Hugh Doolan, Software Test Engineer and Film Composer

A few nights ago, I tried a new approach to a full-length silent film I am scoring (Nosferatu – 1922). I watched the film start to finish and motif-jammed – my term for it – the film. I loaded up a string section into my sampler and watched the film whilst playing. The result was not perfect, but I found myself searching for similar motifs depending on the action on-screen. When I return to it, I will select the best bits I recorded and use them to build the final motifs for various sections, such as the scary bits, the contemplative bits, the love scenes, etc. The film itself is also being re-coloured and adapted for widescreen; the additional music and colour will revitalize the movie, almost to make it brand new.

I am intrigued by this notion. Something tangible like music – if we consider music to be a “wrap your ears around that” kind of thing – can be conjured from nothing, and the time taken is not wasted; the results can also be preserved for a very long time. How many other mediums can accomplish this?

When I am not making music, I am a Software Test Engineer at Global Betting Exchange, based in Dublin, Ireland. They are providers of gaming technology and software, specializing in Advance Deposit Wagering (ADW) and Exchange & Fixed Odds Sports Wagering. I have been living in Rush, Co. Dublin with my wife Sara Jane since 2001, and now share the house with Jessica (14) and Daniel (12). Before that I lived in various locations in and around Dublin City Centre, and further afield in Berlin and Cesena, Italy

I chose my job because I wanted an environment to work in where the common goal is output of the highest possible standard, and where the people charged with delivery have no airs about them, other than being friendly, supportive, highly knowledgeable and competent in their respective fields. The wagering software involves multiple components for both front and back end functionality so it is interesting to focus on their lightning fast interaction with each other.

In my spare time I like to write and record music for film soundtracks and albums. I enjoy working with sample libraries either for programming drum parts with real live-recorded kit samples, or to arrange string or horn sections, again with real live recorded samples. All that is required is a MIDI keyboard to compose with and a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) to record the parts. The fun is in the improvisation and “post” effects, and then following up with layers of my own parts for guitar, harmonica, tin whistle, shaker, djembe, etc. until I have a completed piece.

A love of music and an innate desire to be involved sparked my interest in recording. I suppose I craved for the experiences that the musicians I admired were having. I want to see what it feels like to have some output behind you. I was also inspired by my sister who went to a studio to record some tracks and came back with a tape. She is a bit older than me and had started writing and recording on both guitar and piano from the age of 15. This first hand experience moved me to begin experimenting with music and recording.

Before then, home recording began in my teens. I would record my guitar and voice into a Dictaphone or cassette recorder. Later on, I bought time in studios like Ringsend Road and Windmill lane to record demos. I also recorded a mini album with a band in a studio in northern Italy. Recording with a DAW and sequencers took off when I started working for Creative Labs in Blanchardstown. I enjoyed 9 years working there as a tester of their soundcards, so I got to immerse myself in the art and science of recording. During my time there I did a sound engineering course at Pulse College and also an online Music for the Media course.

Organising files and programs for recording feeds into similar tasks required for the test activities in my tech work. My job testing audio software with EMU/Creative Labs meant that I could not have had a better grounding for both creative pursuits and a career in technology. Small things like keyboard commands, program files, DLL’s, plug-ins, and managing the digital work environment help too. The creative aspect of composing/arranging/recording parts does help with exploratory testing.

The organisation and planning in both recording and technology parallel each other. In other words, fail to plan, plan to fail. I develop creative ideas as I would test cases, and relish the search for solutions to problems as I find them. With bugs, I try to hand over enough info to a developer to make the fix that bit easier for them. With music, I know that if there is something that does not sit well in a mix, I do not have to despair, but sit back and think in a relaxed and detached way about coming up with the best alternative.

Composing and recording is a great creative outlet for me because it gives me something to aim for on a personal level. There is so much to learn and I look forward to that with every new project undertaken.

For new musicians, do not expect too much too soon; music is a lifelong activity. Do not dwell on previous failings; just use the experience to get better. Concentrate on what you are good at and what makes you happy.


Listen to Hugh’s music and follow him here:

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