Internationally-Renowned Authority in Digital Audio, Music, Sound
and Sound Design
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
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 views.
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
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 for growth.
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
Q: Can you give your views on MPx; where it is now and where is
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 School (VFS).
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,”
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
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 piano.
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 load.
Q: From a context of past, present and future, what drives you to
do what you do?
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 professionals today?
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
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
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 ‘naï¿½ve’ 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 answers?
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.