An internationally-renowned authority
in digital audio, music, sound and sound design...
Interview with Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P.
This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with Gary
Bourgeois, an internationally-renowned authority in digital audio, music,
sound and sound design for the film industry. Gary is also an accomplished
guitar player and musician for Mind Gallery. He has served in the role as
Director of Multimedia at the famous Vancouver Film School (VFS) and is the
Head Instructor for Sound Design.
Q: With your busy schedule, it’s a rare pleasure and honour to have you come
in and share your valuable insights with the audience. Thank you for agreeing
to this interview.
A: My pleasure Stephen and thanks for the opportunity to share some of my
Q: You have a long career in computing going back to the 70s’—can you detail
the many paths that you have taken, and lessons you have learned along the
way? What 10 tips can you provide to others that helped you in your path to
success? What would you do different looking back in hindsight?
A: I’ve always tried to balance my interest in computing with my passion for
music. I was fortunate to get into the computing field at about the same time
that micro processors started to revolutionize the industry. Because I didn’t
have a formal education in computer science I was pretty lucky to land a job
at an accounting firm as a data entry clerk, especially considering that I
had just gotten off of a tour with the Payola’s and had green hair. About two
weeks after I started, the position of computer operator became vacant and I
rose to the occasion. A few months after that, we had gotten a TRS-80, which
I really delved into, and began developing a lot of dBase2 software. I spent
a lot of my free time getting into assembly coding on the 6502 and Z80
platforms. One of my favourite projects was trying to write optimized
versions of Conway’s Life for both platforms.
My next career move was a position in tech support and training with Computerland. One thing I really liked about that job was
educating people who were new to computers as well as getting to keep on top
of the latest developments in the micro computer world.
During the time that I was gainfully employed working in the computer field;
I was actively pursuing my music career on the side. After about five years,
I finally decided to try to find work which would combine both of my major
interests, so I applied for a sales position at Annex Pro because they were
looking for someone with a background in computing and music. This was around
the same time that MIDI and the first generation of digital synthesizers like
the DX7 were starting to take off. One of things I really gravitated toward
was the early development of digital audio recording systems, like digidesign’s Sound Tools, which later became the Pro
Tools virtual studio system. By the time that I had left Annex, I had become
the resident digidesign product specialist and
spent most of my time designing and consulting on Pro Tools systems.
My latest work with the Vancouver Film School began when they hired me to
design and implement the digital audio portion of their New Media campus,
which launched in 1995. My most recent position with VFS has involved the
launch of a new one year program designed to train students for the audio
post production and gaming industries.
To answer your question about 10 tips that I could provide, I’m not sure that
I can come up with that many. In order of importance I would say that the
number one tip I could give would be to pursue something that you really love
doing but try and maintain a balance between paying the rent and pursuing
your goal. I have seen a lot of burnout in the music industry of people who
lost that perspective. On the computer side, I really had a problem dealing
with people who chose that career path because they focused on the money. I
remember dealing with some folks who had no real interest or passion for
computers, but thought that it was the right field to get into because they
could get a job.
My second piece of advice is not to be afraid of change. Anyone interested in
either music or computers has to be able to adapt quickly to an industry that changes overnight. Sometimes you find out that
everything you know is wrong and you have to start from square one. Instead
of being overwhelmed, try to look at the challenge as a whole new opportunity
One final trick that works for me is to always be looking for new horizons. I
think one of my best qualities is a strong sense of curiosity. For example,
when I started to develop a major interest in the field Artificial Life, I
also became really interested in learning about lichens. Since lichens are
one of the most primitive life forms, there seemed to be a natural
relationship between “real” life and A-life.
In regards to what I would have done differently, the only thing that comes
to mind would have been to be enough of a visionary to see that I could have
taken CPM, tweaked it a little and renamed it MS-DOS and licensed it to IBM. As
they say, the rest is history!
Q: Gary, you have spoken at international conferences such the talk you gave
on “Delivering Audio on the Internet” as Program Director for New Media at
the Vancouver Film School (VFS). Can you provide an update where this is
today and where it will be in two years and five years?
A: I don’t think a lot has changed since I gave that talk, other than the
larger market penetration of broadband into the home. The future of audio
delivery is probably the convergence of higher bandwidth and better
compression. One thing I think is pretty interesting is a component of MPEG-4
called SAOL (Structured Audio Orchestra Language), which is somewhat like Csound embedded into the MPEG standard. Rather than
actually streaming audio data, SAOL allows you to specify the synthesis
engine, which runs on the client machine, while providing the ability to play
that instrument from the server side. If you understand how MIDI works, SAOL
is kind of an extension of that concept. Currently, QuickTime 6 doesn’t
implement this extension, so I’m hoping to see something in a future release.
