discus/messages/1/32.html [Jun 2005]
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