Coming home for Christmas this year just got the Guinness treatment. The seven floors of the Guinness Storehouse experience host a one of a kind audio-visual collaboration with New York-based Irish visual artist GRIF which celebrates coming home for Christmas. Running until January 6th, ‘Welcome Home’ to Christmas at the Guinness Storehouse is a celebration of friends and family, from near and far, coming together and revelling in the wonder of winter in Dublin.

The Guinness Storehouse is a landmark of the Dublin landscape, a place to explore everyone’s favourite stout that has helped put Ireland on the map, along with a unique place for get togethers with family and friends, and a regular home to exhibitions from some of Ireland’s best artists and creators.

The most recent exhibition is an exploration of sound and art across the many floors of the storehouse, each floor pushing the boundaries of how Guinness comes to life. Collaborating with Irish artist GRIF the Guinness Storehouse joins a select list of well-known brand collaborations for GRIF including Louis Vuitton, Givenchy and Apple. GRIF aka Shane Griffin is a world-renowned multi-disciplinary visual artist and director, he was named winner of PRINT magazine’s New Visual Artist award in 2015, and ADC Young Guns in 2012. GRIF collaborates with long time friend and collaborator, Irish sound designer Charles Quinn, who has a career in sound and product design, having worked on lots of great creative audio projects alongside working with industry stalwarts Native Instruments. For anyone interested in either of these fields of work – this is a must-read!

If you’re in Dublin over the holidays, GRIF’s unique digital Christmas tree and surge film paired with live entertainment, mulled Guinness and festive treats in the Gravity bar will make a trip to the Home of Guinness a festive buzz for your mates, and family.

We caught up with them to explore their time growing up in Ireland, the role of technology and what inspires them…

Tell us a bit about your experience growing up in Ireland and how you developed creatively here.

Shane aka GRIF: For younger artists Ireland can be quite daunting, there’s not a ton of opportunity to experiment, and experimenting is absolutely vital to young artists and designers, despite there being an above average talent level. I was lucky to get something like an internship in a small post production company in Ireland, and while it wasn’t the most creatively fulfilling job, I was learning the tools, and that’s half the battle. This was 17 years ago, things have progressed considerably now, and Dublin seems to have a thriving scene in art and culture.

Charles: I studied classical guitar until my early 20s and did an MA in Music Technology in Limerick. Both opened me up to music and creativity but I leaned much more into the technology side of things in the beginning. I accumulated a lot of gear (synths, drum machines etc) that I did very little with if I’m honest. That said, the knowledge acquired during this period definitely helped down the line both professionally and creatively.

I love Ireland, it’s in everything I do, but it wasn’t until I left that I really started to explore my creative side. Being in London in the early ’10s was pretty inspiring. The club culture during that period had a real impact on me creatively and pushed me toward music production.

What’s involved in your creative process?

Shane aka GRIF: I would say that 90% of my work is experimental to a degree, I might have an end goal in mind but the road to get there is usually not as linear as you might expect. I rely on the process itself to inform the end product as much as possible, and every time I veer away from this, the work always feels flat, expected, or just not visual interesting, so there’s a lot to be said for ‘going with the flow’.
Occasionally I’ll start with sketches, depending on what the final output is, if it’s a moving image piece, I’ll sketch a pretty simple storyboard with camera moves etc. If it’s a static piece, I’ll broad stroke out the visual flow of the composition, how I imagine people looking at the piece, what they see first, and how their eyes move around the canvas, sounds a bit woo-woo but it’s a real thing!

Charles: It depends on the situation and/or brief. If I’m composing something for picture (and there’s already some material available) I’ll watch it a few times and make some notes. The notes can be abstract or specific. Feelings, moods, color, motion, sound, timbre etc anything that comes to mind. Very stream of consciousness; no judgement. These notes may eventually evolve into something resembling a score (usually text-based) which helps me orchestrate and arrange things later on. 

I’ll also watch or listen to any references provided, or explore other relevant material that comes to mind. I’ll clip things that are interesting to me and use them as a reference later on. I’ll also keep an ear out during the day while I’m away from the desk. If I hear something I like I’ll try to capture it–the voice notes app gets a lot of use.