Q: Can you give your views on MPx; where it is now
and where is it going?
A: I’m not sure if we will see any ground breaking new developments in MPEG
technology. As I mentioned above, the SAOL extension is the one I think is
most interesting. There doesn’t seem to be as much of need to develop further
compression ratios, since most of the content is now being delivered over
cable and ADSL.
Q: Tell us more about your new Sound Design Campus at the Vancouver Film
A: We launched the program just over a year ago. The development of a Sound
Design program for VFS was a natural complement to our other programs which
focus on visual media. Our curriculum was designed from the ground up to
address the needs of the audio post industry, including surround mixing for
theatre. Currently VFS is the only authorized digidesign
training center in Canada, which allows us to integrate their curriculum
directly into ours.
Our approach to designing the program was to focus on the Pro Tools
environment. Since digidesign pretty much dominates
the entire audio recording industry, it made sense for us to train our
students on the gear that they would be using when they graduate. Another
interesting facet of the Sound Design program is convergence with our other
campuses. For example, our Sound Design students are doing all of the audio
post for work for our 3D and 2D animation students.
Q: What more can you tell us about Mind Gallery? It took a while for you to
adjust to the constant use of odd time signatures ;-) ?
A: I joined Mind Gallery in 1990 after taking a few years off from live
performance. We have already released 3 CDs and are currently in the middle
of the 4th one. I think we would have given up years ago if it wasn’t for the
Internet, since we are a small independent label with a mainly international
market. The genre we work in, instrumental progressive rock, is definitely
not on the ‘radar’ in terms of the music industry. Our influences include
bands like Yes, King Crimson and early Genesis, which is where the odd time
signatures come in. Steve Howe, the guitarist from Yes, was a huge influence
when I started playing guitar in the early 70’s, so it wasn’t that difficult
adapting to the musical approach Mind Gallery was pursuing. We have found
that live performance isn’t really a major goal for us in the Vancouver area,
because there isn’t a significant market for us locally. One thing we would
like to pursue in the future is a European tour because we definitely sell
more CD’s in that part of the world. Considering that most of our promotion
has been via our website and newsgroups, I think we have done fairly well. At
least we have been able to cover our costs, and build a pretty decent home
studio as well.
Q: Can you share stories from your time with The Payolas, “e,” Generators, …?
A: Being in the Payolas was pretty interesting. After we had signed to
A&M Records, we did a small tour of eastern Canada. I quickly discovered
that being a “rock star” wasn’t quite as glamorous as I had been led to
believe. Living out of the back of truck and eating in McDonald’s every day
got pretty monotonous fairly quickly. I resigned from the band after we got
back and was lucky enough to get a real job as a data entry clerk, as I
mentioned above. I also discovered that I was more interested in pursuing a
music career on my own terms, which is when I started Vancouver’s first synth pop band, [e?]. I remember rehearsing in a West End
apartment with everyone in the band wearing headphones tied into a 24 track
mixer. Because everyone was playing synths,
including our drummer, Tom Hadju (of tomandandy fame), we were able to get away with
practicing without disturbing the neighbours too much. Not an easy task for
the average rock band!
Q: Your list of accomplishments is impressive indeed! Which ones standout
foremost in your mind and what lessons can you share with our audience? What
are your top tips for those newly entering the IT profession?
A: One thing I should mention is that I have been asked a few times about my
major accomplishments in the post industry. There happens to be another Gary
Bourgeois, who has some major credits in the film industry as an audio post
specialist. For the record, he’s the guy whose name comes up in the credits
for movies like Charlie’s Angels. In fact, he has close to 150 credits listed
on the Internet Movie Database (http://us.imdb.com/).
In regards to my own accomplishments, I’m definitely not at his level in the
fame department. Most of the work that I’ve done has been for independent
artists like Canadian video pioneer, Paul Wong.
One of the more interesting things that I’ve worked on was the software
design for conceptual artist Rodney Graham. One of the projects I worked on
was “Parsifal”, an installation for computer and 14 speakers. Rodney’s idea
was to take a section of Wagner’s opera and loop the individual orchestral
instruments at different rates based upon the series of prime numbers. The software,
which I wrote in cycling74’s MAX environment, calculates the number of
seconds which have elapsed since the opera’s premier in the late 1800’s and
determines where the musician would be in the score today. Rodney’s piece
will last for something like 30 billion years before all of the loops are in
sync again. The installation is still running on a Mac IIci
running two digidesign SampleCell
cards hooked up to seven amplifiers and 14 speakers. Each instrument is wired
to its own speaker in the gallery space. Another piece I designed for Rodney,
called the “School of Velocity”, is based upon one of Czerny’s piano
exercises. The main concept in the piece, which lasts for 24 hours, is that
the tempo is continuously slowing down by the square of the distance between
each notes rhythmic value. The actual implementation consists of a Mac
Classic running a Yamaha Diskclavier MIDI grand
Q: What do you see on the horizon that digital audio professionals “must” be
aware of to be competitive?
