I had a chance to interview Ivo Ivanov, sound designer and founder of Glitchmachines.
Can you tell us a bit: who’s Ivo Ivanov?
I’m the founder and Audio Director of Glitchmachines. I’m also a professional sound designer and I work with various audio companies like SoundMorph, K-Devices, Ableton, Signal Space, Soundsnap and many others. Aside from audio and electronic music production, one of my lifelong hobbies is video games. I’ve been an avid gamer since around 1982 and my favorite genres are side-scrolling platformers, JRPGs and scifi or action adventure games. Most importantly, I’m a family man and when I’m not working, I enjoy every moment of time spent with my wife and two young kids.
How did you got involved in electronic music production and sound designing?
I got interested in electronic music as a young child, after hearing otherworldly sounds that were coming from our family’s Atari 2600 and Vectrex video game systems, as well as the electro and new wave music of the 1980s. Having had some classical training on the piano, this eventually inspired me to learn more about synthesizers and I finally put together my first basic recording setup in the late 80s. This resulted in an increasing interest in audio engineering, and I eventually put together my first proper home studio around 1992. All in all, audio and music have been a very significant part of my life ever since I was a young kid.
You seem to be an expert on glitch genre and sound effects as well. What made you interested in this specific genre?
I’ve always been interested in the more academic aspects of music and sound, so abstract, experimental and forward-thinking music has always interested me greatly. Even as a child, I would re-structure basic musical scales into more complicated articulations to make them more interesting to myself while practicing piano. Once I started writing electronic music, I struggled to find comfort within the confines of pre-established genres. That’s honestly one of the main reasons why I haven’t yet released a proper album in 20+ years of making electronic music. Even with glitch music and its various sub-genres, I find that there are a lot of frustrating limitations. Just because something sounds glitchy, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily that interesting. It comes down to substance: i.e. what would be left if you took out all the fancy effects and drum breaks? That being said, I enjoy a lot of musical genres, perhaps too many to list here. As a musician and especially as an engineer, I think it’s foolish to limit yourself.
What kind of studio gear do you have in your studio (hardware/software) and what’s your absolute favorite piece of gear (hardware or software) and why?
Ironically, about a year and a half ago, I got rid of all of my modular synth hardware. For me, it’s a sort of cleanse – and it’s a highly effective one because I’m getting more work done than ever! To make what could be a very long answer as short and concise as possible; I found that gear lust was one of my biggest obstacles when it came to making progress. Not only that, but the sum of money I have spent on modules (and gear in general) over the years is truly staggering. I want to do other things in life besides buying more modules. Anyway, to answer your question, my favorite piece of gear in my studio is my Genelec 8040 monitors. The reason for this is that I know and trust these monitors thoroughly, and I am always confident when I work with them. Together with my Mac, high-end audio interface, portable recorder, mics and all my software, I basically have everything I need. For software, my favorite DAW is Ableton Live (though I use Reaper when working on video game projects) and my all time favorite synth platform is Reaktor, which I have been using since it was called Generator in the 90s. Aside from Reaktor, I regularly use plugins from Valhalla DSP, 2C Audio, Sonic Charge, Twisted Tools, SoundMorph, Inear Display and Madrona Labs, to name a few.
You have produced a huge amount of sounds and sound packs and they sound sonically very diverse. Where do you get all those ideas for your sounds?
I keep an ongoing list of ideas. This helps me a lot because ideas tend to come at the most awkward times. As such, I’ve trained myself to email the idea to myself, and I later integrate it into a master spreadsheet which I constantly populate with new material. I’ve got hundreds of ideas there currently. The big challenge is that only half of them are attainable at this point, as many of them would require staggering budgets or security clearances to achieve. For example, I would love to record various types of animals or mechanical things like complex machines in a factory.
Do you ever run out of ideas for your music and sounds and if you do, what do you usually do to find your creativity again?
I don’t really ever run out of ideas, but I do run out of energy and enthusiasm. When that happens, I try to take a mental break and recharge. Sleeping really helps, so I’ve forced myself to go to bed at a more reasonable time than in the past. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of lacking inspiration, and for that, I usually take my family outdoors for the day or do something uplifting that has nothing to do with audio. Generally speaking, I think people don’t do this enough – rather, they sit in their chair day in day out, hoping for inspiration to magically strike. Most of the time that doesn’t work. It’s just not how our brains function. Taking a break (mentally and physically) is the best thing you can do.
