Sound engineer/designer, mixer, self-proclaimed geek, Varun Nair is the guy you would often encounter strolling dedicatedly in the parks/gardens of Edinburg capturing raw sounds for his next best work. And by the night, his blog would belt out his amazing creations out of ’em. A regular contributor at Designingsound.org, Varun Nair believes that technology cannot achieve anything if there are no good ideas to begin with. Hear ya!
Having been worked on over 200 TV commercials and promos for the mighty brands of Coke, Pepsodent, Lakme, Volkswagen, and Disney for more than six years, he has even done some fine sound design work for various indie films and features; and bands as well. Touching up on almost all the aspects of sound and its subsidiaries, Varun had also worked at Blue Frog, which marked the beginning of his passionate affair with games, game developers internationally (EA/HB studios)! And it doesn’t all end here: his amazing work has lit up A R Rahman’s Slumdog Millionaire and Raavan. *collective applause*
When not dabbling in sound-casts, he likes to read, tweet and well, hog. Currently he is all hitched up and enthused about tutoring University of Edinburg’s design students… well anytime thoughtful that is. And his Facebook’s profile picture is one of the few tasteful ones that won’t go out of style, I believe.
All you aspiring sound designers; Varun gives you a first-hand take on the much coveted career of a sound engineer, and why it is the second best job in the world (first being Batman, duh!) and much more. Get inspired!
Much gratitude, Varun, for this!
Q. You used to work at Blue Frog, and were involved in the various sound aspects of game development, advertising and commercials. How did that pan out?
I worked at the studios and it was great! I spent good three years of my life there working on a variety of projects with great people in world-class studios. I learnt a lot, met amazing people and I’m proud of some of the work I did there. Can’t ask for more!
Q. What are you doing currently?
I am currently in Edinburgh, Scotland, working on synthesizing ideas related to interactivity, technology and sound design in the mobile world.
What does it mean? Using technology and creativity to bring new products to the mobile (smartphone) world or just finding ways to augment existing entertainment forms with clever use of technology. But, I still continue doing what I used to do - mixing music and designing sounds for a variety of media.
Q. Your Dusk_Drizzle_Light sound-cast is most amazing. Anything interesting you might have experienced you would like to share?
Thanks! That was great fun! For the past few months I have been working on an application that generates ambient music based on the weather around the world, called Weatherscapes (it should be out in a week or two as a free download). At that time I made parts of that software performable and performed an ambient piece at a day-of-music-and-art event. I worked on that idea further and developed a complete performable version of Weatherscapes - a custom software instrument for myself.
G.A Harry and I then decided use that software and some of the things he had to develop to collaborate. I think we met the previous day and jammed for about an hour to understand what each of us were capable of doing. Dusk_Drizzle_Light is a recording of a live performance that happened the next day at The Institute, Edinburgh and was completely improvised.
The experience of coming together with another artist without any proper rehearsal or plan was quite exciting. The problem with rehearsing material is that you get too used to the material yourself and then try very hard to replicate things you did in the rehearsal during the performance. Our aim was to break out of that and create something that was both fresh to the audience and our ears. It seemed to have turned out alright so we have a few more releases (based on the same concept) planned.
Q. Wow! Also, there is a subtle underlining of a windy weather, maybe prospective clouds tumbling all over in that sound-cast. What kind of weather inspires you the most, soundwise?
That’s a great question and good observation. The weather obviously played a role when we performed Dusk_Drizzle_Light simply because I was trying to create generative compositions for Weatherscapes inspired by the weather. We not only used synthesized sounds of wind and rain but also actual recordings if I remember correctly.
I think the rain inspires me most, simply because it is capable of such a variety of sounds. It is not just puddles of water but rain drops falling on all sorts of surfaces - concrete, clothes, leaves, grass... and other sounds like a water splash as a car goes by or the wind whistling through sheets of rain...
The rain also sounds very different in different parts of the world. In India it can be a noisy affair, whereas in Edinburgh it’s a constant drizzle that makes very little sound.
The experience of rain is also different in different parts of the world and for different people. A lot of times in India it can be a sense of relief - from the heat, from drought, from dust and pollution.... Whereas in Edinburgh, it can be quite a nuisance because of constant greyness of the skies and lack of sunlight.
Q. So, what is your favourite haunt for capturing raw sound?
Tough question. I think I like large parks and/or rivers. Parks are great because they are a good mix of humans, pets, birds, wind, trees and traffic. Rivers, streams and waterfalls are great to listen to. I find them very calming and if you listen to them carefully for long periods of time you will pick many many layers of interesting sounds.
Q. What would be your 3Ps or the 3Rs, or the any 3(alphabet) notions that forms the base ground for your work?
I’m going to cheat on this one:
3- Lots of hard work
Q. Which is the assignment you enjoyed the most till date, of course I mean in terms of how challenging it was?
I think every project just seems to be more challenging and interesting than the previous one. The location based sound only game Meltdown was quite a challenge. Although, two of the projects I’m working on now are the more challenging than anything I’ve previously done! I can’t share too much information yet, but one is a game like Meltdown that takes things further and the other is fusing the concepts of game and performance.
Q. Much looking forward! Now, what is the craziest thing you have done to get what you need for your work?
I don’t think I have any fancy stories of that kind! I do normal crazy things like skipping sleep or beginning work on an idea at 2AM.
Q. Creativity and technology gyaan; the much sought after ingredients nowadays. Split them percentage wise, based on how much each of them contribute in accomplishing an assignment. Justify please. (eg: 30%-70%, or 40%-60%)
I strongly believe that technology cannot achieve anything if there are no good ideas to begin with! In terms of creating a technology product it could be an even split - 50%. But great ideas can be realized with simple applications of technology too.
If it is about being knowledgeable, I think it depends on the kind of person you are. If technology is your thing, go after it and make sure you are awesome at it. But, don’t forget the creative applications of it. If you are a technological genius you don’t have to be a creative genius (although no harm being both!), you can always find a creative genius to collaborate with or vice-versa.
For me, I try to deal with them hand in hand. I start with an idea, research it and then see how technology can help me. I then develop the idea further and go back to researching. It’s a constant back and forth until I find both sides complimenting each other. In such a case it could be a 70-30 split (creativity vs technology)
Q. What is it that you think should be the present qualities in any aspiring sound engineer? Quick five.
2- Honesty with yourself, your work and your clients
3- Never stop learning, there is no end to it
4- Listen to your: clients, critics and the other people who do what you do
5- Humble: There really is no limit to experiencing and learning. Keep at it.
Q. What is the hottest technology you are dealing with currently, that caught your fancy?
Smart phones and tablets! They are not new but they are filled with so many sensors and so much technology that is only getting better.
Q. What kicks the cogwheels of creativity inside you?
All the great people around the world doing such amazing things, it never ceases to amaze me every day as I go through my twitter feed.
Q. Pick one: Pancakes and coffee or omelette and orange juice?
Pancakes and orange juice?
Metal or punk?
To dabble in more of his sick stuff, follow his blog: http://re-sounding.com