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Thinking In Sound: Creating a Sonic Flavour with Markus ffitch

Music & Sound 122 Add to collection

Grand Central Recording Studios’ creative sound designer on his love of working collaboratively, musical heroes and gluing the picture perfectly with sound

Thinking In Sound: Creating a Sonic Flavour with Markus ffitch

Markus ffitch, creative sound designer at Grand Central Recording Studios is one to watch. 

A musician at heart, Markus is fascinated by blurring the lines between composition and sound design, spending his time trying to create weird and wonderful noises that you can’t quite put into words. In one notable piece of work, Refuge's '50th Anniversary', he designed an original composition that creates a real sense of foreboding for the viewer, in order to communicate the idea of coercive control. The film created by BBH achieved a Bronze Clio in 2022.

LBB> When you’re working on a new brief or project, what’s your typical starting point? How do you break it down and how do you like to generate your ideas or response?

Markus> It always varies by project. Sometimes the concept is more realised and sometimes it needs more development or leans more heavily into the sound design. I like to collect sounds that I think will be good for a project or create a sonic flavour, whilst at the same time creating an overall sketch to get the structure flowing nicely. Forming ideas for the main story beats of a project is going to inform a lot about the more subtle elements you put in, so it’s important to first get this flowing as clearly as possible without getting too caught up in the details.


LBB> Music and sound are in some ways the most collaborative and interactive forms of creativity - what are your thoughts on this? Do you prefer to work solo or with a gang - and what are some of your most memorable professional collaborations?

Markus> I personally love to work collaboratively. Either method produces different results but working as part of a team - bouncing ideas off of each other and discovering the right direction together is very rewarding. It also takes the pressure off when deadlines are tight and allows you to focus more on the details. This is especially true for me when it comes to music. There is no substitute for talented musicians in a room together. In my own professional life my favourite collaborations have been when sound design and music have been composed in tandem as a small team. When you are able to sit in the room together and blend everything together right from the first draft so that the lines between music and SFX become blurry. Not just as part of a spotting session but sitting down together and composing. The more tightly knit the team is, and the better you know each other's style, the better the result.

LBB> What’s the most satisfying part of your job and why?

Markus> When you have a eureka moment - or a moment where something you have been trying to create comes together perfectly. When you hear a new and interesting sound. Or when you try something completely outside the box and it works! Telling the story and gluing to the picture perfectly. There are so many satisfying moments it’s difficult to pick just one but when you are able to realise the idea in your head it’s a very rewarding thing.

LBB> As the advertising industry changes, how do you think the role of music and sound is changing with it?

Markus> The type of content being produced is going to massively influence our approach. I could see content becoming a lot more niche as online algorithms deliver to narrower audiences which may require you to understand that audience a little better. As a bit of a gamer, I can attest to how much content I see that misses the mark in that area. It may sound a little fluffy too but as VR / AR technology becomes more integrated and more accessible I think we can expect it to become more relevant. When that is going to happen though is anyone's guess - but you never know - someone may come out with the equivalent of the iPhone for this tech in the next five years. The important thing is to keep our ears open for what comes next.

LBB> Who are your musical or audio heroes and why?

Markus> Musically I’m completely obsessed with artists that can create unusual palettes, where it’s hard to tell what could have created those sounds or the combination of sounds is something very unique and textural. People like Jon Hopkins, Max Cooper, Weval. I also love indie music too. The Japanese House is both very indie and makes beautiful textural arrangements that are hard to pick apart. It sounds like one big tapestry. When it comes to film music, Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow have made the most incredibly haunting and beautiful sounds for the sci-fi genre. As for sound design, it has to of course be the man himself, Ben Burtt. The inventor of the most iconic movie sound of all - the lightsabre.


LBB> And when it comes to your particular field, whether sound design or composing, are there any particular ideas or pioneers that you go back to frequently or who really influence your thinking about the work you do?

Markus> Ben Burtt of course is a great pioneer of sound. I love the way his sounds have so much character in them. George Lucas described the aesthetic in Star Wars as the 'Used Future' at a time when people were making very clean and utopian sounds for sci-fi. And Ben was the pioneer of sound in this old yet futuristic universe.

