An interview with the IDM and sound designer artist Richard Devine

Dec 07, 2017
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Richard Devine is an American musician and sound designer. He started his career producing heavily-processed IDM and glitch music, one of his favourite project being Autechre. Devine loves to play with modular synthesizers and he’s the creator of many sound banks and patches for companies like Native Instruments, Korg, Clavia or Propellerhead. He was recently involved in different projects with NASA and Google and he uses lots of field-recordings in his compositions. Active since the mid 90s, Richard Devine has released albums on labels like Schematic, Warp or Detroit Underground.

Apart from your famous remix you did for Aphex Twin, your first album is heavily influenced by acid techno. Why did you switch to glitch/IDM and, later, to sound design? Do you still listen to techno?
I have always made glitch abstract style music. My first EP on DropBass (SixSixtySix) was heavily AFX influenced from the early Caustic Window/Joyrex records on Rephlex Records. I was only trying to make more tracks to complete a one-hour DJ set, as I didn’t have enough tracks to play a full hour. So I began making my own tracks to play out during my early sets. I started out making acid techno, as I was really influenced by early Detroit electronic music. I still love early Jeff Mills and the music of Drexciya/Model500 etc.

What is your favorite IDM musician?
I love so many artists, Aphex, Autechre, SND, Grischa Lichtenberger, and Ryoji Ikeda. I wouldn’t say I have a particular favorite, but I am influenced by everyone.

When did you first start to work with modular synthesizers? In all this time have you created a patch memorable for you?
I first started working with modular synthesizers when I was 17 years old. My first synth was the Arp 2600. I pretty much learned everything on that system. From there I bought the EML-101 electro comp, then the EMS synthi A portable modular synthesizer. I made many tracks with these early synthesizers. I was able to buy many of these synths in the early 90’s when no one wanted them. I would go on hunts to the local pawnshops here in Atlanta on the weekends and find all kinds of stuff. Those were the good old days. I am not sure I have ever had a favorite patch, as each one is unique and only happen once. That is what I love about using modular systems is that you have only one chance to capture a patch, then it's gone. So you never get attached to anything only working to record the best performance you can at that moment in time.

In your opinion, what is the best and cheapest way to build your own modular synthesizer, in a diy manner? Could you recommend us some hardware producers, apart from Eurorack (which I read you love)?
I would say if you want to go your own way and start with DIY kits in the Eurorack format I would have a good look at the https://www.thonk.co.uk/ site. Thonk makes many DIY Euro kits and accessories that are very affordable and easy to build. He has a nice selection of very useful modules that are fun to build and use. Other companies like Magpie modular:https://magpie-modular.myshopify.com/ are also making SDIY kits, and custom panels for lots of popular modules is another great place. Another company https://www.befaco.org/en/ is making some great DIY affordable eurorack modules that have a wide selection of different functions, highly recommended.

How was working for NASA?
Haha, I guess its safe to say I have communicated with a few aliens here and there.

Could you please describe your ideal "Devine" synthesizer. What hardware/software components would you use?
Ideally, for me, it would be some sort of modular format, were you either have patchable virtual objects, or real physical modules. I tend to like complex oscillators and multifunction samplers. Lately, I have been really digging the ER-301, which is a voltage controllable canvas for digital signal processing algorithms. You can pretty much do anything you want. It’s the perfect hybrid of hardware and software programming. You have 12 CV or gate inputs that are user define-able. You create custom unit patches in which you can insert different virtual objects in a signal chain and then interject modulation at any point you want.

What is your opinion on Ableton Live/Max4Live? Is it enough for you?
I love Ableton/Max4Live, and use it quite often for patching up ideas, and building things. The workflow is fast and very intuitive. I feel there are so many great ML4 devices and a wonderful library of free instruments that is constantly growing. I find lots of inspiration from the creations I see at the http://www.maxforlive.com/library/. It's endless you can find just about anything. If you haven’t checked it out already I highly suggest it.

