Get to know sound-design superstar Richard Devine

Peer inside the studio spaceship of a master sonic manipulator

Richard Devine in his home studio (2020)Original Source: Courtesy of the Artist

Who is Richard Devine?
A sound designer, of course, creates sounds. They’re called upon for the special effects you hear in movies, for the creative synthesizer tones you hear on the radio, and sometimes even for more mundane sounds – like the beeping on your microwave or the tone that sounds before an announcement at the station. And among sound designers, few – if any – can match either the portfolio or the expertise of Atlanta-based artist Richard Devine.

Here, we’ll find out a bit about his career, hear some of his work, and take an exclusive look behind the scenes of his impressive studio space.

Meat Beat Manifesto - Mindstream (The Aphex Twin Remix)Original Source: YouTube

Early inspiration
Richard’s earliest musical inspiration came in the form of the mainly British artists releasing music on Warp Records. The label is regarded as having ushered in a new genre of electronic music in the 1990s, known by the contentious term of “intelligent dance music”. IDM, as it’s more commonly referred to, is often characterised by complex drum programming, unorthodox musical arrangements, and creative sound design.

“When I heard Aphex Twin’s Meat Beat Manifesto remix in particular, I was really blown away. I had never heard anything like that. It was so cutting edge and so different in the sequencing and the style of the drums – just the whole approach to that.”

Richard Devine in front of modular synthesizer (2020)Original Source: Courtesy of the Artist

Humble beginnings
Despite his early interest in electronic music and sound design, Richard had never really intended to make a living from his passion. He studied graphic design and intended to pursue that as a career while making music by night – but that wasn't to be.

"I'd never really looked at it as a job – I would do this for free if nobody payed me because I love it so much. But already as a junior in college, I started to do some really big sound design gigs with big clients like Nike and Coca-Cola and earning quite a bit of money. I was making, I think, more than my parents were."

Native Instruments – Massive XOriginal Source: Native Instruments

The big break
How did a college student dabbling in sound design mange to land such big clients at this early stage? By 1999, Richard was already finding some success with his music and collaborating with other artists in the UK, as well as from the burgeoning IDM scenes in Atlanta and Miami. But it was during a concert he played in Berlin that a chance encounter with music software company Native Instruments kickstarted his journey into the world of commercial sound design.

"We were doing a label showcase, and Mate Galic, who went on to become CTO of Native Instruments, was there. At the time, there were only about six people working at the company, including Stephan Schmidt, who was the creator of the Reaktor synthesis platform. He had done another product called Generator, which I was using for my live shows, and they were really intrigued that I was using their software so they wanted to work with me. And that relationship has lasted about 21 years."

Richard has worked on nearly every Native Instruments product since that time, providing his input in the form of preset sounds for synthesizers, effects, and sample libraries, including some that are now regarded as classics – such as the Battery drum sampler and synthesizers like Absynth, FM7, and Massive. Richard also developed sounds for the latter's successor, Massive X, which is currently the company's flagship software synthesizer.

Richard Devine- KepterOriginal Source: YouTube

International recognition
A year after his meeting with Native Instruments, Richard's music was beginning to be heard globally. His first album on the Warp label, Lipswitch, was released in 2000 to wide acclaim among a growing audience of IDM aficionados.

Nike Shox shoe (2005-11-02)Original Source: Stewart Leiwakabessy

Finding commercial success
"An advertising agency on the West Coast here in the United States called Wieden+Kennedy hit me up about doing sound design and music for commercials for Nike – Nike Shox. Their musical director and the film director were both big fans of my music. And they just contacted me asking me to write music on this commercial. At the time, I had no experience. I'd never written music to picture, but they said, 'that's okay, we'll teach you how to do this, we'd really like to work with you because we really like your sound.' So I was really fortunate to meet this wonderful team of people at this agency.

Richard Devine sounds for Jaguar I-PACEOriginal Source: YouTube

A packed portfolio
As a sound designer, Richard has seemingly worked on just about everything. Among his clients to date are big names like Nike, BMW, Coca Cola, HBO, McDonalds, and Sony. He’s also contributed presets for numerous manufacturers of software and hardware instruments, created sounds for films, and worked on major video game franchises including Halo and Doom.

Richard even created the ‘engine sounds’ for an electric car manufactured by Jaguar.

Richard Devine's synthesizersOriginal Source: Courtesy of the Artist

Studio gear
As you may expect, Richard’s studio is packed with synthesizers, drum machines, and effects processors of all types. But he’s no collector. The gear Richard keeps in his studio is the gear he actually uses for his work. His synthesizer racks, pictured here, largely consist of hardware that he himself created factory presets for.

Clavia, manufacturer of the distinctive, red Nord series of keyboards and desktop modules, has contracted Richard to work on sounds for all of their synthesizers.