Exploring my library, finding suitable instruments and designing sounds is a huge part of the process. If my notes are good enough I’ll have a strong sense of what I’m looking for. I’m pretty organized so I can find things quickly. That said, I’m not trying to find perfect sounds at this point, I’ll usually find something that’s close enough to what I have in mind–it’s important get the idea down as quickly as possible. Once I’ve got the core idea down, I’ll bounce the individual tracks out to audio files. For me working with audio is preferred; you can add things, you can (sort of) remove things, but it forces you to commit, and to make decisions, which I think is important to make progress and get things finished.

What was your inspiration for the Guinness work? What tools did you use?

Shane aka GRIF: The inspiration for me was the idea of refinement, the time and patience it takes to pour a Guinness, and of course the surge itself. It looks like such a simple thing, pouring a Guinness, but when you sit with it there’s just so many things that come to mind. I had a broad outline for the film in the cinematic room of the Storehouse, starting with this Nebula it feels like something celestial is being born, we then transition to a storm, to me this was my homage to the waves breaking in Jonathan Glazer’s beautiful Guinness ad from the late 90’s. It moves on to the Pulse section, which Charles synced up beautifully, that to me is like the birth of something special, the heartbeat of the brand. It gets a little sinister after that with the evolving fractal, I drew some ideas here from how Guinness is so unique, like it has this X factor, this special molecule or magic element to it that contains the magic. The flowing ribbon like shapes represented the creamy dome on the top, a more geometric representation of the final elements settling together (the bow on the top, if you will!).
I used 3dsMax, Redshift, Unreal Engine, Embergen, & After Effects.

Charles: The inspiration was Shane’s visual. It was close to finished when he sent it to me, which was really helpful. I also took some inspiration from older Guinness commercials. It’s an incredible brand that has done some truly iconic work.

I work primarily in Ableton. I play most of the parts in live with a Native Instruments keyboard. I’m a terrible player so there will always be some refinement needed. I use a number of Kontakt libraries, some Native Instruments synths and a bunch of found sounds. I jump between Push and Maschine a lot for my dance or electronic productions but they get little use on a project like this.

What are you excited for in 2023?

Shane aka GRIF: I’m hoping that 2023 brings a lot more experimental and interactive experience opportunities. I think the general public are pretty accepting of moving image as an artform, and not just an advertising vessel, so here’s to hoping there’s plenty more art available to the public!

Charles: In addition to media composition I also work as a product designer primarily in the field of music technology. I’ve just started working with Spitfire Audio in London which is a really exciting prospect for me. I’m looking forward to the work we’ll do together next year.

Shane provides us with some insight into his previous work and the future of artistic experimentation…

Do you have a favourite piece of work so far? If so, why is it your favourite?

I’ve a couple of things I look back on and really enjoy, I think one of them has to be the Equinox Collection of works, that was one of those lightning in a bottle inspiration moments. My head spins when I think of doing that amount of work again. I just remember having a lot of fun with it, and the flow of each piece just felt so natural, despite the technical challenges.

Having created for a ton of brands, is the approach for them much different to your personal projects?

From a conceptual perspective, the approach is very different, from an executional perspective they’re in and around the same. Conceptually, you always have an end goal with the client work, you’re trying to tell a very specific story, or illicit a very specific emotion from the audience. I always look at it like – client work is answering questions, and art is asking questions.

How have you seen the advancements in technology affect your work – are there tools you used to use that you now don’t for example?

Constantly, the field of visual arts has to be one of the fastests evolving technological landscapes, especially right now with the AI image generation, GPU rendering, & collaborative tools like NVidia Omniverse. Specifically for Guinness, I relied heavily on a program called Embergen, (which is just out of beta) to craft all the fluid dynamics for the piece. To create that even 18 months ago would have been near impossible, without the use of a giant renderfarm simulation nodes. 
Embergen leverages the GPU to simulate a render, which. dramatically speeds things up. Some of the more conventional tools I’ve left behind now in favor of more real-time solutions, like Unreal Engine 5.

Tell us a bit about the HUMXN project – do you think that the metaverse is the future for artistic expression? 

