Interview of Patrice QUEF for PRO SOUND NEWS - Studio Miraval manager.


 -  June 2005 - BACK TALK

  Patrice Quef : Farewell to a French legend

      “[With Miraval], the music industry realised it could record an album
       on a very pleasant site in a sunny place.”


As it is now, so it was then: Patrice Quef knocked on many a Parisian studio door before he was fortunate enough to be taken on as a trainee by manag-ing director Gerhard Lehner at Studio Barclay, Avenue Hoche in Paris, in October 1968. Tutored by renowned recording engineer Jean-Claude Achallé, Quef was called by Jean Bonzon of Studio des Dames (Phonogram Studios) a month later and hired as assistant engineer in January 1969. At that time, Studio des Dames was a three-studio complex with seven engineers and seven assistant engineers. Becoming a fully qualified Studio des Dames recording engineer in 1973, Quef had already made the acquaintance of famous French composer, arranger and musician Jacques Loussier, the then-owner of the 600-hectare domain of Miraval, in the south of France. On this superb wine-producing site, Jacques Loussier and Patrice Quef founded what would become the legendary Studio Miraval in January 1977. When Loussier sold his property in 1992, Quef kept run-ning the recording facility and took the position of owner as well as of managing director.

Over the years, many big names have committed famous albums to tape at Miraval: notable recordings include The Cure’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987), Courtney Love’s America’s Sweetheart (2003), Rammstein’s Mutter (2000), The Cranberries’ Bury The Hatchet (1999), Wham’s Make It Big (1984), David Sylvian’s Secrets Of The Beehive (1987), Yes’ Union (1991) and Julia Fordham’s Porcelain (1992).

Now, as Quef will retires soon of the studio with its 64-channel SL 4000 G desk and Digidesign HD3 system, is inevitable, we look back over this grand old man’s achievements.

What changes in the recording
industry have you seen during your 30-year career?

“It is right that technology has always revolutionised our profes-sion. I took my first step in the trade with a three-track Ampex analogue tape machine and here we are today with a Pro Tools hard-disk system. What spectacular progress we’ve made, always towards superior quality! “This multitude of tracks has
changed our way of working.
Everything we used to record live – the orchestra and the singer, with a ‘proper live’ sound – nowadays we do it track by track. This creates a superposition of sound elements, where it’s difficult at the mix stage to recover the width and depth that
I personally loved. How many albums sound almost mono, with very little contrast! Computer systems allowed a great number of persons gifted in computer science to call themselves a recording engineer or a musician, without having any real competency. You know that you need several years as an assistant engineer to gain this experience. These are the contradictions in this industry today.”

And what were the skills of the
inhouse recording engineer at Studio Miraval which have made it  successful through the years?

“The same ones as required in any recording studio around the world: technical competence along with a certain musical and artistic sensitiv-ity. The engineer was often the music and sound consultant during the recording sessions. And of course having a talent for human relation-ships was very important, to handle the artists and the musicians during the sessions. If a client chose to come to Miraval, it was to find a unique place and working environment.”

What has Studio Miraval achieved?

“We were the first residential pro-fessional studio in France, located
900km from Paris, offering a different way of working. I don’t leave out Studio d’Herouvillé that existed before Miraval, but that place, in its conception, had nothing to do with what we offered, as being located in the suburbs of Paris, their clients did-n’t feel really out of their element.

[With Miraval], the music industry realised that they could record an
album elsewhere than in Paris, having the same technical gear on a very pleasant site in a sunny place. We opened the way and perhaps changed a little the mentality.”

What is your most memorable
recording session?

“After 30 years in the studio busi-ness, there’s not just one session but lots of good souvenirs. But I admit I have a particularly fond memory of the time with Pink Floyd [during The Wall album recording] because it’s thanks to them that our studio business really got going. Our quality label was recognised by the trade.

I was recording engineer at the time and you never forget when you contribute to an album which is still referred to today.”

Any other pleasant memories?

“Oh, yes! A number of artists and
bands: Sting, Sade for two of her
albums, Chris Rea for five of his,
Paul Personne…”

Co-founder and former owner of Miraval, Jacques Loussier – oft remembered for his jazz arrangements of Bach – reveals: “Untiring worker Patrice and I spent nights on compositions and doing research on sound levels. We had lots of ‘discussions’, but always about improving the quality of both recording and the artistic field. It was hard in the beginning but also full of promise and, little by little, was crowned with success. The Studio Miraval formula – everything on the spot – has functioned very well.”