The show is Directed by Neil Bettles, Designed by Andrzej Goulding, Lighting Designed by Zoe Spurr and Costume Designed by Lily Arnold, an awesome team! I Sound Designed the show and it’s now on a UK tour having just finished at it’s third venue the Liverpool Everyman picking up some great responses. Next up is the Traverse in Edinburgh. It arrives in London in January as part of the second half of the tour, so catch it there if you can. The show is ace and I can’t recommend it enough!
SOUND DESIGN / MUSIC
If you don’t follow the work of Diego Stocco already, check out this video he’s put together showing off the new instruments he’s built. He tends to pull sounds out of all sorts of found, built and natural objects and record them in experimental ways too. There are also some beautiful photographs to go with it…
Yamaha announced an update to the Rivage PM Digital Mixing system last week, adding ‘Theatre mode’ - check out the full announcement here
“The Theatre Mode facilitates scene and costume changes with four banks that can be used to store different EQ and dynamics settings for individual performers. In Theatre Mode, rather than storing EQ and dynamics settings in the console’s “scenes,” only the bank number is stored so that any adjustments made will apply to all scenes that use the same bank.“
I don’t know how I’ve missed these for so long, but thankfully found the NPR Tiny desk series of concerts recently and they are awesome… https://www.npr.org/series/tiny-desk-concerts/?t=1539811025167
Another Twenty Thousound Hertz Podcast, this time it’s a peak into the world of writing, recording, designing and producing their podcast. Being an audio based podcast, they go the extra mile to make it as slick as possible!
If you’re interested in Mixing Orchestral music, the marvelous Jake Jackson is here on stage at the 4th Annual Mixcon event in New York. I’ve seen Jake do a number of these run downs on his mix process for Orchestral work, and they’re always super useful and insightful. Excited to continue learning about it as I spend some concentrated time mixing a bunch of my own tracks over the next couple months.
SILENCE / EXHIBITION
Last year I stepped in for 59 productions to record 2 minutes of silence in a primary school assembly, this amongst a whole array of different recordings has culminated in this beautiful exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, Sound Designed by Gareth Fry.
Olafur Arnalds released his latest album re:member last month and it’s went stright onto my monthly playlist. It’s another beauitful album. He’s also been working with a generative mechanism where his piano plays itself based on the notes he plays initially, looks like it’s triggered from some Ableton fun, you can here it in action on the album and see it in the video below too. Excited to see him and his team live later this year again!
The last few months I’ve been fairly flat out concentrating on Sound Designing Frantic Assembly’s The Unreturning with Director Neil Bettles Directing a completely awesome company in one of the most collaborative processes I’ve been involved in for some time, it was such a delight to be part of and I felt very lucky to be involved.
This was a bit of a dream working process for me, being in the rehearsal room from day one (for 3 out of 4 weeks of rehearsals) and being part of the creation process even before that with Neil, Andrzej Goulding (Set and Video Designer), Zoe Spurr (Lighting Designer) and Lily Arnold (Costume Designer) and the rest of the team, it’s exactly how I love to work.
The show opened in Plymouth on Monday 24th September and will be on tour around the UK, you can find the dates on Frantic’s website here, and info on the whole team there too.
I’m half way through writing up a bit of a series about the equipment and processes I use for workshops, rehearsals and how I use Ableton and QLAB in those situations. I used a similar set up in rehearsals for The Unreturning and eventually programmed everything into QLAB, but will wait to go into detail about that until I’ve finished.
There was a lot of content to create for the show, we recorded the excellent actors for some part of the Sound Design too, and worked with a bunch of different music tracks. It was an extremely good example of how to integrate Spotify into the process, as I suggested in a previous post, it can be such a useful way of collaborating and evolving a musical palette. Our playlist started with Anna Jordan (Writer), who added some tracks as she wrote the piece, which allowed us into her world and how she was feeling about the piece. Then Neil added as he read the and I joined, threw in my own thoughts and we all continued to add to the playlist even up to the final days of previews, it was part of my job to then expand on this and integrate some of the musical palette into the show.
I like to be part of the rehearsal process early on as I enjoy working with everyone in the rehearsal room and allowing the whole team to influence parts of my Sound Design process, and I hope the Sound Design can influence decisions in other departments too, its fair to say it’s not always possible to be around full time, but it’s always super interesting to see what inspiring ideas come out of that collaboration.
Apple have released an updated Macbook Pro which is able to house 32gb RAM and up to 4tb SSD drive... it comes at a steep price though!
