INTERVIEW: Zachary Quarles - Sound Supervisor at Microsoft

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INTERVIEW: Zachary Quarles - Sound Supervisor at Microsoft

Post by MikeQuell » February 1st, 2014, 8:10 pm

Is the above imagery confusing some of you? Well that's Sabrewulf, a character from the popular video game, Killer Instinct. An exclusive title for the new Xbox One video game console. It's one of the many cool projects Zachary has been a part of since his time with Microsoft.

Maybe you didn't know but Zachary is one of the good guys that made it to the top. If you've happened to have any form of social interaction with him you will quickly realize why. He’s charming, funny, extremely humble, and of course, talented. I wanted to throw Zachary a few quick questions for the forum because he usually has refreshing, down to earth answers to your standard fare questions.

You can also find Zachary on Twitter here:

Thanks a lot, Mr. Quarles!


I've chatted with you a few times about outboard gear. You play guitar, have a growing modular synth rack, etc. Do you have any go to hardware that inspires your sound design?

I have a healthy amount of gear that I turn to when the chips are down and I'm desperately searching for a sound that will not expose me as the hack that I am...My Eurorack modular, Kyma, OP-1 (I just got this and am having a ball with it), Grendel Drone Commander, a ton of guitar pedals, etc...all play vital roles in my home studio, I don't necessarily have a "go to" process when I approach a new sound. Sometimes I might comb through my library, sometimes I might just grab a mic and run out the door to get something, sometimes I might smash my head on my desk for several minutes and then quietly weep into a tumbler of whiskey.

Saying that, I do really enjoy just sitting with my looper pedal and experimenting. I might not be actively working on any particular sound or project, but many times, that's when I land on something interesting. For example, there was an evening where I was just playing around with the looper and my guitar pedal chain which had an SM-58 wired in. I was just sort of yelling and making goofball noises while I was fiddling with different settings on both the wave table destroyer pedal and my delay module. All of the sudden I did this really quick/high-attack whistle and hit the looper. It instantly became this really interesting sci-fi-deep-space-beacon sort of sound. Like something you'd hear if you were exploring the depths of space and scanning through radio frequencies when; all of the sudden, you'd hear this single, melancholy, and somewhat sinister tone ring out...just echoing through the cosmos. Pulling you towards it. Pulling you into the darkness...

Also, I record my belches a lot.

Where would you like to see game audio go with this new generation of video game consoles?

Oof. This is a huge question. I think MY primary focus would be: Greater player immersion and story-telling. The key factors for this is going to really come down to attention to detail. This involves all facets of audio, whether it be content, DSP usage, mix practices, etc...we as audio professionals will have a greater responsibility in establishing a higher quality bar for across the board audio experiences. In terms of content, we're talking about tons of variation, multiple layers that interact with each other, varied behavior types of audio that interact with the world around them, higher fidelity and quality standards in terms of just straight up great sound-design, etc... We will see greater fidelity in audio technology and DSP that will help ground our content into a world that is alive and ever-evolving. It will be our job to tell the story of that world and everything in it.
I want to see more experiences that completely pull the player in. I want them to load up the game, immediately say, "whoah", turn off the lights, crank up the sound, and become lost in what we have created for them.

I could go on and on with this, but I have a few other questions to answer!

I imagine that being Sound Supervisor at Microsoft involves your days being filled up with meetings. How often do you get to break away and do some sound design and when do content creation requests come through Microsoft HQ versus staying in house with 1st/2nd party developers?

It actually totally depends on the project and the needs of the particular team that I'm working with at that time (and I can be working with multiple teams at the same time...for example, I'm working on four projects right now). Sometimes, I act more as a facilitator to help clear the road for the development team. Sometimes, I act as a recordist/sound library provider. The team might not have the time/resources to get a huge Foley session together, that's when I would jump in, talk with the team to see what they need, and get in the studio. Sometimes, the team may not have an audio department at all; so I need to dive in and start cranking out sounds and spear-head implementation for them. It really depends. At the end of the day, I want to be a resource that people can leverage however they need. Everyday is a new day and it's pretty exciting.

You're looking over an audio candidate's resume/CV - What's something that would catch your eye and stand out to you in a positive way?

Passion. I don't generally pay attention to people's technology experience or anything like that. There are some basics that I'll keep my eye out for...especially, if it's for more of a senior role, but that sort of stuff can generally be taught. Passion can't be. I love seeing people that have side-projects that they are actively working on, in addition to their primary work. It shows me that they think about this sort of stuff after they get home and they want to continue to learn. That's huge for me. We are all constantly learning. When you think you can't learn any more, you should probably get out of the business.

I also look for humility/humanity. If I'm hiring someone, then I'm going to be spending many hours with them. I don't want to spend that much time with a jerk.

Finally and probably the most important question of all, how important are pants when being creative?

Don't try to stifle my creativity, man.

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Re: Zachary Quarles - Sound Supervisor at Microsoft

Post by deskinscraig » February 1st, 2014, 11:38 pm

Cool, I love that there's interviews here now! "sometimes I might smash my head on my desk for several minutes and then quietly weep into a tumbler of whiskey" Going to have to try this one :D Nice interview Zachary!

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