We sat down with musician and award-winning composer Jae Deal to find out what’s in his secret sauce. Deal, an Adjunct Professor at the USC Thornton School of Music, has collaborated with a plethora of A-listers including Lady Gaga, Elton John, Snoop Dogg, and Janet Jackson. He constantly uses his knowledge as a degreed Mathematician to enhance the art of production, and achieve his primary objective when creating with others – “Maximizing the intention of the song”.
Here’s his breakdown on one of the world’s most important scientific discoveries: The manipulation of sound.
POW Audio: Do you remember the first time sound really affected you?
Jae Deal: Wow. Going way back in time. I just have these memories of the toys I played with as a baby. I know I had a Fisher-Price-kind of record player. That was one of my favorites. I guess that’s the first thing I can recall … the sounds of toys I liked.
POW: As for as music, how would you describe the different sounds that music is made of?
Jae: To me, I envision a unique identification of a song – of music in general – a compilation of frequencies at specific or certain times and places. So it’s like a combination of frequencies.
POW: Is there a specific sound you use–a synth you’ve dialed-in, a drum sample, etc.–that is most consistently present throughout the music you’ve worked on?
Jae: I’ve been archiving my favorite samples since the mid 90’s…My first sampler was the Ensoniq EPS 16. I still have one. Over the course of 20 years, some sounds work in most situations. There’s a patch in the Korg X3 called Ambi. Voice 77 that I’ve been using since ’93.
POW: Is there a sound from music you love that sticks out as most memorable to you?
Jae: Maurice Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé! Also, the Hammond B3 organ.
POW: How would you describe the differences between live and recorded sound?
Jae: The biggest thing that stands out right away for me is the space. If there’s live music it’s the performance plus the ambiance; how the sound has to travel. Some of it is directly from the source if you’re in a small enough place or close enough. Then it’s about how that plays with how the sound travels.
It all makes a sound. It all makes a vibration. All that makes a frequency. It might be inaudible, very low. There’s a low-frequency oscillation, but it is a frequency nonetheless. So it’s different for a recording studio space because you’re in a confined space.
POW: What is it about the sound or frequencies of commonly-used chord progressions or beats throughout popular music that continue to resonate with creators and listeners?
Jae: The themes are archetypal and date back to ancient periods. Mathematically, the progressions fit many modes, temperaments, genres.
POW: What would you say is the art of producing recorded sound?
Jae: Maximizing the intention of the song. I believe the music of a song or album in recorded music is well produced if the intention comes through loud and clear and the artist is represented in the best possible fashion. If the intention is to say you want the person to dance, a well-produced album will make you dance. If the aim is reflection or thought-provoking, like a love song, that intention will drive how well the song is produced to me.
POW: Do you teach sound in the same way?
Jae: Those lines get blurred as you move up in the education journey because people have different entry points, different goals. So some people will be on a piece of sheet music primarily…Some people live on their instrument and then, at some point, they probably take an elective or maybe it’s one of the main courses where it’s like, ‘how are these things related, where do they meet and what does that mean for you and where you’re going?’ I definitely try to push it even if it’s not in the curriculum; I might say something in passing that I know would inspire a couple of my students to look at something and integrate these different perspectives and disciplines.
POW: What can you say about how sound affects us outside of music?
Jae: It’s everything. I use superlatives but sometimes it is everything, I can say that for sure. And just imagine watching a sporting event with absolutely no sound. We’re communicating with sound and devices of sound and text-sound technology, and it would just be so weird walking down the street and not hearing just the things in front of you and you could only hear the things behind you.
POW: Is there anything you wish you could do with sound?
Jae: I wish I could see sound.
POW: What is the power of sound to you?
Jae: It’s magical. It’s hard to describe it. That’s about it.