I think a natural progression from social media 1.0 that we’re in now is something that looks like a ‘Metaverse’, and by that all I mean is people having a unified identity across multiple digital platforms, whether that’s a game, or a virtual concert, a live stream, or a tiktok video. I hope it doesn’t replace artistic expression, but it becomes an additive tool for people to express themselves in a way where they might not necessarily feel comfortable doing in the real world. That’s how HUMXN was born, with the idea that everyone should have a high-fidelity, expressive, dynamic avatar, and move away from the Disney Pixar look that infantilizes digital experiences. HUMXN is the first stop along your metaverse journey, pick up a great looking avatar, customize it with hairstyles, makeup, clothing, sneakers, tattoos etc, and then take that avatar everywhere with you.

What artists are inspiring you at the moment?

I’m on a weird retro sci-fi trip at the minute, looking back at some of the classic book cover illustrations of the 70’s and 80’s. I got lost down the rabbit hole after looking at the three Foundation covers by Michael Whelan a couple of months back, and just thought it was beautiful how he captured so many emotions and themes with one single image. To me that’s always the goal with making art, trying to distill emotions down to their simplest visual form, and communicating them in a subtle way. Although the work I make is a million miles from that genre, I think there’s a lot to be learned from it and it’s quite inspiring. 

We asked Charles some specific questions about his route into the creative audio world...

Can you describe how you got into this as a profession?

I moved to Berlin in 2014 to work on music full-time. While it didn’t quite work out that way, I did end up working at Native Instruments. At NI I was surrounded by incredibly creative people that inspired me to work hard on my craft and develop my abilities both as a producer and designer. I made a lot of connections at NI that opened many doors for me. I also got to work on some iconic products that have inspired many producers around the world. While I left NI in 2019, it was a life changing experience.

Do you have any tips for young producers looking to get into the industry?

Writing and producing music can be a very rewarding experience but getting paid for your work is tough. There’s a ton of music being created nowadays and standing out from the crowd isn’t easy. If you want to make music production a career, you’ll need to treat it like a full-time job. Show up every day and get to work–even if you don’t feel like it.

The internet has been an incredible resource, it has enabled collaboration that might have previously been impossible, and has had a profound impact on how musical styles and genres have developed. That said I think doing something offline, engaging with artists in your area, and creating a local scene could be a great option for young producers, no matter how big or small their city or town is.

Another recommendation – find a music / music-adjacent company to work at and just get really good at something there. It doesn’t matter what it is. People will notice and opportunities will present themselves eventually. It really helps if the company is doing / building something you actually care about. That worked very well for me.

Are there any artists/sound designers/projects inspiring your right now?

There are so many incredible media composers active at the moment. Over the last few years I’ve really enjoyed the work of composers like Nicholas Britell; Jung Jae-il; Jeymes Samuel; Mica Levi; Cristobal Tapia De Veer.

Has the role of programming music via the likes of Max MSP massively affected your approach to sound design?

Not really. There was a point where I was making kick drums from scratch in CSound or hacking together sequencers in Reaktor but it’s not something I do anymore; from a music production perspective at least. If anything, environments like Max and Reaktor are probably the reason I got into product design. They force you to think about music systems in a way that you’re likely not used to if you’ve just been producing in a linear / DAW-like environment.

What producers standout to you at the moment? Are there any in particular that are pushing the boundaries of electronic music production?

I think electronic music has become a bit stale in recent years. We seem to be stuck in an endless cycle of rehashing the older sounds. Don’t get me wrong, I’m huge fan of things like the 90’s Hardcore/Jungle revival that people like Tim Reaper and Sherelle are putting out. 

Electronic music was the one always pushing forward with wild dreams of the future. But that quest for the new appears to have been lost as we settle into middle-age. Happy to be proven wrong about this–it’s very possible I’m looking in the wrong places. A less cynical way of looking at it is that the fingerprints of electronic music are everywhere now. Pop and rap music production. The slightly nebulous “hyperpop” movement is also a great example of this.

New-ish music that I have been listening to recently – The 100% Galcher reissue, Coby Sey, Daniel Avery, Actress, J. Albert and the Persher (Blawan & Pariah) record, the new Fever Ray stuff is pretty good too.

Thanks to Shane and Charles for joining us for a chat and giving us the chance to see behind the scenes of this truly immersive experience. We highly recommend you check the exhibition out if you’re in the Dublin area over the holidays, tickets can be booked here.

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