You may not know it but if you are an iOS Musician that uses NAVE iOS synth you’ve likely used presets designed by Fletcher Kaufman of Sunsine Audio. Sunsine Audio has an entire catalog of presets for a huge array of popular iOS synths and even some hardware synths including Animoog, NAVE, Arctic Keys, Magellan and Prophet 08. The list is long.
Here today we get a chance to chop it up with the man behind Sunsine Audio about sound design, synths, the new line of fresh Sunsine Audio effects pedals and more.
BTR: Tell us a bit about yourself as an intro for those that don’t know.
Fletcher: I’m the owner/operator of Sunsine Audio. I’ve been a musician for more than half my life and I’m currently working as a sound designer with a focus on iOS apps as well as developing and manufacturing new and interesting hardware devices.
BTR: How did you get into sound design?
Fletcher: I think from the beginning of my exposure to synthesizers, samplers, etc. I was always very excited at the possibilities of these devices. That you could sculpt the sound you were producing to a high degree is what drove my interest from the beginning, so in a way I’ve always been doing it. I came from playing ‘traditional’ instruments, but wanted a wider spectrum of sounds compositionally, so synthesis and sound manipulation was a natural extension of that desire.
BTR: How was the company Sunsine Audio born?
Fletcher: I had toyed with the idea of starting a music company for a few years. At some point I had produced a pack of Chiptune sequences and ‘one hits’ and I contacted some of those larger preset/sample distributors and my work was accepted. The pack sold a very small amount but I was hooked. I starting contacting independent developers because I realized what was happening in iOS was important and there was a role to be filled there, producing content for this emerging platform. The first developer that gave me a chance was Alex Matheau (Distraub) with GlitchBreaks. I never stopped and it just grew from there.
BTR: From sound design to effects pedals design… What made you do the Vanishing Point Fuzz pedal?
Fletcher: I had been messing around with a few circuits, and at the same time doing a lot of iOS sound design work. The physical aspect of assembling a circuit felt like a relief from tapping a screen and being in the box so to speak. I can design synth patches in a coffee shop with headphones and no one ever knows! With hardware, you’ve got to get a little dirty and make some noise, drill, polish, soldier, there is smoke and heat. After a long day of being totally in your head and working with software, it’s a positive change to go and assemble something. I’ve always had the dream of my own hardware, and of expanding Sunsine Audio whenever possible, and it seemed like everything dovetailed in a moment of clarity. At this point each unit is assembled by hand, and each one feels like a piece of art. I’m taking time out of my life to build something physical and it’s an honor to share that and see peoples responses and how they use these things!
BTR: Talk about what the Vanishing Point Fuzz pedal was meant to accomplish?
Fletcher: I chose a fuzz pedal specifically because I love the way they sound, but designed the Vanishing Point with a slightly more modern tone, incorporating the bite and edge of silicon versus the traditional germanium transistors. I’ve always been unhappy when using guitar pedals at how much frequency loss there is, especially in the low end. Traditionally pedals filter out non-guitar frequencies to tighten the sound up, but clearly there are many people using these devices on everything, anything they can run through it, so why not accommodate them? It’s designed as a fuzzbox not just for guitarists or bassists but also synthesists, keyboard players, vocalists, really anyone.
BTR: What’s up with your new pedal, the Harmonic Decoder?
Fletcher: The Harmonic Decoder is essentially an analog VCO, a Phase Detector, and a simple filter in a special arrangement known as a Phase Lock Loop. When a signal is input the Phase Detector determines both the frequency and the phase, and the VCO is triggered and locked to match, effectively resynthesizing the source. The results can be pretty wild and extreme even without any modulation, but the Harmonic Decoder includes two options for modulating the VCO. Firstly, a built in envelope follower tracks the amplitude and can deliver effects that recall a WahWah or Swept Resonant Filter. The second option is a Voltage Control input, that will accept any Eurorack signal, as well as a wide array of other standards, and will even interface with computer and iPad CV controllers such as Silent Way from Expert Sleepers or CV Toolkit from Spektro Audio. It’s definitely a pedal for the more experimental artists out there, and I’ve been getting some great feedback.
BTR: I recently reviewed the Waldorf app NAVE. We spoke briefly about it and your experience in doing sound design for it. Why do you think NAVE is one of those special synth apps?
Fletcher: I think Nave is really special because it’s an example of an established company coming in and providing an intriguing and original instrument that gives access to a lot of comparable tools found in their hardware (and software), but very affordably. It’s just a testament to the forward movement and growth of iOS as a legitimate platform, and it sounds great!
BTR: And while we are on the subject of synth apps. What is your take on what iOS has done for musicians?
