Meet Richard Devine, an electronic musician and sound designer whose work transcends our earthly imaginations. He has created musical compositions, mnemonics, field recording, sound effects, loop libraries, created content, instrument patch designs, specialized sound design for TV, Film, games, web media, and virtual reality. Your ears will be in electric heaven. Our host, Cirina Catania, says she could listen to Richard all day. We think you will feel the same! Enjoy!
In This Episode
- 0:15 – Cirina introduces Richard Devine, an independent electronic artist, composer, and sound designer. Richard specializes in musical composition, mnemonics, field recording, sound effects, loop libraries, content creation, instrument patch design, and specialized sound design for TV, film, web media, and virtual reality.
- 6:14 – Richard talks about his first introduction to the world of Ambisonics while working with Google.
- 10:34 – Richard shares his story on how he became involved with sounds and music.
- 17:48 – Richard shares how his taste in music has evolved, his DJ career, and how he started his first studio.
- 24:26 – Richard describes the current setup of his studio that helps him to think creatively and work comfortably.
- 31:35 – Richard reviews the equipment that he is using in his current studio.
- 37:35 – Richard shares how accidents and spontaneous moments have helped him explore new ideas to compose music more creatively.
- 42:23 – Richard talks about his album, Systik, and what was involved in making the album.
- 47:07 – Richard encourages the listeners to check out his album, Systik, and his other merchandise at RichardDevine.bandcamp.com.
- 56:14 – Cirina asks Richard what he thinks about AI or machine learning in music production and will he be more involved in it in creating his music in the future?
- 1:03:20 – Cirina encourages listeners to check out Richard’s Bandcamp and his other social media channels (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Soundcloud) to learn more about his music.
Sounds like you are a sound designer. Oh my gosh, this is gonna be fun! This is Cirina Catania with OWC RADiO. I just love my job on days like today when I can talk to literal geniuses, like Richard Devine. He is an electronic artist, a sound designer. He specializes in musical composition, mnemonics, field recording, sound effects, loop libraries, content creation, instrument patch design, specialized sound design for TV, film, web media, and virtual reality. Literally, I promise you, he does do all of that. This is audio-only, and I’m a little bit sad because if you could see his studio, it looks like the set of a high-budget sci-fi movie. Welcome, Richard! We are going to be talking about your life, your work, your sold-out, next release vinyl. It’s not even out yet, and it’s already sold out. Hi, Richard! Welcome to OWC RADiO.
Thank you for having me guys.
There’s so much to talk about. Why don’t you start by telling people in your words, what you’re currently doing and why you’re doing it?
I guess I’m a person that wears many hats. You kind of covered a little bit of that in the introduction.
Everybody, did you hear that? He said, “a little bit of that.” That’s what I’m talking about. I need five hours to interview this man.
There’s so much stuff that I do. Whether that’s working as an independent electronic artist, composer, and sound designer. Then also the sound design job entails quite a bit that goes into many different fields, some of which you’d mentioned just in the intro. But yes, I’ve been working as a professional sound designer for about 25 years now as freelance content creation, person developing content, not only for multiple different environments. I’ve done stuff from video games to virtual reality to old cars, to an electric car. I did my first electric car with Jaguar, their I-PACE electric vehicle. I was responsible for designing all of the sounds of that car mix, including the EV engine sound. The sound of the engine that you hear or it’s a make-believe engine because it actually didn’t make any sound. That was the reason why they hired me to create the sound. I’m an electrical engineer. I’ve done all kinds of stuff, yet really wild stuff, stuff that I’ve never would have imagined myself doing. If you would ask me 15 years ago, “Hey, you’re gonna be doing this.” I would have never believed you.
You know, people call me the “Energizer Bunny”, but you’re running circles around me. I thank Derek at OWC for introducing me to you. When I started researching you and started listening to your music, I was immediately hooked. Actually our producer, Debbie, when I told her that you do a lot of electronic music, she goes, “That’s not really my thing.” Then she texted me back and she said, “Okay, I’m hooked.” Simona is in Lithuania, she’s become a fan, too.
This is awesome.
My job goes in many different directions. Sound designer, user interaction designer, I do a lot of user-interactive sounds for different environments, whether that’s software or hardware environments, and devices that can be anything from an iPad to a Tablet. I did The Barnes & Noble Tablet. I did all the UI sounds for that, as an example. It could be music, I do a lot of music as well for TV commercials, films, and video games. The most recent video game I worked on was for CD PROJEKT RED for Cyberpunk 2077, that game is going to come out. It’s a pretty big anticipated game, probably one of the most anticipated games come out this year. With that, I worked pretty heavily on the music soundtrack, lots of sound effects, tons of custom patches for the game. I collaborated with them along with many other artists to create the soundtrack for that video game. That was an extremely fun project to work on. Before that, I created the Infrasonic Sound Effects Library for Røde Microphones. They’re a company out of Australia that make very high-quality microphones for EMG Broadcast Production Film. What I did with them is, they have a new Ambisonic Microphone called the NT-SF1, which is a full 360-degree Ambisonic B-format, multi-capsule mic that I use to create 55 to 60 sound effects that’s in a sound library that you can download. You can actually download all the sounds for free from their website. That was a really fun project because I was rolling over the country to different remote locations and capturing sounds or these “360 degrees sonic pictures” as I call them, or Ambisonics Sounds for that library. That was a really fun project to work on.
360 sound is really interesting. The technology behind it is fascinating, but also as a listener of the products that you guys create with those microphones. It’s changed our world. It’s really wonderful, it’s very immersive. I love it.
