Artist Spotlight: Paul Russell & Calamity Studios

The Adventures of a “Displaced Englishman”, 1950s Bollywood samples and the Singapore-based studio with SONAR at its core.

By Oz Owen

Make no mistake – the unusually monikered Calamity Studio is far from living up to its name. Quite the opposite, in fact. Singapore-based Calamity bills itself as the A/V production arm of composer and producer Paul Russell’s Pi2 Creative Services, a successful ‘boutique’ marketing agency.

Paul’s passion for music and production translates into a full studio diary, keeping him busy on a wide range of projects – whether creating original music and soundtracks with the help of an impressive roster of songwriters and musicians from as far afield as the UK, Australia and the USA, or – as his latest project ably demonstrates – weaving vintage Bollywood samples into contemporary compositions.

At Calamity, Paul specialises in creating original compositions in a variety of genres – from ambient through dance to straight-ahead rock/pop. What’s more, he’s making a fine living doing exactly what he loves.

Paul first got hooked when he picked up a bass guitar back in 1976 – the time when musical anarchy was running riot across the UK thanks to the Punk explosion, but it was some years before Paul set about creating his first recording studio, trading in his trusty four-track Portastudio in favour of a more upmarket eight-track setup in what was fast turning into a life-changing quest.

Fast-forward to 1999 and we find Paul living in Singapore, running his own creative agency and building his first digital recording studio replete with Cakewalk Pro Audio 9 to capture every nuance of his compositional ideas. Within a year, SONAR arrived on the scene, and life would never be the same again… Calamity Studio was becoming unstoppable!

“When I started looking around for audio software there were very few alternatives in my price range. Back then I was a digital recording novice and I knew of very little else, but I tried Cakewalk, liked it, and have since stuck with it! I’ve been with SONAR now right from the first version. I know the software incredibly well, and find the workflow intuitive and easy. Basically every piece I make starts and gets up to the pre-mastering stage in SONAR. With its 64-bit dynamic processing, SONAR has the edge over almost everything I’ve heard these days.”

Paul is clearly won over by the power and versatility of his sequencing setup. “Right now I’m running SONAR x32 and SONAR x64 on an OctoCore Vista 64 box that I assembled last year. All my new projects start in the x64 version at 24-bit/88.2kHz or sometimes 96kHz. This isn’t so much for today, but rather as a future strategy – within three to four years I reckon we’ll all be doing this.”

As an active recording artist in his own right, Paul’s latest album, Nagraan, was recently signed to Asian distributor EQ Music, and Paul’s hoping to take the finished album worldwide. Nagraan is an intriguing mix of ’50s Bollywood fused with modern production grooves. Billed as a technical piece of wizardry, it features singers who had their heydays more than 50 years ago. “This album could not have been made if it wasn’t for SONAR,” says its instigator. “Effectively we’ve taken samples of Bollywood recordings from the middle of the last Century and made them work in our own recordings. And given that – apart from one – all of the vocalists passed away years ago the capacity for retakes has been somewhat limited!”

Of course, cutting-edge music technology isn’t necessarily the be all and end all, but it certainly helps when it comes to making musical dreams a reality as far as Paul is concerned: “SONAR has made what I do possible, and finally I can get the sound that I’ve always wanted – the huge productions that I used to admire are now readily achievable with my own setup. In every track I do I want that ‘three-dimensional’ soundstage – and that’s something you can only really achieve with high bit depths- 32-bit floating and above, and bang-on mathematical accuracy in the summing process. In its last three iterations, SONAR has got it absolutely right – in my humble opinion! – and the sound is now beautifully clear, transparent, and focused like nothing I’ve heard before.”