Photo: Merlin Ettore
Tell us a little about how you ended up being so fascinated by sound. Was there always an attraction?
My first interest in music was taking classical piano lessons at age eight. My mother had wanted us to learn to play music, which at the time I wasn’t really into. I wanted to ride my skateboard and jump ramps on BMX bikes, haha. It was through skateboard culture that I discovered punk music. Bands like Minor Threat and DRI. It was interesting, I had never heard music have so much raw energy and aggressiveness. This along with some of the late ‘80s hip-hop would get played at my friend’s skateboard half-pipe ramp in his backyard. I instantly fell in love with these sounds and wanted to seek out more music like this. Many years later, I tried to start a band in high school, but it never worked out, so I bought a drum machine and said I would just try and do it all on my own. It wasn’t until the mid-‘90s I started to build out a little studio in my parents’ house. I discovered the sound of Midwest techno/acid and electronic music. I started buying tons of records and a pair of turntables and began DJing at my friend’s underground parties. I was completely hooked at this point, and with electronic music, there really were no bounds or limitations on what could happen in a music track. Furthermore, I decided to stay and continue on this path. I create and play electronic music to this day.
Your career has gone from making electronic music to designing sounds for some of the biggest companies in the world, like Google, NASA and many others. How does a brief normally look like when a company is asking you to design sound for an application or a feature?
The brief is always different with each company or project. It might require 1,000 SFX sounds for a game. Or It could be designing very specific user interactive sounds that go into a UI interface or software/hardware device. I have even designed sounds for an electric car, the Jaguar I-Pace electric vehicle. Some of my favorite projects have been working on games like Cyberpunk2077 and Doom 3. I just never know what I will be doing on any given day. It really makes the job super fun and exciting.
When adding sound to a visual context, it becomes clear how profoundly sound actually alters our perception. What are your thoughts?
I think sounds are almost more important than the visual context, as, with music and sound, you can close your eyes and your mind will paint the picture of emotions and images that derive from what your ears are hearing. A movie/film/game/visual imagery without sound, in my opinion, can only take you so far. Sound is the way we communicate with each other, the way we express emotions. It’s the universal language that all cultures and people can understand.
Walk us through a regular day in the life of Richard Devine, on the job designing sounds!
Well, I usually start out with a fresh cup of coffee, lol. Then think about what type of sounds the client might want. I then go to the instruments or machines that will give me those timbres. If it’s foley or sound effects, I will set up a recording session to capture the sounds. I have an editing suite setup in my studio specifically for editing and cataloging sounds. I will often do audio clean-up to the sounds, remove any unwanted artifacts, etc…then start organizing the sounds into folders. I then start layering and experimenting with each of the sounds to see how they are working within a project or composition. I often use a combination of synthesis and captured field recordings to create the sounds. Likewise, I experiment a lot at this phase to create what I call audio Lego pieces that I can use to fit into specific parts of a track/film/game score, etc. It’s really about picking the right sound at the right moment. Conveying an idea or an emotion with those sounds you created. Setting the mood or enhancing the user experience with sound. It really depends on the application, but I will usually design the sounds to fit the project and hopefully enhance the experience.
What gear do you use for your field recordings and what does the process look like when you get back from a day of recording?
I usually bring out a Sound Devices 788T record and two 442 mixers. Lately, I have been using the newer Sound Devices MixPre-10 II which is amazing for how small it is having 10 inputs and 12 tracks. I also use the Sony PCM-D100 as my carry-around pocket recorder. It’s great for traveling on trips if you need to grab something quickly and not have to carry a big rig of microphones and cables. I have many favorite microphones I use, like the Neumann RSM-191 A/S, Sunken C0-100K and Sennheiser MKH-8040 x 4 in ORTF and X/Y Rycote blimp configurations. I also use the DPA core 4060 Omnidirectional lavalier a lot as well, and even have the 3D-Ears FS binaural system. I also have been doing lots of Ambisonic recordings with the Sound Field NT-SF1, and Sennheiser Ambeo. It depends on the project, but I might use any combination of these microphones to capture sounds. I also use the contact and underwater hydrophones to capture sounds as well. I will usually set up a time to go record and make a list of everything I want to capture. I then try to capture as much as possible. Then at the end of the day, I will cut down and edit all the audio and clean up everything in Izotope RX 10. It’s incredible for dialog and sound effects cleanup. Then I save and tag all the sounds with metadata, so I can search and use them again at a later time or within a current project.
You’ve also been involved in several Toontrack projects over the years, like the Electronic EZX and making presets for Superior Drummer 3, to name a few. Are plugins still part of your creative process, either in the sound design aspect or when writing songs?
Oh yes, plugins are still a major part of my creative process. I simply couldn’t do my work without them. I have almost every plugin package out there, from Fabfilter, Sound Toys, Waves, UA, Audio, and Plugin Alliance to GRM tools. I use them in conjunction with my hardware outboard processing to get the jobs done.
What’s next on your agenda?
I have a new album coming out in 2024 on Planet-Mu records. Nearly two hours of new music that I am almost finished mixing down. I am planning to include full Atmos 7.1.4 mixes with this release so it should be exciting for my fans to hear it in this new sonic space.