It really has. My first introduction to the world of ambisonics was working with Google. I worked with them in 2016, they hired me to work to create their first step into the ambisonic world as a platform called Daydream. My responsibilities for that as their main sound designer, I was creating all the interactive ambisonic environments and UI sounds for Daydream, which consisted of this cave outside, a world that you explore that was a forest with a babbling brook & waterfall, and these trees and birds. I did all of the soundscape for that environment. Then there were quite a few other VR apps within that environment I designed all the sounds for. We did another cool project with Google, Google Earth VR for the HTC Vive. I collaborated with their team in mountain view and worked on creating and capturing all the environmental ambiances for that project, which was really crazy because I think it was over a hundred different recordings of ambisonic. Going to deserts, going to forests, going to the field, it’s going to terrain that you would encounter on planet Earth. I tried to create a general ambisonic library. If you were to cruise around the Grand Canyon, or if you were just walking through a field in Utah, or if you were to hit in a jungle in the Amazon, if you could any place you would explore on the planet, my job was to create Ambisonic 360-degree audio environment that you would explore. That was a really fun project. Lots of work.
Lots of work for sure. I love that though. I shot in the Amazon and I remember standing in the middle of the jungle one day, we were about ready to get back on the river but I just stood there for a minute and I listened to all of the sounds. It was one of those moments in life, that and another time when I was chasing lightning for National Geographic and I looked up and there was this huge anvil above us and the absence of sound. A lot of us who make films talk about, “You can make a film that has images that aren’t quite great but if you’ve got bad sound, forget it.” If you have a good sound, you have everything you need to create that experience. You just must love what you do.
It was always a passion. It was just what I always thought that I’d be doing. Sound is sort of a side job, just as a passion side thing, but that never really worked out. It’s kind of took over. I just absolutely love what I do. It’s exactly what you said. You could be in a completely dark room and play with the sounds, and sound effects. You could tell them a story, you could clearly tell the whole narrative story just with sound if you had to. It’s just such a powerful medium for expressing and just for storytelling, for just expressing emotions or a certain feeling or articulating an idea or language or communication. It’s such a powerful medium. To me, what’s so fascinating about it is, it doesn’t matter what continent you’re on or it’s the universal language music. To me, music and sound are the universal language that everyone can understand.Music is a powerful medium for storytelling or expressing emotions. Click To Tweet
Absolutely. Especially now in the time of quarantine and COVID. A lot of people are feeling a little bit uncertain and some of them are feeling a little down and I’ve been telling everybody, “Just put some music on. Put some music on and let it take you wherever it’s gonna take you.” I’m actually going to recommend to people that they get your music because you can just take a voyage to a great place listening to your stuff. It can be energizing, it can be soothing. Your percussion is awesome!
Oh, thank you.
Richard, let’s go back. Let’s go back to when you were a kid. When did all this start? When did you know that you wanted to do this? And how did you first get involved with music and sound?
My first earliest introduction to sound was taking piano lessons. It was not by my choice, but for my mother’s. At the time, I really didn’t appreciate it because I was just an eight-year-old who just wanted to do what eight-year-olds do. Play in the creek, ride the bike, and get the friends in the neighborhood and do all those fun sorts of things. My mom said, “No, I want you to be more well rounded. I want you to take piano lessons.” With too many piano teachers in the beginning, and then my last piano teacher, I think he was from Ukraine, somewhere in Eastern Europe, a very cool guy, who had asked me. I was playing a lot of recitals at the time. So it was learning how to play these pieces of music, and then perform them with other students. In the beginning, I really didn’t have that much interest. This is making my mom happy and playing these pieces perfectly. Then my last piano teacher said, “Hey, you shouldn’t be playing this music because your mom is making you, or you’re having to play these pieces perfectly with the perfect technique. The whole reason why you get into making music or getting into playing an instrument is that you get enjoyment out of it, and it gets something back to you.” And as an eight-year-old at the time, I’ve never really thought of it that way do all these other things. I love enjoying it. And he said, “Is there any music that you like?” And I was just standing there thinking, “Wow. I never really been asked what music I like, I’ve always just had to play stuff that you’ve given me.” And he said, “Why don’t we explore the music you like first, and then if you find stuff that you like, then we should play the stuff that you enjoy playing.” It shouldn’t be the other way around. That really opened the door. And I was like, “You’re right”. So he played me all these different types of music, all these different composers I’d never heard of before. Then I started to pick up on things that I actually started. I said, “I’d actually like to learn how to play that piece of music.” “This is really beautiful,” or “This one part is really interesting.” So I started to dig in and pick into things from that point on and to have more of a deeper interest in music. Then as I went from that, I started getting into skateboarding. Me and my brother were big to the whole skateboarding scene. Skateboard culture, the art, the music, which revolved a lot around. A lot of early hip-hop, and thrash metal bands from early 90s, late 80s. So we started to get into a lot of the D.I.Y punk stuff. I was being influenced by a lot of that and classical music, and that’s a lot of different things. I had a really open palette, and I was open and ready for anything to influence me as a young person. So I was like this sponge, just absorbing all these new music, scenes and styles, and genres of music at the time. It was a really interesting period for me.
One quick question, though. Because I’m always very curious. When you were eight, what was the music? Do you remember some of the music that you picked or liked?
Some of the first music I was introduced to is classical music. The first music that actually I was really drawn to was probably Bach, Kabalevsky, Haydn, Schmidt and I remember hearing the music of Erik Satie for the first time. I was just really blown away by his compositions. They were very melancholy, very different. Not overly complex, but more emotionally. There was just something about his music that spoke to me even at such a young age. The melodies were so different than all the other composers that I was studying at that time. I’m just always in question, “Why was he so different? Why was he so different than all the other composers?” It made me realize that I really wanted to find more music where these people went in a direction that wasn’t the typical truth of what everybody else was doing at the time. As always been a theme that I’ve always followed with other people’s art. If they always, these artists went into their own little world, did their own little thing, that’s what makes them special. And I knew whatever music that I wanted to do, I wanted to go on my own path and that sort of same way, follow that same trajectory and develop my own style and try to create my own space. So, I was really drawn to those artists early on that were doing that thing at that time.
