We chat to Matt Bowdler aka 'The Unfinished'

We chat to Matt Bowdler aka 'The Unfinished'

Matt Bowdler is an accomplished composer & sound designer, who also happens to be the brains behind 'The Unfinished'. Matt's high quality synth sound collections and sample libraries for film scoring and electronica are currently in the studios of composers and producers across the world and are featuring in Hollywood films, the soundtracks to AAA games and hit US and European TV shows. 

Fresh off of working on the soundtrack for hit drama 'The Bridge' and scoring his first feature film 'The Snarling', Matt took time out of his busy schedule to tell us a bit more about him, his work, and how he's got to where he is today.

You’ve created expansion packs for various virtual synths. Which is your personal favourite synth and why?

I'd have to say Zebra. I love the sound of it. It has a particular sound, although the range of possibilities of what you can do with it is vast, and it really appeals to me. It sits in this space that is somewhere between analogue and organic (or at least the sounds I like to make with it do!). It can be simple or complex, and the recent Dot8 GUI added with 2.8 is lovely to work with - a skilful piece of design.

How did you initially get into this industry of ours?

Partly by accident. I was doing some remixes that were posted on KVR (about 7 or 8 years ago), and a few people dug my sounds and suggested I should release some of my some. I didn't believe them for nearly 18 months! Then I released a few Massive sounds, to test the waters and they got good feedback. In particular, Sascha Dikiciyan (who has composed for Mass Effect, Deus Ex and Quake) sent me a nice email and asked me to make some sounds for him, which really encouraged me. I owe him a great deal for that early support.

If you had to pick a single piece of your work to proclaim as your ‘favourite’ which would it be?

I could go the soppy route and say my two daughters, but... that's not what you're after! I wrote my first feature film score last year (a comedy horror called The Snarling) and, while I pick it to pieces every time I listen to it, I'm incredibly proud that I got the chance to do something like that and that it went down so well with audiences. And I'll be scoring the sequel (probably next year) and am hugely looking forward to it.

The Snarling Promo Poster

How do you decide which synth you want to do an expansion pack for next?

Quite often I'm working anywhere from six months to a year ahead of my release schedule, so it's mostly a question of what order to release them in. I mainly try to space things out, so I'm not releasing stuff too frequently for the same synth or with the same themes. With regard to what I choose to work on, it's a mixture of either what I've been working on with bespoke projects and what interests me sonically. Sometimes I'll have an idea for a collection of sounds and then need to decide which synth will work best (or will be most interesting/fun) to create that soundset. Other times I'll want to work with a synth, maybe one I haven't tried before or in a long while, and then need to think of what I want to do with it! So, erm, a bit of everything, I guess!

Why ‘The Unfinished’?

Haha, the perennial question. Once upon a time, I was an aspiring comedian/comedy writer. And it mainly didn't happen because I was lazy. So, when I got back into music writing and sound design, I decided not to make that mistake again. The Unfinished is essentially me mocking myself for having had so many unfinished comedy projects when I was younger. It's a reminder not to be sloppy and to get things done.

The Unfinished Workstation

You have an impressive composer following, many of whom have mentioned your products in Time+Space blog interviews. Are there any composers in particular who you’d love the chance to collaborate with – either for an Unfinished title or a soundtrack project?

Yes, they've been very kind. I would have loved to have worked with Johann Johannsson. His music was achingly beautiful. So clever, so interesting. I was gutted when he passed away. Such a sad loss. I'm a big fan of Olafur Arnalds; I think it would be fun to work with him. And then there's Harry Gregson-Williams, who essentially inspired me to get into cinematic music a dozen years or so ago - would love to do something with him. Ultimately though, the best buzz is from merely working with nice people on interesting ideas - that always works for me!

Will we ever see a ‘The Unfinished’ plugin? Some super-duper out-of-this-world virtual synth perhaps?

Hahaha, I doubt it. Unless I could fecklessly sit on my throne, eating sushi, while ordering someone about who understands all the coding stuff! Seriously though... I'd have to be convinced I had an idea that was something different enough to justify it. I have so many nice synths to play with; I'm not sure what's missing from my arsenal. Maybe some nice physical modelling thing? I don't know. I'll let the likes of u-he and Spectrasonics worry about that stuff. Although if a developer wants to chat with me about it, well...

The Unfinished Synths

Do you ever struggle to decide between presets as to which ones will make the final cut and which ones won’t?

