Two generations of product developers at Eventide, Tom Longabaugh and Dan Gillespie, discuss the dichotomy of developing products that celebrate the innovative firm’s legacy—pioneered by Tony Agnello and Richard Factor—while remaining true to the inventive spirit that pushed Eventide into becoming the processing giant that it is.
By Neal Andrew Emil Gustafson
The HUB: Thanks for meeting with us. Tell us a little bit about how you both got started.
Tom Longabaugh: I graduated from the music technology program at NYU in 2015. I started working at Eventide right away, working under Dan on plugins. He would—primarily—handle the DSP side of things, and I would handle the UI side of it. Then, he went off to do his cool new thing— other people have since filled the DSP role—but I'm still handling the UI and framework stuff.
Dan Gillespie: I went to UMass Lowell for undergraduate. Afterward, I started immediately at Eventide—in January 2003—and I worked first on the TDM plugins that they did.
The HUB: For the TDM Pro Tools systems?
DG: Yeah, first The Anthololgy Bundle of TDM plugins, then H8000, Time Factor, Mod Factor, Pitch Factor, Space, and H9 pedals. Then finally native plug-ins like Ultra Reverb, H910, H3000 Factory, and Blackhole.
I worked there—in total—for about thirteen years before I started Newfangled Audio around three years ago.
The HUB: What was the impetus for starting Newfangled Audio?
DG: I loved working at Eventide, I still consult for Eventide, so I still like working at Eventide.
I like all the people, but it's like playing in a band—when you play in a band there's a lot of give and take—and I wanted to get back to doing everything myself, having fully formed ideas and just creating them.
The HUB: Did you have a background of doing those kinds of products like that?
DG: When I started at Eventide it was a very small team. For instance, the TDM plugins for the Anthology II and things like H3000 Factory, and the original Eventide Reverb were plugins I did all by myself.
The HUB: Tom, what were some of the products that you worked on since you've been at Eventide, and/or recent releases this year?
TL: I've worked on most of the plugins in some capacity at this point, highlights would probably be Physion, and recently I helped out on Instant Phaser Mk II, and the SP2016 Reverb, which is a plugin version of the original hardware box from the 1980s.
Those are the recent ones. I helped out with UltraReverb; we did a revamp of the UI, and that was the first project that I did at Eventide.
Since then, I've also done some work on Blackhole, H910 and H949, revamping that UI as well.
The HUB: And Newfangled Audio, do you want to explain kind of what those are in the context of how that's related to Eventide?
DG: When I left Eventide, I started Newfangled Audio—explicitly—with the idea that I only wanted to make products that nobody else was making.
I didn't want to do any modeling—not that there's anything wrong with modeling existing hardware, things like that—I've done some of it and it's fun, but I just wanted to make Newfangled Audio be specifically new techniques and new DSP ideas that no one else was pursuing at the time.
The first bundle of plugins was the Elevate Bundle: Equivocate EQ, Elevate Limiter, Punctuate Transient Modulator, and the Saturate saturation plugin.
All those use a model of the human ear based on critical bands. Instead of trying to model hardware, which is just the best that people could do with some analog electronics back whenever they designed it, we’re using a model of the human ear to try to optimize the way that audio sounds to the ear itself, using critical bands and machine learning.
The HUB: What were some new products that Eventide announced this year?
TL: So far, it's been Instant Phaser Mk II, and SP2016 Reverb. We also added NKS support for Blackhole back in April.
The HUB: For the Instant Phaser Mk II—which was released this week—what was your participation in that product?
TL: My participation was, primarily, working with a couple other guys on product design and graphic design stuff.
We worked with a designer to get the thing looking photo realistic, but there was a lot of back and forth about adding additional features to it, like with the age knob, feedback knob, and the idea of retriggering LFOs.
It was more of a product design thing that I was involved with on that side. Then, a lot of our framework needed some general upkeep to actually make these things happen. That had fallen by the wayside for awhile as we were pushing our new products, so we just took the opportunity to clean up a lot of the code, and make it so that we could start cranking these things out a lot quicker.
The HUB: It kind of saw you doing some sort of product management work?
TL: It was a lot more product design and management. There was another developer handling a lot of the work on that one..
The HUB: How do you see the features of what these products offer being in line, parallel to, or congruent to the broader market trends?
DG: I think that there has been a long term trend in audio software—specifically—to take hardware and put it in the box. So, that’s a lot of emulations, a lot of recreations of things people know they want.
The HUB: Skeuomorphic stuff, yeah?
DG: Yeah, skeuomorphic stuff, but even non-skeuomorphic plugins. For instance, DMG Audio does really great plugins that sound fantastic—the compressor has a Universal Audio 1176 modeled, and a Universal Audio LA-2A—are not skeuomorphic, but they still draw a lot upon the past.
A lot of companies are doing that, even if it looks less of a skeuomorphic thing, it's still based on modeling things that we've had in the past.
