Here is the result of a great talk I have with Richard Devine. He has a lot of interviews and profiles on the web, so I tried to do different questions and explore on a more technical/geeky side. However if you want to ask something to Richard, there is a place for that. Let’s read!
Designing Sound: Hi Richard, first of all… Introduce yourself and tell us something about your studies and the evolution of your career.
Richard Devine: Well, I initially never went to any proper school for music. The only formal musical training I had piano lessons at around age 8. It was here that I was introduced to classical music, and learned to sight-read. I at first hated the piano lessons and had little interests in music. I had went through various different teacher’s and it wasn’t until my last one where I really started to take notice to some amazing music. I discovered the music of Eric Satie, Debussy, Haydn, and Chopin. The music was deeply complex, beautiful, and layered with the movements and changes throughout each piece that would sometimes play out for 20 minutes. I had never heard music like this before. Which at this time in my life was hugely influential.
DS: Starting is never an easy step. What were the key moments that helped you most when you were starting? What was more difficult at that time?
RD: Well, I think my background coming up was a little different then most sound designer’s. I started out as a DJ, and bedroom producer. I began collecting records, from all genres of music, early electronic, electro acoustic, avant-garde, noise, techno, electro, house, hip-hop. You name it I studied and tried to learn as much as I could. In playing as a DJ, you try to find and hunt for elements of sounds and sequences that you would think of as layering up and then trying to combine those layers into a whole new transition that sometimes would create a completely new track, and change the feel of two entirely different compositions. I was really intrigued by this.
Shortly after this I started looking around to buy my own equipment. At the age of 17 I started buying lots of second hand analogue synthesizers, samplers from various pawnshops around the Atlanta area. During this time in 1994, it was easy to acquire really rare stuff. One of the first synthesizers I bought was the Arp-2600. This was a completely life changing moment for me. I was completely blown away by the semi modular format of the synth. You could also use it to process other sounds via filtering, ring modulation, and spring reverb. I still to this day have and still use the 2600 for my day-to-day projects. It taught me the basic fundamentals of building and shaping a sound from pure synthesis.
I learned things pretty much the hard way. I would save up for different pieces of equipment only to find out that I had purchase the wrong thing. Or made painful mistakes at mix down, using compressors and limiters in the wrong way. I had a really tough time trying to find information on how to hook up and engineer my tracks, so it was very frustrating at times. The wealth of knowledge that exists now on the Internet wasn’t available at my fingertips during that time so I struggled with building my home studio, and spent many hours learning how to put it together on my own. Although it was hard, I am glad that I experienced it, as it really helped me down the road.
DS: You work in a wide range of sound world, from music, software & hardware, to sound for visual media… What industry you prefer? How you connect all of these disciplines together?
RD: I love to work in all areas in which sound can be adapted to an environment, whether it be within a software/hardware synthesizer, or video installation. I have always been fascinated with how sound can psychologically affect people. I love working in all the industries. Each one helps you become a better sound designer/artist in learning new skill sets, and also building my own database of sounds. It can also teach you about new technologies in synthesis, field recording, microphones, computers, and hardware. It can open your mind to new possibilities, and helped me create sounds I have never heard before.
DS: You have an incredible collection of gear, including synths, mics, processors, software, and every thing new “in the street”… What do you think about this technology evolution? What are your position on this?
RD: I personally love working with the latest technology. It always keeps my mind refreshed, and constantly excited to work and play with the new tools that are released. Working in this industry which constantly changing I think it is very important to know how to be flexible with ever so changing trends with new gear. Now more then ever its very important to learn many things, and play the role of the producer, writer, sound designer, field recorder, engineer. As computers get faster it will allow us to create, control things like never before. This can also make people lazy, but for me I find it amazing and try to always keep on the cutting edge of what is being released.
DS: I think something that you really like is the experimentation. Where does burn the urge to experiment with sound? What you learn from this “art” of take anything and send it to new worlds?