The more samples I've been using recently, the more RAM I've been needing. I'm hoping that one day it will be the portable version of a nMac Pro I've been waiting for, but for now its a movement in the right direction
One of the shows I Sound Designed which transfered over the NY to St Ann's Warehouse is now available to watch online as part of Donmar Warehouse's initiative to get these shows out to a wider audience. This was the third piece in a Trilogy of Shakespeare plays led by an all female cast of women around the concept of a female prison. https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p0696f99/the-tempest
Jon Hopkins singularity album out last month has some awesome work on it, check it out on here.
The NY times interviewed the Sound Designers nominated for the newly re-instated Sound Design Tony Award, they all provided some excellent SFX and montages of their shows. I worked as Associate on both Harry Potter and the Cursed Child with Gareth Fry and 1984 with Tom Gibbons, Both are incredibly deserving of the nomination.
Spitfire audio have had a change in their Labs Scheme recently. The most recent update sees the beautiful Soft Piano and newly recorded 'Strings' patches with a newly designed user interface. As it's for free, download them here...
Twenty Thousand Hertz released a super interesting podcast a couple of weeks ago featuring the Data Driven DJ. They talk to Brant Guichard, a man who has heard "The Music" during his seizures since he was a young boy. Taking his EEG readings during a seizure and splicing up a mixture of Imogen Heap's ‘Hide and Seek’, philharmonic samples and experimental percussion. The Data Driven DJ (Brian Foo) created this beautiful piece by using the readings representing the seizure to control the dynamics and intensity (That's a huge over simplification) of the layers...
After living in NY for the last two months, I returned home to a strong awakening of how loud it was there. Not just the hustle and bustle of people, but vehicles, sirens, advertising... it reminded me of this article which describes the high dB levels we encounter on the London Underground system... In essence, get yourself noise cancelling headphones or ear protection for the commute!
Last week I was at Shoreditch Town Hall with ‘Frogman’ a play I first worked on with Curious Directive last year which took me to Australia for 3 weeks of on site recording for a 360 film that becomes part of a live theatre show. It’s been an incredible learning curve for me to work with VR content, not only that but being able to support 50 audience members having an individual auditory experience whilst also collectively allowing them the experience the live theatre piece.
There are huge hurdles to overcome and still some more to work on as the show progresses, but as an experiment within multi disciplinary theatre its been a super interesting challenge and well worth a watch/listen, especially if you’re interested in VR.
The show just finished a 2 week run at Shoreditch Town Hall and will play at Arts Depot in Finchley for another week. Check it out here:
I’ll be posting a little more about the process soon, a few photos and trailer below!
I still haven't managed to see it yet, but came across a cool breakdown of the multiple layers of audio in a scene from Bladerunner 2049
As I put Yo-Yo ma into my 1st scrapbook, I carried on listening to his works and to "The Goat Rodeo Sessions" album and found some awesome live studio performance videos.
I came across this Mini spotify player that sits in your notification centre, pretty neat and just stays open, links to the album art of Spotify and will open spotify when you hit play if it's not already there!
I recently visited the 'Sonic Arcade: Shaping Space with Sound' exhibition at the Museum of Art and Design in New York and it was pretty ear opening. As the name suggests, there was a real focus on the spaces in which the instillations took place and how the audience and exhibits interacted with one another physically.
Naama Tsabar's Propagation (Opus 3), is a guitar like structure on the wall of one room, the wall has a cavity behind it, the guitar strings are amplified through speakers focused into the wall cavity essentially making the room the resonant chamber for the instrument.
Julianne Swartz created blown glass sculptures and found their resonant frequencies using small speakers tucked away inside each piece, they were spread around the room and seemingly randomly resonated. The effect was a beautiful set of sculptures with a physically engaging quality.
In one room you're invited to put on headphones and play on 4 different synthesizers, This part of the exhibition called 'Subject to Gesture' and was curated by Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe. The Museum website has an interesting interview with him talking about his take on sound 'For Lowe, voltage is an unpredictable, malleable and living material whose manipulation is capable of carving the air with sound.'
Awesome live performance from Homay and Oliver at Spitfire here
For those familiar with PaulStretch, you might have seen this update to a plugin version of the Extreme time stretching software.
I supported a Kickstarter campaign for a film called 'In Pursuit of Silence' a few years ago and they recently shared a bunch of 'silence' related articles.. One pointed to a new film called Sancturies of Silence which looks really interesting and it must have been a fun one to be part of.
Spotify has to be one of my most used pieces of software outside of DAWs and show control. When I was younger I'd buy music in the forms of Tapes and CDs and of course before that it was in all sorts of formats, but over last 20 years we've moved through a world of evolving music services with speed. The internet being a huge game changer in that, and through it came the iTunes Store, Youtube, Amazon music etc and on 7 October 2008 Spotify was released.
