Talk-Zone #59 Interview with Surreal machines

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Welcome to this interview, Matt. You‘re the man behind Surreal Machines, right? Let‘s introduce our readers what Surreal Machines is and how you got the idea to start in this business?

Well, it’s not a one-man operation. I started Surreal Machines in 2014 with Pete Dowling and when we started the VST development we hired a friend I had worked with in the past, Dr. Alex Harker from Huddersfield University in the UK. We were already using the open source HISS tools Alex wrote to do convolution for the reverb in our Max version of Magnetic. We’ve also have a freelance web developer and graphic designer at the moment and are always looking for talent.

Surreal Machines is all about making fun and musical ideas. I wouldn’t say that we are limited to Max or plugins that’s just where we happen to be right now. It’s just a start. I kicked off the company because I have worked as an instrument and effects designer for both Native Instruments and Ableton for some years but needed an outlet where I could do some things that just don’t fit with those companies, and I like having a place for a different sense of freedom. It’s kind of like a musical artist who’s in a band but has his own solo project.

You‘ve got some interesting VST and AU effect-plugins, like Dub machines, Modnetic and Diffuse. Please explain how they work and for which purposes they could be used? (e.g. for mixing or sound design)

The Dub Machines are really just taking classic ideas and turning them around a little bit. They are two delays… well delay isn’t really doing them justice.
Modnetic is primarily inspired by the Roland 501 but also some other classic pedals and echoes. It has a reverb with springs, plates, halls, and all kinds of strange colors like tape inflection; a tape delay at the heart; a modulation section with 20 different chorus, flanger and phaser models, and a tone section. But what makes it special is that it has a real analog vibe to it, with built in noise, wobble etc, and then even some less analog things like infinite loop and reverse. We get some comments from space echo owners that they prefer it to their real gear even because of the options and having the artefacts they like in a controlled way.
Diffuse is based on some early reverb algorithms, but we decoupled some of the sections so you can morph from reverbs to echoes and lot in between. It has kind long lush sound when it’s a reverb and sort of a controlled tapey sound when it’s a an echo.
But yeah, our philosophy is to try and use our experience and ears to add a new dimension to classic ideas that are already out there, like the over the top pumping, the rectifying, or tap patterns in Diffuse; or the strange colors or reverse modes in Modnetic.
I’d use them to fill space in a mix or even play them like an instrument if you are into dub, experimental or ambient music.

Additionally to your VST and AU-Plugins, you‘re offering also tools for Ableton and Max/MSP. What can you say about those tools?

We just made a new pack called Transient Machines that we are pretty proud of. It’s a set of transient shapers for mixing drums primarily but does a lot of other unique things like multiband processing, saturation and maximizing.

We usually start out in Max no matter what we are doing because we all are so fluid in it and it allows making changes and trying ideas without re-compiling. It’s also much faster to make an effect idea into a Max for Live device than a VST- there’s just less parts to take care of that Max does for you. We also feel really connected to people involved in making music and making better tools. We like Max because we can share some of our work with other developers and we feel this will help music software progress more quickly or at least increase its quality. We even have a package for Max building that has our highest quality filters that anyone can use. (They were even used recently in an iPad app by Amazing Noises).

How much time does it take to develope a plugin like Dub Machines, Modnetic… on average? What is the most interesting part and what is the most „painful“, /boring part if you start with programming a new tool?

A lot longer than you’d think. It really depends on various things like if it’s Max of VST, how much time we have outside of our other musical jobs, weather we get something right at first or not…
All of our ideas so far have started as ideas a long time ago with a lot of refinement. Then when we decide to make them into a real product, when you would think it’s almost done, that’s when the real work starts. Before that, it’s just a pass-time, something you mess with for a while and use in a few tracks and pretty much work when the inspiration comes. Once it becomes a product the bar is much higher and there are always things that as someone who is just spitting out ideas to a team, sound like they wouldn’t take any time but then take months to do right. I guess the other guys on the team could have the same impression about my work on driving the UI. We usually go through a lot of iterations, and the team thinks it’s good to go but then I want to start over, or try a new graphic designer in the case of the VST, because it has to feel just right. But it’s really fun the whole time!
I think my least favorite part is the stuff that isn’t making the plugin… the web page, the manual, etc. I like planning the movies quite a bit though, and the sound design is something that always comes really fast and to an acceptable point very easily for us. Yeah finally making presets and demos is a real joy, because then you can say, “yeah, that sounds fucking good! It was worth it. I want to use this all the time now.”

Is Max/MSP your main development-platform for all plugins that you create, or are you one of those hardcore-coders, which are only coding with C++ script languages?

We always start in Max. We use C/++ in Max too in the form of gen~ or writing externals but the Max environment allows us to experiment much faster.

Which projects and tools could the Surreal Machines fans expect next?

You’ll have to wait and see.

Do you also play music as a DJ or in a band or are you just a sound worker in developing? If you‘re an active musician tell us about it.

I do play gigs locally here in Berlin from time to time, but mostly I’m doing sound design instruments and effects, as well as film and video games.

Could you image to release an iOS or Android app in the next future?

I could imagine it, but more likely we’ll put out an AUv3 first.

You‘ve initialized an exclusive give-away in cooperation with Noizefield. What could people win and what do they need to do?

They can win a free copy of Dub Machines VST/AU. People just need to write a comment at the Facebook page of Noizefield right here:

Noizefield at Facebook

More information:
Surreal Machines


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