Creating libraries, winning awards, and the future of Soundiron in the words of co-founder Mike Peaslee
Friday, June 15, 2012
Earlier this month we were pleased to announce the arrival of Soundiron to Time+Space. Since launching in the Summer of 2011, these cinematic sound experts have steadily and deservedly earned themselves a first class reputation and a loyal following amongst the world’s top media composers.
As Soundiron are a new brand to T+S we wanted to find out more about the company, their background, products and achievements and what we can expect from them in the future. We got in touch with co-founder Mike Peaslee to get the lowdown…
Hi Mike, so who are the people behind Soundiron?
There are three of us here at Soundiron. The company is owned and operated by Gregg Stephens, Chris Marshall and myself (Mike Peaslee). We collaborate on every aspect of the business, but each of us also brings our own area of expertise into the mix. Chris handles most of our feature and user interface scripting wizardry. Gregg is a bit of a mad scientist when it comes to custom instrument construction and I´m pretty handy with musical sound design and instrument programming. Beyond that, we all collaborate on our day to day duties, like planning, directing, performance, pre- and post-production, engineering, programming, scripting, editing, product development, PR, web work, graphic design, video production, documentation, customer support, bookkeeping and everything else that comes with a business like ours.
We´ve also got an amazing team of external composers that we work closely with on library R&D, beta testing and official demo track and video tutorial production. We work with Stu Kennedy over at Continuata to provide secure high-speed multi-threaded product downloads. And of course, for specialized projects like Venus, Requiem Light, Lakeside Organ and our Tablas, we team up with talented experts like Robert Geary, Alan Kleinshmidt, Sameer Gupta and Don Sears. Lately, we´ve also started working with external artists like Constructive Stumblings and Daniel Tritton for additional support with our UI artwork and marketing design.
Some of your titles were previously released under the Tonehammer brand. What is the story behind that?
I co-founded Tonehammer back in late 2008 with Troels Folmann. Over a span of about three years, we developed close to 90 libraries, including the Forgotten Voices vocal series, the Epic Toms, Frame Drums and Dhol Ensembles, Requiem and many other Kontakt instruments of all shapes and sizes. Gregg freelanced for us in his spare time for a while until finally joining us full-time in early 2010 as an associate producer and instrument designer. Chris came on board later that same year as a scripter and tools developer, beginning with the original Requiem release. After a good run, Troels and I decided to close up shop, divide up the catalog equally and go in different creative directions with our own new companies in the summer of 2011. I launched Soundiron and Gregg and Chris signed on as partners shortly thereafter. It was a pretty smooth transition and of course we still continue to support all of our original customers from the pre-Soundiron era.
What were you up to yourself before Tonehammer was established?
Prior to Tonehammer, I had been working in the audio department at Crystal Dynamics, an Eidos-owned video game studio based in Menlo Park. Our studio developed the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Legacy Of Kain franchises, along with many other titles. I was there for almost 9 years, doing everything from foley, field recording, sound design, voice-over directing/acting/recording, composing, cinematic mixing, mixing, mastering to AV post production and just about anything else sound-related that came up.
In the years before that, I did a lot of bedroom recording and got by as a plumber, recording studio intern and music journalist. In 2000, after a brief stint as a tester at Crystal Dynamics, I was able to work my way into the audio department. Once my foot was in the door, I became completely obsessed. Rare were the days that I´d be home before midnight. Over the years, I started really digging a lot deeper into field and instrument recording. One day I´d be off recording firearms and the next I´d multi-sample the hell out of an old piano. My goal was the same in either case: to grab as much depth and variation as possible to allow realism and avoid repetition, while trying to cultivate a unique and deeply personal sound in each "instrument". I´ve always seen anything that can make any sort of noise as a valid musical instrument, so it just kind of snowballed. At the same time, I was always recording or performing in bands and producing acoustic and electronic music on the side, so it all started to intertwine.