I love that. Creative, assertiveness, I love it! The best artists I’ve spoken to are the ones that can isolate themselves and just let their own mind and heart speak to them. And then they start creating these amazing things. I think it’s great to be inspired by other people, but not necessarily to copy them. You are one of a kind. The other comment I wanted to make, I am not surprised that you’re athletic, because you just never stopped. The energy level that you had when you were skateboarding, I’m sure you took all of that into your creations, right?
Me and my brother, we’re extremely active. We’re still very active now. I’m 44 years old, but now I’m doing different activities, I don’t skate as much. I did go skateboarding last Wednesday with my kids. I took them to the park and we go skateboarding every Wednesday, I take them to the skate park. Were very active as far as going out, hiking a lot. We went camping in the North Carolina Mountains last weekend, we go hiking up by waterfalls and stuff and did a lot of kayaking. So we’re definitely outdoors, we are very active people even in our 40s, me and my wife. So we’re still doing things. I think that helps, I think that’s good for the creative mind to get outside, get fresh air, and replenish the brain. Don’t be stuck all the time in your chair working because you’re gonna get to these points where it’s stagnant. It’s good to get your blood flowing and get out and start walking, get into nature. At least for me, I feel that’s really important to balance out working on a screen, because I do spend a lot of screen time working on computers during the day. It’s nice to offset that with some organic nature.It's good for the creative mind to get outside and get fresh air to replenish creativity. Click To Tweet
I agree. We need that emotional release, too, that we get when we’re outside. I spend a lot of time right now during the quarantine in front of screens too. I don’t necessarily like doing it as much as I’m doing now. But I find that I just have to get out and go for a walk and watch the hummingbirds for a minute or climb a hill or do something that reminds me that we are a small part of a much bigger universe, right? And then you can bring that all back and feel really creative. So, the skateboarding era, what happened after that, where did you go from there?
From skateboarding, I started to discover some more interesting music, like DIY punk music and hip-hop. From that, I started to get into more of the fusion of those two styles, which was industrial music. Once I discovered that, I was really blown away because the industrial music was taking a lot of the synthetic and sampled sense of hip-hop, but sort of the raw, aggressive, interesting edge of punk. This new movement of industrial music that I was really getting into a lot of these fans from Canada like Skinny Puppy, SPK, and Coil from England. There was a lot of interesting stuff happening, utilizing technology in a different way. Utilizing computers, it was the first time that I was listening to music that was designed and sequenced by computers at that time. I was starting to getting into high school, I was DJ-ing a lot. I was buying a lot of records at this time, when I was 15 or 16 I started collecting a lot of records and DJ-ing a lot of early back then parties that would be later rave parties in the Atlanta Rave scene back in the 92, 91 in the early years there. I had a mass of a pretty large collection of records, which I still have to this day, I got probably about close to 5,500 records here. I just became a collector of music. I was just a complete music nerd, I still am to this day collecting anything that I could that was obscure, interesting, off the beaten path. Mostly centered around electronic music, noise, industrial, ambient, you name it. There are so many hundreds of genres of different styles you could go in. I just wanted to get my hands on whatever I could get to play these really cool DJ sets. Then I started to get really interested in the process. I was like, “How are these people making some of these sounds?” At that point I made a decision, “You know what? I’m going to start building my own studio.” I think this is around when I was 15 years old, I wanted to build my own studio. This is when I was living at my parent’s house. I started buying stuff and there were a lot of secondhand pawn shops near my house. So, I would basically just go to these pawn shops, and secondhand stores and buy used old vintage synthesizers, and drum machines. Whatever would show up, I would pick them up and buy them and I would get these things. I bought some of these things for next to nothing. They were literally less than a couple of $100, they might have been beat up. I didn’t know that a lot of these machines would become priceless, valuable collectibles, many years down the line. Because at that time, when I was buying stuff, no one wanted analog drum machines. They were frowned upon because everyone was moving to digital, they wanted more realistic sounds. The studios here in Atlanta, and we’re throwing away these older classic rolling Jupiter’s and junior keyboards and stuff like that. I got all of these things for really cheap. I remember even when I bought my 808 Drum Machine, it was 2 to 300 bucks from a guy here. Now they sell for 4 to $5,000, it’s one example. But I was able to amass such a large collection of vintage synthesizers that I learned on, they were basic. I looked at these things, it’s like a book or some education manual. I said, “What does this Synthesizer tell me about how to shape sound or teach me things?” So I would record hours and hours of me fiddling around with some of these synths on these two-hour DAT tapes. Those of you who may not know what a DAT tape is, it’s a Digital Audio Tape. It is what we used to have to record back in the 90s before there were CDs and mini discs.
Oh my gosh, I kept all my old decks, but I was on the filmmaking side. I kept most of the analog equipment that I used to use, just because I wanted to keep it. There’s a lot of memory and also the sounds are different. I’m not knocking digital, I love digital. But, I also love that everybody’s coming full circle going back into analog again. So anyway, I interrupted you, but I can understand. And if you ever have a garage sale, would you please invite me?
I will definitely do that.
I’ll pull money out of my life savings. I will buy some of your equipment, please.
I love it. I will definitely let you know, I for sure will.
You’re a gearhead too. I went to your Facebook page and you’re all excited because you just got a Prophet-5, right?
