Deep in HOK – A conversation with David Franzke

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David Franzke is a Melbourne based sound designer and composer for theatre. He has had a long history with Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne as well as with Ranters theatre. Also long stints of Dj’ing alongside MARS (Tony Day) and Mr Geoffrey (Geoffrey Nees). Alongside these are a sprinkling of installation work, event work , film and radio. David has released “Get a Room” with Mr Geoffrey on Extreme Records, “On the Fly” with Jeremy Dower, released tracks on Synaesthesia Records and Citylights records and been the mix engineer for Harvey Sutherland releases.

Innerversitysound: So here we are in response to the release of your new album, HOK: Propulsive Uncertainty. Firstly, what’s with the name HOK? Looking into it, I came up with the Afrikaans or Dutch name for a small kind of hut or living shelter for domesticated animals. Or there’s the urban term to laugh or to express certain emotions, especially mirth or delight, with a series of spontaneous, usually unarticulated sounds, often accompanied by a corresponding facial and erratic bodily movements

Dave Franzke: Yeah, well, it could be that, too. But truth be known, when I was a youngster and I would catch the train, I would get driven to the station with my dad and catch the train with every morning. And he had an old Mini 850 and the number plate was HOK. And he was the personnel administrator for Victorian Railways. So I thought it was very funny to write his number plate on trains when I was a graffiti artist in the 1980s.

 

Innerversitysound: So it’s got a connection to your past life. It’s a long way between a graffiti artist and a sound sculptor. Could you tell us more about the release Propulsive Uncertainty as it is, as a sound object? How would you describe it?

Dave Franzke: I think it’s probably a conglomeration of a number of things. It’s the birth of a child with Josephine and Therese, the two kind of more Indian inspired works. And then there’s kind of like a smattering of other things that have been a big part of my life in the last sort of five to six years or so? So it’s kind of like the little side asides you do, apart from your day job, which is making noise for live theatre. It’s the little bits that you accumulate over a long period of time. And then you somehow find the time to put these little parts together. And for me, just personally, that slot of little disparate works makes sense in that order, I think.

Innerversitysound: Why do you think it makes a sort of unified whole?

Dave Franzke: Yeah, in a strange kind of way, I’m sure it doesn’t. If you’re a first time listen to that, you would go, gosh, this person probably can’t make up their mind what sort of music they want to convey to anyone. But that being said, I find records that have kind of pieces of music, an album that has more diverse works on it. I find much more listenable than a record that where every piece sounds just like the previous. So I find a bit of a journey, a refreshing thing. So I just wanted to kind of basically doing what I felt like, you know what I mean?

Innerversitysound: What was the impetus for actually tying off all these pieces of work at a specific point in time?

Dave Franzke: Probably, baby, and making a decision to just stop working in one particular venue in Melbourne and had a bit of time and space and thought to myself, I remember making a record with Jeremy Dower years and years ago under the name TET et HOK, which was just he was Tetraphen and I was HOK even then. I was called that when I did music with people. I used to DJ under the name HOK with my friend Tony Day, who was Mars. So that was my name then. I thought, I’ll just keep using it. I’m kind of known by my name for doing something else, so I might as well just keep that age old moniker alive, so to speak. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Innerversitysound: The construction of music, or more appropriately, sound entity has been as a sound designer, a lighting designer, and more recently, a composer for theatre. I know that before your theatre days you worked doing sound at the Australian Open. Can you tell us a bit about the arc of your career in sound so far?

Dave Franzke: The only sound work I did at the Open was I’d take all the equipment from the Victorian College of the Arts and sit in the umpire’s chair on centre court and put radio mics all over the staff and they would kind of make strange noises and I’d record it all and turn that they’ve got tapes and tapes of all this stuff. And then I used to DJ through the big sound system, that golf ball of speakers, while the guys clean centre court at 04:00 in the morning. Much to the annoyment of the cleaning staff in general, who all had walkmans and stuff on and hated the fact that I was playing The Orb at 100 decibels in the tennis centre at 4:00 in the morning. But after that, I just started working more as a technician when I’d finished the Victorian College of the Arts course, but I did not long after, like, when I finished working at the tennis centre, I had been working at the Gore Hill in Sydney as a sound recordist, like a trainee sound recordist in the drama department. So working on a television series at the ABC in Sydney, and DAT recorders had just come in, and I was so amazed by the quality of DAT compared to analog tape in the early 1990s, I think it was like 1991 or two that I just saved up and went and bought one.

