It might seem like the next step in the evolution of Studio Bell.
But it’s actually the next step in the public’s understanding of Studio Bell, and all that it does and all that makes it the incredibly unique institution it is.
This Sunday, Feb. 4, the East Village home to the National Music Centre will begin conducting Backstage Pass Tours of the facilities that make up much of the non-visible work the organization does on a daily basis.
It’s an insightful and entertaining opportunity to fully understand and appreciate what a creative hub Studio Bell is — a museum that encourages and facilitates art within its very walls. Studios, control rooms and other areas all housing working pieces of NMC’s priceless collection of keyboards and other instruments will have their doors opened and treasures revealed.
“Fans of our previous tours at the old Cantos building are going to love this updated version,” explains Andrew Mosker, president and CEO of NMC.
“We’re excited to offer not only more accessibility of our artist spaces to the public in 2018, but also share more of our unique collection. The National Music Centre is much more than a museum. We are a hybrid music organization that programs in multiple streams — exhibitions, performance, education and artist incubation. Our Backstage Pass Tours will offer more insight into how our programs work together, as well as how our ‘living collection’ is contributing to new music in Canada.”
The one-hour guided tour, which will be be offered twice daily every Sabbath Studio Bell is open — at noon and 1:30 p.m. — takes place on the King Eddy side, across the street from the main structure, and kicks off in the lobby where several old photos of the Eddy are on display.
From there, you head into the historic, renovated venue — dubbed the building’s “largest artifact” — which, organizers announced on Tuesday will begin running seven days a week this summer as a bar and restaurant with regular live music.
Right next door is the second stop on the tour, fittingly Studio Bell’s “second largest artifact” and one of its biggest prizes: the famed Rolling Stones Mobile Studio — a truck that recorded seminal albums from the band as well as others by Neil Young, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin.
It’s wired into other studios or live rooms throughout the building — on the fifth, sixth and seventh floors — which the tour then takes you through. And here’s where many instruments from the collection are housed, available for use by visiting artists, be they through the residencies offered or, now, for commercial use and rental. In fact, on this day, Canuck faves The Northern Pikes were set to load in their gear for a 10-day stay to record their new album, while also taking advantage of anything that, as NMC’s director of collections Jesse Moffatt refers to, this “candy store” has to offer.
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One of the rooms, for example, houses a grand piano that once belonged to David Foster as well as other keyboards, including the incredibly rare Novachord, of which only six remain in the world. Another contains many of the electronic keyboards and module synthesizers that NMC has, while a third is home to everything from a harpsichord from 1591 to the legendary TONTO (The Original New Timbral Orchestra) that was a big part of Stevie Wonder’s sound.
And, again, while you’d expect all of these instruments and artifacts to be behind a velvet rope with a “Don’t even breath on them” sign, these are meant to be used, functioning tools for artistry.
To illustrate this point, each of the guides for the Backstage Pass Tours are trained musicians who play them to show what they sound like and what they’ve helped create (our guide on this day played snippets of everything from Van Halen’s Jump to the Calgary Winter Olympics theme with a little Debussy thrown in for good measure).
Once more, NMC is hoping that the word gets out and the public’s and musicians’ understanding of what Studio Bell is and does evolves.
“When we travelled through Europe we would see other institutions that had, for example, a restored period harpsichord, often quite coveted and very restrictive in accessibility,” says Moffatt. “The restrictiveness is something that we didn’t want to carry forward …
“Isn’t it cool that you can actually record a 16th century harpsichord through the Rolling Stones’ Mobile? For an artist, that creativity — we’re going to get some pretty amazing sounds and I think some pretty amazing albums.
“I hope over time that this collection will actually be woven into the fabric of Canadian music. That’s the goal.”
Tickets for Backstage Pass Tours, which also include access to the other exhibitions at Studio Bell, are $33 for adults, $29 for students/seniors, $26 for youth (3-12 years of age, although 12 and up is the recommended age, with strollers not allowed) and $12 for members. They go on sale Wednesday, Jan. 31 at 10 a.m. at studiobell.ca/whats-on, with space limited for each tour.