That’s right. I’m a huge fan of Dave Smith stuff. I’ve wanted the Prophet-5 for my whole life. I just never found one, I mean the original Prophet-5 are so expensive to get a Ramp 2.3 or any of the earlier models and they’re considered collector’s items. When Dave Smith decided to release that Prophet-5, I said, “Well, I’ve got to jump on board and join this and get on board with this because this is my chance to get a vintage synth that really influenced me.” There were so many iconic great records that I had listened to growing up that Watson had played such a huge part. Just to have some piece of history that had a huge impact on me. Now that I have that instrument in my arsenal to make music with, it’s just a dream come true. It’s just a spectacular time to be alive and making electronic music right now. I feel we’re in a Renaissance Period where a lot of these old vintage, iconic synthesizers that were unattainable back then are really hard to get. So rare and now making a comeback. They’re all surfacing again and now we’re able to use them but with more of an updated modern set of IO and way of interfacing with the way that we make music today. It’s just brilliant. It’s just such an awesome time.
Before we go, I do want to talk to you about AI. You’re sitting in your studio, what does it look like? Can you describe your current setup and what it actually looks like? Because honestly, I’ve worked on a lot of sci-fi movies. I wish I had known about your studio because we probably would have shot a scene in your studio. Just describe to us in your words, what your studio looks like and what’s in it.
The best way to purchase the way I designed it. I designed the room with my father-in-law. It’s basically three rooms. There’s a Studio B reminisced Studio A room, The A mixing and mastering room is the room where people see most of the pictures and videos that I post, that’s the main room that I work in. There’s actually a Studio B room that has a surround sound setup, full Genelec Surround System with also an HTC Vive VR room. We’ve got an Alienware machine, I forget which one it is, but it’s a pretty badass specked out machine that does VR stuff. We do some developmental stuff that I was working on with Google, it’s got unity running on it. So, it’s our VR testing room, but also a play room as well. So we listen to a lot of surround mixes and ambisonics. It’s also a Studio B room for editing and doing all sorts of other stuff as well. But the main room that you’re talking about is the room that everyone calls the “Spaceship.”
There you go. See? I knew it.
Everyone says it looks like the control deck and the Star Trek Enterprise. Where you have the sterling modular desks, it’s got three module bays, it’s angled so that you’re sitting in the main position but your chairs in the center and then you’re surrounded by all these beautiful colors and speakers and lights, cables that are blinking. I have the Philips Hue system in here, in all these different stations, I can change the color and tone and timbre brightness to anything I want. It’s just the touch of a button on my phone.
It is Star Trek, but I’m gonna say it’s Star Trek if you were dressing up the studio as though they’re going to be featured on the Grammys. I mean, it’s not just Star Trek the way we see it in the movies. This is Star Trek all dressed up in the holidays, getting ready for the Grammys.
Exactly. I decided that way because my studio before this was very different. It was a very different room, it didn’t have the space. The room was a lot different, it was a lot smaller. It was completely isolated and soundproof to the max, to the point where it was so soundproof, that I didn’t want to work in it. It was almost like an unnatural room to be in because the acoustics were so canceled out. I felt I was working in a box all day, like an enclosed shoe box. I felt very claustrophobic working in my older studio, which made it hard for me to think creatively. I didn’t realize and I’d spent so much time making sure the room acoustics were perfect in the old studio that everything was. I didn’t really think how that would psychologically affect me working creatively. I know a lot of other people who build studios that I talked to and said, “Oh, that’s just as important, if not more important than getting your acoustics right.” Yes, you want to make sure your acoustics and your speakers are replaced perfectly well. You have diffusion and absorption panels on the walls and cancel out any of the acoustic problems that you might have in the room. But most importantly, if you don’t feel good working in your room, then you’ve defeated the whole purpose of why you’ve even made the room in the first place. So, it’s really important that you pay attention to the feeling, how creative you feel, and how that room, how comfortable you feel working in that room, how the environment influences you and your work. That’s really important. I realized, when I built the new studios and said, “Okay, I need to make sure that I address all the issues of all the acoustical problems, but I also need to make sure that the room is aesthetically in the environment, feels creative, that I want to be working in the room and I feel inspired to work in the room.” Because I’m working on creative things, I’m making content creation for other companies. It’s got to be an inspiring room that gives me. It has to be around like, “I can’t wait to go down and work in my studio today.” It has to give me those feelings of excitement.
Absolutely. That applies to everyone. Even if you’re in an office, doing office work. Even if you’re in a cubicle, love yourself, take care of yourself. Create a space that you can go to and feel wonderful. You’re absolutely right. I do love all your blinking lights. So I would go into that room when I’m feeling festive.
Exactly. It’s great because I have my lights set up also to be on timer. So during the day, it mimics the sunlight. So during the early hours of the morning, I work with very warm and bright white light colors and then by night time, the colors start to change. They were pinks, blues and oranges. It’s almost if you were at dusk, like the sun was setting. Then at night, everything turns to very dark blues and purples. Which a lot of people see me posting usually later on at night, when I’ve finished up my work for the day, I’ll put videos in there more of a purple or pink, dark blue lighting, because lighting is actually changed. I tried to set my lights to be an approximation of the time of day, what it would be like if I were just to work outside. It really helps because then by night time when I’m about to put the kids to bed with dinner, the lights are almost completely blue. It’s almost mimicking moonlight. So it’s setting me psychologically, mentally to turn my brain down and calm it down for the day, if that makes sense.
Well, and them, too.
For my kids as well. They’re a crazy bunch. Because I feel all of that is really important. It helps you just mentally, just from my mental space, it just prepares my mind to settle down, turn things off or finish things for the night. If you have any projects, wrap them up in. I’d love to have a room that can be expressive, to help me creatively, and also in my mental state to calm my emotional state down as well and to tell my brain that it’s time to wrap things up.
All that energy. You got it. Every once in a while, you have to just go take a deep breath. I interrupted you, you were talking about what you’re using currently in your studio, because I know everybody wants to know about your equipment?
