The Edinburgh Festival of Sound: What’s it all about?
Written by Becca Inglis
“There is the festival of everything in Edinburgh,” says Danjeli Schembri, co-founder of the Edinburgh-based startup Signum Audio and one of the brains behind Edinburgh’s newest festival. “But there is no festival of sound. This is not about music. This is about sound now”.
By sound, Danjeli means the mechanics behind noisemaking, whether amplifying musicians at a gig, designing sound for games, or producing beats in your bedroom. It is one core element that unites all the festivals in Edinburgh, emerging in theatrical plays’ sound desks or when a speaker is mic'd up to address a crowd, but it has received very little attention in its own right.
“We’re trying to be broader than a music festival because it’s about the beauty and wonder of sound,” says Alex Marten, co-founder of Red Dog Music and the other half of The Edinburgh Festival of Sound. “It’s the sense of hearing and what you can do with your equipment. That one thing brings together every item that I sell in my shop and the work that Danjeli does”.
Danjeli is a sound designer and audio programmer who came to Edinburgh in 2013 to work on audio for Rockstar Games. Upon his arrival, he noticed a large number of people working in similar spheres, mostly driven by research at the university and heavy investment in quality audio by big game companies. “For a small city like Edinburgh there is a lot of audio technology happening here for software,” he says “and I think it’s the right place where you could start an audio technology community”.
Alex first came to Edinburgh to work for Sound Control, once the UK’s largest music instrument retail chain. When they went bust in 2008 he opened Red Dog Music, now one of Edinburgh’s best known independent music stores. More than a standard guitar shop, they sell a wide array of modern electronic music production equipment, and by employing local musicians and promoters they have become a staple in the local music scene. “I loved Edinburgh straight away” he says. “It’s big enough that there’s fun and interesting stuff going on all the time but small enough that’s there’s a community vibe. I got into the music scene in Edinburgh playing with my band at local festivals like Kelburn Garden Party, Eden, and Knockengorroch”.
In keeping with their commitment to Edinburgh’s scene, and to cutting edge sound technology, the shop organised the event Unique Beats at the Roxy Arthouse in 2009. There were workshops in producing techno music, opportunities to chat to manufacturers like Roland, Korg, and Moog about their equipment, and an appearance by the then regular local electronic music night Laptop Lounge. “If you were interested in making electronic music, it was the place to go,” says Alex.
Unique Beats has become a blueprint for what will be The Edinburgh Festival of Sound. A forum on the Friday is aimed at people interested in sound at a professional level, be they established audio engineers or music production students or bedroom producers. It will deliver, as Danjeli puts it, a “spectrum of presentations” and workshops, from a talk by Pinewood Studios on how to record gun noises to lectures in 3D audio, automatic mixing, and AI.
The festival is opened up to the public on the Saturday, who are invited to play with a vast collection of interactive installations created by guests at the forum (including a giant replica of the iconic Roland TB-303 synthesizer). “We want all the family, from kids to older people, to be involved in music and sound making and experience the joys of listening,” says Danjeli.
“I think once people realise the possibilities for experimentation and fun with a lot of this equipment they get really captivated by it,” Alex adds. “Once people get their hands on it, it’s a whole new world that they discover”.
What both hope to do, ultimately, is celebrate the vast world of making sound and bring everyone involved in that technology closer together. “What we want is to create a community up here in Scotland,” says Danjeli. “To bring the academics and the professionals together in one room, the engineers and designers together in one room, and create something for people in Edinburgh”.
The first Edinburgh Festival of Sound takes place on Friday 16th & Saturday 17th of November at Teviot Row House. Early bird tickets are available from Eventbrite until October 16th, then they will increase in price.