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Volume 2, Number 5, June 2004
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Digital Discourse: The Architecture of Audio with Richard Devine

Richard Devine
Musician, Sound Designer, Remixer, DJ, there's quite a buzz going around about Richard Devine. He describes himself as 'an audio architect in search of the most interesting sounds on the planet'. Devine has a new album ASECT:DSECT out on one of my favorite record labels Asphodel http://www.asphodel.com. Asphodel is one of those labels you can buy everything they release whether you've heard of it or not and LIKE IT ALL.

I'd just started listening to Richard Devine's CD when UA Marketing Director Mike Barnes met Richard at the Miami Winter Music Conference where Richard was performing. It turns out that Richard used the UAD-1 on ASECT:DSECT so of course we decided to interview him.

Let's start out talking about your background. What was your childhood like?
"Well from a musical stand point; I started out by playing classical piano, which was my basic foundation and my introduction to the musical world. I started playing music by Frederic Chopin, Bach and Dmitri Kabalevsky. I began to find my favorites like Eric Satie, who was one of the most influential composer's at that time for me. I was also learning how to play other instruments at this time, around the age of 8 or 9, experimenting with the Guitar and Tape decks. I got my parents to by me an amp and Gibson guitar then a small Roland D-50 keyboard, which was my first electronic keyboard, and started it all for me. My early childhood was spent mostly on learning musical theory and practicing reading music. My mother was real hard on me about playing the piano, and being well rounded. I hated it at first but learned quickly that you could do so much."

“It was amazing, as the UAD sounds incredible, and offers some of the most high quality features that I have seen within any DSP card based mastering suite.”

"I seriously started experimenting with audio and sound design in High School. I remember buying the early issues of keyboard, and researching the latest machines, and older systems for the most complex sounds. My researches lead me to discover analogue modular systems, which really launched my quest for the strangest sounds made. I bought an ARP-2600 from this local pawnshop and after experimenting with it I knew that I never wanted to buy another conventional music system again. I began looking for really exotic machines, and acquired a very impressive collection over the years. Some of the most influential synths were the EMS synth, EML-101, ARP-2500, Oberhiem Xpander, Serge and Moog synthesizers. I also started building my own analogue synths with a friend of mine Tim Adams, who really taught me the basics in audio signal path and its relation to analog circuits. I was fascinated by all the new options and the whole modular format, which gave you endless possibilities."

Are there any childhood experiences that are reflected in your current work?
Yes, I can remember vividly when I first heard the music of Morton Subotnick, who pretty much changed my early musical approach. It was his first couple records that really opened my mind to sound design and composition. I remember getting the Silver Apples of the Moon and Sidewinder records and being blown away. First that they where created in 1967 (before I was born) using Don Buchla's modular systems at Cal Arts. Morton was truly creating the music and sound that I was looking for. His timbres were so sophisticated, and modulated rich textures were completely organic and free flowing. Another record he did called The Wild Bull was also extremely influential for me, in that it really broke all barriers for traditional music composition. I remember listening to those records all the time, in my early teens and wanting to create the new futuristic Morton Subotnick experience, but using newer technology. Even today I still try to apply the same principles that I heard on those records. Applying the notions of dynamics, movement, texture, rhythm, repetition, color, intensity and control. Almost like painting on a canvas, but creating these environments with sound. I wanted to create the visceral experiences that I had hearing Morton's music with my own. I had never experienced that kind of feeling with music before, and I knew I wanted that to be the main focus for all of my work.

What kind of music where you into as teenager?
Well, my musical taste moved around quite a bit as I listened to pretty much anything that was really unique. I first started listening to early hip-hop and Punk. I was skate boarding for about ten years, and in my early teens I adapted to everything from Public Enemy, to Minor Threat. I was really into really intense energetic music, earlier on. I soon started to explore other interesting forms of music during that time, and discovered, the label's 4AD, and Creation. I was particularly interested in the Shoe Gaze scene that was emerging in the early 80's, with bands like My Bloody Valentine, and The Smiths. Then I accidentally heard the music of Coil and Meat Beat Manifesto and was permanently switched to more electronic music. Especially after hearing Aphex Twin in 1990, with the Analogue Bubble Bath record on Rephlex.