Sure. I use a combination of all sorts of things. I would say it’s a hybrid digital setup. Hybrid I mean, I use a lot of Arlberg Classic Analog Vintage Gear, which is comprised of many analog compressors and EQs. The way that I like to do things, and this is how I recorded my last two records, which was a big change in how I used to record before. Before that, I was doing pretty much 99% of my stuff. What they say, it’s in the box. In the box means that you just do everything within the computer. I had done four albums that were completely, where every sound was generated or manipulated, or I would sample stuff from the outside, bring it into the computer. Manipulate it and incorporate it into music composition. With the last two records, it was a bit of a process and I wanted to shift gears and it was more of an experiment to see if the sonic outcome would be better. I also wanted to change the way my workflow was previously, because I did everything with a mouse, programmed on a timeline. Using DAWs like Logic Pro, Cubase and Ableton. I wanted to really shift my focus and move to more of a hardware setup where I was working with my hands and my ears and not looking at a screen and a timeline editor. Mainly just because I wanted to do it more based on emotionally what I was feeling at that moment in time and being able to manipulate and set up a system where I could do everything by hand, rather than pre-programming things and doing things a loop fashion, is how I was doing more of the construction building in the past. So, these last few records were vastly different the way I approach things and, the part of the experiment was just to see if I could break out my old habits out of using the computers. The computer is an extremely powerful tool, it’s probably the most powerful music-making tool there is out on the planet. I still agree to this day, I said that the MacBook Pro is like the Fender Strat of our generation. But you could really do what you want, the world is at your fingertips when you have as many possibilities that we have available now. I think about what I grew up building my studio, all of the things and principles and mixing, recording and tracking you can do all of that now on the computer. You don’t need all this expensive hardware, you don’t need all these outboard pieces of kit that you have to figure out how to link up and install and have the space to store them, you don’t need any of that. You could just do it all on a laptop with a pair of headphones and a small computer controller.
It sounds to me like you’re recording your performance.
Right. So you’re moving away from the little box. I have friends who tell me, “You can’t have big ideas in small spaces.” And that goes back to what we were talking about being in nature. It goes back to how you’re building your studio. It also resonates with what you’re doing now, you really are, it’s almost like you’re improving. You’re allowing the creativity to channel out of you into all of those machines.
If we go all the way back to the beginning, before I started making music with computers, I was making music with what they call hardware. The Hardware would consist of maybe a couple of vintage analog drum machines, a couple of synths that I would hook up via DIN sync or CV/gate, which was control voltage. When I was buying a lot of early synths from those pawn shops back in the days, all of it was available to me at that time, it was a lot of these early analog poly and mono synthesizers that would use CV/gate. I would use a lot of these early sequences that were based around that idea. So I started out buying a lot of early modular stuff, too. I think one of the first modular synths I bought at that time was the ARP 2600. I still actually have that synth here in my studio today, that I bought when I was 17. That taught me so much. That was an insanely huge educational experience. It really set the foundation of a lot of what I do today, as far as sound shaping and sound design goes because that synthesizer was bought by many universities as a teaching instrument to teach students about how to manipulate sound and teaching you the basic fundamentals of sound synthesis, whether it’s cross modulation of oscillators, or what does a voltage controlled filter do, what is a voltage control amplifier do. All these basic synthesis, sound design terms, they were all separating these different blocks on that synthesizer. So you could learn about each one of these principles just by pitching up a couple faders in different combinations so you could understand the functionality of each individual module. But then you could add more modules, and signal chain to see what happens to the sound signal as you mix in more of the fader combination. It was an extremely educational synthesizer for me to learn on and that set that groundwork for me going forward. So I bought more modular synthesizers or synthesizers that were set up in a similar fashion, because when you work modulars since you basically have like a blank sheet of paper, you can patch up any configuration you want. It’s not a fixed environment, you basically can go in and you can do things that are wrong and that’s great.
Sometimes, the mistakes turn out great though, don’t they?
Exactly! That’s for me, it’s all about happy accidents and spontaneous things that might happen on the way when trying to explore an idea or compose a specific piece of music or you’re approaching sequencing the music in a certain way, maybe something in the process goes wrong, or something unexpectedly happens that you weren’t anticipating. That situation happens so much with modular and that’s what I love about it. Because sometimes, that outcome or that accident will be something that is 10 times more interesting and more fun than what you even envisioned it, but then you were even trying to go forward to begin with. I love that spontaneous of working in this format, and some of the outcomes it has given me. It’s just been such a wild, interesting way to make music. Now, with the latest generation, people see my studio now built. All the blinking lights and stuff on the park, in the right hand side corner and it’s coming from my Eurorack modular system. And what’s interesting about that, that is the newest incarnation or the latest generation of that technology. Now there are literally thousands of manufacturers making Eurorack modules. These modular systems that I’m using, have become quite popular now with electronic musicians, it did make electronic music now. It’s because there’s so much fun, it’s like an endless source of inspiration that will never ever really give you the same thing twice. It’s like the polar opposite of working in the computer, where the computer will save your project and everything with it is exactly the way you recalled it. So if you record a preset or stored your project you’re working on, you could recall that session and every part of that session will be recalled in its infinite, every little detail will be exactly the way that you set everything. With the modular, you can’t hold on to anything. If you’re going to retrieve anything back that you set up, it was all done by hand and there’s so many different variations between because everything is connected with patch cables, you’re using basically electricity control voltages to make all the connections in the module, so you’re already working with very organic substance to begin with. I always refer to it as a “floating entity” in the wires. It’s this thing that you capture because when you get into a patch that’s so dense and complex, it becomes almost something else at some point. It’s beyond what you’ve created, it turns into something really special. Those are the situations that I really store and I went for even on my last full length album. Those were how I was trying to capture these really surreal patches that just were blowing my mind, and said, “Wow! this is turned into something that’s beyond me, I must record this, I have to multitrack record this.” There’s no other instrument that I’ve ever used that does that. If that means anything, I’ve never had an instrument, that it could almost take a life of its own, you set it up and you get it to a point in the patch and the complexities and all the variances that are happening. It completely turns into its own ecosystem and you just stand back and look at this thing that you’ve created. Then it starts generatively moving and dynamically shifting on its own and you curate it in a way. You’re overseeing it and making overall adjustments and then you’re recording this entity that you’ve created in this one moment in time. And after you pull the cables, it’s gone forever.Love the accidents and spontaneous things that might happen while creating music. It will help you explore more ideas and be more creative. Click To Tweet
There’s such a sense of euphoria when you’re in the flow. You’re in the flow when you’re doing these things. It’s coming to you and you’re just letting it flow. I’m mad at you, by the way. I don’t know if I told you. I am, I’m really mad at you. When I was looking at your work, I immediately went to buy SYSTIK – VINYL because I love vinyl. It’s not even out yet and it’s already sold out. So I’m telling everybody listening. I’m very mad that I cannot buy that album. I do hope you have a second pressing.