RD: Well, this is one of my favorite aspects of what I do. A lot of companies will hire me to experiment, and sometimes misuse sound to try and find something new that has never been heard before. I sparked the interests to experiment after hearing the early pioneer’s John Cage, Harry Partch, and Karlheinz Stockhausen. I loved that they used a strange combination of found sound objects within the scope of their early recordings. It would open up a whole new world of options as for what could be considered a musical composition. Listening to these works totally changed my idea of what music could be.
I began experimenting with samplers, and sampling sounds that could be found everywhere in the outside world, and using them in place of traditional drum machines and synths. I began to experiment with recording bizarre machines, impacts, glass, metal and other organic textures. Then even got into building my own custom instruments to record. My experimentation took me into recording animals and underwater environments, and then acoustic spaces. I never stop researching and experimentation.
DS: You had been working with many software and hardware companies (i.e Ableton, Native Instruments, Sugar Bytes, RME, Elektron, Nord, Stanton, Open Labs) How you become involved with software development and preset/libraries production? What you love from creating sound for software or libraries?
RD: Yes, my first initial launch into this area was in 2001 working on Native Instruments with the release of Battery-2, Absynth, and Kontakt virtual instruments. I had no idea that NI would become so big later down the road. It was good for me in that many other people from all different backgrounds heard my sounds that I created. I would hear my sounds on TV commercials, shows, films, and video games and on musical tracks. I realized at this time that what I was doing was starting to infiltrate the world in ways my music would have never been able to do. This also caught the attention of many other audio manufactures at his time.
Clavia Nord, Korg, Roland, and, Akai, Alesis, Access Virus Keyboard companies shortly followed after that. I designed hundreds of patches and sounds for their products, which even spread my sound to more people. I really loved it, because I got to learn and use new technology and make really interesting expressive sounds that could be used in various different applications. I learned many things from working on these types of projects. It is a completely different type of sound design then what typical sound designers do. It equates to creating sounds using only synthesis hardware, and sometimes sampling and trying to create a mood or emotion with just that. It is a great exercise to anyone wanting to learn about sound design. Trying to make a complete palette of sounds using only one synth. You can make, airy pads, lead synth lines, heavy low bass lines, sine tine FM tones. It helped me understand sonic timbres, and what each form of synthesis would give me. For example if I wanted some very textural grainy I would use granular synthesis. If I wanted more smooth electronic tones and timbres I would use FM synthesis.
DS: You use a lot of “extremely-sound-tweaking software” such as Reaktor, Max, MetaSynth, Kyma, Bidule, etc… You would consider these as essential tools for any sound designer? What are that unique things you find with these applications?
RD: I use many of these tools on a daily basis for my work. I am constantly seeking new and interesting results that you wouldn’t normally get using a typical DAW environment with standard VST processing plug-ins. I would consider some of these applications essential for doing specific things I like. For example Kyma is amazing for vocal and live input FFT processing. I have worked on a number of projects where I needed to process VO dialog in a very interesting alien way. Kyma is excellent for that. When it comes to analogue subtractive additive synthesis I like to use Reaktor and Metasynth.
For applications like Max and bidule I will usually build little small customs patches to do usually one thing that I need that I can’t find anywhere else. Like for instance I have a Max patch that I use only for generating pure FM sine modulated tones. This is really great for making interface button sounds. It’s a simple 4 voice synth with four envelopes, and various modulators, and LFO’s to get different decayed variations and pitches. Really useful for making stuff happened quickly when you need to get a lot of content with a fast turn around. Plogue’s Bidule is also great for this. I like use Bidule for fast dirty processing chains, and random automation. You see and hear the sound traveling through patch-connected cables, and it gets your brain out of thinking of processing sound on a linear timeline sequencer. I literally use hundreds of plug-ins and various pieces of hardware to get specific sounds that I need for a project. I love the GRM tools, Sound toys and Waves plug-ins. I could go on for days answering this question. =)
DS: What are your main/favorite tools in the studio and field recording setup? Any especially for sound design purposes?
RD: Well my main environments switch around all the time depending on what I want to do. I use Logic 9 for a lot of my sound design creation. I love the new Flex modes, and Space Designer plug-in. I have been doing a great deal of exploration experimenting with impulse response technology. Using completely strange sources like the sound of a tree being ripped open from the inside as a impulse response and applying that onto a drum beat or vocal. You can get some really outrages results.
