Soundtrack: FX on Hulu's <I>Devs</i>
Issue: September/October 2020

Soundtrack: FX on Hulu's Devs

Devs is a limited FX on Hulu series that debuted back in March. The show follows a young software engineer, Lily Chan (Sonoya Mizuno), who investigates the secret development division of her employer, which she believes is behind the murder of her boyfriend.

Alex Garland writes, directs and serves as executive producer on the eight-episode series, along with Andrew Macdonald and Allon Reich of DNA TV, Scott Rudin, Eli Bush and Garrett Basch. The series is produced by FX Productions.

Nine-time Emmy-nominated re-recording mixer Howard Bargroff (pictured) brought the concepts of time and space to life for the series. He and the sound team collaborated closely with director Alex Garland to paint with sounds and treatments in order to create the show’s sonically-unique soundtrack. Here  Bargroff provides insight into his work on Devs.

How did you get involved with the sound for Devs?

“Glenn Freemantle, the sound supervisor from Sound 24, got me involved. He’s worked on all of Alex Garland’s projects and I’ve worked with Glenn for quite a few years now, helping him out on the mixing of his TV work.”

What were the show’s specific needs? 

“From early discussions with Alex and Glenn, we felt that many of the locations had to be really marked out, especially in and around the Devs complex; a real identity had to be set for each of these. A lot of time and effort went into making sure the atmospheres really set the size, scale and tone required. A good example is the vacuum, where the inner Devs chamber exists — this had to impart a sense of scale and isolation — in keeping with the incredible set design. 

“The other major challenge was setting up the sound of the output from Devs. This had to tell the story of the computer improving its view into the past, present and future over the course of the episodes. We tried really hard to make the treatment of the sound unique by not relying on regular distortion tricks and trying to come up with a whole new palette of sounds and treatments.”

What was your process for creating the soundtrack, and what tools do you use? 

“We mix totally in the Pro Tools environment these days. This show was mixed on a Pro Tools HDX system using an S6 as a controller. Some of the Devs output clips of the past were processed using patches I designed in Native Instruments’ Reaktor, which is not a normal go-to tool for my mixing. The idea was to try to give the sound a granular feel, and this seemed like a great bit of software to achieve that.”

What was the delivery schedule? 

“This show was mixed in around seven days per episode, with some episodes nudging up a few extra days, such as the front of Episode 3’s crazy sound design section. Delivery for the various other [music & effects], and part break versions were getting up to a week per episode.”

You recently received your ninth Emmy nomination! How does that feel? 
“It feels great. It was such a lovely job to work on; I’m sure some of the positive creative atmosphere we were working in made its way into the sound.”

Do you work with the same team often? 

“I work with Glenn and the team at Sound 24 — who are fabulous — quite a bit, along with a few other teams — who are also fabulous. We try to keep to a known group of sound editors to maintain some consistency. I’ve been very lucky to have worked with some wonderful editors over the years. It’s such a team effort so it’s really good to have confidence knowing you’ll be mixing some great material.”

What are some of your favorite projects to work on?

“Devs, obviously! Sherlock was a blast, as was Night Manager. But I’ve been very lucky to work on some really great cornerstone shows. Most projects I’ve worked on have really embraced what we as a sound team try to bring to the project, allowing us to really push the audio envelope. 

“This recognition means so much to us, knowing that the show has brought so much pleasure to people. You tend to work isolated as a crew in dark rooms for months on end without immediate feedback, so it’s good to know that the project has gone out to the audience and been enjoyed by so many people.”