Troels came over from Denmark to join the Crystal team in early 2005, as our in-house composer and later as the head of the Creative Services department. We were both equally fascinated by the idea of building our own sound and instrument libraries to use in our day to day production work. We were already working closely together to craft the audio experience for Tomb Raider, so we just naturally started putting our heads together on ways to capture and build better instruments. The next year, Gregg joined Crystal´s audio team as an engineer. Over time, he started collaborating with us on a few of our more ambitious ideas, like hall ensemble percussion and home-made tuned percussion instruments. Gregg and I also started producing music and doing a lot of field recording together, which allowed us to explore a lot of engineering and production ideas. Meanwhile, Troels moved on to other things a few years later, but we kept recording regularly and kicking around the idea of starting our own business. Eventually, the time was right and Tonehammer was born.
What instigated the move from that to creating instruments and libraries of your own?
When I was first starting out in game audio, we were mainly dependent on film sfx and canned phrase libraries for most of our raw material, and maybe a handful of decent sounding multi-sampled instruments to choose from. It meant that whatever wasn´t complete crap had already been completely picked over and abused endlessly in every film, TV show and video game out there. Even the best stuff still had a certain sterility to it.
The greatest flaw in commercial libraries that I was dealing with at the time was a lack of variation in the sound. In a dynamic and interactive environment like video games, the player, enemies and environments will often repeat the same actions and animations over and over, while modulating the events in real-time based on context. The solution came down to gathering as many unique and granular variations as possible and then programming those elements into an organic and adaptive mesh with the help of our game engine.
Instrument sample libraries were really suffering from exactly the same type of problem at the time, with limited "round-robin" variation and stiff programming that forced jarring repetition and really unsatisfying playability that tended to be difficult to emote and create with. By looking at Kontakt as essentially another form of "game engine", I was able to start using carefully structured mapping and interdependent internal and external modulation to weave together instruments that started to feel and sound a lot more life-like. Once that ball started rolling, there was no changing course.
Other than being nominated for a Bafta in 2006 what´s your proudest moment of your career to date?
In addition to the Bafta Best Audio nomination for our work on Tomb Raider Legend, we also won a 2007 Mix Foundation Tech Award and were nominated for the GDC Choice and GANG Awards, both for Best Audio. It was a huge year for us at Crystal.
Beyond that, the release of Apocalypse Percussion Ensemble and the Mars and Venus Symphonic Choirs were huge steps for us. Each one represented a big leap for us in their respective genres. Each one took months of brutal work to record, edit and program and we´re still finding new ways to upgrade the programming and add new control and compositional features.
APE was essentially the largest percussion library we had ever attempted, elevating the art form over our earlier work and tackling new territories with snares, cymbals, multiple mic positions and of course an all new style of customizable mixing interface.
The Mars and Venus Choirs (our Olympus Collection) took the basic concepts explored in our earlier choral projects like Requiem Light and truly went light years beyond them. Together in terms of size and scale, they´re larger than all of our previous choral projects combined. We also went with a more efficient and surround mix friendly dual mic position structure, so we´re actually covering more ground within the same disk and ram footprint. We covered greatly expanded Latin content, all new Russian material, a ridiculous number of staccato and marcato articulations, tempo-synching, more robust word building and phrase sequencing, larger soloists sections and so much more.
Which films, TV series´ and video games have you heard your libraries featured in?
Our work can be heard far and wide throughout media, used in film soundtracks such as Avatar, Tron, Transformers 3, The Adjustment Bureau, Clash of the Titans, District 9, 2012, The Expendables, Sex and the City II, Karate Kid, The Good Wife, The Debt, A L´Origine, The Company Men and The Town.
On the small screen, a number of instruments we´ve worked on can be heard on Robot Chicken, CSI, American Idol, the Saw series, Desperate Housewives, Damages, UFC, ESPN, Supernatural, Americas Most Wanted, Americas Got Talent, Eastwick, The Mentalist, Real Housewives of New Jersey, Dollhouse, Discovery Channel: Forensics, Prison Wives, MSNBC Docudramas, Discovery Channel´s The Colony, Americas Funniest Home Videos, Americas Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover, Saturday Night Live and WWF.