Sometimes, but mainly from the perspective that I'll make too many sounds for a project. So I need to cut them down to the right number. I can procrastinate and dither over stuff like that for days and days! I'll never make a sound that's not good enough to release, or if I do, I'll bin it. One of my key rules is that I will not release a sound I wouldn't be 100% happy to use in my own music. Having too many patches for a soundset can be an excellent problem too though. If there's enough of them, they can provide the core of a further release and guide me as to what else to make.

Are there any genres you’ve not particular touched on yet that you’d like to with future ‘The Unfinished’ expansions?

Perhaps. As I mentioned above, I only release sounds I'd use myself, so it's always going to have a cinematic or electronic/cinematic vibe mainly. But, having said that, there's some really cool music that walks the line between film music and techno that I'm really interested in, and I think I'd like to make some noises in that vein at some point. I'm thinking of artists like Kiasmos, Jon Hopkins, Christian Loffler, Moderat and Sasha.

The Unfinished Sofa

We understand you worked on the soundtrack for the hit series ‘The Bridge’. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

I am a huge Scandiphile. Stockholm is my favourite place in the world, and I'm currently trying to persuade my wife we should move there. I've been watching Nordic Noir since BBC4 started showing the Swedish version of Wallander. For me, The Bridge is one of the very best examples of Scandinavian crime drama. So, when I realised I was having an email conversation with one of the composers (Uno Helmersson), I surreptitiously steered the conversation in the direction of the possibility of me creating some sounds for the team (Uno composes alongside Patrik Andren and Johan Soderqvist on the show).

The Bridge Promo Poster

They loved the idea, so I spent several weeks designing all sorts of weird and wonderful sounds with Zebra. It was a great project to work on as they gave me something of a free reign to create patches, as long as they sounded unusual and unique - that was the brief really, make it odd and unsettling. I created sounds entirely different to anything I'd made before; it was really inspiring. And now, those sounds (plus others I made during the same programming sessions) are available for everybody to use as Zebra Nordsund: Blood and Zebra Nordsund: Gold. Which is nice.

Which other high profile projects have you been involved with?

I've had a couple of Hollywood moments, doing a bit of programming for Olympus Has Fallen and Need For Speed. Plus, I've worked on game titles like Far Cry: Primal (with the lovely Jason Graves), Titanfall 2, Vampyr and Dead Rising 3. Also, TV shows such as Unforgotten and Silent Witness here in the UK, plus Halt & Catch Fire and Fear the Walking Dead (both with Paul Haslinger).

The Unfinished Workstation Gear

What’s been the proudest moment of your career/s to date?

Ooh, that's a toughie. It would be hard to beat the first time I saw my name in the credits on the screen at my local cinema; that was for Need For Speed. I'll confess to having a tear in my eye. Dusty, dusty cinema, haha. As far as the pinnacle of achievement... that would be working on The Bridge.

To work on a show that you've loved watching for a few years is really something. That it was also probably the most fun, I've had synth programming was a real bonus! But, I do genuinely get a thrill every time someone contacts me to tell me they've used my sounds in their work, no matter how big or small the project. I can never get enough of those emails.

If you had to organise a concert featuring the best artists/bands of all time who would be headlining?

Well... I'm going to veer entirely off message here. My favourite band in the whole world are Saint Etienne. Have adored them since the early 90s. They would definitely be headlining. I recently became "online friends" with band member, Pete Wiggs, and it was all I could to do to not shriek like a schoolgirl. They would be ably supported by Pet Shop Boys, The Go! Team, Hybrid, Sigur Ros and The KLF. It would, quite frankly, be a weird but joyous concert.

Saint Etienne Band

Finally, who’s your money on to win the world cup?

Man, I love the football. Which seems to be an unpopular position to hold in this industry. The World Cup is fantastic; I will watch all the games... even Morocco vs Iran. Naturally, I want England to win it but, since I'm not currently suffering from a massive brain injury, I'll accept that isn't going to happen.

I'm writing this after every team has played at least one game and, frankly, nobody's impressed that much. Brazil and Spain both looked good; Germany were very average, but they're Germany so will still make the semis. I tipped France before the tournament, but they limped past a weak Australian side. So, I'll be boring and say Brazil. Though I'd love to see an underdog get there, like Mexico (who look good), or even Iceland! I've spoken too much about the World Cup, haven't I?

Click here to view the full range of 'The Unfinished' expansion packs.