Welcome to Reasonistas Interviews, episode 3.
In this episode, we had a casual sit down with brothers, Dom and Jon of AirRaid Audio, based in Switzerland. This was another fun interview, what with the pub like atmosphere and unmistakable aroma of Single Malt Scotch Whisky and Cuban Cigars in the air. However, read on to learn there is more to these chaps than just good looks and being self-proclaimed whisky and cigar aficionados. Cheers!
Noel González of Reasonistas
Interviewees: Dom (left) and Jon (right) of AirRaid Audio
Music Producers, Audio Engineers, Musicians, Songwriters, Rack Extension Developers.
As noted on their website, AirRaid Audio’s goal is to “produce innovative, musical audio plugins which help streamline the creative process and place the sound before the science”. They debuted in 2013 with a suite of 3 inspirational multiband Rack Extensions for Reason: Mutagen, Pandemic and Relapse. These are a comprehensive array of Creative FX for multiband distortions, tape delays, filters, frequency shifters, choruses, spreaders and panners, combined with a flexible, modular design and powerful modulation system. These devices were later packaged into the Triad Multiband Bundle series.
Following the success of their 3 multiband devices, AirRaid Audio worked around the clock to design and develop “Elements”, a simultaneous release of 8 mini Rack Extensions derived from their Triad Multiband series (note: their DS-LFO and Splitter are free). As noted in their Propellerhead Shop page, “each device was carefully crafted to isolate and enhance specific ‘elements’ of Triad, and integrate together in a modular fashion, through stereo CV modulation and slick unified design”. AirRaid Audio’s 11 devices and 2 bundles are linked below:
As usual, we began our interview by asking Dom and Jon about their birthplace, where they spent their childhood and what influence this had on their music career and Rack Extension development. Jon: I was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. I’m not Scottish, mind you; I have Irish and English heritage. I spent most of my childhood living just outside the city in the bleak, windswept East Lothian countryside until I was 12, before moving to Geneva, Switzerland and have spent pretty much the rest of my life there. That said, I just moved up the lake to Lausanne about 6 months ago. Nice place to live. Not cheap, though! Dom: Switzerland is a seriously cool place, and we were very fortunate to move here so young, and discover its language and culture.
Question 2 Noel: At what age did you discover an interest in music? Jon: I’ve loved listening to music for as long as I can remember. When I was eight, I started taking piano lessons, which I greatly enjoyed at first, but my interest in it diminished a lot when my mother borrowed a Yamaha home keyboard from one of our neighbours. I’d spend hours toying around with the various sounds it could make, and, from what I remember, it also contained a rudimentary FM synthesizer that allowed me to create my own sounds. That’s the point at which my fascination with all things electronic began.
Another key point in my musical education was discovering all kinds of “serious” electronic artists (as opposed to all the cheesy Eurodance acts that were popular back in the mid 90s) through the “Wipeout” video game series on Playstation. I remember hearing the soundtrack of Wipeout 2097 for the first time and thinking, “Damn, I need to know how to create music like this.”
Finally, what really sparked my interest in utterly off-the-wall sound design was discovering the music of Richard Devine a few years later. It blew my mind hearing how he would create fully coherent tracks that consisted literally of thousands of unique samples, all of which were tweaked to perfection. I then spent a good few years trying to reverse engineer his sound design and sequencing techniques. Not sure I’m entirely there yet, but what the heck. :D Dom: Where big brother goes, little brother follows.
Question 3 Noel: What role has music played in your life? Jon: Honestly, I think Nietzsche already answered this question best: “Without music, life would be a mistake.” And of course, without music, we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing. ‘Nuff said. Dom: I’ve had quite a personal relationship with music since my early teens. I’d always liked the idea of music, but most of what I heard never did much for me for some time. But when Jon introduced me to groups like FSOL and the Orb, this changed, and I began constructing my own sonic world. To this day, I’ve never met anybody in my regular circles who’s even heard of the Orb, let alone Little Fluffy Clouds, Blue Room, or the awesome troll that was Pomme Fritz.
