Transcription: 0369 - Steve Roche and David Donaldson

Released: November 7, 2021

Darwin: Okay. Today, I have the opportunity to speak to a couple of people introduced to me by my friend and collaborator Andrew Pask. I have David Donaldson and Steve Roche. They are from a group called Plan 9 out of New Zealand. I was trying to come up with some sort of definition of what they do and the wheels just fell off about three minutes into my planning of that. I'm going to hand it over to Steve and David to help define what's going on. Hi, guys. How's it going?

Steve Roche: Hi.

Steve: Well, we're a collaboration that's been going for about 35 years. We started playing together in bands in the '80s, just hung together really, and developed what we do as result of there not being a lot of work in New Zealand to specialize in one area. You need to have a broad set of skills, so we ended up, over the years, doing a whole bunch of different stuff.

David Donaldson: We do whatever we need to do to keep going.

Darwin: Yeah. Looking at your website, it's really pretty remarkable. It's a group of composers. How many people are loosely affiliated with the Plan 9 crew?

David: Plan Nine is the three of us. Steve, myself, and Janet. Janet used to be the vocalist in our original band. Steve was the trumpet player and I was the double bass player. These days we mostly play computers, or recorders, or play double bass for 30 seconds and fix it up on the computer. We slowly set up a studio and originally, to make albums actually. Then slowly, we did theater music and dance music, and then we got into soundtrack work, and that's just kept going. Then I don't know if you said or not, but we're in New Zealand. In Wellington, New Zealand. At the time we started, it was easy to get big spaces. For about 18 years, we had... It was called the Boyce Institute. It was a neat...

Steve: It was an amazing, kind of come fostering.

David: And that became a center for music in Wellington for a certain...

Steve: For 20 years.

David: And Andrew Pask would've been around at that time and part of that, and it was called the Braille Collective. We set up a record label called Braille Records and so far, we've done about 23 albums. Mostly feature improvisation it was based around, but all sorts of people went through the original space. If you're interested, you can watch a documentary about that space. It's called "30 Arthur Street". If you were to search for 30 Arthur Street, you would find a documentary that would, a 20-minute documentary that is us in that space in its last days. They've got a bypass - a road went through there which was always planned to go through it. That's why we got left alone for 18 years to be there because they were waiting to stick a big motorway through it. We documented the last period of that time but I've jumped sideways a little on you there, but I -

Darwin: No, that's cool.

Steve: That was the beginning.

David: That was the beginning of it. We love making music as a group activity. So even as soundtrack composers, we still go along of that ethos of the whole is greater than the parts, and so we just like working together. And we have, we've just stayed working together all this time. We grew up learning music together, how to play music together, and we've stuck with it.

Darwin: Right. Well one of the things that recently happened is, as a group, you put out your first album, right?

David: As Plan 9, but Steve and I have a whole songwriting project called Thrashing Marlin, which we've done four albums. We play in a band called the Lab Coats that's done two albums. So we do albums of all sorts, but we've never done one as Plan 9.

Steve: We did an album of Kurt Weill songs, which we, the three of us were in that included a few other people. So, but it wasn't under the name Plan 9. So that was the first release we did that's under the moniker Plan 9.

David: Plan 9 normally operates as a sort of soundtrack business. But because of the lockdown, the first lockdown that New Zealand had, which was, I don't know, middle of March, 18 months ago. Everything stopped, and we had recently moved into a new studio. We've got a new studio in Wellington, and it comes with a chapel. It's got an old chapel connected to it, so it's a beautiful recording space. We decided that as we had no work on, we would actually use that, make an album in that space using the ambience of that room, and worked out that the best thing we could do to take ourselves out of our comfort zone was form a string quartet. Nobody had ever played in a string quartet before, or listened for a string quartet.

Instead of having a head cello, our sting quartet was made of double bass, cello...

Steve: Two violins.

David: A really flash violinist, and Steve, who's not really a violin player.

Steve: And two singers.

David: And two singers, and one of them a throat singer.

Darwin: Right.

David: Steve's a, we call it rhythm violin, because he can play beautiful fills on the violin, but we used the other guy, Tristan Carter-

Steve: As the lead violinist, yeah.

David: As the flash violinist. Then it just worked out. We rehearsed the whole album in that space to get the whole ambiance of that space, and then we recorded it. So we rehearsed for about seven weeks or something on and off.

