Santa Barbara MCTS September 15-16, 2023

Mystery and Magic at ParSonics

Doug Morton at ParSonics Studios
Date: September 15-16, 2023
Country: USA
Venue: ParSonics Studios
Event: MCTS Level 3
Producer: Alan Parsons
Artist: Douglas Morton, Odin Coleman and others
Engineer: Noah Bruskin
Media: Charlie Steves

Recording is about being creative

At least it should be. But often it's just not. It's about stock sounds, loops and techniques with everything slammed on the grid and pitch perfect. Interchangeable music practically begging to be subsumed by AI.

So at this Master Class we tried to not only think outside the box but outside the room the box was sitting in.

The day kicked off with an inspiring presentation from composer and sound designer Douglas Morton. Doug started off by playing some tongue drums, demonstrating how to create giant sized samples from the smallest and gentlest of initial hits.

From there, he played a series of underwater sounds from the Monterey Bay Aquarium where he is essentially composer-in-residence for the exhibits. Individual whales (the Blue produce the deepest and most spectacular calls), complete soundscapes featuring 'conversations' between Blues, Humpbacks, and dolphins against a backdrop of underwater earthquakes. Simply mind-blowing. We were essentially listening to what they're hearing 3500 feet below the surface.

Doug concluded with stories and samples (sic) from several of his most popular Q Up Arts libraries, including Voices Of Native America. The presentation had everyone, including Alan, spellbound.

The Rare, the Rad, and the Difficult

With creativity fully plumped and ready for action, everyone's attention turned to Odin Coleman, cross legged on the floor of the live room, cradling a sitar.

One of the themes of the next several hours, where Odin played (beautifully) a selection of smallish stringed instruments, was the question of recording them in mono or stereo and the implications of either, notably of course, phase.

Much depends on the final destination of the part. Stereo is the obvious winner played solo, but in a track, if everything is in stereo then the whole rationale of placement and breadth can become moot. Before the session, the ASSR team had created a music bed for the day's unusual or difficult instruments to be recorded over. This not only provided context, it also served to demonstrate the effect of what and how you play an instrument has on the 'sound.' The composition was in A Minor. Cool, except for the fact that the sitar played in F#! Noah Bruskin bumped the pad up a half step so we were in Bb Minor, the relative key of F#/Gb.

As the day progressed through banjo, fiddle, mandolin and other stringed instruments, not only were several different keys used, the piece careened from 80 to 95 BPM and back as the playing style demanded. We did not, as you might imagine, end up with a single piece in single key; more a collection of Jonny Greenwood style movie cues!

Odin also whistles - a musical delivery device featured extensively in popular music from the biggest selling single of all time (Bing Crosby's White Christmas), to Otis Redding's Dock Of The Bay, Bobby McFerrin's Don't Worry, Be Happy, to The Black Keys' Tighten Up and One Republic's Good Life.
ParSonics Studios
ParSonics Studios

In this context, Odin's whistling was more of the mournful cowboy variety, as was his glorious harmonica playing.

Miking, and Alan Parsons' Personal Instrument Collection

The day was a not quite the mic fest that some felt they'd be looking at. Alan even remarked that he never understands how many new mics continue to be developed when, to some extent, all you need is a U47, pair of KM84s and the odd ribbon! He was not wholly serious of course but we got the point. More important, though, is where any mics is placed. This is Alan Parsons' tour de force.. He would seemingly make endless tiny adjustments to the distance and direction of a mic. What? Where? You needed to be there!

Even though Alan brought along some of his private collection, and also some of the instruments he's often associated with, the only instrument of his that we spent much time with was a glorious and ancient Balinese xylophone, rescued from a storage shed (somewhat 'mouse-decorated,' shall we say) and hastily cleaned the night before.

Doug Morton turned out to be a spectacular player of this rodent-enriched percussion instrument, using a wide variety of beaters and playing techniques including slowly scraping each metal bar with his fingernails! The range of sounds he created was unreal.