Fletcher: Well, I think if you ask ten different musicians this same question you’ll likely get ten different answers back. People are using these devices in pretty divergent ways, so I can only speak personally of my experience with any authority.
I believe that, in some ways, iOS got me ‘out of the box’. There is a lot of focus on producing solely on the platform (iOS) but for me it was a release and escape, and a compliment to another platform, the computer. If I wanted to use something on my iPad it made me slow down and think about the best way to accomplish the task, and whether I had been doing something because it truly sounded better or because it was so convenient. It’s good to get space and to approach problems in new ways, and hopefully have a few happy accidents along the way.
I also was attracted by the almost punk-like stuff in the very beginning of the scene. It was obvious this platform was really intriguing and would provide a lot of new opportunity for design and interface, and because the processors were slow people were doing really creative things. Often these were one man operations and could design what they liked. There was an energy about the roughness of it all, and somehow, it felt charged and fresh.
BTR: Where do you see iOS musicianship going in the future?
Fletcher: I see the legacy extending well beyond even the term ‘iOS’. All of these multi-touch screens and accelerometers, all of these “unconventional” controllers are really new and they have such obvious creative and expressive potential that I think these types of technology are going to around for a long time in the music industry.
There was a period when where there wasn’t a lot of innovation happening in terms of the instruments themselves, but a very active growing interest in new ways of control and interaction. I think we’re just starting to see the fruit of that experimentation, and tablets and phones are so cheap and adaptable that its very easy to have access to a reconfigurable interface that is your own.
BTR: What is your instrument?
Fletcher: My principal instrument has always been guitar, but I can get down with pretty much any fretted, stringed instrument. I also play a little keys and some drums, as well as sequencing. I’ve felt for a long time my real instrument is ‘the studio’ or the entire process of bringing a sound or song to life. These days I spend a lot more energy on the tech side of things but I do try and keep my chops up a little.
BTR: If you had to name 3 synth apps that every iOS wielding beatmaker or producer should have which would they be?
Fletcher: Damn! This is a hard question. If we’re speaking of only synth apps for Hip Hop type stuff I would say Animoog, Nave, and Impaktor. There is enough diversity and power in that trifecta to do a lot. Impaktor may be the unsung hero of the app store, you can get really beautiful percussion out of it, but I still wish it had the ability to take an input from Audiobus. It is fun to trigger it with external beats etc.
Seriously, there are so many great synths out there. All these companies make great iOS synths – Waldorf, Arturia, Korg, PPG, Propellerheads, Virsyn, Yonac Inc., One Red Dog Media, Tempo Rubato, Kymatica, Beepstreet, Moog, Retronyms, Apesoft, iceGear… The list goes on and on, and any one of these companies synths could find favor in a Hip Hop composition. In fact I guarantee they are all being used for Hip Hop by someone somewhere!
BTR: As a sound designer what is your sound design process like?
Fletcher: It really depends on the project. I always try and get to know how a synth works really well before I start programming. I envision the possibilities with the options present, and test modulation ranges etc. When I’m doing a commercial third party pack I’m thinking about making mostly bread and butter sounds, or sounds that are useful, but I often throw in a few patches that showcase a special ability of the synth or are noisier or more complicated. With something like the factory set I did for Waldorf’s Nave, I had the freedom to do stranger sounds, more ‘showcase’ type stuff, because I realized there was going to be a base of usable sounds already considering the amount of talented sound designers working on the project.
BTR: Any chance there will ever be a Sunsine Audio synth app?
Fletcher: Never say never!
BTR: What is your dream project to work on?
Fletcher: I’d like to work on some complete instrument designs, I think that would be really interesting and rewarding. Beyond that I’d love to just continue to grow my sound design relationships, and to grow my hardware line.
Sunsine Audio really is my dream project.
BTR: Any advise for aspiring sound designers?
Fletcher: It helps to be a musician and think like a musician. Learn what functions actually do, their names, and how they are useful. This will make you 100% more efficient and competent. Practice applying this acquired knowledge often, it’s just like practicing an instrument. Don’t expect any level of advancement without discipline. Be humble, grateful, and professional if seeking work. The most important advice I can give? Listen!
BTR: What are future plans for Sunsine Audio?
Fletcher: The sky is the limit, no sleep to Brooklyn and all of that, hahaha. I’m just happy to be doing what I am and I’m going to keep my head down and hopefully bring out more interesting and useful products. I can’t speak to specifics, but I’ve got a couple different things cooking, and as always I’ll keep you in the loop. Thanks for the interview!
Keep up with Sunsine Audio here.