Each week, a couple times a week or something until we could play it. Then we just recorded it live over two days. It's called The Bewilderness. Plan 9, The Bewilderness. It's on Spotify, although not very a big fan of Spotify. It's on Bandcamp, you can go and buy it on Bandcamp, but you could stream it on Spotify if you want to hear what we do when we're left to our own devices really.

Darwin: Right. That has to be, you yourself said that a lot of how you play is, you play your instrument for 30 seconds and then do the computer jockey job for the remaining eight hours. How big of a transition was it to actually sit down and deal with not only playing and hitting the right notes and stuff, but the stamina of doing it too? I mean, it's a different process.

Steve: Yeah, totally. That's one of the reasons we do a lot of rehearsing, actually. We rehearsed a lot with the band, and David and I would spend a lot of time just the two of us just playing for that very reason. Just to kind of A) learn how to play, and B) just build up the stamina. It is a different thing.

David: That was also partially why we did it. Well I'm now forced, wow we've got really flash players. The cellist was a woman called Ruby Sulley. She is also a Taonga Pūoro player, which is a traditional Maori instrument. We had really flash players, so well we've got to up our game. We don't want to be the ones making the mistakes when we're recording. Also, we are writing the material. So you write for yourself.

David: So you go, this is a key I like to play in.

Darwin: Sure.

David: I want it in that key. I know I've done this sort of picnic for a long time. I'm going to use this picnic. Steve and I, we had no other work on, so we would just play every day and got our stamina back up. We also play in, we were lucky enough here after the first lockdown ended in New Zealand, the government gave support to venues and bands to try and keep venues and things going. We ended up with a residency at a bar. The bar was called Meow, and our band was called The Devil's Gate Outfit. It's like a seven piece kind of jazz band.

Steve: Kind of jazz.

David: They paid a videographer to come and film every gig.

Steve: It was live streamed, yeah.

David: It was live streamed. The government paid us money to do it, paid the venue, and paid, just to try and keep the artists.

Steve: Yeah, for about six weeks after that lockdown, yeah. It sort of kick started again.

David: That also gave us, because we hadn't played live for ages. We generally do stuff in the studio now. It's also really good to get out. Apart from carrying the gear, it's actually really good to play out.

Darwin: Yeah, right. You have to rest for two weeks after a gig just because your back hurts, right.

David: Well actually, what happened in that band, is it's got a really beautiful double bass player, Tom Colwood. He plays in all sorts of bands in New Zealand. It's like okay, we've already got a flash bass player, and I'm a double bass player as well. My brother wanted me in the band so he said play what you want. I was like, okay well I'm not going to play double bass. It means I don't have to carry all that gear around also. So I played bass banjo, an instrument that me and another guy made about 30 years ago out of a bass drum. I played percussion, then it turned into playing this weird looking Thai guitar I bought in Thailand years ago. Suddenly I was carrying way more gear that in I played double bass.

David: It's a really fun gig because it's all [inaudible 00:09:14] and no responsibilities. It's got a really good bass player so I can just do, play the bits I want to play. It didn't really help with the stamina of playing double bass for The Wilderness.

Steve: No, no, no. That's true.

David: It did give me some playing, just out playing.

Darwin: It's interesting that you mentioned the weird instruments and hand built instruments because one of the other things that you do is, you have a company Mod Wheel, that creates sample libraries. I looked at the list of libraries that you have, and it starts off very nice. Here's a zither. All of a sudden it's like, bass banjo, and then feedback, and then the wave scrapes. It's just like it goes to insanity. I look at the list of the stuff you did, and what it looks like, is that you had fun and you actually happened to record it.

Steve: Yeah, that's pretty much it. I mean, it's got to be fun.

David: Everything's been done now. If you want to sample something, everything's been sampled well. You actually have to have a point of difference. As I said earlier, we've always had a big space. Other musicians have stored instruments and stuff or we've bought instruments. We've built up a huge collection of shit over the years. It's useful for when you're doing soundtracks and things.

Darwin: Oh, sure.

David: Ah, I've got to have a koto on this we could whatever. We have all these sound making things at our fingertips. Then we thought, well hang on, in our down time we should start sampling these. We were sampling them anyway for our own use for soundtracks, and then it was like, we buy other people's sample libraries and go, we can do better than this. We can write one.

Steve: Quite often, and I have been in the soundtrack business, we're always at the end of the chain, and we are relying on people getting a job out to employers. This way we can just do it when we've got the time. Which at the moment is quite a lot.

David: They're artworks, or something that curated, we in a way we went, there's no money in making albums anymore. No one pays for music.

Steve: No.