When it comes to composition I really love Olafur Arnalds. I once heard him say in an interview that a piece of music sounds ‘big’ when it has a larger-than-life character. Like a person that has a larger-than-life personality. It becomes compelling. So I hold that as one of my tenets of creating good music now and sound design to some extent too. The more character and identity you can give something the more compelling it can sound.


LBB> When you’re working on something that isn’t directly sound design or music (let's say going through client briefs or answering emails) - are you the sort of person who needs music and noise in the background or is that completely distracting to you? What are your thoughts on ‘background’ sound and music as you work?

Markus> I have to be listening to something at all times. Whether it be a podcast or some music, it’s quite obsessive. I actually find it a little off putting trying to sleep without something to listen to. If you can play it through different speakers and the work isn’t too high pressure I may even listen to a podcast whilst editing sounds.

LBB> I guess the quality of the listening experience and the context that audiences listen to music/sound in has changed over the years. There’s the switch from analogue to digital and now we seem to be divided between bad-ass surround-sound immersive experiences and on-the-go, low quality sound (often the audio is competing with a million other distractions) - how does that factor into how you approach your work?

Markus> You always try to mix everything so that it translates well. But there is also a reason that engineers have extremely good speakers in the room with the label “mains”. Generally, the denser the mix the more careful you have to be about how it translates to on-the-go type speakers. Mixing sound is inextricably tied to how it’s going to be reproduced on the consumer side so I don’t think it’s anything particularly new. In a way, I think we have already now passed the worst era of low-quality consumer electronics. The decline of hi-fi systems in favour of plastic space saving rubbish has come and is slowly making way for premium higher end headphones or just better designed speakers. Most people have pretty high end smartphones too and we could badmouth those speakers, purely because they have no bass - BUT they sound quite good in the range they utilise.


LBB> On a typical day, what does your ‘listening diet’ look like?

Markus> Early in the morning and on my way to work I listen to Spotify and read. I have a large shared playlist between a group of mates and it’s always good to see what everyone else has discovered - sometimes I watch a show if I’ve become too obsessed with it and can't wait until the evening! Then it’s mixing all day or making music. I'll often watch streams from my favourite music producers with track breakdowns too. Then, when I get home I’ll listen to Your Mom's House podcast whilst I’m cooking and exercising.

LBB> Do you have a collection of music/sounds and what shape does it take (are you a vinyl nerd, do you have hard drives full of random bird sounds, are you a hyper-organised spotify-er…)?

Markus> I have a drive of curated sounds where I’ve saved sounds from previous work or created sounds/atmospheres I think I will need later down the line. Folders of libraries I and my long-time collaborators have recorded/created and shared as well as smaller libraries I’ve bought from a sound effect or small creators. I also try to collect little foley items or instruments that may be useful to record later. I also have several synths I use to make more electronic noises (pro three and novation peak). I've had to stop looking at new ones because it’s an expensive and addictive habit!

LBB> Outside of the music and sound world, what sort of art or topics really excite you and do you ever relate that back to music?

Markus> I have poured many hundreds of hours into games. So, video game music and sound design inform my sensibility quite a lot.


LBB> Let’s talk travel! It’s often cited as one of the most creatively inspiring things you can do - I’d love to know what are the most exciting or inspiring experiences you’ve had when it comes to sound and music on your travels?

Markus> I’ve spent a lot of time at music festivals so obviously that’s a big source of inspiration - every time I come back to reality after seeing so many musicians it makes me want to sit and write for hours. Aside from that, being on top of a mountain listening to the wind and snow in desolate landscapes (I love to snowboard) is an amazing experience.

LBB> As we age, our ears change physically and our tastes evolve too, and life changes mean we don’t get to engage in our passions in the same intensity as in our youth - how has your relationship with sound and music changed over the years?

Markus> When I first started playing music I had all the time in the world - I used to play my guitar until I had blisters all over my hands. Nowadays I have a lot more toys and like more varied sounds. I suppose it was all very intense as a younger man but also a lot less rounded and mature. The breadth of music that I love now is so much more than in my youth and sound design is something that I never thought too much about at that time. But, in a lot of ways, I think I get to engage in my passions more now than in my youth as I’m working with some of the most talented and experienced mixers in London - yet no matter how hard I work it still doesn’t feel like a real job.

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Grand Central Recording Studios, Thu, 14 Jul 2022 09:44:11 GMT