Black Ark Studios  

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"Build the Ark, Arkology, and Open the Gate were the "holy trinity" of Black Ark anthologies for many years - I say "were" since Build The Ark and Open The Gate are both out of print now. These are some of the heaviest Black Ark productions, from Junior Murvin's hypnotizing "Cross Over" to Scratch's scolding "White Belly Rat" and Junior Ainsworth's melancholy "Thanks And Praise". Lighter moments include Eric Donaldson's soulful "Freedom Street" and the beautiful "Land Of Love" by the Sons Of Light. This collection was mastered from vinyl (Steve Barrow's collection in fact), so the sound quality isn't the greatest, but the strength of the music makes this a moot point." --Mick Sleeper

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Black Ark was the recording studio of reggae and dub producer Lee "Scratch" Perry, located in the yard of his family's home in the Washington Gardens neighborhood of Kingston, Jamaica. It was built in 1973 and fell in disrepair in 1978, after which it burnt down. Although the studio itself was somewhat rudimentary in its set-up and particularly basic with regard to some of the dated equipment employed by Perry, it was nonetheless the breeding ground for some of Jamaica's (and arguably the world's) most innovative sounds and recording techniques in the latter half of the 1970s.


Innovative musical techniques

An example of Lee Perry's inventive music production style was his ability to overdub layers of sound effects and instrumentation on each recording track of a basic 4-track TEAC 3340 machine, with such precise timing and in such a way that the resulting sound would destroy the competition from Jamaica's other top producers using the latest 16-track mixing consoles. Perry once buried microphones at the base of a palm tree and thumped it rhythmically to produce a mystifying bass drum effect; his drum booth at the Black Ark was for a time surrounded with chicken wire to further his distinctive sound; many of his songs are layered with a variety of subtle effects created from broken glass, ghastly sighs and screeches, crying babies, and a mooing cow children's toy. These and other notable recording techniques helped define the Black Ark sound, as well as Lee Perry's creative legacy.

Musicians and the Black Ark

In addition to providing pioneering sounds for such reggae stars as Bob Marley and The Wailers, Junior Byles, and Max Romeo, Lee Perry and his studio were formative in creating the highly innovative reggae sub-genre called Dub, in which the producer/engineer becomes the focus of the music, manipulating a pre-recorded track and creating something entirely new using his or her mixing console as nothing less than an instrument.

Perry and Upsetters solo projects recorded at the Black Ark

The end

In 1979, following years of increasingly bizarre and erratic behavior, Lee "Scratch" Perry allegedly set fire to The Black Ark studio, effectively ending an era during which much of Jamaica's most delightfully creative sounds had captured the world of music. However, it has been related by several Perry family members that the studio in fact caught fire in 1983 after an ill-fated attempt to rebuild it, the result of an electrical accident. More often than not, Perry has claimed that he personally destroyed the Black Ark due to "unclean spirits" - an allusion to some of the undesirable people who were constantly at the Black Ark in later years.


According to "People Funny Boy" Scratch used these in the early days of Black Ark (1973-75):

- Alice mixer (Scratch: "They weren't professional machines they were only toys")
- Grantham spring reverb
- Roland Space Echo RE201
- Marantz amplifier for instruments
- AKG drum mic for vocals
- TEAC 3340 1/4 inch 4-track recorder
- Teac 2-track recorder for mix down

In 1975 he added some new equipment:

- Soundcraft mixer (replaced the Alice)
- Mutron phaser (an early demo model)
- better mics
- Around 1979 he was given a Teac 1/2 inch 8-track recorder but he didn't like it and almost never used it.


Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Black Ark Studios" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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