We visit the tiny home studio scoring television animation's biggest hit since The Simpsons.
TV network Adult Swim, hub of hipster animation for the last two decades, has become as infamous for its audio as for its plentiful memes. Its shows in the past, for instance, honoured April Fool's Day by switching their audio tracks around, unannounced, just because they can. The channel, run out of Atlanta's William Street Productions, has spawned several music compilations that embrace extreme genres and artists, like Arca, Prurient, clipping. and Tanya Tagoq, who also occasionally inhabit its quirky programmes.
Adult Swim's biggest hit so far is Rick And Morty, the internationally syndicated series that follows the adventures of dissolute scientist Rick Sanchez and his 14-year-old grandson Morty. It's Doctor Who, but with better drugs and an adolescent instead of the dog to blame any noxious odours on. Last year, Rick And Morty picked up Adult Swim's first Emmy Award, for Outstanding Animated Program, even as it inspired riots in McDonald's fast-food outlets by demanding the return of Mulan-inspired Szechuan dipping sauce. A soundtrack album released last September featured tracks from Mazzy Star, Blonde Redhead, Chaos Chaos and Belly — but those were garnish to the score, theme and special-material songs. Written and recorded by Ryan Elder, these ingredients have been at the core of the programme's success.
Elder graduated from college in Minnesota in 2000. The next day, he drove to Los Angeles, where a distant relative working as a producer at a commercial studio in Santa Monica got him a typical runner's job. Prior to that, his audio experience had consisted mainly of doing beats on the IBM 8086 computer his father used for some hobbyist home recording. "It booted off of a five-and-a‑quarter-inch floppy and had no hard drive," recalls Elder, who also learned violin, guitar and keyboard skills during this time. "So, I was introduced to using MIDI and computer recording when I was very, very young. Growing up in Minnesota, I was in bands in high school and recording on four-track tape and stuff, too. In high school, I wanted to be a record producer. My heroes were Butch Vig, Daniel Lanois. These guys were really kind of the geniuses behind the records that I loved."
As it turned out, the variety that a commercial music house offered was a good training ground for the diversity of music that Rick And Morty would demand. It also put him in Hollywood's post-production milieu where, in 2006, he met Justin Roiland, who, with partner Dan Harmon, was developing various animation series. One of those, Dog World, needed a theme song, and Elder concocted one, using his growing collection of synths, including a Korg Prologue and Microkorg, Moog Rogue and Yamaha DX7 and DX100, as well as Native Instruments Kontakt libraries.
From his basic kit, Elder is able to weave the...
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