Question 4 Noel: Do you have traditional music training? Jon: Yes, to a degree. As previously mentioned, I did three years of piano when I was a kid (which, in hindsight, I regret giving up, since the ability to play a keyboard is obviously something that lends itself readily to electronic music.) I was also forced by my father to play the violin for about seven years. I have no regrets having given it up since I never particularly enjoyed it and the good majority of sounds I made with it more closely resembled those of a tortured cat than anything particularly musical.
Also, I’m a self-taught beat-boxer which I’ve been doing since my mid-teens. Not sure that counts as traditional musical training, though. Dom: Ditto, minus the beat-boxing. I have all the sense of rhythm of Kyle from South Park.
Noel: And, programming? When did you start with that?
Jon: When I was 9 years old, my father bought one of those clunky old Amstrad PCWs to use as a word processor. You probably won’t remember that particular machine unless you lived in the UK during the 80s or early 90s. Anyhoo, a friend of my dad’s came round one afternoon and I mentioned in passing that I loved computers and video games. He then casually suggested I write my own, and in about 15 minutes, showed me how to write a simple BASIC program that could print out the numbers from 1 to 10.
Something about it all just clicked in my head, and from that point forward, I took to programming like a fish to water. Dom: Ah yes, about that… [ awkward silence ]
Noel: Do you remember your first music related application?
Jon: Yeah, Impulse Tracker! No, wait. It was actually Music Maker 3 on the Atari ST, which my dad bought shortly after the Amstrad. I made a handful of ditties on that, before I really knew anything about writing music. It used a sheet music-type interface to input the notes with, which I could do, since I had started playing piano by that point.
Unlike many producers, I’ve never used an Atari to write serious music (via its MIDI sequencing capabilities) since I got into proper music making well after we got rid of the machine. I used it mostly for playing games. Xenon FTW.
And of course, I never really started to properly grasp electronic music production until I discovered Reason. That was the real game-changer for me. (See my reply to question 8 for more info.)
Dom: My first music making app was Fruity Loops, which I got into round version 4. Though I made a fair number of tunes with it, my young mind never really got around how the routing and modulation worked. When Jon introduced me to Reason, it completely changed my understanding of how music could be conceived.
Question 7 Noel: How did you learn about Reason and what was your first version? Jon: I first learned about Reason through an interview with Liam Howlett of The Prodigy, of whom I was and still am a huge fan. This was shortly before they released their “Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned” album, which Liam was using Reason to create. Note: Here is the October 2004 Sound on Sound article in which Liam talks about using Reason: http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/oct04/articles/prodigy.htm
I thought to myself, “If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me,” and immediately bagged a copy through the Prop’s online shop. The current version back then was 2.5. I became obsessed with the Scream4 Distortion Unit straight out the box. Dom: Jon let me use his copy occasionally, when he wasn’t actively trying to upset the neighbours.
Question 8 Noel: What are your top three favorite Reason features? Jon:
I think the number one feature for me was the fact that it resembled actual hardware. I knew next to nothing about creating electronic music when I first purchased it, so it effectively gave me a comprehensive education in music-creation technology without having to shell out 10’000 odd bucks for a full studio. That simply wouldn’t have been possible 10 or even 5 years prior to Reason’s initial release.
The Maelstrom Graintable Synthesizer. It’s seriously cool for creating tweaky drum synth sounds which you can’t necessarily get elsewhere.
The audio/CV cable patching system. It allows you to come up with bizarre signal flows that you simply can’t reproduce in other software. (Of course, that also comes with it’s downsides too — see below.)
Dom: When I trialed Logic Pro (version 7) some time down the line, I couldn’t believe it wasn’t possible to plug the LFO of one device into another. This seemed so needlessly restrictive to me, and I remember thinking that if Logic was the best Apple could do, then not everything was sunny in Cupertino.