A: There is still a lot of argument in the industry around whether host based
systems or proprietary DSP hardware are the way to go. Personally, I think we
are still a few years away from having host based systems that can directly
compete against a hardware solution like Pro Tools, especially if you are
looking at doing large multi-track projects like sound design for film. The
whole trend toward a complete ‘virtual’ studio is still going very strong and
the ability of digital systems to algorithmically model older analog
equipment is progressing very rapidly. I often get into arguments with ‘old
school’ engineers, who feel that there are some aspects of analog that cannot
be modeled, to which I strongly disagree. I think it’s merely a matter of
throwing enough processing power with the right software at the problem. So
much of the current hardware we already use is capable of exceeding the
ability of human beings to discern the differences between analog and digital
methods that I think we have almost captured a true sense of virtual reality
when it comes to audio. I’m definitely firmly in the digital camp when it
comes to that issue!
In the realm of synthesis, the current hot technology is physical modeling.
In some ways, PM is the holy grail of sound synthesis because you are
actually running real time models of ‘real’ instruments, which respond in a
very organic fashion, just like the real thing. One of the reasons that I
think SAOL is cool is because there are PM opcodes,
probably inherited from Csound, built into the
Q: Your work is well known as the creative genius behind the cellMachine project. Describe your work in this area? How
has your initial work expanded outside of music and where do you see it
evolving in two years and five years?
A: I believe the cellMachine project is still a
fairly well kept secret ;-) as I haven’t done too much in terms of promotion
yet. Essentially the cellMachine is a specific
application of some software technology I have been developing since 1998.
The cellMachine itself is designed to be a real
time generative music system, which relies on some primitive a-Life
techniques. One of the offshoots of the project has been a generic tool-kit
I’ve been working on that can apply these processes to a wider variety of
simulation scenarios, like modeling traffic flow or high level of control of
CG characters. Our company, Condition30, is actively pursuing a number of
potential applications for the technology, and I believe that we will be
doing some major growth over the next two years. We think that the technology
provides some very strong advantages in terms of memory constraints and CPU
Q: From a context of past, present and future, what drives you to do what you
A: In the past I was mainly motivated by the whole rock stardom myth until I
actually experienced the reality of that world for most ‘working’ musicians,
as opposed to the mega-stars. I think my current viewpoint is a much more
balanced view, which has allowed me to develop in areas that I’m interested
in and still be able to make a living doing what I like. One of the things I
really like about my VFS position is being able to teach the next generation
of audio professionals and share my enthusiasm for synthesis and sound
design. I also really enjoy playing music in a context which very different
than the mainstream. One passion I have been pursuing for a number of years
is flamenco guitar. After spending all day using extreme high tech toys, it’s
great to be able to sit down with a piece of wood and strings and no need for
electricity. I hope I can continue to have this attitude in the future,
because I’ve been very fortunate so far.
Q: What do you feel are top hot topics of interest to both businesses and IT
A: I’ll have to pick just one topic, which does have the potential to
completely change everything we know right now. The technology I’m referring
to is direct neural interfacing--the basic concept behind the Matrix. I’ve
always said I’ll be the second guy to try it out ;-) There is a lot of
controversy around the possibility, but we’re starting to see some of the
underlying research become more mature and eventually we may have the ability
to do this. I wouldn’t invest in a good audio system if this comes to pass;
you won’t need speakers anymore, or film, TV and virtually every other
entertainment media currently being used.
Q: Who/what do you think are the winners and losers in IT in next five years?
[This could be companies, technologies, and so on.]
A: I’m obviously hoping that Condition30 is a winner, I’m sure my partners
would also agree. Rather than addressing the wider range of the IT industry,
I think my focus on audio production would be more relevant. In our industry,
I think digidesign will continue to be the most
widely used platform in all aspects of audio production. There are some newer
systems that are quite interesting, but the market share digidesign
already has, will be difficult to challenge without some very compelling
reason to switch platforms. The already established Pro Tools DSP developers,
like Waves, will continue to incrementally improve their products. I also
think that Apple’s purchase of Emagic was pretty
significant in that the message I got was that Apple takes the audio
production market seriously. I’m looking forward to migrating to OSX in the
near future, because I feel that Apple has addressed the major issues
involving the integration of audio and MIDI functionality directly into the
OS. I suspect the next year will see a lot of refinement in this area as
companies work out the bugs and develop more stable applications. Another
interesting acquisition was Sony’s purchase of Sonic Foundry, the guys that
make “Acid”, for 18 million US. Since Acid is really a content production
tool, as opposed to a content ‘playback’ tool, I guess that Sony thinks this
will be a developing market in the future.