When you start to create a new sound or set of sounds, where do you begin? What’s the very first step you take?
The very first step I take is writing out a couple of paragraphs, where I essentially discuss the project with myself. It’s a sort of solo brainstorming session. This helps me put all of my ideas and concepts on paper, so I can see everything in front of me. Everything from what software I will use to which locations I would field record, to what the different subcategories will be, to the nuances of the theme etc. This process helps me streamline my perspective and workflow in a way that is customized for each individual project. From there, I usually spend a few days (or weeks) prototyping. The reason for this is that even if you have some great ideas, sometimes they just play out differently than you expected. So the prototyping helps me figure out what will and will not work. I also don’t like to include any first attempts in an actual shipped project so, in that way, I essentially give myself a chance to do some dress rehearsals before I really begin.
How much do you use synthesis in sound designing? Do you have any favorite synths?
It definitely depends on the project but I would assess that synthesis plays some part in almost all of my designs since its core elements are so intertwined with the process (speaking of things like modulation, for example). Of course some projects are a lot more synth-heavy than others, and in that case, I will use synthesis quite a lot. In the past, I would try to incorporate some hardware into this process, but I find nowadays that I have more than enough software to meet my needs. Once again, I would say that Reaktor is my favorite since it’s so much more than just one synth. Before I eliminated modular hardware from my workflow, my favorite Eurorack modular synth gear came from Make Noise, The Harvestman, Mutable Instruments and Intellijel. As far as software synths go, I’m really into the Madrona Labs stuff at the moment.
What do you think will be the next popular sub-genre in electronic music?
It’s kind of impossible to predict. I don’t really stay too much on top of what’s popular anymore because that’s usually the first thing to become outdated once it gets chewed up and spit out by the mainstream. I do keep myself informed, for the sake of perspective, but that’s the only real interaction I have with what’s going on in the world of popular music. I actually find it somewhat humorous that all of these convoluted new sub-genre names keep popping up (not just in electronic music but in general). It’s comical because it’s a contradiction if you think about it. It’s like trying to strictly define something in an effort to say that it is unique, yet inadvertently confining it to the limitations imposed by the predefined parameters of the genre. Maybe it all stems from lingering ideals established by former record industry business models. I hope we can move past it in the future, for the sake of creative evolution. I would like to believe that we can someday move beyond the notion of “genres”, but it would be a slow and complicated process and probably won’t happen anytime soon.
Any tips for new (and why not more seasoned!) sound designers or electronic music producers? Any “rules of thumb”?
Don’t focus so much on the next piece of gear, or how many comments you’ll get on Soundcloud. Rather, embrace the process and learn everything you can about the craft. There will always be someone better than you so make it your mission to stay down to earth and try to understand that there is always something new to be learned, even from someone less experienced. Spend money on important gear like excellent reference monitors and audio interfaces, even when fun purchases like synths and noise boxes are more enticing. More importantly, learn how to communicate. I can’t tell you how many people can’t even follow standard email etiquette. It’s important to understand that you’ll have a hard time finding good opportunities if you don’t know how to conduct yourself when the moment finally comes. Know the difference between addressing your buddies and speaking to someone in a professional context. Always be on time and do your best work. Follow through, be clear and direct, and set realistic goals and deadlines. Don’t focus on what you think you’re ultimately capable of – rather, focus on what you are actually capable of today. Help others even when there’s nothing in it for you. Most of all, be humble, kind and generous and treat people with respect.
Any future plans for your music, sound packs or plugins in glitchmachines.com?
I’m currently working on a full-length album (to be released under my own name, (label TBA), which I’m very proud of because it’s the first time I’m going to be releasing an album in the 20+ years that I’ve been writing electronic music. This album features fully realized concepts that I’ve been working on for well over a decade, and I’m very excited to share it with everyone in the Fall of 2016. I’m also working on the follow-up to Biomorph, which is a new sci-fi Glitchmachines sound pack to be released in Fall of 2016. We are working on some updates to the existing range of Glitchmachines plugins, with Quadrant getting a 1.1 update very soon. This one features a lot of new stuff including a bunch of new modules. We’re also working on a follow-up to our super popular free plugin, Fracture. Fracture 2 will be available early in the fall for only $10.