The Mad, the Bad, and the Dangerous to Know

By the end of the day Alan, attendees, and guests were all in a Try Anything Once frame of mind. One attendee had brought along a Moisturizer (essentially a spring reverb with its guts hanging out) that was, variously, used to add twisted reverb to a recording of a small musical box that played an old Alan Parsons track, to being itself played using a violin bow.

What was recorded ranged from the silly to the sublime but they were all unique and original recordings, played or coxed into life by real people doing real things. Happy haptics, for sure. We could have spent five days creating a library of such material and maybe, one day, we will.

ParSonics Studios
ParSonics Studios

The serious point of all this is that unusual sounds - or samples - give a recording character, texture, or maybe even a hook. Over the years, Alan Parsons has recorded all manner of fascinating instruments from the landmark chiming clocks on Dark Side Of The Moon, to the 'Money' loop, to his work on Pink Floyd's original follow-up to Dark Side 'Household Objects', where the entire album was due to be created using, well, household objects!

This Master Class was a priceless opportunity to get first hand specific insights into the secret world of unusual instrument or sound recordings that professionals have long cherished and flourished with by using; developing ideas and learning techniques that can be applied to one's own music and recording projects.

Alan Parsons In Your Mix

Recording is where it all begins. Mixing can be where it all begins to come unglued! Attendees were invited to bring, show, and tell stories about their stereo or full multitrack projects, and Alan either passed on wit and wisdom or, on at least four mixes, laid out individual tracks out on ProTools and across his Neve 5088.

Mixes ranged from live recordings of Badfinger made in the 1960s to projects that had taken the composer thirty years to create, to a mix of young Mexican rocker John Redlove who had been recording at ParSonics the week before under the wing of producer and ASSR co-founder Julian Colbeck, to a version of the Alan Parsons Project's I wouldn't Want To Be Like You, to a magnificent modern disco number hot from a German nightclub complete with Simmons fills and excellently executed vocoder.

Inevitably, Alan's skill in de-cluttering, replacing fresh reverbs from the EMT 140 or Capitol Chambers, and in some cases even doing surgery in the computer to fix some timings and tunings, transformed everyone's work.

ParSonics Studios

Immersed in Immersive

In addition to the mix analyses, Alan also treated attendees to an as yet unreleased Dolby Atmos mix version of one of his classic albums. ASSR has a brand new Immersive Audio online course that you can read more about in the ASSR Online course pages

Multi Mix

ParSonics is now a fully equipped (though not to theater levels) Dolby Atmos studio. Alan uses B&Ws, now supplemented by side and ceiling mounted speakers. New formats are still constantly evolving and one couldn't be in better hands than Alan Parsons, who has long championed multi-format mixes from the early days of Quad (on Dark Side Of The Moon), through ambisonics, Surround (for which Alan won the Best Immersive Album GRAMMY in 2019), and now Dolby Atmos, and Noah Bruskin, who's grasp of these new sonic adventures is both detailed and deeply practical.

Mixing With Alan Parsons

Mixing used to be something of a team sport. Band members would end up with their paws on the faders; invariably, the ones relating to their own instrument! No prizes for guessing in which direction they'd progressively creep as the session wore on. As Alan recounted with a sigh in the Art & Science Of Sound Recording video series: “Chaos.”

Although Alan uses an analog Neve 5088, over which several pairs of hands could certainly hover and on which you will definitely get to hear the true value of analog summing, this will still be a fully integrated mix recorded in ProTools using plug-ins and automation. That said, Alan always encourages attendees who are willing and interested to balance the track at various stages along the way. There's nothing quite like sitting at the controls of a Neve board mixing an Alan Parsons record with Alan offering words of encouragement and wisdom over your shoulder.

The Venue

ParSonics studio is situated on Alan Parsons' at his Tres Vientos Ranch in the hills above Santa Barbara. This state-of-the-art facility has a 32-channel Neve 5088 analog console, 5.1 monitoring through B&W 802 Diamond Loudspesakers, Dolby Atmos, and a selection of microphones collected by Alan over his 40+ year long career such as his Neumann U47 FET (Field-Effect Transistor) and British Coles 4038 ribbon mics as well as interesting newer items like the Neve RNR1 ribbon mic, personally given to Alan by Rupert Neve. Talk about bragging rights! The control room looks through to a generous sized tracking room with adjoining iso booths. The facility has its own luxurious green room and catering area; a spacious patio area overlooks the Pacific Ocean and can accommodate both dining and outside seminars. ParSonics was completed in 2018 and was used in the recording of Alan Parsons' album The Secret, released in 2019 and From The New World, released July 2022, both on the Frontiers label.