Our video game industry clients include a number of composers for companies like Valve, Blizzard, EA, Eidos, Rockstar and Epic, with a broad range of titles like Mass Effect 2, StarCraft II, God of War 3, Gears of War 2 and 3, Dead Rising 2, Assassins Creed 2, Bulletstorm, Rage, Darksiders, Borderlands, Splinter Cell Convinction, Transformers 3, Sims 3, Shrek Forever After and many more.
Which Soundiron library are you currently most proud of?
The Venus Symphonic Women´s Choir is huge for us. It´s the single largest single library that we´ve ever worked on. It´s the next huge step for us in along the road toward a truly massive undertaking that we began with our Mars Symphonic Men´s Choir. Each of us put a ridiculously long hours into every step of the process.
That said, the Emotional Piano is the one I personally find myself playing more than any other. That one was a true labor of love. I actually recorded and programmed it once, hated the results, reworked the mic placement and re-recorded it all over again from scratch, just to get the sound just the way it is now. I probably held my breath for at least 20 hours altogether while recording it.
We´re working in an extremely competitive industry, what would you say makes Soundiron stand out from its competitors?
You can definitely hear and feel it in our audio quality, the level of sampling depth and detail, the unique style and flavors we capture. I think we outshine our peers in the deeply nuanced and natural playability that we design into each our instruments. There´s a rather frightening level of personal obsession that goes into each and every instrument we explore.
But nothing is more important to us than the attention we give to our clients, be they newcomers or seasoned professionals. We don´t outsource our customer support to trained monkeys or kick our users over to the FAQ to fend for themselves when they come to us for help. We keep our prices low and go the extra mile with bonus effects and convolutions, freebies, regular high-quality product updates and total support for our entire product catalog, new and old alike.
Your most recent big release is Venus: Symphonic Women´s Choir which is dubbed as ´beyond the scope of any other instrument you´ve built´. What challenges did you face creating this library?
Wrangling 12 tracks and 24 hours of solid running time was no easy task. Turning that into nearly 26,000 samples and over 500 Kontakt presets that could be meshed with the already-massive Mars library was an even bigger challenge, especially for a team of only 3 people. We also decided to substantially upgrade the underlying programming and feature set and then also roll those new innovations into a free Mars update while we were at it. We were also simultaneously developing APE, Tuned Artillery, Breaker and Cymbology 1 at the time, so we definitely burned a lot of midnight oil in the process.
Finally, what´s next for Soundiron?
We´re just about to release a brand new ethnic phrase library later this month called “Street Erhu”. It includes several thousand authentic Chinese 2-string Erhu violin phrases, all performed by veteran street musician Qi Xin Huang, with the help of Cantonese translator and custom erhu maker Ken Lam. The library covers several distinct types of Erhu, with live performance phrases in a variety of both traditional and improvised playing styles. We recorded the majority of the content in a dry studio environment at Wabi Sabi Studios to allow users total control over the sound. As a special bonus, also followed Qi Xin out into the field and recorded him in subways and on street corners in Oakland and Berkeley to capture a truly authentic feel.
Street Erhu goes well beyond a typical phrase library, with key-switch based song selection, legato control, automatic and fully savable phrase step-sequencing, waveform display, stretching, offset control and pitch shifting, bowing effects, custom room and FX convolutions, EQ and volume/filter LFO effects. We´ve put it all together in a simple and intuitive unified custom interface.
Farther out on the horizon, we´ve got several new and very unique stringed and tuned percussion instruments on the way, as well as brand new installments and updates to our Rust and Ambius series and much, much more.
Lots to look forward to, thanks Mike!
Boxed Soundiron titles are available now from Time+Space. When you buy the box you´ll automatically receive an email with links to download the content so you can start using your new Soundiron library straight away!