And then I saved up more money working at the tennis centre and bought a ticket to Asia and ended up spending heaps of time in Thailand, Nepal and India just recording sound for months. And I think it just went from there. I just became like someone who collects butterflies or collects anything. I just became a collector of sound. And that medium, that DAT tape medium, was just like the most convenient thing ever. It was pristine. You could transfer it to any other medium. And then I started to realize when computers became along and you could use Pro Tools and so forth, I just kind of went crazy for it. It was just like the best thing in the world, and I sort of never really looked back, if that makes sense.

Innerversitysound: You have a long history of sound design with the Malthouse Theatre, and lately you’ve developed a strong connection with Ratner’s Theatre. The connection with institutions or groups of people with shared goals seems to be foundational to your practice.

Dave Franzke: Yeah, I’m definitely a team player.

Innerversitysound: Right. Tell us more about how these connections developed through your career.

Dave Franzke: Well, the Malthouse, like most big theatre companies, it kind of ebbs and flows with whoever happens to be the artistic director at the time and how they’re feeling and whether or not you kind of get along with them or you share similar tastes, et cetera. But with Ratner’s, it was really because they moved direction into a much more relaxed style of theatre making. And they asked me to work on a show called Holiday, and it just made sense to me. I’d spent so long over the years overseas recording all these sounds on holiday, so I never really gone on a holiday. I just would go places and record, like, march around and find the most desolate or out of the way places where you couldn’t even hear vehicles and just sit down and record what it sounded like. That show was a real opportunity for me to put together a number of those more peaceful, serene moments, if you like. It was almost like my holidays over the years became the soundtrack to this show, Holiday. And I think Adriano, the artistic director and director of that show, was pretty happy with that soundtrack.

So I did about, I think, another three shows with him over the years after that. And a lot of them, we’ve toured them all over the world now. It’s been quite a really healthy and productive relationship. We’ve done a lot of work in Portugal, in both Lisbon and Porto, done the shows in New York City. We’ve done the shows in Europe. Groningen in the Netherlands and lots of other places. I can’t even recall them all. But, yeah, it’s been a fantastic experience to work with them over the years.

Innerversitysound: Beyond your theatre work, you have an interesting collection of sound design for installation works and exhibitions, art spaces along with radio. Also film?

Dave Franzke: Yeah, I’ve done a couple of feature films, too.

Innerversitysound: Right. Some of the work involves multichannel and other different technical ways of presenting sound. Tell us about how these opportunities and challenges occur and how they add to the growth of your art form.

Dave Franzke: Well, yeah, I got to say, doing big main stage theatre shows is a real pleasure because once you hit the theatre, I often design shows that it might be 23.3 sound systems. So I’ll have 23 point sources in the space and three discrete mono subwoofer sends and things like that. And I often like to use things called transducers or exciters. So I might actually turn parts of the set itself into loudspeakers that way by using kind of new technologies that just vibrate inanimate objects like loudspeakers. So I’m pretty interested in using that kind of tech as well. So, yeah, I love painting with sound in rooms, if you like. So walls become a speaker on the stage, and there’s speakers all around the audience’s heads. And I really like to have lots of discrete channels of subbase because I like the idea of creating sort of clashing beat tones or nodes of low frequency energy in the air, in the space sometimes. And it sort of makes the experience of live theatre a bit more visceral for myself because otherwise I think I would find it boring because I find going to the cinema pretty boring. Just the standard issue 5.1. So I sort of feel like live theatre has got to be much better than cinema all the time because nobody really goes anymore. It’s pretty much perceived by the general public as a dead art form. I think less than half of 1% of the population of Australia go to live theatrical performance. So, yeah, it’s a very tiny little strange world in which we live.

Innerversitysound: You could call it niche, if you like.

Dave Franzke: Yeah, right. Uber niche!

Innerversitysound: I’m not well informed about theatre sound designers, but to your knowledge, do they all have sound side projects?

Dave Franzke: As yeah, I’d say most of them. Well, there’s been a few articles about how there’s not many of them because they kind of get to the point where they realize you can’t make a living doing it. It’s probably the most underpaid of all of the professions for the amount of work done. There’s a great article in the ABC somewhere in the Arts archives with interviewed by me and a few other sound designers just talking about how difficult it is to make a living doing I might flip you. A lot of the good sound designers, when they get to be my age, they kind of tend to drift off and turn into do other things, do you know what I mean? Like that they’ll go and take a job. Being the recordist of all the law courts in Australia, they kind of find these great jobs that they can do and actually be paid a decent wage for because there’s just not very much money in the performing arts. And I’m not quite sure how I’ve managed to stay afloat this long. But just having a loving partner that has a really great teaching job makes all the difference at the moment. That’s all I can say.

 

 

Innerversitysound: Okay, so this is your first solo album, having previously released TET et HOK:  “On the Fly” with Jeremy Dower, HOK and BOZ track with Byron Scully on the Victor Lancaster compilation as well, as a track on the Synaesthesia compilation: “Strewth!” You have had a   long connection with the experimental electronic world. Why has it taken you so long to get this solo album out?

