Mike Matesky, owner and producer-engineer of the studio, has created a facility that can magically shape-shift itself — sonically speaking.
Deep in a remote, wooded area of Bothell is a 20-by-40-foot patch of ground upon which a tractor barn once stood.
All that’s left of the barn is its foundation, found on 5 acres that include a house, gazebo and fountain. On that foundation now rests a building that can magically shape-shift — sonically speaking — into a great, domed cathedral, a concert hall, a small auditorium or even a little club where a jazz trio might play to a cramped audience.
“Where do we want to go acoustically?” asks Mike Matesky, owner and producer-engineer of Opus 4 Studios. A custom-designed, musician-friendly facility, Opus 4 brings a notable, compelling dimension to the exceptional sounds of musicians.
Fiddling with controls for a program called the Lexicon Acoustic Reinforcement and Enhancement System (LARES), the tall, dapper Matesky, 71, demonstrates how his flawlessly quiet recording space can become any kind of highly articulate environment for violin, piano, cello, flute or other acoustic instrument.
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Clapping his hands and playing chords on one of two Kawai grand pianos, Matesky underscores how the sound and character of the room change with reverberation that can stretch as much as 50 seconds from a single note.
It’s no wonder music teachers routinely send their students here to record auditions for application to conservatories and competitions. Or why so many ensembles from around the region hire Matesky to produce them.
Including strategically placed microphones, stacks of recording gear and 72 loudspeakers hidden in the walls and ceiling, this audio artillery might seem a lot for simple strings and woodwinds. But for Matesky, the room’s electronic architecture ultimately serves the artist in an old-fashioned way.
“This studio is designed to give as much encouragement to the musician as possible,” he says. “My desire is to capture good performance. In the old days, recording emphasized music reproduction. Very few people enter the recording field that way now. They want music to sound cool, and they do this or that to make it happen. But I am a believer in trying to capture what a good musician does without an audio version of Photoshop.”
Matesky, a cellist, built Opus 4 15 years ago, knowing precisely what he wanted. He drew upon a lifetime of experiences in studios to get Opus 4 acoustically right, from the tightly screwed foundation beneath maple floors (to prevent squeaks) to the 14 inches of rockwool insulation in the walls.
“I’ve recorded the Bothell High Jazz Choir, the Bellevue Chamber Chorus, large and small string ensembles, jazz groups and church groups,” he says. “But increasingly students and teachers are finding out about this place.”
YouTube is home to a number of videos of student performances Matesky has produced. Viewing several Opus 4 videos, his pride in these young players is palpable and touching.
Matesky, who received his doctorate in conducting from the University of Washington, comes from a musical family. His mother, Betty, was a student of Arnold Schoenberg and a pianist. His father, Ralph, was a violinist-composer-conductor who recorded for many Hollywood film soundtracks (Alfred Hitchcock’s “Spellbound,” among them).
Matesky was principal cello for Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre orchestra during part of the 1980s. He is a member of the Opus 4 string quartet, having performed for such stellar guests to the city as President Carter and Queen Elizabeth II.
He attributes his passion for recording in part to his father’s career in the movie business.
“I got to hang around studios and some of the best musicians through my well-connected dad,” Matesky says. “I tinkered and listened, and came to know how I thought it should be done.”