David Philipp talks sound design, field recordings & Mac Pro workstations
Sound design aficionado, David Philipp, recently spoke to us about his experiences within sound design, his field recording work, the Mac Pro system he uses & more. Check out his insightful responses to our questions in the interview below.
You work with a wide variety of clients, from video-game developers such as Creative Assembly & Dynamedion, to lifestyle brands such as Adidas & Fischer as well as on movies & documentaries. Depending on the type of industry your client belongs to, how does your approach differ?
My approach for the general sound design is pretty much the same for all the different genres named above. One of the most important steps is the research – I have to find out about the certain game, brand, style etc. before I think about how to create my sound effects. Research is always the first step. Then there are the obvious differences between linear (film) and interactive (games) media but the approach should always be the same: Research comes first and usually saves you some headache in the end.
The Sound Architecture website mentions that you make use of field recordings in much of your work. When making such recordings do you know in advance what you are looking to capture, or are you more likely to go out and just see (hear) what happens on that day? Do you have any interesting stories you could tell us related to being out and about searching for the perfect sound?
Most of my commercial field recording is done for “Boom Library”, a high quality sound effects library where I have been a core member since the very early days. That said, we always have to have a concept before we go out and record, we would have a certain topic like “trains” or “punches” for instance, we would then start the research phase in order to devise which sounds we actually need. When I am on holiday I use my sound recorder more like a camera and capture certain soundscapes just for fun. They sometimes end up in projects but I don’t treat them with the same attention to detail as the Boom Library sound effects as they are mainly for myself. I once had a great experience when I was hunting for train sounds and I was waiting – ready to go, armed with my boom pole and recorder – on a bridge somewhere in Putney, which was directly above a large amount of train tracks. Then two police officers came by and asked me: “Excuse me sir, are you fishing?”. I wasn’t sure if they were joking or for real so I just replied: “No worries, I am just fishing for sounds”.
To quote a quote, SA say “George Lucas once said: ‘Audio is 50% the experience’ – but we say: ‘It’s more!’”. Do you think the importance of audio in film, games & adverts is more or less widely recognised than it used to be, how have you seen this change over time?
I certainly think that the role of audio has significantly changed over the years. People do indeed recognise and acknowledge its importance in current media, they know that games & films wouldn’t work without sound, they also know that their adverts would not sell as well if there wasn’t a custom designed soundtrack playing on top. Nevertheless there are still a large amount of people who would rather take pre-designed SFX and stock music for their projects and don’t think it’s necessary to include a proper audio company. This is mostly because budgets are being cut and agencies would rather have stunning visuals than cutting edge sound – they think a simple music track and some sound effects placed by the video editor will do the job for the average customer. My conclusion would be that most people know about the importance of sound but financial constraints lead to a very poor choice for most directors and agencies – a loss in audio quality.
As well as providing sound design services, Sound Architecture also runs a music library. Sound design & original music composition, although related, can seem very different when looked at from the outside. Does working in original music composition provide insight that enhances your sound design work in any way? And vice versa?
The whole Sound Architecture music department is currently being managed by my colleagues at Sound Architecture Vienna, so unfortunately I don’t spend much time creating music these days. I however think that musical skills have a very positive impact on sound design, as layering certain sound effects can have the same impact as arranging musical notes. The same way that there are notes which should theoretically not be played on top of each other, there are sounds/noises which can interfere and just sound ugly or wrong.
What spec Mac Pro did you go for? Why did you choose this spec, and was it a big upgrade from your previous system?
I used to work on an 8 core 2.8GHz Mac Pro with 10GB RAM. I now have the top spec 12 core 3.46GHz model with 24GB RAM. My system drive is an Angelbird PCI-e SSD and I also use an OWC Mercury SSD for ProTools projects. In addition to these two SSDs I am also running three traditional HDDs in my machine which I use for samples, libraries and other data.
What do you use your Mac Pro for? Which software do you run & how does the system handle it?
I am mainly using Pro Tools and other audio software like Izotope RX, Wavelab and many others. The system handles it really well, I haven’t had a CPU overload yet which used to happen frequently on my old workstation.
How integral is your system/software to your workflow? Do you see your reliance on your Mac/software increasing in the future?
It’s pretty simple, I wouldn’t be able to do my work without my Mac Pro. Although I am doing a reasonable amount of field recording, these files need to be properly edited, archived and uploaded for my work mates.
Do you use any additional hardware in your workflow? What impact does this have on how you use your Mac Pro/software?
I use an Euphonix MC Mix, a Native Instruments Maschine and some external synthesisers with my Mac. I haven’t had any issues so far, it works flawlessly.
Are you currently working on any projects using the Mac Pro? How does your workstation fit in with this project specifically?
I am working on sound designs for various adverts at the moment. I recently tried to load a huge amount of plug-ins into my PT session and couldn’t get the CPU to fail me. That’s a very good sign and I hope it will stay like that also for future (more CPU intensive) plug-ins.
How important is your system’s performance to you? Does not having to worry about what you workstation can handle help you spend more time on being creative?
The Mac Pro’s performance is very important to me. I’ve worked on very unstable and unreliable systems before which obviously had a massive impact on my work quality. Usually if I get annoyed with my system, my creative output suffers as well. A reliable workstation is as important as a good instrument, you can’t do anything without it.
Create Pro would like to thank David for taking part in our Q&A series. You can check out David’s company, Sound Architecture, by following the links below: