Billboard – October 07, 2022


Hidden amid the grounds of a sprawling Provence estate, a historic recording space is reborn — and its co-founders want to make it a “sanctuary for artists to come in and do their thing” again.

By Lyndsey Havens

I think we need a bigger table,” says Brad Pitt with a proud grin. It’s a rare rainy day in Provence, France, and for the first time, the superstar is about to sit down to a family-style lunch at the newly rebuilt Miraval Studios. An elevated-rustic assortment of tarts, salads, fresh cheese and bread spread out before him. He just needs to find a chair.

Tucked away within Château Miraval’s 2,200 acres — grounds so vast and lush that getting lost driving through them would be easy, but not so bad — Miraval Studios is as private and exquisite a place as any music (or music history) buff could imagine. And yet, it has sat dormant for nearly two decades.

Today, Pitt relays how eager he has been to reopen the space since he started spending time at the property in 2008. (He and ex-wife Angelina Jolie later purchased it for a reported $60 million in 2012.) All it took was being introduced to renowned French producer-engineer Damien Quintard, whom Pitt calls a “wunderkind,” to finally make his dream of creating the ultimate artist escape a reality. Come this month, just over a year since the two first met, Miraval Studios will formally reopen.

Built atop Miraval’s winery — itself constructed in the 1850s by the estate’s original owner, Joseph-Louis Lambot, and today known for its rosé — the building contains three editing booths for video and sound, production offices, a room housing Quintard’s collection of 170-plus microphones, a recording studio and a live room known together as Studio One, a reverb room, a kitchen, an artist salon, two guest suites, a 115-foot saltwater pool and a rooftop that offers a 360-degree view of the estate. This summer, Pitt’s and Quintard’s artist friends began to pass through to visit or work. Director David Fincher edited a film here, while another longtime friend, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, came to unwind ahead of the band’s current worldwide tour. “That was a nice way to break it in for me,” says Pitt. “This artist hangout is what’s happening.”

That kind of open and revolving door policy is exactly what he and Quintard wanted for the space, where one of the priorities of the rebuilding project, announced last December, was to re-create the communal aspect that made Studio Miraval such a haven in its heyday.

Founded in 1977 by French pianist-composer Jacques Loussier, the estate’s then-owner, alongside sound engineer Patrice Quef, Studio Miraval was initially created for Loussier to record his own work, much of which was for films. Soon, artists from Pink Floyd to Sade flocked to the refreshingly remote and picturesque property situated about an eight-hour drive south of Paris. “As a French engineer, it was kind of a holy grail,” whispers Quintard in awe. (Today, Loussier’s granddaughter, Noémie Loussier, is the studio’s communication manager, working closely with Miraval GM Roland Venturini.)

At just 31, Quintard has already worked with the likes of Brian Eno, Parcels, L’Impératrice and Arca, and has notably carved a lane for himself in classical music. He won an Emmy Award for sound mixing for the 2015 Baku European Games Opening Ceremony, founded companies like Paris production firm The Mono Company and audio tech innovator SoundX and helped usher in the Dolby Atmos format, later making The Mono Company the first studio certified with it in France in 2020. Last year, he added co-founding Miraval Studios to that list.

For Pitt, 58, Miraval Studios is the latest in a string of ventures related to Château Miraval, of which he owns 50%. (The other half belonged to Jolie before she sold her stake this summer to the Stoli-owned Tenute del Mondo. Pitt and Jolie are currently in a legal battle over the sale, as part of their ongoing divorce. Jolie has accused Pitt of abuse; his lawyer has said in a statement that “he’s not going to own anything he didn’t do … Brad will continue to respond in court.”) In September, Pitt announced his “genderless” skin care line, Le Domaine — founded with the Perrin family, Miraval’s vintners — which uses the estate’s antioxidant-rich grapes.

Through the pandemic, Pitt took up sculpting. (During our visit, his friend and famed artist Thomas Houseago works on his own pieces at the studio, though he briefly takes a break to get in on the lunch cooked by the private chef.) Prior to our chat, Pitt strums a few pleasant chords on the guitar — another new hobby — though he self-deprecatingly says that when he plays, “animals flee.”

Entrusting Quintard with Miraval Studios was, Pitt says, a matter of instinct. Following an introduction from a mutual friend, art curator Caroline Bourgeois, the two met in Paris in 2021 and hung out for five hours. Now close friends, they are competitive in pétanque (a French twist on bocce) and recently caught a Nick Cave show together. “I’ve always managed my moves on a gut basis, and I just knew this was our direction,” says Pitt. “He had the gig before he even knew it. He had the gig before I even knew if he wanted the gig.”

“I obviously didn’t expect it all,” says Quintard. Then, another surprise: Pitt gave him a deadline of one year to rebuild Miraval. (“Deadlines are courageous goals,” Pitt says; both admit they were surprised they hit theirs.) Despite navigating supply-chain shortages — and essentially disappearing from family and friends, unable to speak of the secret project that kept pulling him from Paris — Quintard’s biggest challenge was more abstract: To shape Miraval’s future, he had to understand its past.

“We’re not here to just build a new studio: We’re here to honor a legacy,” he says. “The hardest thing was to understand what we should do.” Pitt’s guidance was simple: “Let’s make a sanctuary for artists to come in and do their thing.”

Some already have, including a few who recorded at Miraval years ago, from Rammstein’s Till Lindemann to reclusive R&B icon Sade, whom Pitt calls “royalty” as he and Quintard confirm the rumors that she has returned to recording — and that, in fact, she was the first artist to record at the reopened Miraval.

