World Heart Beat Music Academy, which helps young people to realize their musical potential without financial constraints, has opened a second location in southwest London that includes a recording studio outfitted with a Solid State Logic ORIGIN 32-channel analogue mixing console. The new commercial production facility, designed by U.K.-based studio design and architectural acoustics firm Munro Acoustics, will serve as an economic engine for the charitable organisation, which was founded by artistic director Sahana Gero, an accomplished musician and music teacher, in 2009.

The new World Heart Beat Embassy Gardens location also houses a 200-capacity, for-hire music venue, which doubles as a live recording space for the studio, that hosts a busy calendar of jazz, contemporary classical, folk and global music performances. The venue, recording studio and an on-site café together form a commercial arm of World Heart Beat, according to Nick Cohen. A professional freelance bass player for over three decades, Cohen has taught at the academy for the past four years. “We rely on donors and the goodwill of people, but if we can generate some money as well then that helps the cause. It all helps to bring in a bit of extra cash,” he says.

A cultural anchor 

The London Borough of Wandsworth and developers Eco-World Ballymore selected World Heart Beat from a field of more than 40 organizations as a “cultural anchor” for the Embassy Gardens residential and business development in Nine Elms, the largest regeneration zone in Europe, which surrounds the United States Embassy on the south bank of the River Thames. The organisation has a 50-year lease on the 750-square-metre (8,100-sq.-ft.) purpose-built facility at a cost of just £1 ($1.25) per year.  

Cohen first became involved with World Heart Beat during 2020, initially helping to set up live video streaming capabilities at the academy’s original learning space, which is about six kilometers (four miles) southwest of the Nine Elms location. He also consulted on the technical aspects of the new recording studio, which launched in January 2023, a couple of months after the new building officially opened. 

Since the organisation wanted the recording studio to be seen as a professional environment, says Cohen, whose touring credits include Eurythmics, Roy Ayers, Massive Attack and M-People, he felt that there was only one brand of console to consider: “I’m not a studio engineer; I’m a musician first and foremost. But I’ve always worked on SSL desks over the years, and I personally favor them. And we want this to be a commercial studio and attract professional users.”

A more organic workflow 

When choosing a desk for the new studio, Cohen says, he wanted something that was hands-on and easy to operate and didn’t require the engineer to page through menus and submenus. An all-analogue desk was also the most appropriate option for the types of music that World Heart Beat focuses on. “A lot of the music that we do is from the acoustic world, so we’re dealing with classical piano recitals and a lot of jazz. ORIGIN fits in with that more organic workflow and really works well with the whole ethos of what we’re trying to do here.”   

Having been purpose designed and built, World Heart Beat Embassy Gardens has quite a “wow” factor, he continues. “When we show potential clients around, they see the Steinway D concert grand piano and they see the auditorium, which is beautiful, with all the exotic woods. Then you take them into the studio and there’s the SSL ORIGIN and people realize they’re in a proper working environment.” 

Jim Sorenson has been lead studio and live engineer and AV production assistant at World Heart Beat since early 2021, and previously worked for a time with renowned producer Tony Visconti. “The way that ORIGIN is set out is a really natural way to engineer, for me. Especially the way that it’s been married to the patchbay and being able to start recording quickly. I find the workflow fantastic in comparison to a lot of the desks I’ve used before. The desk is very straightforward and literal, I would say, which makes working on it really quick,” he says.

“I can’t speak highly enough of the ORIGIN EQs,” continues Sorenson, who has worked on other SSL desks in the past. “I’m more into feeling and sweeping, and the response is nice and intuitive to a hands-on approach. You can use quite fine and delicate movements in the EQ section and really craft what you’re pulling into Pro Tools. I often commit to printing straight from the EQs via the direct outputs on the channels. I don’t know why I would load up an SSL emulation in the DAW when I’ve got 32 of the E series EQ right in front of me.” 

Sorenson insisted on the highest quality cables in the live room and tielines into the ORIGIN for a pristine analogue signal flow. “Every step of the way we’re just trying to refine and make sure the process is clean, analogue and lovely. I’ve got a great sound from a great room, great instruments and great mics, and that is all sent to a desk that lets stuff play together really nicely. When you sit there and put the faders to zero it’s just a brilliant sound — and I’ve not even looked at Pro Tools yet.” 

About 350 students from ages five to 25 receive tuition on traditional and non-traditional instruments at World Heart Beat, which follows a non-exclusive, non-elitist, open admissions policy that ensures that there are no barriers, including financial, to their learning. “We have seven-year-olds playing alongside 17-year-olds,” Cohen says. “And the older ones will help the younger ones learn. It’s a very holistic way of learning music. You don’t have to read music; it’s just about playing and engaging in the music.”

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