Company (or Freelance):
Did you attend school for an audio-related degree? If so, what school and degree?
School: Universidad Javeriana (Bogota, Colombia)
Degree: BA in Music with Emphasis on Sound Engineering
School: Leeds Metropolitan University (Leeds, UK)
Degree: MSc in Sound and Music for Interactive Games
What inspired you to work with sound?
I first wanted to do music, and when I was in high school I was the guitarist of an all-girl band for several years. However, I felt that it was not exactly what I wanted to do for a living, although I knew I wanted to be involved with art regardless of the medium (I tried sculpture, but it wasn’t my thing either!) Fortunately, I found the major at Javeriana University that merged music with sound engineering, which ended up being a perfect balance.
How old were you when you found out sound is what you wanted to do for a living?
At 18 I knew I wanted to do something related with sound and music. At 23, I knew I wanted to do sound design for film and television. At 28 I knew I wanted to do sound design for interactive games.
Was a school degree the first thing on your mind, or do everything self-taught?
It was the first thing on my mind. I had many gaps regarding music and null knowledge regarding sound. So for me it was essential to have a formal education. Besides, in that time the mentality or habit of searching for everything on the Internet wasn’t very common. Now, with tons of more information, audio communities, and social media, it is a lot easier to be self-taught.
Then, after five years of undergrad studies, I worked at a TV production company owned by Sony, where I learned tons of things that never even crossed my mind while I was in school. It actually was like another school for me, but with more practice and less theory. Things started getting too static after a while, though, so I decided to do the MSc.
I chose an on-campus MSc course instead of learning on my own or doing a virtual program because even with the massive information on the Internet nowadays, it is still crucial to meet people in real life. Also, the experience of going to a different country to learn is invaluable. It pushes you to work harder because you have to adapt to a different rhythm of life, culture, language, and educational scheme, and at the same time you have to learn about sound and respond with results. At the end, the whole experience broadens the scope of opportunities for you.
What is your specialty/preference of the sound fields (sound design, music, recording, audio programming, implementation, etc)? What do you like most about it?
Sound design is my specialty, although I would love to explore more audio programming and music. Learning about game audio has been very revealing because the fact of not knowing in advance the events in a visual sequence changes every traditional scheme of making music and sound.
What I like most of all of them is that you can be extremely creative. Not only can you express yourself, but you can also influence the audience’s emotions through sound.
What sound tools did you learn in your school curriculum?
Assuming that “sound tools” is not just software and hardware:
Javeriana: Recording techniques, mixing, editing, MIDI, Protools, Reason, field recording, live sound (although I never really got into it), operation and installation of sound devices such as mixers and managing studios, and music fundamentals (theory, sight reading, basic piano, ear training, etc).
Leeds Met: Game audio principles and implementation, in-depth sound design, and building interactive interfaces. At a master’s level you choose the software tools to make your own projects, so I mostly used UDK for implementation and Max/Msp and Processing for prototyping interactive applications.
What kind of projects did you have in your classes?
In Leeds Met I made an audiovisual application programmed in processing that involves generative music and allows compositional interactions by the player. The design of the app is based on synaesthesia effects (colors, moods, and sounds).
For my dissertation I made a fictional language dialogue system in Max/Msp that intends to generate expressive creature dialogue lines. Phrases are created by concatenating and recombining phonemes and non-vocal sounds, producing the illusion of a language. The system uses different probability settings of pitch, pace, pauses, volume, and layers of sounds, to express specific moods.
At Javeriana University I did many recordings of all kinds of music, including salsa and Caribbean folk. My graduation project was the music production of 40 short children-folk songs from different regions of the country where several autochthonous instruments outstand (drums from the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, Andean bandolas, charangos, marimbas, tiples, etc).
Were your teachers audio professionals? Anybody the audience would know?
Most of them were audio professionals! They are all very well known depending on the audience. Probably the English speaking community wouldn’t know my teachers from my undergrad, but in the Latin American scene they are very well known, and the same happens the other way around:
Teachers at Leeds Met University, in the UK game audio scene:
Teachers at Javeriana University in other audio-related scenes (in Latin America):
Eduardo de Narváez
Luis Fernando Beltrán
External Mentors that I met along the way, virtually or in person (game audio):
Did you do any side projects during school? If so, what were they like?
I did several small side projects to gain experience. I remember recording various ensembles and choirs.
I also worked as an editor at the Javeriana Estereo radio station, and then, before I graduated from my BA, I started working at a TV production company owned by Sony.
How many of your side projects were published? Any of them turn profitable?
They were small private projects, so none of them turned profitable. The TV shows I started working on by the end of my major were the only ones published and profitable.
How large was your graduating class? Were you all close?
In the BSc we were about forty people when we started, but only a few finished and graduated with me (around six).
In the MSc, we were eight at the beginning. Some retired, others switched to another audio field, others referred, and only two of us finished the course of Sound and Music for Interactive Games. However, we had many classes in common with students of other similar audio areas.
How often do you work with your old classmates today?
We don’t work together but we keep in touch and whenever we need feedback or something, we help each other.
Any old classmates you want to mention? The more the merrier with the audio community!
From the MSc:
Stefan Rutherford – Sound Designer, specialist in Game Audio
Marc Weber – Sound Designer & Music Composer
Ben Reibel – Audio Engineer & Production Manager
From the BA:
Juliana Velásquez – Sound Designer & Events Manager
Sebastián García – Audio Engineer & Musician
Do you feel more prepared for the sound industry than if you had not graduated from your program?
Do you have a website for your portfolio? How often do you blog on it?
I recently started a blog in Spanish about game audio. I’m blogging once a week (and hope to keep it up!) The blog is gameaudiostuff.com.
Some of my portfolio works are available at be.net/nailaburney
Do you use social networking? How often, and what communities?
Yes, I often use:
Any last words for future audio people looking to carve their education and career paths?
The more you study, the more you realize how little you know!
About Sonic Backgrounds
The sound industry is an ever growing field, ranging from linear sound design in film and TV, to interactive audio in games, and from live theatrical sound design to field recording for the creation of custom libraries. It is only recently however, that school programs have begun to offer degrees in the sound-specific variety. Graduates of these new programs are now coming into the industry, and it provokes the interesting question of how these new, specific programs are preparing individuals for the sound world, as opposed to the older approaches of entry, such as pure passion, musical talent, a film degree, or a computer science degree.
“Sonic Backgrounds” is an interview series focused on interviewing recent graduates of these educational sound programs around the globe, to see what exactly they are providing, and how they are shaping the new “academic”-based sound artist.