The Beastie Boys’ Oscilloscope Laboratories Opens Its Doors to NYU — And a New Legacy
The Beastie Boys
Photo by Danny Clinch
Tenzin Losel Yauch was but a baby when her father, Adam, began teaching her about the wonders of records and reverb. The late Beastie Boy had a passion for sharing his love of music with the world, and the proud father couldn't wait to show his daughter the ropes, Dechen Yauch, Adam's widow, recalls. In another life, maybe one that didn't include groundbreaking records like Paul's Boutique or genre-hopping classics like "Sabotage," he could have made a great teacher.
"As soon as she was born, he started playing her records, and when she was old enough to sit up, he had her in a carrier on his back so that she could watch him cook," Dechen wrote in an email to the Village Voice. "They watched Star Wars together, read Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. He was always doing subtle things to build her rhythm and improvisational skills."
Yauch, who passed away after a battle with throat cancer in 2012, gave himself over to making music with the Beastie Boys, but something about him always hinted that he had some greater purpose to serve. He was every bit as fun, silly, and spontaneous as his musical brothers in arms, Adam Horovitz and Michael Diamond, but Yauch was the mature Beastie, the sage who gave the trio its civic center. It was Yauch who started the Tibetan Freedom Concert in 1996 as a vehicle for educating others about the value of leading a peaceful life. As the trio grew increasingly socially conscious in the years that followed, there was little doubt they were following Yauch's lead. More than an entertainer, here was a man with a gift for connecting with others.
Now, thanks to the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, his legacy will continue to endure in part through future generations of students and musicians. John Silva, the Beastie Boys' longtime manager, arranged a deal with NYU last month to give students in the program access to Oscilloscope Laboratories, the Beasties' West Village studio that Yauch built with Matt Marinelli and Mark Edwards in 2002. Oscilloscope is one of four studios rented or owned by the program, which schools approximately 250 students from around the globe in the world of engineering, mixing, mastering, and studio production.
"He had so much he wanted to share, and part of that is at Oscilloscope," Dechen, who owns Oscilloscope, says of her late husband. "To give it such a constructive purpose gives it life."
Jeff Rabhan, a music industry veteran who has chaired the program since 2010, wasted little time connecting the dots once he was contacted about the partnership by Silva, who in addition to the Beasties represents Beck, the Foo Fighters, and others. Rabhan says he always keeps his eyes open for additional recording space to house the program, but the opportunity to physically bring his students into the hip-hop legends' musical world was one he couldn't pass up.
"We went over there and looked at it, and you could feel the energy of the space," he says. "It's like, 'Holy shit.' It's an unbelievable room that screams Beasties. Instantly we were like, 'We'd love to do it.' "
Oscilloscope Laboratories is a place that lives up to its name. Not simply a studio, it's a space indebted to the Beasties' eclectic vision and sense of style, complete with a mix of modern and vintage equipment. As Dechen describes it, it's "a Subaru Outback with the engine of a '67 Shelby Mustang that has been modeled by NASA, being advised by someone from the future." The trio's last three records were crafted within those four walls, and friends and kindred spirits have also made use of the space.
But after Yauch's death, decisions had to be made. As the cost of operating Oscilloscope continued to rise, Dechen was left to figure out the next step. What would the studio be moving forward? Closing it down was briefly considered, Dechen says, but ultimately it was decided that the studio still had more to offer the world.
"If we can manage to keep it open, it feels like the right thing to do," she says. "But it has been a challenging three and a half years."
The terms of the program's agreement with Oscilloscope currently free up thirty days per semester for students to use the studio to collaborate or work on individual projects. Next semester, Rabhan hopes to arrange for sixty full studio days for his students. Chairs are set up in the studio's live room and control booth, and students have already begun signing up for days and times to get their hands on the legendary workspace. There they'll lay down tracks for mastering, some of which Rabhan says will get a proper release. Guests, including Horovitz and Diamond, have also dropped in to talk with students.
"To them, it's like, 'Let me get my hands on the Beasties' studio,' " he says. "There's no trepidation on the part of students to get in there and start playing with the gear. They've been beating each other up to get on the sign-up sheet."
Keeping the studio afloat was the endgame, but there's also a full-circle quality to giving students access to the Oscilloscope space. In their infancy, long before they became MTV darlings and generational spokesmen, the Beastie Boys were just another group of teenage kids trying their hand at punk rock and hardcore. It was Dave Parsons, then owner of Rat Cage Records, who gave the trio their first ingress to recording, and the rest is history. For Dechen, there's comfort in knowing that Oscilloscope now has the potential to offer the same kind of support to younger musicians.
"It would be great if Oscilloscope could do something similar for young bands," she said. "This partnership seems like a meaningful step in that direction."
"Our intentions are pure," says Rabhan, himself an avowed Beasties Boys fan. "We're not trying to buy it. We don't want to take the gear apart and sell it and capitalize on it. We want to embrace it for what it is and support that vision. We're the perfect partner in a lot of ways."
The Beasties' legacy has been written, at least for the foreseeable future, but there's a sense of comfort for those involved that the Oscilloscope story will continue. The room that birthed To the 5 Boroughs, The Mix-Up, and 2011's Hot Sauce Committee Part Two will now play host to a new generation of producers and musicians. There is still music to be made.
"Just yesterday one of the students asked to play around with the ARP 2600 [a vintage synthesizer]," Dechen says. "I think Adam would have loved that."
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