Crafting Award-Winning Scores
The Neve A7971 ‘Air’ console at AIR Studios was used to record the final score for the Oscar-winning film ‘All Quiet On The Western Front’ with Chief Engineer Geoff Foster.
All Quiet On The Western Front had a successful evening at the 95th Academy Awards, earlier in 2023, winning Oscars in Cinematography, International Feature Film, Product Design and finally Original Score categories. The award-winning score was recorded at the renowned AIR Studios on the Custom Neve A7971 ‘Air’ console with Chief Engineer Geoff Foster.
AIR, founded in 1970 as the first label independent recording facility by Sir George Martin, John Burgess and Peter Sullivan, has a rich history of providing a safe space for the world’s greatest artists to craft their records and scores. This project was no exception.
Now based at Lyndhurst Hall on Oxford Street, the A7971 console is the second of three custom consoles designed by Rupert Neve, George Martin and Geoff Emerick. The first console was created for AIR’s facility on the Caribbean Island of Montserrat.
These unique consoles followed a strict design philosophy laid out by Geoff, George and Rupert to produce the ultimate transparency and clarity, a task that was no mean feat in the late 1970s. By utilising new technologies such as toroidal transformers and +/-15 volt rails, the resulting Air console delivered a flat frequency response that extends from 40Hz to 100kHz and a dynamic range of 106dB.
Unlike its modern counterpart, the Neve 88RS, the Air A7971 console was not specifically designed for scoring. However, modern additions such as expanding the channels from 56 to 72 made this workflow possible.
Geoff explained: “To monitor in multichannel formats the groups and numerous external devices were used, along with a Grace speaker monitoring unit for listening to many stems and multichannel volume control.
Despite the challenges presented by Covid restrictions, Geoff and the team were determined to create something special for All Quiet On The Western Front. Composer Volker Bertelmann, also known for Lion and War Sailor, conducted the monitoring remotely and the pair discussed how some of the music would play against significant sound effects in the World War One film.
He said: “Working his (Volker) way, he wanted to be able to play with the orchestral elements to make some unique textures electronically.
Geoff split the brass and strings into separate sessions and stemmed out elements of the score within those sessions. This allowed for unique textures to be created electronically after the fact, adding an extra layer of depth to the music.
He added: “Summing string spots using console groups makes a richer sound than summing them digitally after.”
The only microphone preamps used to track the score of All Quiet On The Western Front were the 34427 remote mic preamps, a revolutionary design pioneered in the three custom Air consoles.
The concept of remote-controlled preamps would inspire many products over the years, including the Neve 1073OPX and 1081R remote microphone preamps, many of which can be found in the world’s top studios to this day.
Geoff said: “The mic preamps are second to none. I always try to use these pre’s and the only reason for moving on to other types is because we have run out.
“Everything that I can is recorded through the console as it always brings an incredible warmth and presence to the music.”
From start to finish, the sessions spanned over three whole days, with set up and DAW prep completed the night before. Despite the long hours and multiple sessions with talented musicians over three days, Geoff’s dedication to detail never wavered.
As more of the film was listened to during the scoring process, the team recognised All Quiet On The Western Front would be a special film. This was acknowledged at the Oscars at the film received an additional five nominations on top of the four wins.
Geoff summarised: “Although there is no magic bullet to making a great film score, it is always the dedication to the details that create something that the public reacts to.
“Using the best players in the world and recording through the best gear in the world was part of a process that yielded a very powerful film.”
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