What is your favorite piece of hardware, apart from the 303/808/909? Is software emulation enough for you or you like to stick to hardware instruments?
My absolute favorite piece of hardware would be the Clavia Nord G2 modular synth. It’s a hybrid of patching in the software environment but then dumping your patches to a hardware interface that has a collection of knobs/buttons/LCD screens that are all user assignable. You can create just about anything you want, and there is a nice variety of different DSP modules and you can morph between different settings, it was so ahead of its times. I initially worked on the factory patches for it in 2004 for Clavia. It still remains one of the most powerful systems I have here at my studio. I actually have two of them.

Could you tell us more about your Google virtual reality project?
Yes, I was assigned as the main sound designer responsible for all of the Ambisonic environmental and UI sounds for all the VR apps that run on DayDream (Virtual Reality platform) that runs on the new Google Pixel phones. I also worked doing sound design on some of their VR apps, Google Earth, Google Youtube VR. It was a really fun project, and I am now working with other companies doing more work in 360 Audio.

You said that you use field recordings since 1995. What are your favorite field recording environment (underwater, in a rainforest, in the desert etc) and gear?
I have recently been doing a lot of Ambisonic 360 audio recordings. Since last year I have done several hundred ambisonic recordings all over the country. I also love recording with Hydrophones in different underwater locations. Some of the most unusual sounds I have ever gotten were from the ocean. Mostly recording different marine wildlife. Also, I have been fascinated recently with extended range microphones like the MKH-8040’s and the Sanken C0-100K Omnidirectional super wide range condenser microphone with a frequency response from 20hz to 100hkz. I have been going out at night during the summers here in Georgia, capturing all sorts of different insects/bat sounds. What is interesting is recording the sounds at 192khz then pitching them down in Sound Miner, to hear all sorts of strange things that you normally wouldn’t hear at the normal pitch. As the Sanken captures sound far above our normal hearing range, which is typically at 18.5khz to 20khz.

What inspires you most in your creations? What is your philosophy on sound?
I would say the process and architecture of it all. I love building something from nothing, creating an entire environment from scratch. In this environment, you decide what happens, and what the rules will be. Then creating music from this system you have created is the most inspiring thing for me. It’s the ultimate way to create music as your making your own tools that work the way your brain works. My philosophy has always been that there is no right or wrong way to go about it if it sounds good and is emotionally moving to you then its right.

You said that you're a big fan of Native Instruments' Kontakt, among other NI products. What is your favorite sound library or do you start only from your own samples?
I have been working with Kontakt since the early beginning, so I have built of many years of libraries, but some of my favorites are many of the libraries from SpitFire Audio like Hans Zimmer’s percussion library, and Outputs Reverse and Signal instruments. Heavyocity’s Gravity Instrument is superb and I more recently love the latest Native Instruments Thrill instrument.

What is your opinion on Creative Commons? Will your next album be a copyrighted one or a free-to-download (etc) work?
I have given away lots of free music/field recordings and sound effects on my sound cloud page. I feel its great to inspire and give away sounds and music. For my next album, I have a few labels that are already interested in releasing this material so I will most likely go that route. In terms of releasing it for free, I feel that it would be better to sell it in a form of a physical record with some beautiful artwork and packaging. I want my fans to actually have some tangible piece of art that they can take away from my work. I feel this is always very important and why I have always released physical vinyl copies of all my work to date.

What is your favorite granular synthesis hardware/software and why? You use this technique often?
For granular synthesis, I would say in the software realm I love NI’s Reaktor. It to my ears has some of the best granular sampling/audio manipulating capabilities out of all the software environments. On the hardware side, I would say that Mutable Instruments Clouds eurorack module is amazing and easy to use with excellent results. This is a technique that I use often with the creation of my sound effects and music.

And how about the mobile studio setup?
Right now that would be my new MacBook Pro, Teenage Engineering OP-1 for my portable workstation synth sampler and a midi controller to the computer. In addition to this, I always carry my RME babyface pro sound card and Sony PCM-D100 portable recorder in my bookbag. With this small setup, I can pretty much do anything 

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