Who we are: Kris
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 Kris.
Job title: Doer of Many Things, Chief Hyphenator
What’s your backstory? What did you do before NE?
A day in the life as a field biologist.
Before NE, I was a biology professor. I did a MS that boiled down to sitting by ponds in the middle of the forest in Belize, Central America, listening to frogs. By the time I finished my PhD, I was really obsessed with sound: every frog species makes a distinct call, and there was so much about the acoustic environment that I was interested in. I got to travel all over, live in the Amazon, backpack parts of Belize that very few people have seen, and survive more parasites than all of my current co-workers combined (is that a point of pride? Kind of.).
Fun fact: I can still recognize most of my study animals more confidently by sound than I can by sight.
I worked on tons of things: the acoustic environment and how frogs use sound, how anthropogenic noise affected physiology (it’s not good), disease, pesticides… The general through line was amphibian / reptile conservation, behavior, and physiology. It’s this backstory that led to the conservation campaigns that we run for certain modules.
If you’re weirdly curious about some of this work, take a look here.
How long have you been at NE?
In 2016, I realized that I wasn’t really excited about what I was doing anymore. Stephen and I worked long hours and barely saw each other except at dinner late at night. We were tired all the time, and we realized that we wanted something different. In October of 2016, I started part time at Noise Engineering and came onboard full time January 1, 2017.
What do you do at NE?
My primary function is hardware development. Our products are designed by the whole team: we have a weekly meeting and fight out the design elements on paper. Once we have a concept, I mock up a layout of a module in Eagle (the CAD program we use). Then we argue about that until we agree on it. Then I create the schematic, layout the PCB, and route it.
I edit the blog and write the occasional post (Markus writes most posts, but two people look at any post, no matter who writes it) and sometimes argue with Markus about how we present topics. You’d be surprised how much time goes into some of these posts. Turns out we both have opinions sometimes, hah!
I also handle hardware repairs, and share customer service and interactions, long-term business planning, branding / marketing, and probably other things I am forgetting that we almost all work on with at least some subset of the team.
What’s your day-to-day like?
I get insomnia a lot, so I start anywhere between 2 to 8 am. The earlier it is, the more coffee there is. I typically start the day by checking emails and replying to any customer emails. Then I’ll check Jira for any pressing bugs. From there, some days disappear into Eagling: laying out panels for us to argue about, making schematics, routing PCBs. Others I’m building circuits to test or I’m handling a customer repair (and then taking it back to the post office) or it’s meetings all day, inexplicably. Some days I’m taking time to read and learn something because even 4 years in, I still have so much to learn. And I will look for any excuse I can to make a spreadsheet for something. At the end of the day, Stephen and I typically make a cocktail and enjoy the sunset (time of year permitting) while we have an end-of-day wrap up and talk about anything that we need to discuss.
What do you do when you’re not working?
We love to cook and make complicated drinks. The kitchen is my happy place.
I also spend a lot of time on aerial silks. If I’m not working or eating, I’m probably hanging by an ankle. It’s a fantastic way to get out of your head—you have to really think about what you’re doing and be in the moment—and it is fantastic exercise. And (middle school throwback) I recently started roller skating after a friend convinced me to get skates.
What’s your favorite NE module that you’ve worked on?
That’s a bit like choosing your favorite child, but if forced, I’d say it would be Pura Ruina. It’s an underdog module that people haven’t really “gotten.” I mean, that’s on us for not doing a better job of showing you why it’s cool. It’s not Versio, it’s not the BIA. But it is one of my favorite things out there, and definitely doesn’t get enough love.
What’s your favorite module in your system?
I tried to come up with something other than the BIA, but…I just keep coming back to it. I love that thing. But I especially love several of them, paired with a few Fractio Solums.
What’s your favorite patch technique?
Simple (think sine) wave into Pura Ruina. All knobs down. Use rhythmic, sequenced gates to modulate the CV inputs. Pure glory.
Desert island module?
BIA, but I have so many questions. Is this really an island in the middle of the desert? Surrounded by what? Am I stranded? Where is the power coming from? How am I listening to it?
How did you get interested in music? What was your musical life before modular?
I have never not been interested in music.
