Benjamin Wynn is an Emmy Award-winning composer, sound designer and music producer. In addition to releases under the name Deru, he has worked on scoring projects including Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra for Nickelodeon. Wynn is also a founding member of The Echo Society, a Los Angeles based composer collective that premiers new orchestral works in singular, one-night-only events. He met up to discuss how Multidimensional Polyphonic Expression (MPE) instruments are becoming a bigger part of his workflow, and how he is integrating ROLI’s Seaboard RISE MPE controller with Strobe2, FXpansion’s MPE-compatible soft synth.
How did you get started in music?
I played piano and trumpet in grade school, but I wasn’t super passionate about music until it dawned on me that I could compose my own. I got into hip-hop, turntables, and sampling in high school. There weren’t any teachers around me at the time, so it was VHS tapes of DMC battles, listening to music, and learning on my own as best I could. I was always good with technology so I picked up samplers and software quickly.
How did you get into working on film and TV projects?
Serendipitously. My roommate, Bryan Konietzko, was one of the co-creators of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and one day he came home and was like, “Do you want to do this?”
How do you approach composing and sound design for film compared to television?
The main difference between composing music and sound design is that you’re helping tell the story emotionally with music whereas with sound you tend to be aiding the story in a more literal way. Music is more subjective, and that subjectivity can be an exciting challenge. Another challenge with television is time. TV can sometimes feel like the art of doing the most you can with the amount of time you’re given.
What FXpansion products do you use and how do you use them? Have you used them on any recent projects?
I’ve been a fan of the DCAM synths for years. The modulation system is really flexible and it just sounds good. I used them all over 1979. The main (and first) synth you hear on the song “1979” is Cypher. That whole album was just a few synths (some hardware, some software) recorded directly to cassette tape.
MPE is becoming a large part of my process. My discovery of MPE coincided with my exploration of microtonal music, and due to both I’ve become increasingly interested in the notes in between the declinations of our 12 tone western scales.
With ROLI making MPE controllers and FXpansion making MPE software, the linkup of ROLI and FXpansion is exciting. The integration of Strobe2 and the Seaboard RISE is great: fast and flexible. I hope this kind of integration becomes more widely adopted by other manufacturers.
What projects are you working on, where you have integrated Strobe2 and the Seaboard RISE?
I’ve been using it for film and TV scoring, which it’s great for. And the record that I’m finishing up now features MPE, the Seaboard and Strobe2 heavily. It should be out sometime towards the end of this year or early next, so stay tuned!
While I can’t share the title for the new record yet, the mood is quite a lot darker and more aggressive than “1979”. I’ve been dealing with the notes in-between our western scales a lot more and MPE has allowed me to do that.
What is your view on the state of music in film and TV? Also, what advice would you share with up and coming composers in the space?
There are more and more productions looking for electronic/hybrid scores these days, which is great. It feels like the industry is (luckily) aligning with my tastes a bit. Also, producers and studios are becoming more accepting of recording artists. So my advice would be to continue being an artist. Release music. Have a strong voice and develop it.