Mini Interview: Oli Larkin
Oli Larkin develops software for music and audiovisual art projects.
He works at the Music Research Centre, University of York as well as releasing his own plug-ins commercially.
What got you started?
I got interested in Music Technology whilst at secondary school. In the last few years of school I was fascinated by the production techniques used in electronica. At the same time I was introduced to more academic electronic music and was impressed by the kinds of sound manipulations that composers in that field use. I chose to do a degree where I could learn about the tools and craft of electroacoustic music and sound art rather than just regular studio production. So that's when I started to learn Max and it was my first real experience of any kind of programming. In parallel to my studies I started to develop my own VST plug-ins as a hobby. Later on I taught myself C++ in order to develop plug-ins professionally.
How do you know when something you are working on is finished?
When it comes to music I've always found this extremely difficult, and goes some way to explaining why I became more of a programmer, although I had no background in any math/engineering discipline and hadn't been coding from a young age like a lot of people. I've found that when I'm making software it comes naturally to set myself clear goals and I can be very focused on achieving those goals. I have much more patience when programming than I do with music which is usually a bit of a battle, although one that I still enjoy from time to time. When something I'm making crashes the computer or doesn't make any sound it's a pretty clear indicator that it's not finished yet. That being said, I have a lot of unfinished software projects - I know how I would finish them, just don't have the time.
When do you like to use chance or random processes?
It's not a big part of what I do to be honest. Over the years I've made some nice drone oscillators using things like strange attractors, and some granulators with a lot of randomisation features. I like using the Beta distribution to choose random numbers since the distribution shape can be smoothly changed via a couple of parameters.
What's something that you would like to be able to do with technology in your work but you can't at the moment?
I'm looking forward to a time when you can get really cheap and powerful DSP boards with high quality, low latency multi-channel audio IO. Ideally something that is very accessible that can be programmed with a tool like gen~. The OWL pedal and the ARM chip that powers it are pretty exciting developments in this respect.
What inspires you?
I'm inspired by the sounds and production techniques used by artists that I like and I also keep an eye on what a lot of other people are doing in audio software - there are some very cool experimental plug-ins and apps coming out these days and a lot of people becoming interested in creative coding which is great. It's nice to see that things like Max4Live have made techniques that were once limited to academic composers much more accessible.
What is the most difficult obstacle you need to overcome in order to do your thing?
Keeping a good work/life balance. It's very easy to get too absorbed in programming or music projects.