The Producer/Mixer

Alan Parsons was trained at Abbey Road Studios in London, working under the direction of Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick and Beatles producer George Martin. After working with The Beatles on Let It Be and Abbey Road Alan started working as a full-fledged engineer with Paul McCartney, Wings, George Harrison, and countless other artists who came to Abbey Road studios.

In 1972 Alan became the sole engineer working with Pink Floyd on Dark Side Of The Moon, a record which would go on to sell more than 45m copies. (Alan's legendary 'Quad' mix of Dark Side Of The Moon was finally included on the Immersion Edition 6 CD Boxed Set.)

Alan went on to become one of the most successful producers of the 1970s and 1980s, producing a string of hits with artists such as Pilot, Al Stewart, Ambrosia, Cockney Rebel, John Miles and of course The Alan Parsons Project, a concept created by himself and Eric Woolfson.

Post 'Project' Alan Parsons has continued to work as an independent producer with such artists as Jake Shimabukuro, Steven Wilson and Yes. Alan runs a highly successful touring band (The Alan Parsons Live Project).

July 15th 2022 Alan released his sixth solo album From The New World, much of which was recorded and all of which was mixed at ParSonics Studio. The new album features the track Give 'Em My Love, which was recorded at the Aug 2021 ASSR Master Class. The track, co-written by ASSR founding partner Julian Colbeck, features vocals by James Durbin and guitar solo by Joe Bonamassa.

Recommended Hotels:

  • Ritz-Carlton Bacara 8301 Hollister Ave, Goleta, CA 93117-2474 • (844) 631-0595 Upscale resort with fine dining. Very expensive!
  • Hilton Garden Inn Santa Barbara/Goleta 6878 Hollister Ave, Goleta, CA 93117 • (805) 562-5996. Very pleasant facility a short drive from the studio.
  • Pacifica Suites 5490 Hollister Ave, Santa Barbara (805) 683-6722 Professional mid price option.
  • Motel 6 5897 Calle Real, Goleta, CA (805) 964-3596 Only a 2-star but clean and perfectly acceptable.


Friday September 15th, 2023

  • 09.30–10.00 Welcome, Registration. Coffee and pastries.
  • 10.00–10.15 Introductions
  • 10.15–10.45 Julian Colbeck and Alan Parsons talk about the history of unusual sounds in modern recording and the difference between recording and sampling
  • 10.45–12.00 Douglas Morton presentation on recording natural sounds, current sampling technology, and how he uses IZotope RX and Kontakt
  • 12.00–1.00 Recording, with Aan Parsons and Odin Coleman
  • 1.00–2.00 Catered lunch with Alan and team on the patio
  • 2.00–4.30 Recording, with Alan Parsons and Odin Coleman
  • 4.30–4.45 Tea Beak
  • 4.45–6.30 Recording, with Alan Parsons, Odin Coleman and Douglas Morton
  • 6.30–7.00 Drinks with Alan Parsons, Odin Coleman, Douglas Morton, and Team ASSR in the Green Room
  • Saturday September 16th, 2023

    • 09.30–10.00 Attendee mix sessions
    • 10.00–10.45 Attendee mix sessions
    • 10.45–12.45 Attendee mix sessions
    • 12.45–1.45 Lunch with Alan and the team.
    • 1.45.00–2.15 Attendee mix sessions
    • 2.15–4.15 Attendee mix sessions
    • 4.15–6.30 Approaches to mixing in Dolby Atmos
    • 6.30–7.30 Drinks with Alan in the Green Room. Photos, signings, Certificates.

    All enquiries to or to KEYFAX NewMedia on 1-800-752-2780