We had the good fortune of connecting with Kris Kaiser and Stephen McCaul of synth company Noise Engineering and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kris Kaiser & Stephen McCaul, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
If we were risk averse, we wouldn’t be here. In 2016, Stephen had a lucrative programming position in the games industry and I was a biology professor (which took about 16 years of training to get to). We never saw each other, weren’t feeling fulfilled professionally or creatively, and felt zero ownership of anything we did. So we walked away from it all: we bought a house, quit our jobs, and went all in on our synth company, Noise Engineering, which had been a hobby before then. Neither of us had any background in business—I’m not sure we’d ever heard the term business plan—and we didn’t have a great backup plan. I’m not sure we had much of a long-term plan period, but we knew that the only way to really see if we could do it was to try it. Today the team is seven people and we have products in hardware and software, and have a lot more in the works.
One of the reasons we are a good match for each other is that we each have a history of this sort of burn-it-to-the-ground-and-start-over risk taking in our lives, even if it means completely changing our life plans. I think our message is that it’s never too late to make a left turn. If something isn’t working, try something new! Isn’t facing the unknown half the fun?
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
Noise Engineering started as a synthesizer company making products in the Eurorack modular format. We now have 5U synths and software plugins, and we have a lot more things planned. We’re most known for Basimilus Iteritas, our universal percussion product that people think they’re getting to make drums and then use for everything. Our products are unique and sound like nothing else on the market. We also partner with conservation organizations for some of our products: the latin-ish naming scheme of our products and my biology background makes it a great fit. A portion of the proceeds from some products go to protecting endangered animals.
Getting here hasn’t been easy, but we have had a lot of luck and some great help from our manufacturing/distributing partners and our team. At the end of the day, we’re a company, we suppose, but most of the time, we feel like a 7-person unified front. We face challenges by telling the team what we’re up against and solving it. We take on whatever role we’re good at, but everything is really collaborative. Our roles continuously morph and no one is siloed. There’s almost nothing in the company that only one person knows. One of the things that we’re most proud of is our company culture: after 2020 we’ve gone fully remote, and still we have a team who banters, fights for the best design, works their butts off, and demonstrates incredible ownership over their work.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
God, where to start? A week isn’t enough to do LA justice. We love it here so much!
We’d probably be sure to eat at Wax Paper in Frogtown (the Lakshmi Singh is only at that location!), Doomies NextMex Express in City Terrace, make a roadtrip to Uplands for Ashirwad The Blessings, and Guerilla Tacos. Coffee and snack stops at Go Get Em Tiger! Have you really been to LA if you didn’t go to Grand Central Market? And we’d have to set aside a fancy evening at Le Comptoir, possibly one of the most underrated spots in LA. That would be followed up at the Normandie Club. While we’re talking about beverages, there would definitely be a lazy afternoon at Angeleno Wine in Chinatown.
Contrary to the Missing Persons song, we’d spend a lot of time walking in LA: we love walking around the Arts District. We’d surely take a hike in Angeles Forest, Kris’s favorite place in the city, then head to Mt Wilson for an observatory viewing. We live near Ascot Hills park and it’s hard not to want to take visitors there — beautiful views year round! If the timing lined up, we’d take an afternoon for Modular on the Spot, an afternoon celebration of music in a park once a month, always outside, always free. And of course it’s hard to pass up the chance to take someone to the Museum of Jurassic Technology. And Kris would take her best friend for an aerial silks class at The Aerial House. Ideally, we’d get to visit Disney Hall too.
We are huge fans of the incredible range of products we can get here too, so we’d likely spend a lot of time sampling while taking in the view from our porch. We’d hit up Semolina Artisanal Pasta (even the misfit pasta she occasionally sells is to die for), one of the amazing farmers markets we have here, Bar Keeper for some beverages, and Sara’s Market in City Terrace for some of the incredible food she’s bringing the neighborhood, especially Kernel of Truth tortillas. These things are heaven.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
First and foremost, our team! We now have five people in addition to us, and every one of them brings something incredible to Noise Engineering that makes us who we are. To say we wouldn’t be here without them is an understatement.
Also, our pal @pyraphonic is the reason NE exists at all. Once upon a time, after Stephen critiqued some of his modules, Shawn dared Stephen to make him a module. The result of that dare was our first product.
Finally, all the people who bought those early modules — many are still our customers to this day! Thanks for believing in a fledgling company.
Ben Clark Ujin Kim Britt McTammany