The history of New York-based music house Metatechnik sounds a lot like the setup of a joke; a noise rocker, a folk-rock chick and a German DJ launch a company during the dot-com boom. The problem with the joke is that nothing disastrously funny happened to supply a punch line. Four years later, that's good news for Shahin Motia, Victoria Gross and Georg Bissen, who collectively serve as composers and sound designers at Metatechnik. Comfortably nestled in the back corner of the seventh floor in an industrial-feeling building on 29th street, the unlikely trio collaborates on spots for advertising clients that range from Jell-O to the New York Knicks. Known for radio and jingles in the earlier years of the millennium, the composers' big break came in the form of a Jell-O spot, "Bowl." The tune, a wholesomely orchestrated, bouncing track that accompanies a boy who licks a mixing bowl of pudding clean, has been on the air for three years ("Every time we work with FCB and Jell-O, they say, 'make it like 'Bowl,'" says Motia). Their roster of on-air spots includes marketers such as AOL, Wendy's, Discover Card, McDonald's, Mini and the New York Jets. Last year, however, marked the company's move into sound design, which originated with sports projects such as the Knicks' in-house montage, which required an original song, sound design and an untraditional mix, because it echoes throughout Madison Square Garden, rendering TV mixes too detailed and muddled. A year later, the group lends its name to the credits for Matt Vescovo's award-winning hipster IDs, "Watch and Learn," for MTV.
Designing sound effects for the minimalist hip-to-be-square spots was an exercise in silence for Bissen, Gross and Motia. "It was a case of quieter is better," says Bissen. "The visuals barely move, so the sounds had to be meaningful but sparse." Some requested sounds, such as contact with a wet toilet seat in "Hierarchy," don't exist in nature, never mind a sound library, so the Metatechnik crew got creative in the name of bathroom humor, layering the impact of a slap with the splat of bare feet in a puddle. For "Superstition Ladder," sounds were necessary for the appearance of arrows that show where characters would walk, as well as the sound of a piano crushing an unlucky soul. The designers opted for a retro video-game noise for the arrow, while they layered the smashing of a wooden crate with synthesizer dissonance and a decapitation to accompany the piano. "We got to dive into the horror section of our sound library, which we hadn't really touched at all," says Gross.
Though their influences and style vary as much as they possibly could, when the three are together, something gels to create a versatile working situation where individuality is expressed, but teamwork wins out. They share self-deprecating jokes, a genuine enthusiasm for what they do, and a camaraderie that seems attributable to natural chemistry. "We were naive when we started, with no client base or reputation, just formal training in music and composing," says Gross, who also produces and serves as company rep, and joined Motia and Bissen from Zen Music. "We were young and confident," says Motia, who met fellow co-owner Bissen while attending Brown University. "We knew we could do it." Then Bissen chimes in, "We had the courage, and as long as we can write music, we're happy." However chummy things are at work, they diverge when it comes to personal projects. Motia tours with new wave rock band Ex Models, Bissen deejays techno-trance at clubs, and Gross fronts pop band Moto Star and collaborates with Bissen as electro-pop duo Balm.