I think that there is starting to be a current of companies that are pushing against it. It's something I said I've explicitly tried to do, it's something Eventide has done in the past, so Eventide does both…there’s a foot in both realms.
There's this idea that analog means “good” in pro audio. I think there's some education required in teaching that's not necessarily always the case.
In fact, Eventide has a long history of digital effects and good sounding digital has been what they've done—starting with the Eventide DDL, based upon the first digital delay, the DDL 1745 Digital Delay—since way before I started there. I'm trying to actively steer against it, and I think there are other companies that are doing the same.
I think the market is ready for it. I'd say that I thought it was a total departure—that almost no one else was doing—three years ago when I started it. Now, I think it's becoming more commonplace.
The HUB: The industry is doing some of the heavy lifting with you as well, it's not just you out there on an island.
DG: I think we were probably all sick of modeling 1176's. I think that's really what it is, and I think users have good sounding 1176 models now, and they want to hear something different.
TL: Obviously, there's only so many pieces of gear that people want modeled, so everyone is running out of options of things to model.
Eventide is in a unique situation, where we only really do models of our own old rack mount gear, and a lot of those earlier boxes are mostly analog. Well, it depends on which box, but the Instant Phaser Mk II, for example, is pretty much entirely analog.
We're in this phase right now where Tony Agnello and Richard Factor won the Technical Grammy® Award, we're really looking to do well on their legacy—showing the world what they did—so that's the big focus right now.
Then, within the hardware world, the H-Series is still at the top of the game, even winning the TEC Award—Signal Processing Hardware—this year for the H9000.
However, I think the mentality within Eventide is, “Okay, we want to move towards doing new stuff that's not a rehash of something old.”
So, once we're through this legacy products era, we want to focus on new stuff.
Mainly, that's how Eventide made its name to begin with, making new stuff that no one had ever done. It’s interesting to think about looking back and celebrating a legacy that was always looking forward, but it’s a great time to be doing that.
DG: Physion is a great example.
TL: Physion—for instance—that's something that's a totally new technology.
We totally went flat UI on that, and tried to make it as modern as we could. There are other things that are going to be modern. I think there is this sort of skeuomorphic versus non-skeuomorphic debate that seems to be endlessly ongoing, and people seem to be very much in one camp or the other, and I think it's kind of BS.
You just make the UI that fits the product, if I'm making a model of an H910, it should look like an H910. You don't want it to look like the knobs are falling off the thing, but you also want it to look like the product, I think the product dictates what it looks like.
The HUB: That's a great point. It seems to be that the difference between skeuomorphic and non-skeuomorphic UI designs, really just comes down to marketing: “Are people going to buy these things or not?”
DG: I think you're right. People already know that they want it, so if you make it look like something someone already knows that they want, that's easy. It's smart if you're trying to show that to someone, but on the flip side, musical instrument products are a combination of synthesizer, some DSP aspect, and a UI.
That's even true about things like a guitar. A guitar is a synthesizer—the vibrating strings and the pickup makes the sound—but the UI is how you played it. If the strings were all five feet apart from each other you wouldn't be able to play a guitar.
So, having a really elegant UI is half the battle. If you have two products that sound exactly the same, but the UI for one was inviting—easy to use—and the UI for the other was terrible, you'd clearly have a better product with the first one.
The HUB: Is there anything about the particular products that we're speaking about here, that you feel is innovative, or new, even if it's in the context of a legacy product that's being reintroduced?
TL: Using the Instant Phaser Mk II as an example, we have this age knob on it—that's not a super common thing in emulations—to actually do something where you modify the underlying components of it in a unique and musical way.
I think the age knob is unique, because usually you just get these preset values in there, it's cool that we're actually able to, it is brought out to the UI in one knob.
The HUB: Speaking of the age knob—that's a great point—what does the age knob actually do besides what you're marketing to people. Does it just make it sound like it's older, what does it actually do?
TL: It's modifying the underlying tolerances of the components in there—over time, they drift farther and farther from the initial prescribed values—so, a phaser that we modeled in the office sounds noticeably different from when it would have been shipped in 1972.
The HUB: What would you have done differently with these products?
TL: One thing that bugs me on the Instant Phaser Mk II is that there's an I/O line switch. and an On/Off switch on the front panel.
Early on we had a big argument about whether or not that should be there—obviously, it doesn't make sense ion a plugin to have those two things—but in the end the people that wanted it to look as similar to the original hardware as possible won out.
If it were me, I'd just have an On/Off switch, as they both function as a bypass switch, but you know...
The HUB: What are working on next?
TL: We have a couple more revamps of old Eventide rack gear—revisiting the legacy stuff which currently exists— we feel that we can do Mk II versions that are superior to the current ones.
Beyond that, we have the technology that was behind Physion that we think we can explore further, as well as a few other novel ideas.
People can definitely expect an expansion of new technology proliferating throughout Eventide products.
Neal Andrew Emil Gustafson is a Chicago-based musician, record producer, brand marketer, content editor, and Eventide Audio artist. For more information about his work, check out his home on the web.