Who we are: Meet Patrick O’Brien
Welcome back to the blog! This series is all about the people behind Noise Engineering. We’re a small but dedicated group of primarily awkward nerds, who all share a love for synthesizers, music, and all things Noise. This week, meet Patrick.
Name: Patrick O’Brien
Job title: Ambassador to the Stars
What’s your backstory? What did you do before NE?
Being classically trained in piano and trumpet growing up, I thought I was setting myself up to be a jingle writer. My intro into electronic gear began as an early teen when my brother played me his version of the synth track from Edgar Winter Group’s “Frankenstein” using his Korg MS-10. My first machine was the Roland TR-505, followed by the Roland D-20. I loved the built-in sequencer on that D-20 and created hundreds of cheesy pop tracks on its floppy disk drive. I reveled in all my audio engineering courses at Webster University in St. Louis and earned a double BA majoring in Audio Production and Marketing with a minor in Music.
Over the years I was drawn to the media and worked as a morning show producer at a radio station, a chief audio engineer at a recording studio, and a digital news manager in television. Sadly I got away from the music biz for a while but always kept up with the trends. I did have a short run as a club DJ in the early 2000s which opened my ears to EDM and (dare I say it) Dubstep, and I started building my home studio when I moved to DC a few years later.
My career path in local television news sent me and my wife to LA in 2012, and in my free time I got back in the box again and created music tracks with software and plugins. I got my hands on the Moog Sub Phatty, which was my first real taste of analog. Soon after that I binged on a few videos from Celldweller and drooled over his modular synth collection. This was around the time my wife picked up a TV gig on the east coast, which started our long-distance marriage. Rather than spending my time moping around or drowning my sorrows at the local pub, I went straight to Big City Music in Studio City, completely clueless about modular synths. After a couple weeks, I bought my first case with six modules.
As I was learning Eurorack, there were a handful of others tagging #modularsynth on Instagram. I posted clips of my patches with the tag and listened to feedback from the small but expanding community sprinkled all around the world. My intention was to use these synths for sound design, until I got a text from Skyler King at Analogue Haven asking if I’d like to perform live at an event at his store. I took on the challenge and brought everything I had, which were two mostly filled 12U Monorocket cases. I was incredibly nervous, but it all worked out great and led me towards the performer's life.
I posted my sets on YouTube as a way to document my journey, and one of those videos, Eternal, appeared as a top search result on YouTube for a very long time. I can’t tell you how many people have reached out to me to say that was the first modular synth performance they watched online and it helped them get into modular. I’m still in awe of the response to that video 5 ½ years later. I attended the first Modular on the Spot show in LA, performed a few times over the years, and helped run the event when Rodent moved away. When the Patch CV: Controlling Voltage documentary crew filmed me at my home in Encino, that’s when I knew I was on the right musical path.
AAAAAAND here’s where Noise Engineering comes in: In 2017, I started helping Stephen and Kris demo modules at the NAMM booth. The following year they asked if I’d be interested in producing demo videos, since they were launching a lot of new modules and needed some explainers out there. My first demo video was the Clep Diaz, and here we are 3 ½ years later with 25 demos behind me.
How long have you been at NE?
I started building demos for NE in 2018 and officially became part of the team in 2021!
What do you do at NE?
I’m their production, marketing, and social media guru, creating content and engagement on all their platforms. Patches, graphics, demos, trailers, sizzle reels, presentations, you name it. I also build relationships and connect with the music community and industry.
What do you do when you’re not working?
When I moved from LA to DC earlier this spring, I started the Modular on the Mall modular synth concert series. Each month, first-time performers and established modular synth artists perform live sets at the DC War Memorial on the National Mall with other musicians and enthusiasts.
The main reason why I moved to the east coast this year was to be with my wife Lindsey, who is a television news anchor in the DC metro area. We had a long-distance marriage for 7 years. After what we (and the world) went through in 2020, it was time to reunite and reboot our life together. So yeah, when I’m not working, I’m spending as much time with her as I can.
What’s your favorite NE module that you’ve worked on?
Mimetic Digitalis. That demo video was a BEAST.
What’s your favorite module in your system?
I’ll list my Top 3: QU-Bit Electronix Octone, Noise Engineering Loquelic Iteritas, and Mimetic Digitalis.
What was your first module?
The Pittsburgh Modular Oscillator
What’s your favorite patch technique?
I’m into patching with smaller cases. It forces me to learn everything about a module and use it in unfamiliar ways. While my modular gear was in transit during my move to DC, I borrowed my wife’s case with 76HP of modules and challenged myself to create 5 unique tracks and put out an album.
Desert island module?
Probably a sample player. That way I can play back instructions on how to build a boat.
What’re your musical inspirations?
I’ve always had a deep appreciation for the Enigma project and how he layers in tracks and fills the frequencies so beautifully. I was also inspired by the thick sounds of Linkin Park’s earlier albums. In high school, I listened to a lot of slow ballads by Chicago. I was a mess in high school and got overly emotional with everything. That’s probably why my modular patches are so melodic -- tons of ‘80s pop songs repeating in my head.
What album could you not stop listening to when you were in high school?
I’ll admit I played a LOT of Milli Vanilli.
Favorite NE Memory?
Trying to meticulously demo the Ataraxic Iteritas Magnus 5U during NE’s whiskey and module pairing event at Perfect Circuit (there’s video of this). That was also the time I performed my “brass patch” with the LIP.
What’s your favorite non-modular instrument?
For years I dreamed of owning the Prophet 12, but I never bought it.
What would your 18-year-old self think about what you do now?
He’d be impressed that I’m actually in the business of what my college degrees set me up for.
Who is your doppelganger?
My artist name should’ve been “Not Jim Gaffigan”
What’s your favorite piece of non-NE gear?
My 10” Dobsonian telescope