Stimmung’s mood keeps it in the groove: Specializing in music and sound design for spots, this new studio is packed with experience – Audio Today & Tomorrow

Stimmung’s mood keeps it in the groove: Specializing in music and sound design for spots, this new studio is packed with experience – Audio Today & Tomorrow – Brief Article

Christine Bunish

SANTA MONICA – Although stimmung was launched in Santa Monica just last March (, its principal Reinhard Denke and his staff bring years of expertise to bear in their quest, as Denke puts it, “to do what no one has ever heard before” in music and sound design, primarily for spots.

“We’ve all been doing it so long that the way we understand what our clients are asking for comes from the gut. It’s instinctive,” says Denke. “We listen to what the client is saying and, at the same time, put as much of ourselves and our life experiences in the job as creatively as possible. It’s easy to get lazy, to find a sound in the library and put echo on it But you have to keep your head in the clouds and use your imagination.”

Denke and fellow sound designers Gus Koven and Sam Londe’, composer Jason Johnson and executive producer Ceinwyn Clark have put their imaginations to work on sound design and music for Nissan, Coca-Cola, Ford, Ikea, Prudential, Jeep and Lexus commercials, as well as sound design for a warp-speed, globe-trotting Michael Johnson in a Mountain Dew spot and a gaggle of geese in a Pepsi message.

A former assistant film editor, Denke launched his career in sound design with the landmark Reebok Bungee spot for Chiat Day/San Francisco about a decade ago. He joined principal Stephen Dewey as a sound designer at Machine Head in 1992.


Denke left Machine Head in 1994 to form Primal Scream with partner Nicole Dionne; there he netted two Clios. Feeling “it was time to move on and be on my own,” Denke opened stimmung, which means “atmosphere” or”mood” in German.

In building out the space, Denke wanted “to keep the technology invisible. The more you have to think how to make something work, the less creative you’re going to be.” He admits that keeping up with the latest and greatest gear can be like riding “a speeding train. When you buy a piece of equipment you jump on a box car, which immediately uncouples. It has momentum for a while, then when it gets slow enough, you have to jump off and get back on another one.”

Denke’s own sound design suite features a Fairlight MFX DAW – “the same machine I’ve been on since ’92” – and a Yamaha 03D board. The other sound design rooms are outfitted with Digidesign Pro Tools 5.1 systems and Panasonic DA-7 consoles. Denke built a Foley room “because no matter how many thousands of sounds you have in your library, you can never find the right one.”

Jason Johnson’s music room sports Yamaha 02R and 01V boards and Mark of the Unicorn’s Digital Performer software. Music recording is done in the live room adjacent to Denke’s suite.

If the stimmung creative team feels and acts like it’s been together for more than nine months, that’s because its members have known and worked with each other for as long as nine years. Johnson formerly worked with Denke at both Machine Head and Primal Scream. Gus Koven began his career like Denke, as an assistant film editor who enjoyed working with sound. He met Denke at Scream. Sam Londe’ is also a Machine Head veteran.

Ceinwyn Clark worked on the music side of production at Hum Music & Sound Design until early in 2001 and then briefly at the LA office of tomandandy.


Denke’s quest to create sounds that no one has ever heard before has its roots in a lecture he attended at the USC School of Cinema and Television. “One of the VPs of Dolby Labs showed us the opening sequence in Indiana Jones with the cave and the huge boulder,” he recalls. “Not one sound they used was real: the big stone was a Honda rolling on gravel. Pulling up the vine was someone biting an apple.”

Little wonder; then, that Nissan’s Altima campaign featured “weird organ sounds, backwards guitar loops” and a traffic camera that “doesn’t sound like any camera I ever heard but one I wished existed.”

Denke calls the Altima campaign from Chiat Day/LA, which consists of three teasers and six spots, “a wonderful creative outlet. All the spots are very different, each is very distinctive and fun – from realistic to dreamy.”

Denke says the agency creatives on the Altima account “were about as open minded as two guys could be” so Denke, Koven and Londe’ pulled out the stops in crafting their sound design using old 78 records from Germany, pebbles thrown off the roof, and wind chimes recorded, reversed and toned down for a fairy-dust effect.

Denke also went to extremes for the sound design for a three-spot Honda CRV package from Rubin Postaer/Santa Monica, which tricks viewers into thinking they’re watching extreme sports commercials. “They put together a super group of rock musicians and Pink Floyd’s producer to record the music,” Denke reports. In turn, he layered and textured sounds of a crate being ripped open, a WWII amphibian craft and an iron bar hitting old videotapes to accompany visuals of a kayaker plummeting over a waterfall and combined car wheel turning over gravel and the sound of skates on ice for a skateboarder falling from a helicopter and navigating canyon paths to the edge of a cliff.

As stimmung comes to the end of its first year Denke says, “We can’t complain about business, although it’s been slow for many. The place to look is the mix and finishing houses whose parking lots a not full anymore.”

Denke cites a spot music trend which features “music from pop bands – current licensed music or newly-recorded music by these artists,” as an area stimmung is looking to explore.

“We intend to expand the music side of the company,” says Clark. “People want more of a full-service company.”

COPYRIGHT 2002 Advanstar Communications, Inc.

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