It’s finally time. Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre, opens in East Village July 1. The iconic structure that’s like a glittering southern gateway to the neighbourhood is more than a music museum (though it is that), and more than a recording studio (though it is that too), and more than a performance space (it’s—you guessed it—that too).
Take a moment with me to appreciate the visual difference Studio Bell’s presence makes:
Studio Bell is the first new cultural institution to open in our neighbourhood and brings with it signal of change in our neighbourhood, adding another layer to the experiences you can have here.
Studio Bell has world class appeal, and its impact will really be felt right here in East Village too, when world-renowned artists, homegrown talent, music fans and school groups congregate here to celebrate, learn about and practice music.
Once the facility is open tomorrow you can explore it for yourself, including four floors of exhibition “stages” celebrating Canadian music. What most people won’t get to see is the recording studio side of Studio Bell. Here’s a peek at all of that, plus the nooks and crannies in between.
The East Block of Studio Bell is the public side, where the National Music Centre lives. It’s also where East Village’s newest coffee shop, Rosso Coffee Roasters opens July 1.
We start at what’s called Canada Music Square. It’s wide open to the public and is where visitors will likely start their visit to the museum. Odds are good you’ll hear music coming from somewhere (or everywhere) upon entry. Sometimes, it’ll be coming from the 300-seat performance space on the second level, which soaks the whole building in sound when it’s playing host to an artist. But music could be coming from just about anywhere in the building.
For the days when you can’t stay for a visit, it’s worth coming into Studio Bell to just stand in Canada Music Square and take in the exquisite architecture for a few minutes. The building was designed with the resonating chambers of instruments in mind. The interior walls—most of which are gently curved not unlike the curves of a guitar—are covered in the same glazed terra cotta tiles as the exterior. The coffee shop and National Music Centre gift shop are here on the ground floor.
The museum has been designed with a music festival in mind. So you can follow your ears up the stairs (elevators are also available) to one of the four floors of exhibitions.
On the second floor, follow a timeline of Canadian music and culture from the 1600s to today and learn about trailblazers of the industry.
You’ll find interactive exhibits, like a soundbooth on the third floor where you can sing along with recordings of Canadian artists like Bachman Turner Overdrive, or a room where the sound is controlled by the movements of your body and yet another exhibit where you can try your hand at mixing a track of some recognizable Canadian songs.
The former band geek in me loves the fourth floor’s displays of some of NMC’s collection of instruments, especially the incredible Kimball Theatre Organ—once used to provide music for silent films and still functional today.
And on the fifth floor is Canada’s first physical music hall of fame and an array of memorabilia from artists nationwide.
Connecting the public museum East Block with the recording studios and King Eddy in the West Block is the East Village Skybridge. It's 65 feet above the ground and home to a fascinating piece of public art. “Solar Drones” by Patrick Marold is beautiful as simply a sculpture created from a flood-damaged piano from NMC's collection—but it's more too. The soundboards are connected to solar panels on the roof of the Skybridge. The sun (and clouds) power a droning, humming, chiming sound in the art. That means it will sound different based on the time of day and year, as well as how sunny or cloudy it is at any given moment.
There’s enough to see to keep you coming back, and we barely scratched the surface when we peeked inside before opening day.
The rejuvenated King Eddy is ready to play host to music throughout the 2016 Calgary Stampede, but there’s even more to come further down the road. Eventually, the stage and bar will be programmed seven days a week, reviving the former hotel’s spirited past as a blues bar.
One thing that wasn’t part of the old Eddy is the newly created rooftop patio. Imagine lounging up there in the heat of the summer with a cool drink and a great band set up in the shady corner. It’s not ready to be partied upon yet, but I’m predicting it’ll be a top spot to watch the Stampede fireworks come 2017.
I was lucky enough to look behind the scenes at the recording studios at Studio Bell, too. From the King Eddy, you can see the Rolling Stones mobile recording studio.
Its rich history as the world’s first mobile multi-track recording studio continues at Studio Bell, where it will be used to record live shows from the King Eddy as well as tracks from artists recording on the floors above. I have confirmation that the mobile recording studio still smells like the 1970s. For a preview of the truck, check out this video from NMC.
Studio Bell makes the most of the vertical space above the King Eddy by stacking studio space, control rooms and sound labs on top of each other. Now, there are a lot of recording studios in the world, but none have the NMC musical instrument collection available to artists. They’ve got artifacts as old as 450 years old, which artists can use to create music while they’re recording at Studio Bell. That’s part of how National Music Centre president and CEO Andrew Mosker says they’ll turn East Village into a “music-making Mecca.”
There a several artists-in-residence coming to Studio Bell in 2016, so it won’t be too long before music is created right here in East Village. In the meantime, you can check out the National Music Centre seven days a week in July, then five days a week from August onward. Check out live music at the King Eddy during the 10 days of Stampede. And follow your ears inside whenever you happen to be in the neighbourhood.