David: Instead of doing, we've done four albums as Thrashing Marlin. Why don't we go and do this. We still make, to show what the instruments are, we still have to make a whole lot of music using the libraries. We make videos. We like shooting videos and stuff. It's still the whole creative process. We just get to come here every day. If someone pays us to make a soundtrack, we do it. If they don't, we just make stuff. We make sample libraries, and created to our aesthetic.

Steve: Yeah. That's right. We make instruments that we like playing that in the end hopefully other people will as well. You know, it's kind of...

Darwin: I would say that I started off my investigation on you by going to your website, going to the listen page and taking a listen through a bunch of that stuff. There was some traditional soundtrack stuff, but there was also the things that I would say is like the spring-and-rattle kind of soundtrack work that is sort of matched by what your sound libraries are. I just thought it was really interesting because it's sort of like there is very much a through thread in the whole thing, right.

Steve: Yeah. There is.

David: Yeah, and people investing in our aesthetic. We have an audience of people we're slowly building that go, we like what you guys do. I think also, really, we've got a secret weapon in that we're from New Zealand. When people hear our walk through or our tutorials, they kind of think they're comedy or something because of our accents. Are you guys from Flight of the Conchords, or...?

Darwin: I would have said that except already Andrew has beaten me up for ever bringing up Flight of the Conchords, so I know better than to do that.

Steve: We actually know that, so it's sort of kind of funny really.

David: It works in our favor that we have a different view. It has to be fun as well.

Darwin: A different take on things, right. Yeah, yeah.

David: It's just like when we watch tutorial videos, they're the most boring thing in the world. Having someone just explain to you how something works. We always do it with the two of us so it's like a conversation. Then we play the stuff live. Whatever we're doing, two of us on the keyboard just mucking around showing how they work. I think it works in our favor, in a way. People...

Steve: Some people.

David: Some people.

Darwin: Some people.

David: Some people ask for their money back. We did one called The Mystichord. It's just, what are the, I don't know where we got. We made the sounds out of all sorts of stuff.

Steve: Yeah, yeah.

David: It's just that-

Steve: So we had ran to the keyboard.

David: When we did the tutorial, we just spun a story that we were from some mad scientist in the past and they were on tapes and weird. It got more and more ridiculous as the story went along. If you look at the tutorial, The Mystichord tutorial, you will see it. The walkthrough I think of the Mystichord.

Steve: Yeah.

David: We've got added visuals to it. Told a whole, we just...

Steve: Kind of a little sort of film in a documentary about a Australia guys life.

David: People believed it, and tried to research the guy, a Merlin...

Steve: Merlin Gertsik.

David: Merlin Gertsik. We just totally made it up as we were doing the walk through. Then we would put some visuals to mix it later on. Then someone asked for their money back when they realized they had sort have been conned. We never expected, it was so ridiculous, we never expected anyone to believe it.

Steve: Anyone to believe it.

Darwin: This is great, because now you also have done a how-not-to-do-a-tutorial video, which is pretty good.

David: I think it's our most watched walk through though. People just watch it for the entertainment value.

Darwin: That's fantastic. That's hilarious.

One of the things I like doing in my podcast is finding out about how people got to be the artist they are. What was, growing up, how did you get invested in music. The fact that you really haven't, I would say sort of like in a classical sense almost in an avant guarde sense of music, which I appreciate and it certainly speaks to me. Also, you, just to do all the things you do, you really had to embrace technology as well. I'm curious, what are the pieces of your background that came together to pull that off? Growing up, what was your interaction with music? What was your interaction with technology? How did you, what were the influences that made you what you are?

David: I reckon there's probably one name that you, that's straight off, Anthony Donaldson, my brother, his name. Yeah, Anthony, my brother, when he was a kid went "I'm going to be a drummer. I'm going to move to Wellington and become a jazz drummer." He invited me down. At a certain point, I lived in Hawks Bay, which is a number of hours away. At a certain point he rang me up. He encouraged me to take up the bass, and then at a certain point he rang me up and said if you move to Wellington, you can be in my band. It was like, okay, I'm in. Steve, he found Steve as well.

When we were in Wellington. When I first got to Wellington, this is 1981, he went come down to Wellington to be in my band. It was a five piece band, and that was an excellently exploratory, collective improvisation band. We rehearsed every day. We practiced hours. It was like a full time job, but we were all unemployed. We just absolutely learned how to play and improvise together for a number of years. Then it slowly became more legitimate. At a certain point...

Steve: But there's always been that element at it's core. And a sort of thinking, and...