I also use Protools HD, Nuendo, and Ableton 8 (Max for Live). There is something interesting that I like working between all the various DAW’s. Some environments do things better then other when it comes to manipulating sound. Other tools I like to use are the Roland V-synth GT workstation and Clavia’s Nord G2 modular. More recently I have invested back into analogue modular synthesizers and built up a fairly large Doepfer Euro rack system. It has been really exciting lately as there have been some really interesting thing happening within that format.
For field recording I use a wide variety of microphones, DPA, Neumann, Sanken, etc with the Sound Devices portable digital recorders. This is an area that I have been researching within the last year. Lots of interesting perspectives you get by using different microphones and preamps. My favorite typical setup is usually my Sound Devices 702 with Neumann RSM-191 A/S recording in M/S mode. I usually bring out my DPA 4060’s for really tiny microscopic stuff. I have been using some of the contact and hydrophone microphones designed by ColdGold.
DS: When do you find you’re most creative? any “secret” to get some inspiration?
RD: Inspiration for me comes from many different places; film, art, and music are probably the most common areas. As strange as it may sound I find modern architecture very inspiring. I love seeing the inside structure of buildings. I love work of Lebbeus Woods, Frank Gehry, and Calatrava. I love how they constantly mutate form and structure to create these beautiful environments. I see working in the visual world very closely in relation to sound. You have space, line, color, shape, texture, form, value, and type. I tend to have a more artistic visual background so I like to draw out my sounds on paper. I sometimes draw out skeletal shapes and lines to show what or how a sound should animate. This is one of many sources for my inspiration. I also love and study other artists and composers. I find a lot of inspiration listening to modern electro acoustic artists like Trevor Whishart, and Åke Parmerud. I find them constantly pushing the envelope of sound and composition. These artists are really inspiring if you want to explore sound on a more detailed level.
DS: You have a sound design company with Josh Kay, DEV SND. Why you decided to start your own company? Are you working on any project right now?
RD: Yes, we started the small company in 2007. It really is just a starter project between my best friend Josh Kay and I. I started as having the site be a place where we could showcase some of the client work I do, and at the same time have a place where we could blog about cool things, and give away sounds. We plan to open up a small sound effects store on the site in which people can browse and buy packs of sounds. I am working on several projects right now. One in particular is for Hollywood Edge Sound Effects company. I recently got in contact with Jim Stout sound designer who formerly worked at Roland. He has released a string of amazing sound libraries for Sound Ideas/Hollywood Edge. Jim was a long time friend and also producer from Texas. We had wanted to work with Jim for a while, and are collaborating with him on this new exciting sound effects library, which will be called “Mechanical Morph”. Among other stuff I have a bunch of new exciting this in the works for 2010.
DS: Someone you admire? Any special person that influenced you to start on sound design?
RD: I would have to say first and foremost Morton Subonick. His compositions had a major impact on my sonic spectrum. He influenced me more then any other person. He is considered one of the pioneers in development of electronic music and multi-media performance. I loved his early work with the Buchla Synthesizer, with the releases “Silver Apples of the Moon, The Wild Bull, and Sidewider”. The records blew my mind away. The timbres and gestures seemed totally alien to me. I was only 18 years old in school when I got his stuff on vinyl. In the sound design world I love the work of Ben Burt, and Walter Murch. They constantly push the envelope and there sound has influence me throughout my childhood. I only hope to be walking in their footsteps years from now =)
DS: Finally, could you tell us something about your current and future projects?
RD: I am working on a bunch of new things. A new Reaktor ensemble that I am giving away with company Jazzmutant. I released two sound libraries with Sony Media, “Pulse” and “the Electronic Manuscript” which won this year’s Remix Technology Awards Best Sample Library. I just released a new all custom synthetic percussion library called “Electronic” with Swedish virtual drum company “Toontrack”. There is a host of other projects in the works right now that will be coming out in 2010, that I can’t talk about yet, but will keep you guys updated as things progress.