Yes, we are.
I’ll put a pre-order in now for the second pressing. Talk to me about SYSTIK – VINYL and what was involved in making this album.
SYSTIK was a very different record. This is actually the record that was never meant to be released. This was a collection. Well actually, it was a recording of a live show, my live show that I was going to play in this year. I was only able to play this set out twice, one show in L.A. and then I also opened up playing for Dan Deacon. It was here in Atlanta at Variety Playhouse, and we played out and it was a sold out show, probably around a little over two thousand people on the show. That was the last time I played this set before COVID-19 had shut everything down in America. So unfortunately, I didn’t get to play the show anymore. I was just basically moved on to other things. I said, “You know what, I’ve got all this other sound design work. No big deal, I just keep going on.” And a friend of mine, who threw the party in L.A. said, “Hey, what are you doing with that live show that you played in L.A.? That show was just really crazy!” And I said, “Well, those sequences and stuff are all still in the machines. I don’t know when I’m gonna do it, who knows when we’ll go back to playing shows when I’ll be able to play that set out again.” And he had made a suggestion, saying that “Maybe we should release that as a record this year.” And it dawned on me and I said, “That might be a cool idea. I’ve never really thought about releasing a lot of performance sets.” I basically put all the machines back together for my live show and then I did a multi-track recording of the set. I just basically played the whole live show in my studio and recorded it live in one take. It was like 46 minutes, and that was about four songs that got edited into different parts, but the release is more like ten songs in those four songs. But they were more edited together and a DJ style mix because I did everything live. The record really came out by accident.
Are these analog samples that you used?
Yes, so this grid was all hardware, there was no computer involved other than just at the end, recording the tracks in the computer and editing and cutting the tracks up so they could be cut to vinyl. The record itself was made with a TR-8 Roland rum Machine, two Roland TB-303s that were modified. These are old, these were made in 1980. So for the main part of the sounds, we’re looking at some very old vintage analog synthesizers, and then I use a very small, seven modular system. The modular that I used for this is no bigger than what I can, it’s like a small suitcase style modular. So the concept was, “Look, I’m going to just limit this record to just only what I could take on an airplane with me to play a gig, a live show.” I don’t want to use any other stuff on this, like I did in my previous record, Sort\Lave was using pretty much everything underneath the sun in the studio. I really wanted to limit the tools that I use, as if I was just playing the live show for people. Everything really had to fit in a backpack or be taken on an airplane to play at a festival. I couldn’t bring all the stuff that I would normally have, I wanted to just have the actual limitations of only being able to use these tools and seeing how far I could push this setup for a live show. It was a very cool exercise for me and it created this very interesting concept that was completely different than my last record, which like I said, I used everything that I have possible here to put my last album together, which sounds very different than the SYSTIK EP, it’s just really four or five pieces of equipment and a couple of effects pedals. Very small tool set, which created a very different sound and headspace than my record before. That was part of the intention, I said, “What if I change the tools, what if I change the intent of the whole concept to this behind the tracks? Instead of just doing the same old thing.” I really just wanted to step outside and do something completely different for this next release.
Where do people go to not be able to buy SYSTIC – VINYL? I told you, I am mad at you. But they can hear it on over at Bandcamp or SoundCloud, right? Can you tell us where to go?
My name is just RichardDivine.bandcamp.com. If you go to that web link, it’ll take you to our main page. We have some merchandise there. We just opened up a merch store with hoodies, and t-shirts, which many fans have been asking about for many years. We finally got around to doing it. So, the SYSTIK EP is now up there. There’s one track that you can listen to right now, Sinscur, the one up, it’s quite a long track, 13 minutes, but it’s quite a journey into abstract analog, the analog acid sound. I guess a little going back in history about the sound of this record is, I was kind of attempting to make a style of music that I haven’t made in over 25 years. It’s an early techno acid house, early electronic acid stuff. Mainly, the sound is focused around this machine called the TB-303 by Roland. It’s a bass line computer controlled synthesizer that was originally designed to create bass lines for guitar players that were traveling and doing live shows. It was a failed instrument by rolling, it was only in production for a couple of years before they discontinued it. But no one knew that it would be a hit later on in electronic music where it got reintroduced again to early Chicago Acid House music as a techno scene in the late 90s, adopted this machine. It became one of the biggest, it created an entire new genre of music, just the machine itself. That was defined as Acid Music. As I was growing up in the early 90s, I was heavily influenced by the sound I grew up and was able to luckily get these machines and make music with these early rolling bass line synthesizers. I’ve made a lot of early recordings of these tracks. I loved the sound of it. I just don’t know what it was, it was something about it and it just spoke to me at the time. I just thought, how cool would it be just to revisit that, because that sound has actually been making a comeback more recently, with the newer generations of kids that are discovering that music now. It’s now coming back again, me as a 45 year old, 20 years ago, it was fresh and interesting then but I thought it was just so interesting that it’s made a comeback and there’s all these newer generations of kids now discovering this music, and now trying to make their interpretation of that style of music now.