Dave Franzke: I think you just got your nose down and you’re just constantly working to make a living in that live theatre scene. There’s just never really been much time. Back when I made that record with Jeremy, we had time to burn. I think I was a lot of the time on the dole, so I have time to just spend all day. We would just jam either at his place or my place for days and weeks on end. And then most of those things are just live to DAT tape through a twelve channel analogue mixer of dubious quality. When I listen back to that old record, I’m sort of surprised it sounds as good as it does considering what we made it on.

Innerversitysound: Okay, so you’ve got a long history of collaboration with cologne based electronic musician Burnt Friedman. The main collaboration is with Jeffrey Nees, otherwise known as Mr. Jeffrey. With Burnt Friedman, you’ve worked on the “Fuck Back” twelve inch. And with Mr. Geoffrey released “Get a Room” mixscapes on Extreme as well as the more recent installation, “Sun Songs at Dusk and Dawn” at Federation Square in Melbourne. Tell us a bit about these collaborations and how you approach and view the collaborative act in sound production.

Dave Franzke: It’s about language for me, I really like I mean, half the fun of it is being with someone for long enough to develop a language around an idea. So if you’re both talking about a particular style or sound or a feeling, you both know how to arrive at it with language quite quickly. And there’s none of these “no, no no, it’s not that” or “it’s blah blah blah”. It’s actually I really enjoy those eureka moments where we’re both nodding our heads in agreement and making good choices, if you like, based upon our mutual aesthetic and things like that. It’s really exciting. I’ve spent so long DJ’ing beside Mr. Geoffrey at Honky Tonks back in the days and at music festivals with him, and we’ve made so many mixed CDs that have gone out through different avenues. I think at one point we were doing them for MissChu exclusively. Her Vietnamese restaurants had our music playing in them for a while there, which is a lot of fun to do, having that kind of opportunity, if you like. To literally curate the musical choice for a restaurant or a chain restaurant is really interesting thing to do for a time. Fun times!

Mr Geoffrey & JD Franzke – Get A Room

Innerversitysound: You more recently have been doing production work on some of the releases of Harvey Sutherland, the Amethyst and Super Ego ep’s. Do you see this production work continuing the future? Is it possible you can transform this sort of work into a label?

Dave Franzke: Well, I think he’s got his own label and I really kind of when he first started out and I did Bermuda and a few other singles for him, just mix work really. I really enjoyed setting up the sessions and then kind of sitting with him and explaining what I was doing and I think he’s pretty much got his chops up now, so I’m pretty happy that he’s on his way and I think he’s got other people he really prefers to mix with. I probably don’t make the music as bright and streaming service friendly as he probably wants or needs me to. I just my ears can’t tolerate that amount of treble. But I still do a lot of behind the scenes work with him. Like on his recent big tour touring show, “The Culmination”, at the Melbourne Recital Centre. We did a pretty big spectacular surround sound event for him in the Melbourne Recital Centre. All the seats were pulled out. We did the whole show in quadrophonic. The band was in the centre of the auditorium and we really pulled out all stops and it sounded amazing. And I’m currently in the process of mixing the second night concert from the beginning to end in Dolby ATMOS, which will be going with a 360 degree film that was filmed from the centre of the stage that night. So, yes, be pretty exciting release at some stage. I’m not sure how that goes out to the general public, but we’ll see.

 

Innerversitysound: Do you see yourself as a producer in the future?

Dave Franzke: I really do think I’d be quite good at it, but whether or not people would come around to working with someone who probably doesn’t have the experience as people who have been doing it for a living for a long time, I don’t know. But I’ve got a lot of experience doing lots of things, and I can kind of see that music in general is already moving well and truly into a kind of headphone space that is completely immersive and moving beyond the binaural and into the multi-channel kind of realm within the two speaker setup. The headphone setup, yeah. I can kind of see the kind of skills I have being highly useful for people wanting to make music that’s a bit ahead of the game in the future.

Innerversitysound: Where to from here for HOK?

Dave Franzke: I think I’m really interested in going back. I’m not sure how far back, but there’s a long way I could go back and mining some of my earlier sound designs for ideas and creating a kind of catalog of new releases based upon the past, I think that would be probably quite therapeutic for me. And in a way, I enjoy the concept of recycling in all its manifestations. So the idea of going back and turning some old things that would probably end up just going into landfill on compact discs, mini discs, DAT tapes, analog tapes of compact cassettes or quarter inch tape, or going into landfill maybe spending a bit more time listening to some of that and seeing whether it’s worthy of dusting off, polishing up and adding to what’s the word? Restoration.

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