Q: What are your current vision, mission and roles, strategies and values and
how will they evolve over the next ten years?
A: My current vision is to continue to develop our software technology and
explore new ways of applying what we learn. Our ultimate mission is to make
simulation environments more realistic and immersive. I’m also looking
forward to using our technology in the content creation arena. Of course
there are some potential issues with copyright due to the nature of the
process involved in creating music, for example. The thing I’m really
anticipating is the impact we could have on current production practices.
Q: Where is the industry heading in the short, medium and long-term?
A: One thing I’m very interested in Stephen Wolfram’s new book, “A New Kind
of Science”. I was very inspired by the work he did in the mid 80’s with
cellular automata and complexity. I really think he is onto something in the
sense of a whole new way of looking at how the universe actually works. One
of his main conclusions in his new work is that a number of aspects of
physics can be explained by simple computer programs, like CA, being able to
model the large scale behaviours of various real world phenomenon
like turbulence. He has extended his basic model to cover a wide range of
different domains, from quantum physics to biological systems. As to the
impact his work will have on the industry, it remains to be seen how much of
his approach can be developed into real world products that perform useful
functions. Since his underlying model is based upon computation, his work
could have a significant impact on computing in the next few years. Another
person working in a similar vein is Edward Fredkin,
who has developed a whole new field called “digital
Another interesting development in the industry is the increasing
sophistication of the titles being developed in the video game market. As
game consoles get more powerful, a lot of the production techniques used in
film and TV are directly applicable to developing richer, more immersive
experiences for the player.
In terms of the music industry in particular, I would like to see a major
overhaul of the entire system, starting with the complete re-evaluation of
the current state of the industry. The issue of DRM is especially problematic
in the music industry, as we have all seen over the last few years with the
rise of Napster, broadband and MP3. I personally don’t believe there is such
a thing as an ‘uncrackable’ DRM scheme, so I think
the industry has to radically alter their future direction. This entire issue
is actually less likely to impact small independent labels such as mind
Gallery’s because we specifically cater to a niche market, which does tend to
value the artist’s contribution. We actually encourage people to copy our
stuff and share it with friends in the hope that we may develop a wider
audience by doing so. One of the things I’ve been thinking about developing
is a virtual label, where the bands on the label don’t actually exist in the
traditional sense. Some of the players would be human, while others may be
computer based. Each band would create a handful of songs, which would then
be marketed purely in the virtual sense, in that you won’t find CD’s for sale
at your local record store. All of the material would be delivered via the
Internet. Based upon the success of any one band, we would develop new
material in response to the demand. The hard part of this equation would be
the music videos! I’m not sure if CG generated characters are convincing
enough at this point to fool anyone into thinking that they were real people.
One final thought on the future of the industry relates to the increasing
sophistication of the end user. In this case I’m specifically referring to
the idea that the end user becomes an active participant in the content
development, rather than being a passive audience member. For example, one
potential market for my cellMachine system would be
musically ‘naïve’ users, who could use the system to create meaningful
musical experiences in which they are taking the active role in determining
the outcome of a particular “piece” of music. The nature of the system is
such that a composer develops a ‘process’ rather than a set piece, in the
traditional sense of music. When the end user starts the cellMachine,
they have control of various parameters which will determine how the music
will change over time. This is also one of the aspects of the technology
which we think has some applications in the gaming market. Instead of hearing
repetitive ‘loops’, (which most games use), our system will provide a
different experience every time.
Q: Considering recent news events, the state of global affairs, and our
current economic situation, if you were doing this interview, what five
questions would you ask of someone in your position and what would be your
A: I tend to be an optimist when it comes to the state of things today. I
think the other option is just too depressing. I think we can count on a
pretty amazing next ten years if the current technology trends continue. I’m
a big fan of Raymond Kurzweil’s work, “The Age of
Spiritual Machines”, where he outlines the next 100 years of computing
technology. If his predictions are correct, we will see silicon based AI
surpass human intelligence, in which case it’s anyone’s guess as to what
happens next. I hope these AI entities are benevolent; otherwise we have some
major worries ahead. Perhaps they’ll decide to turn the planet into a giant
airless desert, which might make things a little difficult for us carbon
based life forms.
Q: Thank you for taking time out of your demanding schedule to spend time
with us sharing your valuable insights.
A: Thanks for the chance to rant, Stephen. I hope I’ve been able to share
some useful knowledge with your audience.