Matt Bowdler aka The Unfinished has crafted numerous highly acclaimed sound libraries for virtual instruments such as Massive, Absynth, Kontakt and Omnisphere, among others. We’ve had the pleasure of talking with The Unfinished about his sound design workflow, some of his favorite sound design tools and what it feels like to see your name in the credits of a blockbuster movie. To get your hands on some of The Unfinished sounds for free, download his brilliant Magnetic Fields sample library which has just been released on our website. For even more free goodies, grab the taster packs which available for each product on his website!
99Sounds: Thank you for releasing Magnetic Fields on 99Sounds! It’s a wonderful collection of atmospheric sounds, which I’m sure our visitors will love. Could you perhaps tell us how you approach creating a sound library such as this one and which tools do you use to create new sounds? Do you have a specific goal or a theme which inspires you when creating new sounds, or do you prefer experimenting with different instruments and effects and being surprised with the outcome?
The Unfinished: Thanks for your kind words. With Magnetic Fields it was essentially something I started out working on for another project that didn’t happen in the end. I was trying to create what I felt were environmental noises, ambient soundscapes with a sense of place. But not in a field recording sense, something less realistic and, dare I say it, alien? So, I wanted something that in one sense was recognisable, that it had those qualities of space and place, but that also was unfamiliar, not an ambient noise we are used to.
On a more general level, my process for creating a set of sounds is like a map of a city. I’ll have an idea of what the city is like, but I’ll let the process of creating sounds take me down different roads, sometimes taking a surprise turn, but all with a sense of belonging to this one particular city. Extending that concept for a moment, I also create a lot of what I call ‘crossroads’ sounds. This will be a point at which I know I can take a sound in several different directions to create new ideas. So, I will save this ‘crossroad’ sound and then bounce off it in many different directions. This is a nice way of keeping things within the overall concept of the project. It’s like the sounds all have a common parent. Okay, I’m mixing my metaphors now!
But in essence, I have an overall idea for a particular sound project, but try to give myself a lot of room for creative freedom within it. The overall concept can be influenced by particular sounds or genres, or it can be influenced by emotions or visual stimuli. As long as there’s something there, gnawing away, reminding me of where it’s all supposed to be going, I don’t deviate too much.
99Sounds: On your main website The Unfinished, you provide dozens of high quality sound banks for different virtual instruments. Out of all the virtual instruments out there, can you perhaps pick a single favorite one? What is it that you like the most about this instrument?
The Unfinished: You’re asking me to pick my favourite synth? Haha. That’s almost like being asked which is your favourite child!
However, I can answer this question. U-he Zebra2 is my favourite softsynth to use. For my own music, it is always the one I turn to first for a pure synthesis solution. There’s something about the sound. And or all that different synths have different interfaces and ways of working with them, that may be easier or more difficult, the key factor is always the sound quality.
Zebra has this organic, analogue quality that is exactly what I want to hear from synths in my music. It can’t do everything, but for me it does what I want a synth to do. Most of the time. It is also very easy to use, which helps. And incredibly flexible. The simple stuff is easy to achieve, but if you want to go deeper, you can go REALLY deep! The modulation matrix and the X/Y pads offer so much scope. It can seem daunting if you look at them first! But, like I say, the process of selecting oscillators, filters, envelopes, effects etc. couldn’t be simpler.
Other synths that deserve a mention include Omnisphere, Absynth and Diva. Omnisphere is huge fun to play with and the sound sources (even though they’ve been the same for years now) remain incredibly flexible. It’s almost impossible to make a bad sound with Omnisphere.
Absynth has… something. I’m not sure what it is. It can be a nightmare to use and isn’t the most intuitive interface, but it has a sound of its own that is really cool. And, you can load your own samples into it, which is hugely entertaining.
Diva, though a CPU hog, sounds wonderful. It’s as close to an analogue sound that I’ve heard on a softsynth. It’s not the same, but it does a decent impression. And it has the old skool functions of classic analogue synths too, which makes it a great hands-on synth – especially if you want to learn synthesis.
99Sounds: How did you get into sound design and do you remember your first steps as a sound designer? When did you realize that this is something that you’d like to do professionally?
The Unfinished: I essentially got into sound design by accident. When I first started composing, much like many people I was a preset tweaker. But I quickly found that the sounds I wanted, didn’t exist, so I had to make them myself. A friend thought my sounds were decent and he’d done some preset designing himself, so badgered me to give it a go. And, after several months going “Naaaah!” I finally caved in and gave it a go.
I released a few free sounds for Massive – these were sounds I’d created for myself in a couple of library music projects I’d done. Obviously people generally dig free stuff, but I was after some feedback to see whether it was worth pursuing. Generally they received decent feedback and this gave me the confidence to create my first commercial soundset. I spent a bit more time really learning my way round Massive and did a full collection of 128 patches.
Luckily enough it sold a few copies and also caught the attention of a major game composer whose work I really admired. His feedback really spurred me on and I ended up creating some bespoke patches for him as a result. After a few more soundsets, and one or two half decent composing jobs, I made the leap to take it on full time. It was the best decision I ever made. Strangely, from that very moment things really picked up. More than that though, I realised I loved it. I branched out into different synths and it all felt like a very natural thing to do. In a short space of time I’d come from being a preset tweaker to making synth patches being my full-time profession. It was quite weird!
99Sounds: Have you perhaps listened to some of the other 99Sounds libraries? Can you tell us which one is your favorite? :)
The Unfinished: They are all great! It’s an amazing resource and I hope it propels all the great content creators you have on there into doing bigger and better sound design projects. I don’t know how many of them make a living from it already, but they all clearly could.
If I were forced at gunpoint to pick out some favourites, I think I’d have to mention Sound Design Tools, Cinematic Sound Effects and the The Weird Sound Samples. Those three are probably the ones that immediately struck me as packs I’d have a use for and the sound quality and invention in all three is excellent.
It’s also nice to have those ‘building blocks’ sounds, like the Vinyl Noise and Rain And Thunder, so you can take some nice, raw recordings and turn them into something new for yourself and your own music.
99Sounds: Where can we find more sound libraries created by you? Out of all the projects that you’ve worked on, which one are you the most proud of?
The Unfinished: The obvious place to find out more about my commercial soundset and sample libraries is at www.theunfinished.co.uk. There, you can check out all my products, listen to demo tracks, watch walkthrough videos I do for them and even download a few freebie sounds from each pack.
If you’re more interested in reading about either my music or my sound design work on film, television and games, you can take a look at www.mattbowdler.com.
As for which project is my favourite… tough one. I’m genuinely proud of everything I’ve done so far. I think that’s important, to strive hard enough in every endeavour to make sure that you maintain some standards. Never back off, because you never know which project is going to be the one that helps propel you to the next level.
Having said all that, there’s no question that seeing my name in the credits of a Hollywood movie at my local cinema was quite a big highlight of this year. This happened to me with the work I did for composer, Nathan Furst, on the Need For Speed film. It was quite something. As was the moment, about half way through the film, when the only sound that could be heard on the screen was one of my synth patches. That genuinely sent chills down my spine!
In fact, the sounds I designed for Nathan are part of the Diva Ex Machina synth soundset on my The Unfinished site. So anyone can use them now!
The Unfinished’s fantastic sound library Magnetic Fields has just been released as a free download on 99Sounds. Download this set of 50 surreal soundscapes and take an exciting sonic journey to unexplored alien worlds!