Success Story: Richard Devine - EMusician

Success Story: Richard Devine

You would be hard pressed to find anybody busier than Richard Devine. Between time spent on the requisite composing and engineering/recording of his own projects, he’s been moonlighting too — recording and scoring music in various commercial fields (from video games to movies), as well as undertaking sound design and
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You would be hard pressed to find anybody busier than Richard Devine. Between time spent on the requisite composing and engineering/recording of his own projects, he’s been moonlighting too — recording and scoring music in various commercial fields (from video games to movies), as well as undertaking sound design and various software projects for Native Instruments, Universal Audio, Korg, and many others. Having collaborated with a vast panoply of electronic-based musicians/producers (BT, Aphex Twin, Venetian Snares, Keith Whitman, and so on), Devine has also guest instructed at Berklee and lent his skills as a tutor to end users of many of the aforementioned manufacturers — all while being barely old enough to rent a car.

A classically trained musician since his early childhood, Devine drew inspiration from composers such as Chopin and Kabalevsky, marrying the complexity of their arrangements with the DIY ethos of acts like My Bloody Valentine and the harsh, electronically generated textures of Coil, SPK, and Brian Lustmord. Before Devine had even received his high school diploma, he was collaborating with the late Oberheim sequential tech Tim Adams. “He taught me about circuit bending: how to modify, to understand the circuit flow,” Devine recalls. “I had done a lot of research into Don Buchla’s designs, and the records made from his pieces, particularly those by Morton Subotnik. The sounds were so alien, I was immediately like ‘Whoa, I’m going down this path.’”

SCULPTING AUDIO

Fast forward not many years and Devine seems, almost miraculously, to have a slew of solo releases under his belt on labels as diverse as Warp, Schematic, and Asphodel; as well as an impressive remix résumé including Aphex Twin’s “Come To Daddy” and Matthew Herbert’s “Leave Me Now.” Having gained worldwide notoriety for his composition, production, and remixing capabilities, Devine partially credits the application of architectural theory to the achievement of his highly regarded sonic creations — listing famed deconstructivist architect Frank Gehry as a major influence in his approach to production. “I was telling the students at Berklee how I work in a very visual manner when I work musically,” states Devine, who holds a degree in Graphic Design. “I see things more in shapes and textures, and apply like the principles of design found in the world of visual arts into sound. The world of art and audio are very closely related — color and texture, tone and rhythm — all in various forms of repetition. The elements of design can be applied to how you work with frequency, modulation, and amplitude. I always think, ‘what if I make a sound shape, control the contour and the envelopes and the filtering to sound like what an artist created?’ I call it ‘drawing audio sculptures.’”

SURROUNDING SOUNDS

3-D audio, if you will, is perhaps the most succinct description for Devine’s sonic creations; the parallels between the multi-dimensionality of the post-modernists art that he takes cue from and his own deeply layered, dark and (at times) disturbing work are legion. Taking into consideration Devine’s intent to approach the listener from multiple angles, it’s no surprise that he’s delved quite deeply into the realm of mixing in 5.1 surround — a tactic he’s employed lately when collaborating with BT on the soundtrack for director Adam Rifkin’s new film Surveillance.

“I turned BT on to mixing in Nuendo, as he was previously doing everything in Logic,” Devine informs. “I converted him right in the middle of the project. I actually program everything, record all the sessions in Logic 7.2, but then I’ll export everything out and import back into Nuendo, mixing everything in 5.1. We were doing the sessions in Logic, programming all the cues, and then dumping everything into Nuendo at the end of the day. Nuendo is absolutely amazing for it’s panning capabilities; the way you can automate and get a clear visual of each individual channel to help — it’s a logical layout for mixing.”

But Devine’s insistence on manipulating paths of trajectory in the mix is but a mere nod towards his non-traditional approach to gathering sound sources, many of which are “found” as opposed to played, for compositional purpose, a tactic oftentimes used by one of Devine’s biggest influences: Aleatoric composer John Cage. Approaching the Surveillance sessions, Devine confesses, “we thought ‘why don’t we produce this score in the most non-conventional sense?’ Undertaking a field-recording mission of epic proportions, M-Audio MicroTrack in hand, Devine and BT found themselves culling tracks from a local Best Buy — tracking refrigerators, fax machines, and even police scanners. “Those are what we ended up using to generate our rhythm tracks,” he adds, “and then we recorded electric dulcimer, didgeridoos, circuit-bent Speak & Spells; we used every kind of strange tool and sounds found in the real world, manipulated, time corrected, then processed — programmed into complicated polyrhythms and ‘glitched out’ so as to match the film’s disturbing vibe. We really tried to challenge ourselves, produce something that people would be like ‘wow, this is really strange.’”

GOING MODULAR, THINKING ANGULAR AND GETTING BENT

Though his artistic mindset is certainly “out of the box,” Devine spends a good portion of time recording “in the box,” first creating sounds within certain applications such as Cycling ’74s Max/MSP, GRM Tools, and the multitude of Native Instruments software packages that he has held hand in forging — oftentimes using Vokator for spectral vocoding purposes, Absynth for wave fractalization, Reaktor for interpolation delays, and so on in regards to sound design/treatment before dumping the sounds into either Logic 7.2 or Pro Tools 7, only to mix in Nuendo.

However, a sizeable amount of his sound can still be attributed to his Tim Adams custom-built analog synthesizers, including a home built frequency shifter and a full three-filter/three-oscillator modular system — tools that are indicative of the passion that has followed him from his formative years. But though he reveres those tools, he’s also quite the mad scientist himself, amassing a huge collection of modified instruments, from synths to circuit bent toys. “I used to walk around with an analog synth handbook just buying everything. ‘Alright, this keyboard made the sounds from Close Encounters of the Third Kind — I’ve got to get an ARP 2600!’ A friend of mine, Richard Goodsell, told me to hook up with Tim Adams, one of the best techs in the Atlanta area. He taught me all about circuit flow, what certain chips, op amps, and diodes do; how to surgically analyze your gear, from the transformer to the power supply and modify it. Anything to make a bizarre noise. . . .”

And bizarre noises are sure to continually abound, whether generated within the box or, perhaps, especially out of the box now that Devine has acquired what he calls a “Cage-prepared piano sculpture” — a baby grand piano which he plans to “hang from the ceiling by chains,” put up a stereo mic pair, and record the sounds of “throwing stuff at it,” a true example of tracking chance music and a far cry from his rather stringent classical upbringing.

TAKING IT UP A NOTCH

The future appears to only hold bigger and greater things for Devine, with his remix and general production duties expanding to include everybody from Sound Tribe Section 9 to Peeping Tom, the latter of which Devine chalks up as being one of his more interesting projects. “They got ahold of me and said, ‘we have to do some crazy, backwards circus/DSP/heavy metal/noise/everything stuff,’ flipping through 20 different genres in a matter of three minutes. We did some intense programming and DSP processing, manipulating voices and then chopping them up. Anything is fair game. Tire breaking off a car? We’ll use that as the hi-hat. Stepping on a monkey’s tail? I even recorded the sounds of a pig breathing as a transition for one of my songs, to break from one section to another. That’s what I’m looking at working on, collaborating with artists and producing music that’s really on the next level.”