Industry comes together for Haiti

Audio Institute: We Are the World School of Music and Audio Engineering is the first institution of its kind in Haiti and the newest division of Artists Institute, a free professional college for art and technology in Jacmel. It features a world-class recording studio, Pro Tools-enabled writing rooms, and a technical curriculum based on the use of tablets developed in partnership with some of the top audio engineering programs in the world. Jake Young talks to David Belle, CEO, Artists for Peace and Justice, about what the non-profit organisation; its partners WSDG and Nimbus School of Recording Arts; and supporters Vintage King, SSL, Genelec, Sennheiser, and more are doing for the youth of the poorest nation in the Americas.

Who’s backing Audio Institute? I see Arcade Fire are on your advisory board.

The seed funding for the initiative comes from the We Are The World Foundation and that was money raised from the We Are The World 25 For Haiti rerecording song and music video that Quincy Jones and Lionel Richie produced. Jackson Browne was there recently with us and Arcade Fire have been a supporter from the beginning.

What were the main challenges of turning traditional Haitian buildings into studios?

It was all built from scratch. They have a design inspiration from traditional rural Haitian architecture and they have the guts of great modern sound studios and recording spaces. We brought in WSDG so that they could take our design vision and campus structure – and most importantly the use of local materials and local builders – and adapt it into something that would meet what was locally feasible and at the same time meet international standards.

Tell me about your working relationship with WSDG.

John [Storyk, principal, designer] was introduced to us via an introduction from Arcade Fire to Electric Lady Studios. He’s been an extraordinary supporter from the beginning. They were brought in to do all of the acoustic engineering and technical layout and electrical plans. All of the guts of the buildings as I refer to it.

And your technology supporters.

I think every person involved in this project has committed to getting it done with the best resources possible on a minimal budget. Everyone involved has cut their fees, reduced fees, donated things at cost or below cost, and that’s what’s enabled us to build and create a really quality programme with really quality people and gear for not a lot of money. All of those companies provided gear to outfit all these different studios at really discounted prices and they did it all at the drop of a hat. There was no arm-twisting.

What rooms does Audio Institute feature?

There’s a very generous, beautiful live room overlooking the ocean and a large control room, purposefully large so that we can hold classes in there in addition to it being a great big room for studio sessions. Then there’s another building that has a smaller recording room and four other rooms feed off that in a honeycomb effect so you can have workshops going on. You can have four student groups recording the same thing simultaneously. Then two other mix rooms and two really big, beautiful classrooms.

What is Audio Institute up to now?

It’s the end of the school year so everyone’s in year-end projects, which are thesis projects. One of the things that’s really important philosophically about the education is that we’re teaching people how to work with very simple, locally available resources and tools in addition to learning the A to Z of what a big room looks like. I’d like to have graduates come out of there who can record a voodoo ceremony at the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere with a laptop and a microphone and be equally comfortable at a big board in the studio.