Question 9 Noel: What are the top 3 features you wish Propellerhead would add to Reason? Jon:
An easier way to organise signal flow without having to duck round the back and re-patch all the audio cables. (Yes, it’s easier than it was in the past, but it’s still nowhere near, say, Ableton or Renoise, in terms of usability.)
A granular sampling/synthesis mode in Kong. Would be very useful for making tweaked-out beats.
VST support! (Yeah, right…)
Dom: Retina support. Every time I launch Reason, Propellerhead mocks me and my 5K monitor.
Question 10 Noel: What made you decide to develop Rack Extensions? Jon: Well, I’ve been making electronic music for over 10 years, much of it of a highly technical variety, so I already had a lot of experience creating my own plugins in software like Reaktor and Max/MSP.
Dom had been wanting to start a plugin company ever since he graduated from high school, but needed a programmer to assist him. Since Propellerheads had recently announced their Rack Extension format, Dom’s inner entrepreneur saw the opportunity to tap into a new market, and I, being prone to recognising good ideas when I see them, quickly jumped on board. Dom: Money and bitches.
Question 11 Noel: What is unique about your background that defines the Rack Extensions that you develop? Jon: I’ve been making music for over 10 years, and much of that focused on crazy, unorthodox and incredibly detailed sound design. As such, I’m well-versed in squeezing bizarre sounds out of plugins that many people simply wouldn’t expect.
(You can hear some of my work here: https://soundcloud.com/bean-machine)
I’ve found this sense of sonic intuition very useful when it comes to creating my own plugins, for instance, Relapse. Its initial design was actually quite different from how it ultimately turned out. After we had nearly finished coding it in accordance with the original blueprint, I was, thanks to my sound design experience, able to think up ways to reconfigure the original design and push its sound mangling abilities through the roof. Anyone who’s tried it out should know what I’m talking about here!
Dom is also a highly accomplished musician in his own right, but I’ll let him own the bragging rights there. Dom: I’m obsessed with the experience of making music. Making music is not about making money, or even making good music necessarily, it’s about being curious, creative and having fun. It’s an intellectual endeavour, yet one which taps into our most deep-seated emotions. For me, the test of a good plugin is this: Can the simple twist of a knob make me grin like an infant.
Question 12 Noel: What was the genesis of your first Rack Extension? Jon: We noticed that, at the time, there was a critical lack of multi-band distortion units available in the Prop’s store. So, I sat down in front of Reaktor and began building one, with the intent to place emphasis on wild and crazy sound design. Thus, Mutagen was born. Dom: Mutagen was in part inspired by OhmForce’s Ohmicide, which was one of the coolest devices of its kind, back in the day.
I’m still miffed that OhmForce never added modulation to it—they had one of the best modulation systems around, yet jettisoned it on their flagship product. Pure madness. Needless to say, adding modulation to Mutagen was always going to be a priority for me.
Question 13 Noel: How do you go about creating the GUI of your devices? Do you have a process that you go through? Jon: I’ll let Dom answer this question in depth since he’s our resident GUI designer. I do provide him with a lot of constructive feedback which he then takes into account. Two heads are frequently better than one. Dom: Absolutely. Step 1 is always to decide which controls we want to include. This is often a lengthy process with a lot of back and forth, and deciding what to leave out can be just as tricky as choosing what to include. Typically, there’s always a trade off between the kind of sounds we want a device to be able to produce and (what I like to describe as) the habits and expectations of our users. Relapse is a great example of a device that perhaps went… a little too far. Don’t get me wrong, it may well be my favourite device, but in terms of sales it hasn’t done quite as well as Mutagen or Pandemic, and I suspect its complexity might have something to do with that.
Once the controls list has been defined, we define the color-scheme as well as the look of the various knobs and buttons. From there, it’s just a question of laying everything out in the most logical order, and spacing everything evenly. I like to keep our GUIs as simple as possible, without breaking the skeuomorphic aesthetic that characterises Reason.