David: Yeah. Well especially group improvisation. We weren't really into solos. It wasn't that sort of jazz. It was more European kind of whole thing of-

Darwin: Group improv, yeah.

David: Yeah. How to improvise as a group together. Make something together.

Darwin: What does that process look like? I think, frankly, a lot of the people that are listening to this podcast have always kind of worked by themselves or worked in kind of very traditional music groups. So the process of learning improvisation, especially learning group improvisation, it probably seems pretty mystical. What did that actually look like?

Steve: True, yeah.

David: Okay, I say, is it a, it's the word hocket, Is that a legitimate term? I think that is, is it?

Steve: Yeah.

David: Yeah. We would go, so where we might start is that we would take this hocket approach. So a five piece band, someone would work out a melody. Let's say the guitar is playing those two notes, and the sax player is playing those three. Then that's, the bass is going. You know we would have a...

Steve: Sort of set up interlocking.

David: An interlocking way. Yeah. So the whole way we would work would be as a starting point that, because there's nothing worse, in my mind, then a whole lot of people nutting off...

Steve: There's a reason.

David: There has to be a reason, and we were very aware of how to try and develop a way. We would often start from that point where a melody would be built up by the five of us. There was also that, no traditional roles. My brother would say don't expect me to hold the beat down, you know. Or, you're not the bass, often forget the low notes, get up in the high notes. You plan a melody, the saxophone can play the rhythm. Everyone's roles were challenged and rethought and discussed and it was kind of an amazing...

Steve: Yeah, at times really painful. Not actually, but you now it's kind of cool.

David: But Anthony got Steve involved, and a whole bunch of the other people. He's kind of like a-

Steve: He's a real catalyst for-

David: A catalyst for our whole starting. A bunch of people here in the same-

Steve: And sort of opening my ears to a whole bunch of music that I would never have heard otherwise.

David: He was fully into, as well as Beefheart and Zappa. You know, the big ones. But also then the whole Globe Unity Orchestra or the whole sort of odder versions of the ECM kind of labels. European jazz. Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra.

Steve: Ornette.

David: Big on Ornette.

Steve: That was the kind of start. It's like the DNA really, and then for whatever we do, that's kind of always in the background.

David: Yeah. Then how Janet became involved, sort of like in the 80's became a sort of café bar scene here in Wellington, and there were places to play if you wanted to. We did start getting more legitimate in our music and going well if we want to do this as a living, we need to actually be able to play...

Steve: Things that people would listen to.

Darwin: Songs, yeah.

David: Janet was a trained opera singer. She moved to Wellington, and I think again Anthony found her and went, "Forget opera, start improvising." So she joined kind of with us. We formed a group, Janet, Steve and I, and Anthony, and saxophonist Neil Duncan.

Steve: And Dave Long.

David: And Dave Long, guitarist, called the Six Volts. With that we went okay, with a singer now, we will do the weirdest versions of songs that people know. So it might be Theme from The Flying Nun. Or it would be a Doors song, or it would be, trying to think.

Steve: What was the thing...?

David: Aquamarina from Stingray.

Steve: Yeah, Stingray, yeah.

David: We did TV things and stuff. It gave people a way to kind of figure out the reference point. I know what this is supposed to sound like. I can hear what they are doing. I can hear what they are doing to it. The band actually kind of became kind of successful. We ended up touring all the time, but went to the Edinburgh Festival. We got to go to, toured over in England and been up to the Edinburgh Festival. Got to play the theme from Coronation straight on British TV. That was kind of weird. We rated that, it was like that was a good one.

We just became sort of more legitimate as it went along. Then we started getting into theater music. We've always been big on Kurt Weill and Brecht. We were asked to be the band for a season of the Threepenny Opera. Janet got a part as...

Steve: Jenny.

David: Jenny, yeah. We were the band. So we slowly had to go, "Okay, we've got to learn how to play Kurt Weill's music now." We became huge fans of his music and how to play that. During that process, while we were doing that show, we went to a party. We were invited to a party, an after-theater party. While we were there, this guy worked in and said I've just finished a film. Do you guys want to watch it. The roles of film under his arm. He set his projector up and he showed us the film. The film was Bad Taste. It was Peter Jackson's very first film and his very first screening.

Steve: Very first screening.

David: We got to see the very first preview of Peter Jackson's film bad taste. So we got to know him. That slowly meant eventually we started working on his films. We did the score for his TV thing, Forgotten Silver. Him and Costa Botes made a, I don't sure of how...

Steve: A mocumentary.