Do you remember what the first rock/pop album you bought was or the first rock concert you went to?
Yes, actually the first rock (for me Punk show) was going to see Fugazi play live with 7-seconds here in Atlanta, when I was in 6th grade. It was an incredible show, with lots of raw powerful energy. Its funny because I still haven't seen or heard any bands that could even come close what Fugazi was. I guess one of the first CD's or albums I ever bought was Slayer Reign in Blood. Which might sound a little strange, but I was really drawn to their tight precision and technical playing ability. Shortly after that I started to buy the works of Industrial Canadian group Skinny Puppy who also had a major impact on my musical career. The 12-inch Anthology and Remissions were some of the first CD's that I ever bought and still are a part of my massive musical collection.

Do you wear different hats as sound designer, musician, remixer and DJ/live performer?
It's funny because I totally have to switch my way of thinking when working in these different modes. When I do sound design I am usually working on projects with other companies, and have to do a fair amount of research into different musical scenes, and try to find the sounds that work consistently across many different genres. So I treat it like a research project where I research the target market audience, and then go in and try to create the most inspiring sounds to that audience. If I am working on my own sound design, I switch gears, and try to create the most unique interesting sounds that haven't been heard before. As a musician I also have to research quite a bit about art and new technology, as it helps me be more creative within my own musical compositions. I try to stay as cutting edge as possible with my musical architectural sonic works, to keep the musical experience as unique as possible. With my live shows, I am constantly testing new things, and experimenting with new ideas, and concepts. It's a great place to try out new things and you can get great feedback from the audience. It's very direct and immediate, which also helps me re-construct a lot of my ideas in the studio. I usually try more risky things and my shows are a lot more animated and direct.

Let's talk about your album. How did the project come about and how did you connect with the label?
Well, the record was completed last year, over the course of six months. I was trying to work this project from a completely different angle, and really try some new things, from a creative and technical point of view. The album was going to originally be released on Schematic Records, which is our main label that we run from Miami, Florida. We were looking for better distribution and marketing for all of our releases and had been long time friends with Naut Humon over at Asphodel Records. Naut had mentioned the possibility to join forces and work with us on my release, as he loved my work. We decided to release the project together and begin working together. I will be releasing my 5.1 Surround DVD later this year with them.

How do you get inspired to write a song? Stay up all night drinking coffee? Run around the block? Go see paintings at a museum?
This is a hard area for me to describe, because I create music all the time in various states of the mind. Sometimes I will be working on tracks to try out new ideas and concepts to see what the outcome will be. Sometimes I hear something in the outside world that triggers off an idea or sequence of acoustic sounds that sparks an idea. My ears are always listening for new sounds, and I often carry my Mini-Disc and microphone in my bag, as you never know when something will happen. I sometimes often program small applications that will create random audio occurrences, where something strange might happen, and trigger off an idea. I have been influenced by other artists to and visit museums and shows quite often for new ideas. My last album was entirely derived from visual artists like Golan Levan and John Maeda. I love seeing how other people approach the creative process of making music or visual pieces.

What inspires your rhythms?
Much of the rhythm programming happens within the computers, where I spend hours upon hours programming every little piece, and slice that you hear in my music. Sometimes I will create small applications in Cycling '74's MAX/MSP that will sequence percussive data in various ways. Usually relying on chance, and aleatoric measures to come up with my various rhythmic techniques. Other times I start out by playing various sounds, in Logic Audio and shifting the time signatures and time divisions until I get something interesting.

Tell me about your custom analog systems.
All systems where constructed by Tim Adams, which include an analog modular system (3-oscillator, 3-filter system, much like a moog system 55); Then two monophonic analogue synths that were all completely custom built from scratch. He also constructed a home built frequency shifter based on the early BODE analogue frequency shifter design. We are currently rebuilding my Chaos synth that is a small touch (heat-sensitive synthesizer) that has two oscillators and a Kimchee module for voltage controlled distortion.

Your CD has an extraordinary sonic richness. What's your secret? Is that a high priority?
Well, I spend a lot of time engineering my musical compositions. I would like the experience to be as high quality as possible, allowing you the listener to hear all the details and nuances. I like it when I can hear everything with crystal clear presence and am in an optimal listening environment. It heightens the musical experience, and allows you get lost within the composition. My music is almost 100 percent sound design driven so the clarity and precision have to be completely on point to hold your attention, other wise It wouldn't have the effect that it does now, so I would say that it is integral to what I do.

