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Thinking In Sound: Cultivating 360 Vision with Michael Dragovic

Music & Sound 179 Add to collection

Yessian’s composer and ECD on his musical hero, allowing the ears to rest and why the divided is more nuanced than polar

Thinking In Sound: Cultivating 360 Vision with Michael Dragovic

Michael Dragovic is a composer, songwriter, producer and creative strategist whose work spans multiple genres and disciplines. He serves as executive creative director of Yessian


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?

Michael> Writing music is an abstract and numinous artform. Writing music for branding is more design than art. When you look at it this way you can define functional parameters and establish a common vocabulary with a client or creative partner. There’s a balance between what’s felt and what’s concrete, and that’s where creative strategy begins. The first ideas often come from memories or association. Through thought and conversation branches grow and we start building a web of possibilities. We talk a lot. Talking about music yet to exist is hard even for the most garrulous, so when language proves inadequate, we use music to talk for us, using reference material to prove our moods, energies and dynamics. 


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?

Michael> As a composer my work is mostly solitary. It’s self-communion. When the work is ready, you share it and that births a different relationship that has its own rewards and liabilities. As a creative director my best collaborations are those I experience daily with my teams, witnessing the flow and nurturing of ideas, serving a larger vision and building something together.


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

Michael> When I’ve created something that sounds how it did in my head.


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

Michael> Music is the epicentre of popular culture, and is an indispensable driver of narrative, emotion and social context. Social and political activism today make genuine messaging in advertising more important than ever. As we see more artist and celebrity partnerships, the collision of personal and public branding will become increasingly difficult to navigate for all parties. Creators will have to make challenging choices about how their work is being used.


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

Michael> My childhood piano teacher, the late John Allen, who dedicated his life to teaching and gave me the foundation for a life of music.


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?

Michael> It’s good to cultivate 360-degree vision. Emulation and homage are a big part of popular music, the perpetual reaching back in time to resurrect a moment, capture nostalgia, or just to flip or subvert a familiar concept. I’ve spent most of my life studying and performing classical music, and it probably has more influence on my work than I even realise. From a recording and production standpoint, there are post-war era tools and techniques that have yet to be surpassed (The Beatles / Abbey Road heyday still looms large). We all have those classic records that leave an indelible mark and set you on a failed quest to achieve ‘that sound’, but in that failure you end up finding ‘your sound’. With that said, we should consider the possibility of a seismic disruption, obsolescence even, of our current conception of recorded music. What is the artistic and dramatic potential of generative design, machine learning and AI? What happens when a system creates a hit song? These scenarios aren’t far from now, and it's critical we understand our role and responsibility within them.


LBB> When you’re working on something that isn’t directly sound design or music (lets 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?

Michael> I take any opportunity to allow my ears a rest from organised sound, to just hear the birds, wind, AC, traffic, what John Cage called the ‘activity of sound’. I like to hear myself think when I’m thinking.


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?

Michael> I think the divide is more nuanced than polar. We have to examine both how music is consumed and how it’s created. The shift from analogue to digital has been well underway for decades. There’s very little music today that isn’t distributed and even created by digital means. Yet, analogue processes are still very much alive in music and sound production - let’s not forget, the mind and body are analogue machines (for now). Music is a communications phenomenon, so it's shaped significantly by technology. If we want our music heard we need to consider the trends and disruptions in its modes of consumption, even while convention dies hard. There is a lot of growth in live experiential entertainment, involving large, complex proprietary systems, that I hope is a harbinger of demand for IRL interactions. On the other hand, immersive audio is becoming increasingly accessible, even mobile, and as platforms like Meta mature we’ll likely see that accelerate. This is an important area of focus for us: to study emergent audio technologies, evolve with them and contribute to their innovation, so that expression can reach and connect with people no matter where they are. 


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

Michael> Low-carb with intermittent fasting.


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…)?

Michael> Vintage machines and instruments provide harmonic depth and asymmetry to my work and offer a tactile relationship to sound creation and enhancement. At the same time, novel software and plugins define the modern sonic vernacular, and you’d better know the language if you’re going to the market. Also, I’m pretty enthusiastic about the expanding MIDI polyphonic expression ecosystem. While I collect sounds, instruments and equipment, I exchange or get rid of them just as often. I don’t like to get too comfortable with my setup.


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?

Michael> Mycology, horticulture, history, literature, sport, design, anything that requires intense focus and leads to better understanding of self and surroundings.


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?

Michael> I have lasting impressions from the jungles in Bali, the music and traffic in Latin America and one particularly overwhelming experience with the bell of The Temple of Saint Sava in Belgrade. I’m fortunate to have travelled so much in my life, but that kind of travel isn’t a reality for everyone, and I don’t think lack of travel precludes anyone from robust creativity. The pandemic demonstrated this well. There are many ways to travel without leaving home, and the exotic isn’t necessarily the original. I’m often inspired just sitting in my backyard.


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?

Michael> The hope is that with time comes wisdom. The more we live, learn, experiment and discover, the richer our work becomes. Habit leads to advancement of ability. Experience leads to sincerity of message. Reflection leads to expansion of reach. With this comes greater responsibility. What do you do with your skill? What beneficent service does it provide? I think more about where, how and why to apply my craft. 

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Yessian Music, Tue, 03 May 2022 13:38:56 GMT