I love it. I love that people are going back to vinyl. I was listening to it and the phrase that came to mind was “organic acids.” You don’t have to do drugs to enjoy the benefits. Just listen to the music, right?
Totally. You put the nail right on the head, it’s perfect. This was also saying, “What if I tried to recreate music today using a different mindset, a different set of tools. See what would happen?” Where would it take me? What would the outcome be? Would it be good? Would it be bad? Could I do something that would hold people’s attention to have some connection to a style of music that was made 25 years ago, but sort of reinventing a new thing with it. It’s such an interesting set to go, revisit and explore. It turned into this whole new thing that I even didn’t see it going in this direction and it really worked out. As far as the whole record, I’m really pleased with how it turned out. It turned out to be a really fun release. So far, we’ve gotten really positive feedback, you can go check, from the release.
Your last album Sort\Lave took us six years to make, right?
That’s correct, yeah.
How was that process different from what you just accomplished with SYSTIC – VlNYL?
That record, Sort\Lave, was a very long process to get to where I was happy to create and release those collections of tracks out into the world. Prior to that, I made another album called RISP that came out in 2012, which was kind of like the first chapter of me exploring and revisiting modular synthesizers as a tool to make an album within. That record was sort of like me just dipping my toes back into the modular world. Then I spent about six years building up the systems and testing the systems. I wanted to get things to a point to where I could write music very quickly. But not just write any old music, I wanted to write music that I was happy with, it was coming out at a specific quality level that was something that I could maybe sit down in one night, patch up something and then a couple hours later, be ready to multitrack record it, and be good to go with it. To get to that point, it took me a very long time to build the systems that I have here, so I started building out a few cases of stuff, which were just empty at the time. Then with the Eurorack modular system, you basically design and build out your own custom system. So you start out with an empty case, and then you have to figure out what you want to do, what are your sound sources going to be, your effects section, your manipulation, your sequencers. All of that has to be planned out before you even build anything. That, to me was the part that took the longest. I had to figure out first, how I was going to build the systems. How then was I going to use the systems and figure out the creative workflow to where the ultimate goal for me was to make sure that I was able to write music on these machines and multitrack records with these machines. Recording these sessions or these tracks, compositions, patches, whatever you want to call them, and then fleshing them out into pieces of music that other people could experience. That’s what took so long, I was trying to figure out the process, how the process was going to be captured, how I was going to perform each, interact with these machines, how the flow, the order and just basically the systematic process of how I was going to approach working with them and recording with them. That’s what really took me the longest and that’s what Sort\Lave became, was those experiments and those tracks I created with these machines. That record to me came out really just crazy. I was really happy with the outcome of that. It was the first record also where I didn’t use the computer as the sequencer. I was actually just recording everything back into the computers, just like a tape recorder.
You were using the ARP 2600, right? At that time, or not?
I use the ARP. I’ve used the ARP quite a bit on that record, I used the tune G2 Nord Modulars, I used 14, 15 cases of Eurorack modular and the huge modular that a lot of people see with all the blinking lights, that was 80, 90% of used on that record as well. It was a modular stuff that I hooked up together and I use multiple systems that I patched into each other so they would all be linked together, sharing the same clock and so the first two systems I’d have on the floor, it would start out the first part of the track and then like three or four minutes in, there would be two other cases that I would have that also be sharing to this lock and linked up to those first two cases that would play maybe the third or fourth minute of that composition. So, each system would play its own part in the piece of music at a specific time. The compositions, if you listen to the tracks on that album, they start at one point, but they end up at some completely different place by the end of the song. I had a lot of people ask me why the music mutates and evolves and changes, because it was just by the nature of the design of the way I had everything set up and really helped influence and change the writing flow in the way that I wanted everything to move through each piece. So, it was really fun. It was a really fun exercise to experiment with, not working to a timeline, not working to a computer screen, not working with the mouse, it’s almost like you’re working with clay, you have two hands, you’re shaping the sound, you’re doing it all by hand, you’re just teaching your ears and you’re not dictating things. They’re not being dictated by what you see on a screen, by looking at a timeline.
My brain just went to Julie Andrews at the top of the hill. Singing “The Hills are Alive”. Totally different kind of music. But that freedom of expression, I’m so excited, you just let yourself do that and that’s why you just don’t stop because it feels like from my vantage point, this is a very joyous process for you, although it is a lot of work. I admire all the work you put into it every day. What’s next for you? Are you going to be more and more involved using AI or machine learning? How do you feel about all that?
I see. That’s interesting. That’s an area that I’ve been exploring quite a bit lately with generative instruments. I’ve been getting actually quite heavily into live coding lately as well, that’s been a new side experiment where I’m sequencing in real time using live code. Most recently, I’ve been exploring this environment called TidalCycles, which is based on the Haskell Programming Language. I’ve been doing a lot of really interesting sequencing generative experiments using that environment. Now I’m starting to use that with the modular and bridging both the computer coded world with the modular organic world and that’s coming up with some just extremely wild stuff. That’s where I went ahead for the next record. I’m working on after this, it’s going to be exploring AI-based Machine Learning environments, and live coding. To see where all this can go with hardware and computers. The machine learning stuff has been really interesting, because I’ve been using that stuff since I left Google, I got really interested in machine learning. When I met Douglas Eck there who’s in charge of the Magenta project, they use TensorFlow and he’s got a bunch of AI machine learning-based tools there. They have actually a page too, if you guys want to do a search. He’s got all this research, and everything is up online to see. They have some free tools as well there.
