The Compressed Interview #35: Alex Retsis

Today is a special day because this is the 35th edition of The Compressed Interview and we have a very special guest… Alex Retsis. Alex is a sound designer and composer based in Athens, Greece. He has been active in the field of discography since 1993 and in theater, TV and advertisement since 2008. He has provided sound design and music services for international clients including Google, Vodafone, Wind Mobile, Ikea, X-Box / Microsoft, Halls, Amstel and many others. For his work in advertisement, he has won domestic awards (ERMIS). He has performed concerts and designed immersive sound installations in many European countries, including the Institute For Contemporary Art in Berlin, at PACE – De Montfort University, Thessaloniki Concert Hall, Berghain & Tresor clubs, and has participated in domestic festivals such as Synch, Bios, Mediaterra and many more.  Alex is providing sound design and beta-testing services for audio software developers Arturia, Glitchmachines, Unfiltered Audio, Sugar Bytes, Polyend, Audiomodern, Krotos, Twisted Tools and other companies. Finally, He recently became a Guest Lecturer for Linear Sound Design – Sound Art & Mix / Multimedia Art department at Salzburg University Of Applied Sciences.

Without further ado, this is what Alex shared with me:

Threshold: Getting Started
J: How do you prepare yourself before starting any project?

A: If it’s a commissioned project: What I like to do to prepare, is a thorough research on the project, the client, and the creative people involved. I will look for the client’s past projects online, to get a feel of the aesthetics and overall quality (both, creative and technical). This helps me understand what direction the client prefers and what creative decisions I need to avoid (or follow), based on material they already approved and released on their social platforms/media outlets.

Researching the creative people involved (directors, creative directors, producers etc.) also helps me identify the common ground that they share in their vision. After the research, I will try to narrow down the tools needed to do the job (software/hardware) and what is the most efficient process to follow, production-wise. I also ask questions when something isn’t 100% clear and try to gather as much information possible from the people involved.

My mental preparation is going on long bicycle rides or long runs, to clear my head and relieve stress before taking on demanding tasks ahead. I try to do this every morning.

If it’s a personal project: I will still go running or cycling before working on my own projects – and especially when I am creatively stuck, long walks are my best friends. Works all the time.

It might sound peculiar, but I think playing Tetris actually helps me work more efficiently. Tetris is all about quick decisions and I find it a nice way to train my instincts as to what works or not (especially in advertising, where delivery time is always ultra-fast and you have to make quick and effective decisions).

Attack: Things to discuss
J: How did you know this was the industry that you wanted to work in?

A: I am very fortunate to say that I’ve loved audio ever since I was a little kid. I was drawn to TV commercials/jingles, TV series themes, video game music and sound effects, soundscapes, music… Anything producing sound, actually. So naturally, I’ve been always trying to find a way into having sound around me, being conservatoires, studios, music stores, music bands, venues etc. I started at 13-14 as an electronic music artist and while I did several unrelated jobs in the meantime, 15 years ago I got the chance to do the sound design for a friend’s short film (a process which I knew nothing about at the time). I only knew that I was too curious and eager to try it. When the time came to mix the film, the director invited me to the projection/ProTools suite, to observe the process. The minute I entered the cinema-sized studio and I saw the huge digital mixing desk, the even bigger screen and experienced my sounds coming out from the big speakers, I immediately knew that I didn’t want to do anything else in my life. I feel extremely lucky that I can continue doing it!

Release: Talking about the good stuff
J: What do you think is the best part of working in this industry?

A: For me the best part is when a project is going live, and many people get to see the work done and the results of hard work and creativity output from all the people involved. Of course, I get my personal kicks when my work is out there too, but I feel even more proud to be involved in quality projects, alongside talented colleagues. Being part of a team that accomplices a memorable result, is my best thing ever.

J: What would you say is the most important thing when doing sound design or composing music?

A: Context is crucial in any form of sound design or music composition. As creators we need to always analyze and serve the project’s needs. Context is the most important aspect in my opinion. A good sound/music piece is useless if applied within the wrong context and vice versa.

The Gain
J: What are the biggest life lessons learned in your personal and professional career?

A: Knowing when to let go of my Ego.

If you want to know more about Alex, you can visit his website or follow him on his social media profiles: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

I also want to thank Alex, and everyone who has made these series of interviews possible along the 35 editions of The Compressed Interview!