Question 14 Noel: What studio gear and hardware synthesizers would you like to see in the Reason Rack and why? Jon: Given that I’ve pretty much exclusively used soft-synths and DAWs my entire life, I’m not really qualified to answer this question. Since we already have an emulation of the Alpha Juno with AudioRealism’s ReDominator RE, I’m all set.
Yeah, I’m a huge fan of the “hoover sound”!
Dom: Personally, I think having to use a mouse with a computer is already one complication too many, so I can’t really answer this question either. Whatever Luke Vibert used on Phat Lab Nightmare. That sounded good.
Question 15 Noel: Are you able to give us a sneak peek into your next Rack Extension or future Re plans? Jon: Sure! Our new RE is called Spectre, and is an FFT-based spectral delay device that, much like Relapse before it, is great for utterly mangling any sound you feed into it… in the best possible way, of course.
We also have a bunch of ideas in the pipeline for new additions to our Elements series, including an analog-modelled filter (with features yet to be seen elsewhere) and a tape delay (largely based on Logic’s popular Tape Delay effect.) Dom: I believe Spectre is an entirely new concept for the Prop Shop—there’s just nothing on there that’s anything like it. Hell, it’s so unique, you’d be hard pressed to find a plugin in any format that could create the sounds it does.
The analog-modelled filter is similar to the current Elements Filter, but has a very different sound, in addition to built-in saturation and self-oscillation. While Elements Filter is a very versatile device with a low CPU-hit, the new filter will sacrifice a bit of processing power in favour of more complex algorithms which you may just fall in love with.
As the for tape delay, well, it's been a long time coming… And a huge thank you goes out to everybody who wrote in to request one. You know who you are. Reasonistas' Exclusive Sneak Peek at Spectre, courtesy of AirRaid Audio:
Noel: Do you have any plans to port your Rack Extensions over to other platforms (i.e. iOS, VST, AU, etc.)
Jon: What could I say here? It’s highly possible we will at some point in the not-too-distant future. Better keep them eyes peeled. Dom: This is something I’d like to look into. The problem is that the market is already saturated, and piracy is a rampant. In fact, it was the absence of these two issues that drove us to develop for the RE market initially. On the other hand, getting our devices into the hands of more creators has an undeniable appeal. So peel, peel away.
Question 17 Noel: Any words of advice for people interested in kick starting their own Rack Extension company? Jon: Ideally, you should be a musician and/or sound-designer. One of the reasons we’re good at what we do is we’ve spent much of our music making time thinking critically about which features *we* would like to see in the software we use. When we set out to build a new Rack Extension, we don’t half-ass it, but instead go all the way to create something that we feel would seriously ignite our own creativity.
Also, make sure that at least one of you has a good head for numbers. Audio signal processing is all about number crunching, and if you can’t get that down, you’re going to run into problems.
Dom: Find your niche. Either offer something that hasn’t been done before, or find a new take on something that has.
Question 18 Noel: Anything else you would like readers to know about you or your products? Jon: What can I say? I’m just chuffed that the feedback we’ve received so far has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s great that people dig our creations — we dig you all too! Dom: ^ this.
Closing Statement Noel: Dom and Jon, thank you both for this fun interview. It was my pleasure picking up the tab. I’m particularly intrigued by the upcoming additions to your Elements series: the analog-modeled filter ("with features yet to be seen anywhere") and a tape delay (largely based on Logic’s popular Tape Delay effect). Also, thanks for the exclusive sneak peek at Spectre; it will certainly be a first in the Reason rack and I look forward to seeing it in my Reason Rack. As always, I wish you continued success with your company and future developments. Keep up the good work.
Jon: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure. Next time, Scotch and cigars are on us.
Dom: On partagera des Partagas !
Alright fellow Reasonistas there you have it! Another insightful interview with Dom and Jon of AirRaid Audio. As always, feel free to comment below if you have any questions for me, Dom and Jon. You can also find out more about AirRaid Audio at the following:
@Propellerhead Software AB AirRaid Audio’s Shop Page
Until next time, happy music making and keep it Reason-able!