Why is your work so dark and scary?
Well, I have always been drawn to the more obscure stranger forms of music. I have always been interested in giving the listener something totally different and alien to what you might normally experience while listening to music, that provokes the typical emotions within human mind. I not interested in making love songs, or compositions that you can laugh or cry to. My music is purely scientific and requires a different kind of attention. I try to create what I call auditory disturbances, in which the listener may hear things that he or she can't explain; sometimes these sounds or sequences can be disturbing, and unsettling. The whole point of my work is to take the listener completely out of your normal environment and into this completely new strange visceral world, where things can be beautiful, horrifying and elegant all at the same time. I don't want people to hear my music and think that humans created it.

Is your live set different?
My live shows, are entirely different then my commercial releases. The live shows focus more on spontaneity and live sound manipulation in real-time. My live shows tend to have lots of energy, and can become quite intense and violent at times. I really like working with the audience and taking them on a roller coaster ride of audio dynamics and frequencies. I lean more towards danceable rhythms and textures, when I play my live shows. It's also like I said before a great testing area for new track material and new ideas. Sometimes I create entire new songs on the fly when I play live, by just jamming specific areas, or sequences. It's fun sometimes to just drop things in and see what happens.

What are you currently working on?
Well, I have been working on remixes for Glen Velez, Otto von Shirach, T-Raumschmiere and a new album which is going to be released this year, and I am finalizing the last few tracks for my DVD 5.1 surround sound project. The DVD project is going to be released on Asphodel/Schematic and will be a really interesting piece, as I am now working with several video and graphic artist to make it a truly unique work of art. As for the surround part, I have created some really interesting Surround panners to make the audio experience completely new and multidimensional. I really want this DVD release to be the on project that people measure creative 5.1 mixing to.

How are you using the UAD-1?
Well, I used 2 UAD cards on mastering on ASECT:DSECT. We used that in conjunction with the Waves plug-ins, and the empirical labs FATSO, and the T.C. electronic Finalzier 96k. Honestly we ended up using primarily just the two UAD cards for most of the track mastering. Mainly because you could open up multiple plug-ins on each track and have top quality EQ, compressing, and limiting at your fingertips. It was amazing, as the UAD sounds incredible, and offers some of the most high quality features that I have seen within any DSP card based mastering suite. The Cambridge EQ and Fairchild 670 were used on almost every channel, and I love the sound quality of them. They really brought the details out in my material, and also help bring some warmth to my rigid and cold digital template. I am now using the UAD cards on my surround sound project, applying them on 6 channels of audio. I have my setup running on all 6 speakers. Using a combination of the Cambridge, Fairchild, and Pultec Pro. Its like a dream come true, I would have never imaged that I could do all this in the computer, and still have everything sound so good.

Do you have secret UAD-1 tips or techniques that you'd like to share?
Well, most of my techniques using the UAD plug-ins are just simply using the right combinations, for specific instruments, or sounds. I tend to switch the order of specific plug-ins on my virtual channels and in many situations I might use them on a channel bus, and have a light shine added to a specific drum track or sequence. It really all depends on what frequency ranges I will be working in. My favorite combinations lately have been the Pultec Pro, and the Cambridge Equalizer, matched together on a single channel for double richness and depth. I will pump up the compression on my percussion tracks with Pultec, while carefully shaping the frequency cuts and boost with the Cambridge. It's like having wonderful sculpting tools to polish and mold your works. Sometimes I might send the signal out to a bussed channel and use the Dreamverb, RealVerb or Reflection engine plug-in, which will add a light depth to the sequence.

What is your host software?
Well, I use 9 computer systems here running everything from Pro-tools to
Nuendo and Emagic's Logic Audio. I usually compose my musical compositions within Nuendo or Logic.

Can you discuss the use of the UAD-1 on a specific track from your CD?
We mastered the final track Randale with two UAD-1 cards. The track had a really heavy synthetic kick drum with high frequency marble spectral percussion sounds. It was difficult to find the right sweet spot, and trying to get everything properly bedded within the mix. We used the Pultec Pro, on the drums, to really get the nice fat roundedness of the kick drum, and bring out the overall presence with a little bit of boost in between the strange alien spectral sounds. I ran a couple of Fairchild 670's on the other high tuned frequencies to balance out the highs into the rest of the mix, and it created this really sweet combination of rich textures, with the sounds I was using. You could really here the separation between the instruments and sounds so much better with the UAD plug-ins.

What do you have coming up on the horizon besides the DVD?
I have another album ready to drop in about 2 months called Sort/&/Lave which will be a collection of works based on Aleatoric/Factual sequences and will be coming out on Schematic Records/Ghostly International. It will most likely be the last stereo-based album that I will work on aside from the remixes, and sound design projects.

Find out more about Richard Devine:

Interview by Marsha Vdovin

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