Peter’s interview was instigated by a TENANT reader – in fact it was born from TENANT’s very first international email. For this reason this interview is special, as it was invoked from feedback responding to one of the main aims of TENANT: to provide a platform for other tenants (here and abroad) to understand the city, and to celebrate its people and its evolving culture.
Peter Miller is a digital media artist with sound design credits on some notable feature films, including ILM’s awarding winning animated feature Rango, and Dreamwork’s US remake of the Japanese cult horror film The Ring.
Peter lives in Ringwood, in Melbourne’s East, with his wife Wendy who heads up an art department at an inner city independent school. Their home nestles comfortably next to a nature reserve and has a lovely peaceful ambience. Chatting over freshly-baked biscuits and brewed tea TENANT mused that it was a home well suited to dreaming up art and sound design, yet far enough away from the hustle and bustle of Melbourne’s city centre to hear nature’s sound FX – and the odd bike-bell.
Peter, thanks for inviting TENANT over for tea and biscuits and a view into your world. So this is Ringwood. It is lovely and green! What postcode are we in and how long have you lived here?
We are basking in 3135 – and I have lived here for nearly 6 years.
Where were you before that? In Melbourne?
I was born in the country town of Goulburn, NSW, and had the best possible childhood. I still go back there from time to time to visit friends. I lived most of my adult life in Sydney and I came to Melbourne because I met a Melbourne girl, who is now my wife.
Sweet! ‘When love comes to town’… Of your six years in Melbourne, what has been the best year so far?
The past year has been pretty good. Everything in the garden is growing because of all the rain, and the summer was mild. And there’s been so much interesting stuff on in town! The William Kentridge show at ACMI, the Famous Spiegeltent, the Global Atheist Convention (which I missed most of, sadly, but I did get to see AC Grayling speak). My stepdaughters finished school and I was so proud of them. As I spent nearly seven months of the year before working in Los Angeles on Rango, it was just nice to be home.
Yes, congratulations, you were a sound designer on the Academy Award-winning animated film Rango. When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in sound design?
I was interested in sound and music from my teens, but I developed my professional interest when I went to film school in the late 1970s.
Sound design is only one of the many things I do in my life – I also compose and record music and have lately become much more involved in my visual work.
How have you developed your professional pathway? Have you studied further, or did you learn on the job?
I graduated from the Australian Film, Television & Radio School in 1979 and worked for a few years in the television industry in sound. In 1983 I formed a film production company called Meaningful Eye Contact with a couple of friends and we spent the next ten years making films, music clips and commercials – travelling the world and working up a bit of a reputation. We made clips for people like Crowded House, INXS, Fleetwood Mac and others and managed to make our own feature film. It was a fun time.
In the mid 1990s I set up my own company, Perpetual Ocean, primarily as a music and sound facility and created a huge volume of work for ads and feature films, as well as four of my own CD music releases.
Last year I migrated all my Perpetual Ocean stuff to Scribbletronics my new umbrella organization, in order to focus on my own self-generated projects.
You have done a lot! What is it that you are most proud of professionally?
I’ve had a great professional career, with lots of high points. I was very proud of my sound design work on The Ring, the Hollywood version of the Japanese horror film. They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery, and I am indeed flattered that so many horror films since have copied ideas from my work on that film track.
I worked with many of the same crew again in 2011 on Rango, for which I also did sound design. It was great fun, and a highly satisfying experience.
One of my favourite projects was a commission I did for Qantas for their First Class lounge at Sydney airport a few years ago – a six-hour atmospheric music and sound installation (a “music-scape”, I like to call it) that was created to complement the beautiful Patrick Blanc vertical garden in the entrance walkway. If you’re lucky enough to travel First Class you can still hear it there (and it was playing in the spa in the Melbourne airport lounge too, for a while. Not sure if it is now).
Another highlight of the last few years was having my animation Microspore chosen to screen on a massive outdoor screen in Sanlitun in Beijing, as part of a showcase of emerging digital visual artists. I really wanted to see it, but unfortunately it was screened during the busiest period of the Rango post-production.
With all that you have learned on your professional road, what has now become your “dream project”?
The last few years I’ve been concentrating on my visual animation artworks and I’d love to see some of them around Melbourne.
My dream project would be to create one of my multi-screen works for installation somewhere prominent – maybe as part of the Light in Winter festival.
Who inspires you? Your visual and sound design?
Video artist Bill Viola. English conceptual artist Luke Jerram. Musician and artist Brian Eno. My artistic visions are inspired by people as diverse as Edgar Allan Poe, Ernst Haeckel, Stanley Kubrik and Len Lye.
What about Melbourne? What is it that inspires you and makes you proud to be living here?
I love the active art community here, and the commitment of the city to a vibrant pervasive art culture. It is just so great to walk through town and be challenged and amused and inspired all the time.
Is there any change that you would like to see in the city?
Yes! Fix the trains. I love train travel but Melbourne’s trains are frustrating and underfunded. The MYKI system is completely hopeless. Generally speaking, the whole public transport system needs an overhaul. About the only things that are actually any good are the city’s trams.
Where will we see you this Saturday morning?
Oh, not sure this week. Might take a trip into Brunswick St and have breakfast at Mario’s. Still the best coffee in Melbourne (I’m a bit annoyed they discontinued their pistachio croissants though).
Probably what I SHOULD do is go for a morning bike ride on the Mullum Mullum track – about 6km of beautiful bush trail that winds its way through east Melbourne suburbia. I’m good with that through most of the year, but it’s not so easy in winter.
Do you have a favourite Melbourne word or expression? One that that strikes you as particularly ‘Melbourne’?
I’m still amused when I hear people talk about the ‘Pies. I had a complete conversation once with a taxi driver about ‘pies’ and I was totally confused. I’m really not into football (I know that’s a crime down here) and I had no idea what he was talking about. It was one of the most surreal conversations I’ve ever had.
I also like how the railway announcements pronounce the HAM in Sandringham but not in Pakenham?!
What is a place that reminds you of Melbourne that is not?
Paris. They aren’t really that similar, but there is a certain je ne sais quoi.
How would you like to be remembered?
For my suave indifference and insouciance in the face of imminent danger. These are not traits I have in reality, mind you, but it’s definitely how I’d like to be remembered.
Who is a Melburnian that you would like to introduce to be interviewed by TENANT in the future?
Nicole Skeltys – a musician and experimental sound artist who has lived here much longer than I have and has a lot of great stories to tell.
Thanks for your time today Peter and for the lovely sights, sounds and smells to be enjoyed at your home. All the best for your upcoming on your projects – can’t wait to see them screened at a Melbourne festival soon.