Pictured to the right side of this rack are two synths by boutique manufacturer Black Corporation. On top is Deckard's Dream, which is inspired by the Yamaha CS-80 – a vintage synthesizer used prominently in Vangelis's score for Blade Runner. Below it is the Kijimi, based on French company RSF's Polykobol – another vintage synth favoured by Vangelis. Richard contributed 128 preset sounds for the Kijimi's 1.2 update.

"When I initially did sounds for the Yamaha Montage, I had to have a separate editor that the developers in Japan sent me. It's so deep and vast and the possibilities are insane. The range and sounds you can get out of this, and what you can do with it, it's incredible. I think it's a very underrated synthesizer.

In simple terms, it asks you to pick 8 FM presets that you really like for the AI engine to analyze. And it will give you 1024 different variations based on your selection, then map all of those sounds to these points that you can move through on a touch screen. You can morph from like an FM bell, to something like a flute and a bass sound – and hear all the stuff that happens in between."

While Richard has worked as a sound designer on most of his synthesizers, there are a few exceptions. The ARP 2600 pictured to the left has been in his possession since high school, as has the Devilfish clone of a Roland TB-303 you can see on the right. We’ll come back to the 303s later.

The Nord Modular G2 (for which, yes, Richard designed preset sounds) played a large role on Richard’s modular-synth-heavy 2018 album, Sort\Lave.

Richard Devine - Revsic (excerpt)Original Source: YouTube

"I acquired a lot of analog stuff while working on my last album, Sort\Lave. I wanted to do everything by hand rather than on the computer, unlike with my previous albums, which were mostly done ‘in the box’ with plug-ins. I wanted to create the record entirely from my hands and my ears – from the creation process of patching on the modular to multi-tracking all the sessions back into an analog summing mixer, taking the stems, and the mixing everything through an actual analog compressors and two equalizers.”

Close-up view of Richard Devine's modular synthesizerOriginal Source: Courtesy of the Artist

"I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the results were much better than doing everything in the box, at least for me. There were a few things that were a pain in the butt because when you're working with the modular, you don't have instant recall – you don't have presets and stuff like that. So sometimes it would take several weeks to capture a patch just the way I wanted it. I had to perform everything live.”

Richard Devine's modular synthesizerOriginal Source: Courtesy of the Artist

"Sometimes I’d screw up in the middle of the track and we had to redo that take all over again – that was frustrating. But the sound quality, that was what I was really trying to achieve. I didn't use a single sampler on that album. It was all synthetically generated, every sound was synthesized."

Richard Devine's modular synthesizer in the darkOriginal Source: Courtesy of the Artist

Superbooth 19 | Richard Devine | Live PerformanceOriginal Source: YouTube

Downsizing the live set-up
To play Sort\Lave as a live set, Richard used a scaled-down version of his studio modular set-up. But even that comprised two full cases of modules that weighed a combined 50 pounds. He started to thing about downsizing.

"Instead of synthesizing everything, I thought about sampling all of my modular stuff and then synthesizing only a small portion live. That way, the really important parts of the track can still punch through on a big P.A. rig, but stuff that's not as important doesn't require extra gear. I was realizing that the audience didn't really care what I was actually doing up there – they just wanted to have a good time and hear some really crazy music. I was just being hard on myself.”

Richard Devine's Acid EP (2020)Original Source: Courtesy of the Artist

Richards experiments in scaling down his live setup continued, and eventually inspired him to revisit a more stripped-back form of electronic music from his past – acid. While COVID-19 put a stop to his original plans of playing this new music for a live audience, i eventually found a home on his latest album, SYSTIK.

"I was booked for around 40, 50 festival shows and they all got canceled. I had been playing a few snippets of this live show on my Instagram and gotten a huge response back. So it dawned on me: people aren't going to hear this music this year or even next year. So I decided to record the set, master it myself here in the studio, and release it as a record. That way, people can experience it without me having to go out and play shows.”

Richard Devine's live rigOriginal Source: Courtesy of the Artist

Central to Richard's SYSTIK setup were his Roland TB-303 clones. The 303, as its now better known, was an analog synthesizer designed specifically for bass lines in the early 1980s. Its characteristically "squelchy" filter lent it a unique sound that came to define the acid genre.

Richard Devine's collection of Roland TB 3030 clonesOriginal Source: Courtesy of the Artist

"I have a lot of 303s. I didn't use all of them for the record, mainly the Devilfish and another one which was modded by my friend Dan at Midnight Engineering. I really wanted to keep it minimal and not a symphony of 303s. I processed them in a really, really strange way too. Sometimes you don't realize that it is a 303 until some of the processing gets mixed out or transforms into something else. I tried to be more creative with this sound, rather than just making a typical acid record.”

Credits: All media
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