Michael Cerulli Billingsley of Straight Arrow Recordings sits in his new studio in Putney.(Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
Michael Cerulli Billingsley of Straight Arrow Recordings sits in his new studio in Putney. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer) (Zachary P. Stephens)
Friday November 16, 2012

PUTNEY -- A cotton mill is not exactly the ideal location for a recording studio.

But Michael Cerulli Billingsley, owner of Straight Arrow Recordings, operated his business out of the one in Brattleboro for 11 years and produced CDs of various genres of music. Eventually, however, the conditions became too difficult to work in (a dance studio right upstairs didn't help) and he decided in July it was time to make a change.

With some help, he packed all his equipment and moved to the third floor of the building located at 13 Kimball Hill Road. His new digs will get their own christening on Saturday when he hosts an open house from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Billingsley has invited about 200 people -- most of whom are musical artists he has previously worked with -- and expects many to stroll in on their own good time. He did not require RSVPs.

The event will include hourly give-aways of CDs and an end-of-the-day grand prize of some Straight Arrow merchandise and three hours of free studio recording.

Everyone attending is encouraged to check Straight Arrow Recordings' open house Facebook page for Saturday's playlist of audition recordings. The program will change every 30 minutes and will include classical, jazz, folk, blues, world and vocal music recorded by Straight Arrows. The idea is to give visitors an opportunity to hear the nature of a CD mastering studio, with all of its controlled acoustic space and specialized speakers.

There will be a 15-minute break between each demonstration sampler CD, so guests are welcome to bring one selected song from a CD of their own collection for comparative listening.

"There are people that I've recorded that I haven't seen in five or 10 years. There's Fred Haas, he's a saxophonist up in Hartford, he's likely to come down. ... Eugene Uman, from the Vermont Jazz Center, might be coming down," Billingsley said, naming just two of the many musicians he's worked with. "But I'm also imagining there are a lot of people curious about this. And I like to meet new people, so this is one way to meet new people."

He added that he and his girlfriend stayed up baking cookies all Wednesday night and both Vermont and Irish cider will be available.

"This is fun. It's the kind of thing I don't get to do very often and I imagine people will be coming and going all day," he said from a seat in his studio.

He said it is a mastering studio, meaning it is where music is brought and edited once it has been recorded. He practices location recording, which he described as packing up "a van-load worth of equipment and going into somebody else's space."

He said it is a tricky art to perfect because you are at the mercy of the spot's acoustics. Billingsley said he records anything from symphonic and chamber music, to ensembles, devotional music and chorales, solo vocalists and healing chant and world music. He told the Reformer the new studio will also be used for a limited amount of video post-production and spoken-word recording.

Billingsley started in the industry in 1968 when he set up a four-track tape recording of the Jim McCarthy Blues Band in a small hall in Newark, Del. Throughout his career, he has been a performer, composer and college professor, each educating Jonathan Fishman and Trey Anastasio (who later formed the band Phish) at Goddard College.

In 1984, he invented the Stereo Ambient Sampling System (SASS) microphone, which he said was the first major new conceptual and functional "re-think" of stereo microphones since the designs of Alan Blumlein (a notable electronics engineer) in the 1930s. National Public Radio was the first to audition the new mic (before it was even patented), having chosen Billingsley in a national competition.

The SASS microphone was nominated for an International TEC award in Los Angeles, named a Product of the Year when released by Crown in Las Vegas and was used extensively in films such as "Congo," "The Hunt for Red October," "True Lies" and "Memoirs of a Geisha."

Billingsley went on to record several important music festivals -- including the Champlain Valley Folk Festival, the Craftsbury Music Festival and the Central Vermont Chamber Music Festival -- in the 1980s and ‘90s as well as artists like Pat Metheny, Michael Hedges, Ethiopia People-to-People and the London Philharmonic.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.