David: A mocumentary called Forgotten Silver. Then he did another wingnut film. In some capacity or other, we've pretty much worked on all his films since.

Darwin: There is a step missing there, because you watched a film of his and then you're working on a film of his. Something happened in between.

David: Okay. I'll tell you what happened. I was on the dole, and the dole office rang. I don't know if there's, the dole, is that a term you know? Unemployment benefit.

Darwin: Right.

David: They rang me up and they said there is a secret film being shot in Wellington. They need extras. It's got a huge scene and they need a whole lot of extras. I'm like what's the film, and they went it's called Forgotten Silver and it's directed by Peter Jackson and Costa Botes. It was co-directed. It's like "Shit okay." I rang Costa, because I knew, Peter was working on, I think The Frighteners.

Steve: The Frighteners, yeah.

David: At the time. He was tied up. I rang Costa, who I knew, and I said Costa, if you haven't got a composer on that film, we want to, I want to put us forward for it. He said I'll talk to Peter about it. I told the dole I couldn't be an extra in the film because I didn't want Costa to see me and know that I was unemployed. I rang Costa and said can you consider us for the job, and he asked Peter and Peter said "Yeah. They can do it. They can do the gig." And the side way, Peter's partner Fran Walsh, she used to be in bands here in Wellington. So we knew her through playing in bands and working on various things with her. So they knew what we were capable of and what we did.

Steve: Yeah. We'd all sort of been around.

David: We'd all been around hanging out together, and luckily Peter at the time went "Yeah, they can do the gig." As soon as we did that, the film was a huge success in New Zealand. I don't know if you've seen it or even know anything about it. Suddenly it was like, okay we're in. People take us seriously as soundtrack composers now. We did like five years on Lord of The Rings. Just in some capacity. Musical sound designers, writing bits of source music or whatever.

Steve: Editing.

David: We co-wrote, with another guy, The Misty Mountains - the opening track in the Hobbit film. It just went. It just happened.

Darwin: I've had the opportunity to talk to a few people who are from New Zealand, and I would say that everybody's story kind of has this similar ring to it. Which is like I was at a party and I ran into Peter Jackson or something like this. It almost sounds like there's like maybe 20 people in New Zealand and you all know each other. That's what it kinds of seems like.

Steve: It almost feels like that.

David: Wellington is a, are you familiar with Wellington?

Darwin: I have never been, no.

David: It's got a harbor. It's got hills all around it.

Steve: Geographically, kind of focused, you know.

David: It's a real, you can walk around it.

Darwin: Like compressed, yeah, okay.

David: It's very compressed. You can walk around and you get to know everyone in that scene. So that's how we met Bret and Jermaine from Flight of the Conchords. In fact, we've done theater shows with them. We've done short films with them. It's a art scene and it has a lot of cross-pollination. It's not divided, this is what I do, I play in a reggae band, I play in a jazz band.

Steve: No, because it's just a there's no population to support that, so you're like having to do a whole bunch of different stuff which puts you in contact with a whole bunch of different people.

Darwin: That really helps me though, because realistically very few people get the opportunity to say well I was in bands that did weird cover versions of stuff, but I also did stuff for the theater, and I also do movie soundtracks and I do sound design too. I mean, that's not something that really works, because so often in artistic communities, everything is stratified. Which is, the second you get into a lane, you not only stay in that lane, but nobody lets you get out of it either.

Steve: Yes. Right.

David: After we did the Six Volts, which was our weird cover band thing, we were labeled quirky. And it was a word that was just stuck to us.

Steve: Yeah.

David: Oh, you're that quirky, you're those quirky guys that do... Eventually it was like, I don't want to be quirky. I don't want to be known as quirky. So we kind of, you go, I'm going to go somewhere else now because I'm going to play really full on bombastic, you know, you just go somewhere else. You just go don't label me as that. I can do this, we're going to do this now, or we're going to. It also comes down to survival.

Steve: Yeah.

David: You go, I'll do whatever. If it's creative then we'll, yeah. When you say, you mentioned sound design. We were musical sound designers on the Lord of the Rings and stuff. That's just improvising. You know, it's sound, because you come from a background where you, as far as music, any note is valid. There's no, when you're improvising or whatever. So you don't come with these restrictions of oh I can't do that. That's not legit, or... You just try and if it goes that sounds good to me, I like that. Then if it works, it works.

Darwin: Also getting a chance to work on something like Lord of the Rings. A lot of those sounds, who the hell knows what sound that is. You kind of get some freedom to at least explore what the sonic world of the place is, right?

