Martin Walker: I spent over a year on it, basically whenever I wasn’t meeting other deadlines, and I mostly worked under headphones so I began to get lost in this world of strange machines. It was also on my mind a lot of the time when out walking with my wife and dogs, and I often found myself tapping objects with my car keys as I passed them in case they had potential for subsequent recording sessions. The release date also got put back several times because I just couldn’t stop myself revisiting earlier sounds to tweak them a little bit more. Sometimes it’s difficult to stop!

Did you ever have an idea for a sound that turned out to be unfeasible?

Martin Walker: Not really. Plenty of sounds ended up morphing in unexpected directions, particulary when using Alchemy’s Granular synthesis, but it’s rare for a sample not to be useful in some capacity. For me one of the joys of sound design is what you discover when you play back a newly captured sound at different speeds and pitches, or when you’ve chopped it up into short snippets and sequence them in different ways. Few sounds are wasted; most are just waiting for their hidden talents to be discovered.

How do you get your ideas, and do you use templates to get to the result?

Martin Walker: There are always wonderful sounds waiting to be discovered in unexpected places. Friends may laugh when they see me with my ear against yet another strange object, but there can be musical possiblities in a creaking gate, a dripping tap or a breaking twig. I also get inspiration from a lot of different music including ambient, electronica, dance, trance, classical, lots of film scores, and of course from the work of other sound designers.

I almost never use templates in my own sound design though, and am always disappointed with libraries that have the telltale signs of template use, such as dozens of presets with the same effects and similar programming. A few of mine may start life being inspired by existing presets, but even then they evolve so much that each one ends up unique in so many ways.

In your opinion: What is so special about your library for Alchemy?

Martin Walker: Well, I like to think that I’ve created a believable world of sound with Steamworx, rather than simply a collection of presets. One of the beauties of building a signature sound bank is that you amass enough unique sampled material to stamp a real identity across all the presets, whether it’s the subtle background clicks of an imaginary mechanism or the hum and buzz of ‚electrickery‘. Moreover, my samples tend to get used again beyond their main featured preset to add small details to other presets such as attacks, background drones and other flavouring.

I also spent a lot of time adding subtle touches of ‚humanisation‘ on various instruments to make each note you play sound slightly different, just like acoustic ones, and paid great attention to extracting the last drop of potential from Alchemy’s eight remix pads on every preset, to provide plenty of performance options. For instance, try Chaotica in the Sound Effects folder to hear a whole world of possibilities! Finally, many musicians have told me how perfectly many Steamworx sounds work across a wide variety of genres, from gentle ambient to heavy industrial music, which is perhaps unusual in itself.

What equipment do you use for recording?

Martin Walker: In the studio I tend to rely on my Audient Mico preamp and a selection of mics ranging from a Rode NT4 stereo model that’s very quick to set up, a matched pair of SE Electronics SE3’s for more adventurous stereo mic placements, and a Groove Tubes GT57 for its ‚larger than life‘ detailed sound and multiple polar patterns. I’d also be totally lost without my Sennheiser HD650 headphones – open models aren’t ideal when recording loud sounds because of spill and possible feedback, but with the quieter close-miked sounds I tend to favour these work very well for monitoring purposes.

Audient Mico preamp

Once the sounds are in my PC I have a huge range of software utilities covering additive, spectral and granular synthesis, analogue modelling, as well as a few software and hardware designs of my own. On this project two secret weapons that got used a lot were Little Endian’s SpectrumWorx 2 for adding ’steam‘ and Audiobulb’s Ambient for fractal detail.

…and for field recording?…

Martin Walker: For field recording I’ve been very pleased with my little Zoom H4n, which sounds better than the portable DAT machines I used to cart about years ago. I’ve got some Sennheiser earbuds when I need to be inconspicuous, but I often wear my HD650’s for monitoring outside as well.

Do you have some good field recording advice for our readers?

Martin Walker: Always have your field recorder in your pocket/backpack if you can, as some of the most intriguing sounds may present themselves unexpectedly, and there’s nothing more frustrating than having to say “if only…“. An artificial fur windscreen is also a must for outdoor use, although you can press other items into service in an emergency – I’ve used umbrellas and even a wooly hat to deflect wind noise.

Don’t be too precious about what gets recorded and what doesn’t, since some of the most useful sounds may turn out to be the incidental ones inbetween the ‚good takes‘. Most important of all, never assume that an ‚obvious‘ mic position is the best one – always listen carefully to what you’re capturing on a decent set of headphones and move the mic around to discover the most interesting balance. That way you may also discover some sounds you didn’t expect.

How do you usually start designing a sound for an instrument?

Martin Walker: Often my sounds start life with a field recording, because these always offer such a wealth of real-world detail. I cut out all the best bits of the session, top and tail them and then group them by timbre into velocity layers, round-robin variations and so on.

The real fun begins once this collection of new sounds has been imported into Alchemy, when you can explore its potential at different playback pitches and rates, chop it into grains to be played back in different orders, or play back selected portions of it to enhance other layers in your instrument. There might be a whole new world waiting to be found within a single sample!

Which sounds do you design/like the most?

Martin Walker: On this collection it would have to be the looped and arpeggiated presets, since I was able to indulge my Christmas clock fetish in so many ways, creating bizarre new machines from my imagination. However, I also love creating new string and choir sounds, unusual drums and percussion…

Are there any ideas and plans for another extraordinary soundpack?

Martin Walker: It’s already started, and this time it’s inspired by a large collection of ‚found objects‘ that I’ve been collecting for the last year, plus another diverse set of field recordings. Expect a very different approach to building expressive new instruments from weird and wonderful materials, and plenty of unusual sounds that you haven’t heard before but which should prove very easy to incorporate into existing music.

Anything else you want to say to PlugINdex users?

Martin Walker: Well, sound design can be incredibly rewarding, but you never truly know how successful you’ve been without user feedback, so I’d like to thank those who have bought Steamworx, and especially all the musicians who have emailed me and posted such positive and enthusiastic feedback on forums around the world.

Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions!

Website Martin Walker.

Einen ausführlichen Testbericht zu Camel Audio Steamworx gibt es hier nachzulesen.