Without a doubt, the single most important location to most people is their home. Whether you’re a child or adult, homemaker or busy professional, there’s something undeniably special and personal about the place that we return to at the end of the day. Magazines on home design abound, and making over one’s home seems to be a national past-time, if the program on my cable guide is any indication. If a man’s home is his castle, then the Victoria Times Colonist in Victoria, BC, has found a pair of musicians who are the undisputed kings of their own personal musical domain.
Bassist Gary Karr and his partner pianist Harmon Lewis have made appearances throughout the world in concert halls as celebrated as the Sydney Opera House, Carnegie Hall, La Scala, and Royal Albert Hall, but their favorite one is one much closer to their heart and their home. So close to their home, in fact, that it’s actually in it. Karr and Lewis, Americans by birth, moved to Victoria. BC, in 1995 after spending many summers in the area beginning in around 1971. They purchased a three-story house perched on a cliff and then proceeded to get to work on a project that is certain to elicit no end of envy from fellow musicians everywhere: they started building an in-home concert hall and studio to their exact specifications, preferences, and needs.
The performance space is an intimate one, seating 30 people, and it doubles as a recording studio in which they have recorded many of their CD’s and rehearse for concerts. The space occupies what was originally a two-level storage room underneath the deck of the house, and the project was a do-it-yourself affair that took more than a little bit of work. To realize their goal of creating an acoustically superior space, Karr and Lewis brought the walls closer into the room and angled them to eliminate echo effects, and they added mirrors to help enliven the sound. The ceiling of the room, which was unfinished when they purchased the house, was another project that the pair needed to take on. They created an accordion-type ceiling and covered it with colorful floor tiles from Home Depot, deciding to go for a rainbow effect due to the shortage of supply in any one color at the local store.
Karr and Lewis speak of their decision with pride for several reasons. Firstly, the pair says that the decision is one of extraordinary convenience: “Here, we can record in our PJs if we like. We never look at the clock and we can play over and over. It’s a dream studio.” Secondly, the recording that takes place in the studio is directly under the pair’s control, which plays into an important part of Karr’s views on recording. Karr laments the extent to which the modern recording industry has distorted the human quality of recording, editing and modifying the raw material to manipulate just about anybody and anything into sounding perfect. Says Karr, “In the ’80s and ’90s, the recording industry set the wrong tempo–each step of editing took us further and further away from the human experience and recordings became very boring.” Karr and Lewis are seeking to take that boredom and distance from honest, real recording out of the equation in their own work. Lastly, the performance and recording space has been a very practical investment–the duo no longer needs to rent a studio or pay for the time, as it’s all done at home.
The musical influence in Karr’s and Lewis’s home is not limited to the performance space. As expected in a musician’s home, music and its paraphernalia reaches into every room and informs the decor. Karr collects clocks (“I think it is tied in with music, a way of dividing time.”), much like Dmitri Shostakovich, another clock-obsessed musician. Keyboard instruments also dominate the house, fittingly. Lewis’s 1896 grand piano, his Allen organ in the studio, a harpsichord, a player piano and a clavichord all share space in the house. Karr has 14 double basses to add to the mix, and all of their personal effects live together in harmony with each other and show us that beautiful things happen when you let music into your life–no matter where you choose to put it!