Vienna is of course the place to be when it comes to music-making, from the legendary composers who walked its streets (and whose music filled its concert halls and opera houses), to its stylistic traditions – anyone for a waltz? – and that annual televised gift, The New Year’s Day Concert. Today music is everywhere in Austria’s glittering capital, concerts of Mozart and Strauss are seemingly on tap, and you can walk in the footsteps of Amadeus himself, to see where he lived, worked and died. For film music fans Vienna holds a special place, not only as the birth place of the great Max Steiner, but also the home of one of the very best annual film music celebrations – ‘Hollywood in Vienna’.
But that’s not all, for just last month a new jewel was added to Vienna’s film music crown, in the shape of the Synchron Stage, a state of the art recording facility. Film music is at this new studio’s heart and very much part of its soul, for it is has actually been recorded on the site for many years. The name may be new, the decor fresh and the equipment the best money can buy, but the building itself was created for film music way back in the 1940s.
I was fortunate enough to have a tour of the ‘Synchronhalle’ – its original name – which was once part of a large film studio complex to the south east of Vienna, once known as ‘Film City Vienna’. That busy, bustling film studio is no more – save for a large empty soundstage only very recently saved from demolition thanks to its historic status (it was Europe’s very first artificially lit stage) – in its place a supermarket and new housing… of course.
If walls could talk…
The Synchronhalle was purpose built for film scoring, the dimensions of the space, the angle and height of the ceiling acutely designed for optimum acoustics. The main room itself has its own foundations, with a metre or more of space between it and the rest of the building. The construction work outside? Not a problem for this studio… It also has its own cinema organ, which is need of repair, but remains the only studio organ still in-situ in the world. The old studio was in regular use for film music until he 1950s, then in the 1960s it was discovered by Vienna’s elite visiting composers, conductors and performers, who created their own magic within its walls – Herbert von Karajan, Yehudi Menuhin and Mstislav Rostropovich to name but a few…
Today the Synchron Stage is a hub of music recording and mixing with over 3000 square feet of facilities, studios, isolation booths, control rooms, breakout spaces and its own store of microphones and instruments. Stage A is an impressive sight, with its original features, big projection screen and high ceiling – not to mention that organ. It is in fact larger than Studio One at Abbey Road, and its amazing control room sits above it on the first floor. The acoustics of the space are top notch, as we were told by the resident engineer; bass notes fall away quickly and higher pitches ring out clearly. This makes recording orchestras a bit of a breeze (ha), without the need of masking (i.e. hiding brass/percussion behind screens, or in booths). The whole band can play together and be heard clearly, creating a really ‘live’ sound.
We visited the smaller Stage B (ideal for small ensembles and bands), plus storage facilities – two fantastic concert grands, easily moved by large lift up into the main stage. I’ve seen some control rooms in my time, but Control A was just brilliant, more like a starship – and that view of the room below! An unexpected treat came when we were played a test recording, carried out in October by Dennis Sands and conducted by Conrad Pope. John Williams ‘Theme from Jurassic Park‘ sounded utterly beautiful in that space, every note, every instrument clear as a bell (especially the bells…)
Synchron Stage is a stunning addition to the film music landscape, offering first class facilities for visiting productions. Hans Zimmer is already a fan, having recently recorded his score for Ron Howard’s Inferno and there’s no doubt in my mind that the studio’s diary will be full for many years to come.
Huge thanks to Sabine Tucmandl and the team for allowing me to visit. Find out more about Synchron Stage at synchronstage.com