Steve: Yeah, oh totally. I mean, it was just, we were so lucky. I mean-

David: That was a degree in film making.

Steve: It was. We would have done that from when it was an animated, like cartoon stills. Just animated story boards. We would put-

David: Team score.

Steve: A team score to it, music to it. Right from there, and then as the process went on, you would see that film realized and it would be just exactly what the story it was.

David: But just so reworked and re-changed and altered and re-shot. Yeah, that was just like a major, major degree in film making. We just happened to luck into really.

Earlier on you asked, I think it's probably time to move on to. When we grew up, there were no, there's no computers, no cell phones. No tech. We come from - I was an adult, you know, I was in my 30's before the internet, probably longer. Can't even remember.

Steve: He's right. We went to, we went to-

Darwin: We don't talk about that. We don't.

Steve: We went to an evening. It was like the computer studio up at the university where we were investigating the internet, this new thing.

David: It was a night class.

Steve: It was a night class and Dave and I went to see if there's any future in it, and there was. Nothing actually seemed to happen, and we would click on these links and nothing would happen. Then by the end of the evening, suddenly all these pictures kind of appeared on the disk drive. You know, about 45 minutes to download an image, and it was just like "nah".

David: It was like, it was some recipes. On the internet at the time there was like some horoscopes and some recipes or something. We came away like: "That is a dead end road. That is never going to work." But the thing is, it's also enabled us to have an occupation. Most of our work is not in New Zealand. We do whole film scores for people I've never even met.

It's all just done remotely, but we've Modwheel, which was, suddenly it's like we've got to learn, well I didn't, but Steve did, learn scripting. So, I don't know, we've ended up having to go way out of our comfort zones of what we started with just to keep things interesting I guess. Or just, you just want to keep learning and keep... I don't want to do the same thing. I don't want to play weird cover versions of something my whole life. I want to do, I want to suddenly play in a string quartet, right.

Darwin: Right. Right.

David: Or I want to know how to make Kontakt instruments and sample libraries and make them work and be really good.

Steve: And then try and sell them.

David: So selling them is something we are still thinking out.

Darwin: Let's talk a little bit about the creation of those sample libraries because I think that people who haven't done it just imagine, "Oh well I just pluck four notes and put it in the file and call it good enough." I mean you already kind of touched on it: to turn it from a group of samples into an instrument is kind of a complicated process.

Steve: Yeah. There's a lot more to it. I mean, that's what we would do if we were, wanted to quickly sample an instrument in a soundtrack. You might get away with something temporary.

Darwin: Right. Yeah, because it's a one-shot, yeah.

Steve: To make a playable instrument, to give it the sort of detail and sort of playability and the sort of responsiveness, it's a lot of sampling.

David: The one we've just done, we're going to release one at the end of this week.

Darwin: Yeah, it's called Repercussions, right?

Steve: Yeah, it is.

David: It's like a bouquet of just a huge, it's 50 instruments we sampled. When I say 50 instruments, we're talking like, say a kalimba or a cedar Angklung, or-

Steve: Triangles, tambourines.

David: Just nine tambourines. So we're just going, we're treating it as an instrument. It's a full instrument. You get every hit, every possibility. Quarter note feels, eighth note feels, shuffle feels. All that will work in tempo, whatever your door is at. It's months and months and months of recording, because you've got to do all of the different velocity levels. Everything sounds different at a different, how hard you play it. You've got to do Round Robins so that it never repeats itself.

It's hours and hours, and then you've got to figure out how to lay it out. Then you've got to figure out what it looks like, how to script whatever notes you want. Then you've got to make promotional videos. You've got to do a tutorial. You've got to make a website that, how it works on the thing. You've got to make DMI pieces of music. It's unbelievable how long. If you do it properly, if you want to do it well, it's labors of love.

Steve: There's no way that we're making the, an even near the sort of hourly rate...

Darwin: Well I was going to see, because actually when you talk about the process in that way, it's sort of hard to connect that with a bass banjo. That's like so quirky, it's hard to say someone was like, an accountant was like, "Well in order to recoup all this time, we should focus on the bass banjo because that's going to maximize our income." It sounds to me like maybe you're not going down that path.

Steve: No, no.

David: No, as I said, I think they're artworks actually. You have to treat it like that. We curate them. A lot of stuff has too many knobs on it. If you look at that thing behind you [an Arp 2600]. How many knobs are on it?

Darwin: Yeah, right, right. Yeah.

