My time in the mid to late 90s, which I spent as a studio assistant and sound engineer on Miraval, was without a doubt one of the best times of my life - but at the same time it was also the sometimes most instructive and toughest.
I lived in Marseille and had heard of the mysterious, large recording studio Miraval, but no one could tell me where it was (the internet was still in its infancy). My active career as a musician was slowly ending at the time and I was working more and more as a sound engineer and producer in small studios in and around Marseille.
My first big recording studio experience before Miraval was in 1995, in the La Blaque Studio, near Aix-en-Provence. As far as I can remember, the studio belonged to the nephew of a woman who had served the French composer Maurice Ravel and inherited the rights to his well-known classic "Boléro" after his death. So she was very rich. When the nephew found himself in a life crisis, she asked him what he would like to do with his life. He replied that he would like to have a recording studio. So she financed his dream: a wonderful domain, equipped with the best and finest equipment. But the dream didn't last long, because a short time later La Blaque disappeared back into nirvana. Nevertheless, in its very short history it has hosted and released a few well-known artists such as Fredericks Goldman Jones, the hip-hop band IAM or Jimmy Barnes, the Australian Joe Cocker with whom I, along with producer Joe Hardy (ZZ-Top, etc.) had been working on the recording of his album "Psyclone" there, which continued at Studio Miraval as Jimmy fired the entire crew and studio staff for lack of professionalism.
In the end, however, I don't know how, I finally had Miraval's address in my hands. I immediately sat down and wrote an application that was riddled with spelling mistakes because, as good as my spoken French was, it was abysmal when it was written. I didn't care. I wanted to apply and work there at all costs! I really wanted to get into professional circles and Studio Miraval had already had a bunch of very well known artists there: Pink Floyd, Yes, UB 40, AC/DC, Sting, Chris Rea, The Cure, David Sylvian, Lords of the New Church, Alain Bashung, Gypsy Kings, Sade, Wham, Gary Moore, The Cure, The Cranberries and many, many more (later, early 2000, also Rammstein, who recorded the album "Mutter" there).
Time passed and I almost thought my application had ended up in the trash can. But one day I had a message on my answering machine. I couldn't believe my ears. It was Patrice Quef, the head of the studio. He wanted to meet me. I called back immediately and we made an appointment. With my old Renault 5 I drove about 1 hour towards Brignoles (hoping not to stop in the middle of the route), where not far away is the Domaine Miraval - very hidden at the time. The inconspicuous entrance to the domaine led almost invisibly from the country road and one would never have guessed that one of the most famous studios in the world was hiding there in the middle of the Var.
After entering the forest, it was another two or three kilometers of bumpy dirt road until suddenly, after a bend, the domaine appeared in front of you like in a fairy tale, surrounded by vineyards. It was just a dream and every time I drove there and turned the bend, it filled me with the same wonderful feeling. Passing a small pond with swans on the left and the main building of the domaine on the right, a small wooden sign indicated the direction to the left to the "studio", to the right to the "cave", the wine cellar.
I remember well. Patrice, always with a pipe in our mouth, and I sat at the large dining table in the studio living room and talked. It was very warm, the windows were open everywhere, so that a pleasant draft could be felt and you could hear the crickets chirping - just the south of France. In the end Patrice said he would contact me at the next opportunity. This opportunity was not long in coming.
I could hardly believe it, I was actually employed there. Miraval received many applications from trained sound engineers from all over the world. I couldn't keep up with that. I had taught myself everything. But for the studio, the "attitude" was what counted, and apparently I had it. But it wasn't just me who couldn't believe I was working there, many others couldn't either. I had some envious people who didn't begrudge me my place. Never mind. It became a second home for me.
So Patrice kept calling me when artists booked the studio and it was always really exciting to see who would be there next time to record their new album.
But as exciting as it was, it could also be hard. I was the first to get the studio ready at 6 or 7 in the morning and the last to lock it up at night (usually after midnight). Not infrequently I only got three or four hours of sleep - of course sometimes because I hung out with the artists by the pool until the wee hours and drank bottle after bottle of delicious Miraval wine under the clear sky and moonlight.
When the producers and artists entered the studio in the morning, everything had to be perfectly prepared. Mistakes could result in immediate ejection. I learned a great deal there - not only about recording technology, but also about psychology, creativity, iron discipline, an "impossible-doesn't-exsist-attitude", helpfulness and mindfulness. It was not uncommon for me to take on the role of dubbing translator, since I was the only one in the studio who spoke all three languages fluently, English, French and German, and the clientele was almost always international. You had to work hard to get a seat at the large mixing table. That's why I often refer to these experiences as "The Roots of Rock 'n' Roll Therapy". For a long time, the music business was considered one of the toughest trades - it could be destructive, but it could also shape character.
But Patrice's extremely warm spirit and his absolute enthusiasm for music always formed the foundation of the studio and gave it its charm. Miraval was not a luxury. Miraval was simple, provencale, inviting, open, warm, lively, creative, "heavenly down-to-earth". Of course there was always a lot to laugh about. Most exciting and also most instructive were often the stories that artists, sound engineers and producers told about the making of albums that have already been released and other studios or other artists, such as that David Gilmour, the guitarist for Pink Floyd, during the recording for the album "The Wall" had recorded parts of his guitar in the small chapel on the domaine, as he wanted the natural acoustics of the chapel. I refrain from the many umpteen other stories at this point ;)
At that time I had set up a small but fine and quite well-equipped CD mastering studio in Marseille called "Killa Herz", where I occasionally "burned" productions from Miraval onto a master CD, which then served as a template for the pressing plants to produce large quantities.
Since the domaine and the studio were completely integrated into the surrounding nature, it could happen that you had a mantis or bats in the recording room, a snake under the bed covers or a scorpion in the bathroom. I had my room in the tower above the studio, where the producers were often housed, and with good reason made sure that the windows and doors were closed during the day.
The studio was founded in 1977 by renowned jazz musician Jacques Loussier, who lived there along with sound engineer and studio boss Patrice Quef. The domaine is so large that the artists live in their own pavilion houses during their time there. Studio Miraval was already equipped with the finest equipment at the time, including one of the first SSL consoles - the Rolls Royce of mixing consoles - which still has its place there today. And if something was missing, it was just ordered from Paris or London or flown in.
Later, from 2008, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie lived at the domaine and the activity of the studio was suspended until Brad and Damien's reopening in 2022. Patrice Quef died in spring 2021 and with him a very special epoch of music history at Domaine Miraval. The future will now show how the next chapter unfolds.