“You could feel the love that she and the band had for this place,” says Quintard. “And when we talked to musicians who came here previously, they all have this special connection with Miraval that can’t really be explained … It’s a dream come true to see this place activate again.”

Entering Miraval Studios is a visual feast at every turn. There’s the long, winding drive from the secured entrance to the studio lot, on which visitors pass everything from a small stone amphitheater situated on a lake (perfect for intimate in-person or livestream performances) to a bashful donkey, just one of the estate’s many pets.

A slight uphill walk leads to a Rapunzelesque tower, at the top of which sits a gorgeous circular guest suite that Pitt designed — which, like the larger villa a five-minute drive away, is one of several housing options on the sprawling property to satisfy stays from one week to six months in length. Booking manager Arnaud Merckling — an old college friend and former bandmate of Quintard’s who inspired him to switch from studying mechanical to music engineering — explains that while artists can pop in, most who visit Miraval want the full experience. The cost, on par with other residential studio rates, reflects that, and includes not only studio time but also lodging and food.

Inside, the studio’s entryway is bathed in natural light and neutral tones. (Both Pitt and Quintard unintentionally arrived in matching earth-toned outfits.) A staircase leads up to shelves of vinyl that spotlight albums previously recorded at Miraval. To the left is the kitchen, where an unbearably adorable truffle-hunting Lagotto Romagnolo puppy is napping. And, most important of all, front and center is the control room.

The control room, situated between the refurbished live room and the untouched reverb room, with windows from both looking in, perfectly captures the ethos of Miraval: Embrace the past and the future all at once. Quintard built the room around “the Spaceship,” a sleek and amorphous custom-made control board he designed with Pitt. The desk offers a top-notch digital setup, but just behind it sits the studio’s original Solid State Logic recording console — previously used by Roger Waters, Sting and George Michael — for artists who want to record in analog.

Despite so much preservation, Quintard stresses that Miraval Studios is not a museum — and he doesn’t want it to become one. “I associate it a lot with painting. If you could paint with the brush of da Vinci or write on the scores of Mozart, would you do it?” he asks. “Here, we actually give people the opportunity to try.”

At Miraval, Quintard wanted to create a choose-your-own-adventure experience, and he had Billie Eilish and FINNEAS in mind when redesigning the space. “When you create a modern studio and see that [they] can output 14 Grammy-winning tracks in their own room, it was really at the heart of my reflection because people are going to be like, ‘If they can do that, why on earth would you build something like this?’ ” he says. “It really redefined my way of understanding how a control room might work.” As a result, the room offers a plug-and-play option for artists wanting to record with Logic or Ableton.

Beyond the boards, there’s a pristine white couch that mirrors the loose outline of the Spaceship. (Quintard says plenty of artists have already spilled wine on it; still, “I wanted to make that mistake of putting a big white couch in a control room … It’s beautiful to have some chaos.”) Over 25 speakers compatible with Dolby Atmos fill the studio, making it one of the world’s few “flagship” rooms with the technology. A sonic sampling of symphonic music, Arca’s “Riquiquí” and a bit of funk from Parcels demonstrates the full-body vibrations Atmos creates — perfect, Quintard points out, for editing, mixing and mastering film music as well. (A projection screen can descend from the ceiling at the touch of a button.)

For the lighting, another key feature, Quintard had dozens of conversations with friends and artists about what their dream studio would look like, with suggestions leading to a “constant golden hour” effect — amplified in practice at Miraval by the natural light that pours in from all directions, especially at sunset. He credits his team of friends — executive producer Chloé Guine, assistant executive producer Adèle Lagarrigue, assistant engineer Pierre Gouges and studio manager Sébastien Germain — with opening his eyes to the importance of “bathing in light.”

It’s a far cry from the first time Quintard and Pitt walked into Studio Miraval. “It was pretty dank,” says Pitt. “It still smelled like the ’70s — or maybe the ’80s, to be fair. It hadn’t been touched since then. It needed a cuddle.”

Quintard mostly recalls the acoustic fabrics that covered the walls, which he later pulled back to discover the building’s original stone still intact. He measured the porosity of each stone, digging into some so that the wall could properly absorb sound. As for the live room’s sky-high arches, Pitt explains how the estate’s founder had invented a precursor to reinforced concrete. As one of the first buildings to utilize the material, architects installed timber trusses, not knowing they were structurally inessential. As Pitt says: “These surroundings just have this history of creation and innovation.”

The live room is a spacious playpen for just that. The toys available include refurbished vintage keyboards, drum kits, guitars and even a decorative olive tree from Miraval’s grounds. Quintard explains the room’s precise one-second reverb, adding that while the large space’s high ceilings make it ideal for recording classical music, it’s also functional for rap, pop, rock and more.

“The whole project was just day after day of people telling me this specific thing is not possible: ‘You can’t dig into the stones,’ or ‘You can’t put this arch here.’ We had to push forward all the time,” he recalls.

“The most amazing thing is how he worked this room,” says Pitt. “How sound bounces around is … f-ck me, a science. I would come in, go off and do my day job, come back months later, and it was just astounding to see what had been completed.”

And yet, Quintard hesitates to pat himself on the back. “We have to produce things, and they have to come,” he says. “I think we’ll know if this is a success in two years, three years, 10 years. In 30 years, if people talk about, ‘Oh, they did The Wall 2’ here, then sure, we would’ve accomplished something. But now we’re just on the ground floor. We’re just waiting to start building up the legacy, the new legacy, of Miraval.”

Or, as Pitt puts it with a smirk: “We’re open for biznass.”