David: So, if we're doing soundtrack work, you go I don't want to have to learn this. I just want to be able to get that. I don't want to have the same sound as everyone else. I don't want to be a default where it's like a patch that just goes, "I recognize that sound." It has to be easily changed, but you have to be able to intuitively know how to do it. That's the trick for us. We don't have a huge, everything has the knobs it needs to do and no extra stuff. But, within what we give you, you will be able to alter it quite considerably to your needs. That's our aim.

Darwin: That's actually a great point, because what you do does kind of have your DNA, but in the end it has to be someone else's instrument for the expression of their work.

David: That's the interesting thing. When other people play them, what they end up doing with them sounds completely different to what we would do. It's, and, yeah. Yeah.

Steve: Yeah, we're always really interested to hear what people come up with. Because you think, everyone's going to sound like us. They don't.

David: Yeah.

Steve: They take it and take, fit it into-

David: To whatever context they need it to work.

Steve: Right. Yeah, because whenever we're doing stuff now, I pretty much just use our stuff. I also want to try out, what's it good at. What's it not so good at. What can we improve next time around. I'm pretty keen on just, and it's ours. It's our stuff. It gives us our sound. Other people, they don't do whole scores just using Modwheel stuff. They have Spitfire Strings, or they do the Hans Zimmer whatever.

Darwin: Yeah. Right, right.

Steve: They might use one bass banjo as a bass feel or something, but it suits certain people, I guess. It's interesting, for me say the bass banjo and all that, all points back to Beefheart.

Darwin: Right, oh yeah, absolutely.

Steve: If you listen. One of the guys that bought it a while ago was-

David: Oh, Moris Tepper.

Steve: Moris Tepper from The Magic Band.

Darwin: Unreal.

Steve: It's like, Moris! Moris, that's brilliant! Immediately wrote to him, like you've got no idea the influence you had on us when we were young. It's like, right, now that we've got in contact with you, we're going to do some music this year coming up. We invited him, and when we get back to doing some songs, we'll get Morris to play some guitar and do some things with him. It's interesting who you meet through doing this. Or who likes, who is interested in what we do.

Darwin: Right. Yeah, that's awesome. Now, you bring something up though that I'm curious about, which is sort of like when... The way you talk about things, it's almost sounds like you're kind of waiting for things to get back to normal again. I mean, to what extent are you still kind of in a holding pattern waiting for the pandemic stuff to clear out? Or are things moving again for you in terms of soundtrack work and stuff like that?

Steve: No.

David: Not much going on in terms of soundtrack work.

Steve: That's stalled.

David: The work we did have lined up has either been postponed or canceled.

Steve: Right.

Darwin: Oh, really.

Steve: Any soundtrack work. So this is a slightly extended period of down time as far as that sort of work goes, but we are used to it. I mean, it's not-

Darwin: That is kind of the nature of doing scoring, right?

David: That's the nature of the business.

Steve: That is the nature, yeah. So, yeah, that's why we put a whole lot of input into Modville at this time because we're, you know, it's what we do.

Darwin: Sure.

David: It means we can really concentrate on work actually. Other times we've gone, we have to get this done. We have to get this out and stuff because we've got to go straight back onto another film job. That's not happening at the moment.

Steve: So hard.

David: It can be like, okay, we can really actually concentrate on this for a while and try and make more of this side of what we do. As I was saying to Steve yesterday, as soon as we release this instrument, this library the end of this week, let's go and record some songs. Let's go and do something else.

Darwin: So I'm curious with this Repercussions thing. It's not about a specific instrument. It's about a group of instruments, some of which you kind of create by just deciding something is an instrument, right?

David: Yeah.

Darwin: To what extent for you now with this sound design stuff, is instrument creation actually an integral part of it?

David: We've always made instruments, physical ones. Steve makes biscuit tin guitars.

Steve: Yeah.

David: The lightning machine, whatever you call those.

Steve: The ....

David: The hurdy-gurdy.

Darwin: Oh, yeah.

David: We've made physical instruments over the years. So now we have turned them into sort of virtual instruments. So what was your question?

Darwin: Well it was actually like the development of physical instruments. I get this sense, both listening through music as well as looking at the list of the software instruments you've created, that actually creating physical instruments, oddities of different sorts, is actually an integral part of your music making, period.

Steve: Oh, yeah. It is. That's right, because you can hit anything and it will give you a good sound, hopefully. Okay, so you find something that gives you a good sound. It becomes an instrument.

David: We've been, we just collect sound making things. So on the Repercussion library, we did get a huge selection of bones, like from huge thigh bone of a cow to small bones, and you get shells, and you get rocks. Different size rocks that you go, "That's got a great sound."

