Chris Howard is a Liverpool-based composer and sound designer. He is a member of the Live Drum & Bass collective, Sleeping Dragon and his composition/sound design work is seen in installations across the UK with Focal Studios.Chris talks about his workflow with Concept 2, Reformer Pro and Weaponiser – Explore all of our plugins with a 10-day free trial today!
JJ Lyon: Hey Chris! What have you been working on recently?
Chris Howard: I’ve just finished the soundtrack and foley/SFX for a projection-mapped show for Chinese New Year that ran from the 4-6th of February and was featured on the BBC. It was projected onto the 130ft tower of The Bombed Out Church in Liverpool, and as part of the show, I was tasked with “Destroying” it!
Reformer Pro and Weaponiser are both absolute game-changers – I used them for the entire foley/SFX part of the project.
JJ: Awesome! Do you do a lot of these kinds of projects?
CH: Yeah! As well as being freelance, I work with Focal Studios as their composer & sound designer. We’ve just completed a projection-mapped exhibit install at Dewa Roman Exhibition in Chester, which also heavily features Reformer Pro & Weaponiser. Focal has some very cool projects lined up for the year including a new playable projection-mapped game I’m currently working on that will be projected on to the Museum of Liverpool later this month – it’s great to work for a talented team who always think big while giving me the creative freedom to really let loose on their projects. It’s a dream!
JJ: It’s so great to hear about Krotos being used for projects like this! What journey did you go on to end up working with Focal Studios so closely?
CH: I’ve actually known one of the founders of Focal Studios for years, although we’d never formally worked together until last year. He’s actually a fan of the live cinematic electronic/drum and bass band I play in, and the first project we did together was an event called “Wake The Dragon” involving several creative teams (including fire dancers, projection mapping, circus acts etc…) all soundtracked live by my band as a 20-minute show. After this, we decided we needed to do more stuff together.I’d been freelance composing/songwriting for years as well as working as a session musician, and over lockdown I ended up doing some work for a large tech-based company in California (bespoke composition for company rebranding videos) – the Focal team needed audio for their upcoming LUX project, had heard about my recent work (through mutual friends) and got in touch, so I sent them my portfolio and I’m fortunate to be their go-to guy ever since.Luckily they liked it and I’ve been working as their go-to composer ever since!
JJ: The level of creativity that goes into real-world installations is so inspiring. What do you like most about working like this?
CH: I love working on these kinds of “integrated” events – it’s such a great feeling seeing an audience react to things we’ve created in real-time, in a real space – I can anonymously be stood in the audience and enjoy it with them, which is a real treat. Last year Focal Studios and their creative partners ran the UK’s largest playable projection-mapped game “LUX” for which I provided the soundtrack and SFX – it was such a rewarding feeling to just look around and see people enjoying and interacting with this massive project we’d all put our heart and soul into.
JJ: How do you utilise textures and non-musical sounds in your compositions?
CH: I love blending traditional instrumentation with something totally new and as much as I love writing for strings and other more traditional compositional elements, I’m always inspired by electronic artists and composers who mangle sounds into new shapes. A big help for me to achieve this has been Concept 2 – it has basically changed my whole workflow for making music out of non-musical sounds.Concept 2 featured massively in the LUX soundtrack – the game was electricity themed and I used recordings of striplights and such to make a lot of the sounds. I was inspired by Hildur Guðnadóttir’s work on the series Chernobyl, where she created the music out of the subject matter of the show (literally using recordings of sounds made in other disused nuclear powerplants) – it was a very inspiring approach.
JJ: What elements of Concept 2 helped you to achieve your new workflow?
CH: The beauty of Concept 2 is that it’s so quick and intuitive to use. It does conventional synthesis very well, but I use it best as a new tool to quickly create entirely new sounds that haven’t been heard before. It saves time and solves the problem of having to set up a long FX chain in my DAW and then render/re-mangle/render/re-mangle. Experimentation is what makes music and sound design fun, and Concept 2 is just so much fun to use.As a use case – some of the deep booms I used in LUX came from a section of an orchestral sample, mixed with electrical sparks. I would NEVER have chosen to make a deep boom using those things outside of Concept, yet it worked perfectly and wasn’t the standard approach I normally reach for.I think that’s so important in a creative product – it has to be FUN. And throwing a bunch of samples into Concept and just seeing what happens is always inspiring. Sometimes you end up with a sound that’s nothing like what you’d expect, but it mentally sets you off down a new path for a section of the thing you’re working on…that’s why I love it.
JJ: What do you value the most about the Krotos plugins?
CH: For me, they are enormous time savers. Reformer Pro, Weaponiser and Dehumaniser 2…not only do they sound great, but they’re fun to experiment with – there is no hard slog to get something inspiring. But most importantly – and for me, this is what Krotos have nailed – they save time.Take for example the recent Chinese New Year project I worked on – for reasons outside anyone’s control, the turnaround from being hired to delivering the finished audio was less than three weeks. I already had a ton of other commitments at this time, and I was tasked with writing over 9 minutes of soundtrack, plus all of the Sound Effects and all of the foley. I’m genuinely not sure I could have physically done it within that time frame without Krotos stuff. They are absolute game-changers. 🙌
JJ: That’s great to hear Chris, Thanks!
Chris Howard: No problem! I know Krotos software is very popular in games and film, but it genuinely surprises me that it’s not used more for projection/hologram/installation-style projects, as it’s perfect for the task. If you think about it, these installations are basically live films!
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