I always wanted to be a musician. I asked my parents for drums when I was 7ish. They got me a Yamaha DD-5 electronic drum pad, and then shortly after that, the canonical shitty Casio that pretty much everyone has owned at some point. I was smitten. (Both have been lost to time.)
Later it was the DX7. Most teenagers wanted cars for their 16th birthday; I wanted a DX7. I carried that mofo to piano lessons every single week. But the reality was that I wasn’t ever going to be a great keyboardist, and I am a complete introvert. So I learned about other options. I got involved in the local NARAS chapter. My high school had a “radio station” (it broadcast within the school only), and I managed it. Through the radio station, I met a local guy who owned a small studio and did a lot of live sound for smaller acts. He taught me a ton, and opened a lot of doors for me. I ran sound for a lot of folk acts that came through the area, including some reasonably big names in that scene, and I loved it. I also worked in his studio as an engineer when he got an act in to record. My first album with a credit was this amazing WW2 veteran who played the guitorgan.
I got a certificate in studio recording and almost went to school for music production, but a long, strange series of events involving money, dropping out of college, two cross-country moves, and a trip to Venezuela put me on the biology track instead, and I basically dropped out of music entirely until NE.
What kind of music do you like to listen to? Favorite bands? Songs?
I listen to almost everything from Taylor Swift to Metallica to Rush to Café Tacvba to NWA to Dave Brubeck to Rachmaninoff. I feel like it’s my job to listen widely, but also, I love music. I am largely genre agnostic, though it really depends on my mood. I suppose I do tend to gravitate to things with melodic structure and less toward noise genres.
Concentration music go-tos: Blakmoth, Snakes of Russia, literally anything that Arthur Hnatek does (percussion please). Martin Gore’s modular solo stuff is stunning. Dawn of Midi’s Dysnomia album is a work of frigging art.
I need to bop/Getting shit done music go-tos: Bajofondo, Bomba Estéreo, Party Nails, Control Machete, Orishas, Icehouse, Christine and the Queens, anything that uses ORCH5 (I’ve got a playlist going).
I also listen to a load of music that friends send that is unreleased but is heavy on rotation in my office. I am ALWAYS listening for something I want to move in the air to, and have playlists of those too.
I love anything synthy (obviously) of pretty much any genre, from super synthpop like Moenia to the Prodigy to ambient Eno and of course BoC. I have a soft spot for almost anything from the 80s since those were my formative years. My grandparents were professional pianists/organists and my dad always had classical or jazz on, so while I’m not extremely knowledgeable about either, I am extremely happy listening to either.
What would your 18-year-old self think about what you do now?
HOLY SHIT HOW IS THIS IS MY LIFE?
I wonder if 18-year-old me knew where I’d end up, if I’d have been less of a mess in my 20s. Confidential to young me: Life gets better than being a teenager.
Favorite NE memory?
There are so many that it is really hard to choose, but I suppose it would have to be my first day full time as team NE. It marked the beginning of one of the hardest years of my life, going from expert-level knowledge to beyond noob at literally every last thing I did, knowing that I’d better figure it out since everything was riding on that. But I got to do it all with Stephen, spend way more time with the pups, have a quality of life I’d never had, and we’ve had the chance to grow and pull together an awesome team. I don’t remember much about that day—I had been slowly moving into the role even while I was working as faculty, so it wasn’t like an overnight, jarring transition, but it was definitely the beginning of something really big for me.
What is your favorite booze? Probably a good bourbon or rye, but a London dry gin for a martini is also high on the list these days. We’re loving the Sonoma Distilling bourbon and rye right now. Thanks to Wesly at Bar Keeper Silverlake for keeping us stocked.
What’s your favorite piece of non-NE gear?
My aerial rig.
What’s your favorite non-modular instrument?
Piano and cello. Yes, that’s two, I know.
Star Wars or Star Trek?
Favorite horror movie?
What album could you not stop listening to when you were 16?
Little Earthquakes, Tori Amos and Pretty Hate Machine, NIN. The Cure was big too.
What’re your musical inspirations?
All of it.
Favorite pizza toppings?
My tomato sauce, a lot of garlic, and ALL the veggies.