Steve: Yeah.

David: Say another one of our sample right is strained wire. At our old studio, we had a big long, we had a table tennis room, and it sort of had concrete wall. What would happen if we stretched a huge wire the length of this room, made like a bridge, an instrument bridge and tuned it. So over a number of weeks without the landlord knowing, we carved into the concrete walls and set up a huge, well different wires. metal wires and then cat gun, you know, line trimmer wires and tried different bridges made out of, drawers, wooden drawers.

Steve: Just sort of like a little sound resonator yeah.

David: What's that like, it's resonator sound. Made a sample library of that. A huge, had a long, had well over many, 20 meters of wire. That was an instrument, and it was like, that sounds awesome. We can make something out of this. The trick to that afterwards is to go how do you make this actually a usable instrument. Not just a bunch of sounds.

How do we now go... We often, it's always a really interesting meme thing. You go, oh, so that's what we made. We don't know what we're making yet. What it's going to be. We always get a pleasant surprise or "So that's what it is. That's what that turned into."

Steve: It's not always obvious when you start recording.

David: No, it's not always obvious. You're starting off recording all sorts of sounds, then you've got to structure them in some way or decide how you are going to present them. Yeah, that's the whole creative process really. We don't, it doesn't matter what's going on in our lives, we don't, I don't have a home studio. He, I don't think, Steve, do you have a home studio.

Steve: No, no.

David: We come in, we have a facility. We have always had a facility. I don't want to do it at home. Home's different.

Darwin: Right.

David: We come here every day regardless. It's a full time job. If someone's paying us or not, it's a full time job. The three of us turn up here every morning and have done for 30 years or whatever, and we do it, we do stuff. Whatever happens to be, it's fantastic. It's fantastic. It's like, you know that thing of, get a job you like and you'll never work a day in your life. That's what we've managed to do.

Steve: Yeah, yeah.

David: I love it. I don't ever think I wish I could go home now. I wish, you know.

Darwin: I wish I didn't have to look at this, yeah, right.

David: Well, it's hard. At times you get tired and it's hard or whatever, but we've managed to live a creative life. We've made stuff. We are-

Steve: Well that's it.

David: Every day and go, say it's a scoring job. You come in and you go-

Steve: A blank page.

David: A blank page. I don't know what I'm going to make today, and at the end of the day you go, that's what I made.

Steve: Something exists.

David: Something exists. It didn't exist this morning, because we-

Steve: It's a good feeling.

David: It's awesome, I reckon.

Darwin: Well, our time is up, but before you go I have one last question, which is, you are just about to wrap up. By the time people hear this, your Repercussions library will be out. What's next? Do you have like a big box of old toys you've collected that's your next sample library. Is it more song writing? Do you have anything, something lined up for scoring work? What's next on the plate for you?

David: We've got a TV series to do next year sometime. So that's great, we do have one gig coming up.

Steve: But in the meantime-

David: A wildlife documentary serious. That's always good. As far as sound libraries, it's getting harder, but say Janet is a fantastic vocalist. She was the sound of the ring in the Lord of the Rings films. She was. So, we can do a sample library of her vocals. I think there's place for, we played with a guitarist who's very exploratory with all sorts of techniques and equipment and weird things he can do with a guitar. He could-

Steve: So if he could a prepared guitar, yeah it would be awesome.

David: A prepared guitar would be an interesting library to do. We've got a koto we still haven't investigated.

Darwin: That sounds amazing. Well, I look forward to whatever you do, and hearing more about it. Thank you so much for the opportunity to learn more about what you're doing. I really do appreciate it.

Steve: Thank you.

David: Oh, we thank you for taking interest in what we do. If you want to know about our soundtrack and music work, that's Plan 9 -the number nine. will take you to, you can look at a whole lot of videos and stuff about our, and invest in some fantastic sample libraries. If you want to hear our band, which The Bewilderness, well you would find through our Plan 9 site. Our jazz band, The Devil's Gate Outfit, if you searched on Bandcamp, you would find The Devil's Gate Outfit, an album we put out a couple of weeks ago. Any others?

Steve: No.

David: No, right.

Darwin: Well, on the Plan 9 site, people can get a chance to see all the variety of scoring work that you've done and stuff too. So it's a great bounce off point. Fantastic. Thank you so much for your time and we will hopefully talk to you again soon.

David: Thank you.

Steve: Thank you.

Copyright 2021 by Darwin Grosse. All right reserved.