Can you tell us where that is? Or do we just search for Magenta Google?
Yeah, it’s Magenta Google, it should just pop right up in any search. They have some max for live objects there, there’s some extra live plugins that are free to download as well. They kind of touch upon these terms of taking musical information, interpreting it and then generating new musical information based off what you feed the algorithm, which is a very interesting idea for me, because I’m looking for ways to manipulate musical data, whether that’s rhythmic, percussive, sequencing, data, or are we talking about musical scales and chords and general arpeggiation. There’s so many interesting ways of taking this data and repurposing it to do something different with it, or you could replicate and create new versions of songs, there’s such an interesting time because a lot of this stuff is just starting to surface and not only with just music composition, but also sound design. I worked on my first machine learning sound design project with Yamaha on the Montage Synthesizer with the new SMART Board Technology which was the 3.5 Firmware that was just released. I was asked to create the FM-based patches for this FMX engine which lies inside the Montage Synthesizer. This new machine learning-based algorithm that they’ve added into the firmware, what it does is, it can analyze say you pick eight or five of your favorite hatches inside the Montage. It’ll analyze those patches. Then it maps 1,024 different variations of those patches into a graphical-based touchscreen field, where you have these different regions that show all of the different outcomes. You could just simply with your finger, touch the screen and scroll through and hear all of these different variations of those patches. It’s a very interesting concept for coming up with new sounds.
My brain is exploding. I’m picturing scrolling through all of that.
It’s really wild. Yeah, some of the stuff that I’ve gotten with it is just really interesting. This is just the very beginning, we’re just starting to see this technology coming into a lot of these virtual hardware and software-based instruments. I don’t think this is going to go away anytime soon, but it’s a cool thing. I’m looking at it. From a creator standpoint, this is a dream come true. Even me being a sound designer and a patch programmer for the sense that sometimes I’ll look at what the machine learning algorithm did and I say, “Wow! What did it do to get this sound?” I could go back and look at the architecture of what it all created, and be like, “Oh, that’s what it did do that.” It’s been very helpful for me and helped me become even better at making newer sounds just because you can create so many cool things so quickly, that maybe I don’t have the time to program or I just didn’t think to even approach the patching from that point of view. It’s been very beneficial for me to study and analyze and use it as a tool, going forward now with my work. I’m hoping to create newer tools that are in the same model for my music creation process going further. Whether that’s creating new sounds, for other patches in my other synthesizers, or just for compositional purposes, creating new gestures and sequences and motifs that would live within music composition that I can manipulate, or I could create even newer versions of existing data that I’ve created. It’s this really interesting cycle of recycling old musical data into new musical data, and then manipulating that piece of musical data into some new music pieces.
Well, this is like being on the downslope of the roller coaster, and you’re moving really fast. Talking to you is like somebody handed me the A-ticket to get to Disney. I love the combination of everything that you do, I can’t even describe how wonderful it is to talk to somebody who’s that creative and loves what they do. That wonderful balance between having a personal life and a family life and also all this energy that goes into your work, creating a great space to work, and making these beautiful sounds and beautiful music for us. So where do you want people to go to learn more about you, Richard?
They could go to any one of the places, some on social media, Instagram, Twitter, I have a Facebook fan page. That’s where pretty much 90% of my fanbase and people that follow me are hanging out these days. If not, then I’m usually on Bandcamp.
Go to Bandcamp. Google Richard Devine, and you’ll see him on all the social media channels and you’re making me hungry because I know you’re going out to dinner. So, enjoy the time with your family, Richard. Thanks so much for spending the time with your fan family today. We appreciate it. It’s really nice to know more about you and we’re going to be stalking you because I want to find out what you’re going to do with all this new stuff that you’re learning and implementing in your current work. So, have a wonderful time and everybody listen to what I always tell you, get up off your chair and go do something wonderful today. That was Richard Devine, Musician, Producer, sound designer and Performer. Spending time with us on OWC RADiO, and this is Cirina Catania, I’m signing off.
- Richard Devine
- Richard Devine – Bandcamp
- Richard Devine – Instagram
- Richard Devine – Twitter
- Richard Devine – Facebook
- SYSTIK – Vinyl
- CD PROJEKT RED
- Røde Microphones
- Google Earth VR
- HTC Vive
- 808 Drum Machine
- Philips Hue
- Logic Pro
- ARP 2600
- Dan Deacon
- TR-8 Roland
- Roland TB-303
- G2 Nord Modulars
- Montage Synthesizer
- Douglas Eck
- Be open to exploring different genres of music. Discover new artists and broaden your knowledge on the art.
- Be inspired by other artists but don’t copy them. Respect the work of others by giving credit where credit is due.
- Develop your style of music and create your space in the industry. Let your mind and heart speak through your piece.
- Use music as a medium for storytelling, expressing emotion, or articulating your language or idea.
- Set up your studio as a space where you feel creative and comfortable. Your environment influences your work.
- Don’t be discouraged when things don’t go according to plan when you’re creating music. Be flexible and resourceful when unexpected things happen.
- Explore AI and machine learning based tools in creating music. This can be very helpful when creating new sounds for your piece.
- Don’t buy expensive hardware when you are still starting out. You just need a laptop, a pair of headphones, and a small computer controller to start creating your music.
- Go outside, be in nature, and inhale fresh air when you are experiencing a creative block. This will help you refresh your brain, be more creative, and find more inspiration for your piece.
- Check out Richard Devine’s album, Systik, and merchandise at Bandcamp. And reach out to him through his social media channels (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Soundcloud) to learn more about his music.