I began using Spotify around the time I was studying Theatre Sound in London 2009. Suddenly I had this incredible repository of music at my fingertips for £5 per month (as a student at least, now we’re talking £9.99, still amazing). On my laptop, phone, anywhere... I began using it as a music research tool and for personal listening, slowly it became a way of testing out ideas in rehearsal rooms due to the sheer amount of music on there and the speed with which you can search through it.
Around the time I graduated, I began using it as tool to broaden my musical interests, I’m sure like many others, I can easily end up listening to the same tracks and artists over and over. That's not such a bad thing, but there is so much more available and I wanted to make use of that... Whilst on tour in April 2013 I started making a new playlist each month with a mixture of music I already liked and artists I’d never listened to before, kind of like the ‘discovery weekly’ playlist feature, but more towards albums than single tracks. I'd gather them either from friend's recommendations or maybe just random genres I didn’t know much about. Jump 5 years into the future and I have monthly playlist for almost every month since then. Spotify recently started sending out this neat year in review post to see your listening habits each year.
Listening to the monthly playlists gave me a memory of where I've listened to certain styles or artists. I’ve found myself remembering listening to a track on a bus in Leicester Square when it was raining, cold and it was kind of wintertime a couple of years ago, maybe 2015... so I can jump back through my playlists and pretty quickly find the track or artist. I've found it pretty useful as an alternative way of retaining information.
Back in the rehearsal room I tend to build a playlist for each show I design, sometimes with the Director or Movement Director in a collaborative playlist to give us a place to start thinking about and gathering the musical ideas that could be interesting to try. Which can mean anything from music of the time that a play is set, to music that gives some emotional response to the initial stimulus and ideas. Having said all this, there is so much value in finding music in less obvious places too, I’ve found cds in museums that I would never be able to find on Spotify and the same with Ebay, libraries, charity shops, so it’s always worth keeping an eye out of the box to find something unique and not to be too reliant on online options!
I thought I'd share a few random tracks from the last couple of months which I have particular memories for.
I'd love to know how anyone else goes about there daily listening and how using subscription services is changing the way we work in Theatre. I'm sure there are libraries digitised from CD's, Vinyl collections, itunes store downloads etc all used in different ways.
Theres a lot to say about the future of music services for both composers and listeners, there will undoubtedly be changes coming within the next few years and intiatives like Imogen Heap's Mycelia is one of them, check it out. It's such a big subject abd worthy of its own blog post later!
In other news, thanks to the brilliant Vlogs of Christian Henson at Spitfire Audio, I've been playing with the Elgato Streamdeck (A nifty keystroke based shortcut device) and as I'm travelling a lot at the moment, the Arturia KeyStep (32 key small keyboard controller/step sequencer), so will do a bit of a run down of those two soon.
2017, Its about time for a round up of last year. This will be the longest post i’ll be doing for a while but I’m hoping to post much more frequently!
I started the year in New York after workshopping The Kid Stays in the Picture with Ben Grant as associate, and Simon Mcburney Directing. We worked with 7 US Actors for a few weeks and it was incredibly fun. At the same time I was stepping in to operate The Encounter on Broadway over New Year, again a lot of hard work but having been part of the show for years previously and now getting a chance to go back in and learn the op again it was very rewarding.
In early January I led my first design transferring to St Ann's Warehouse over the bridge from Manhattan in DUMBO, Brooklyn. An incredble space to work in, with it's own challenges, though the view from the back door has to be a highlight.
The show was Phyllida Lloyd's The Tempest. The third all female Shakespeare piece set in a women's prison. I led a great team at St Ann's and we updated a fair amount of the system compared to the original version in Kings Cross. I also switched from an SD9 to the in-house Yamaha CL3 which took some re-programming but was a fairly smooth transition. After some recommendations I also decided to use Valhalla room through Mainstage as an effects processor and it was great, especially as the cost implications are so minimal. We also went with a pretty much full Meyer speaker system which suited the shows content, the Sound Design isn’t particularly subtle so these provided a good impact for the upfront content to the audience.
In February I came back to the UK and began the rehearsal period for The Kid Stays in the Picture at the Royal Court, the same show we were workshopping at the end of 2016. I loved working at the Royal Court and once again was met by an astonishing team. Ben Grant as Associate. We had a brilliant set of operators Yamina Mezeli and Neil Dewar, alongside David, Maddy and Alice as part of the Theatre team. The show was technically complex for all departments and I had to come up with some interesting ways to react to the show's ever evolving set of needs. It’s a very engaging process to create with Simon and we were constantly reacting and refining throughout.
At the same time Ben and I re-mounted Beware of Pity at the Barbican Theatre, which we had made with Simon the previous year at the Schabuhne theatre in Berlin. It was my first design to be live streamed on youtube outside of The Encounter. They did an excellent job of capturing the audio for the show and I took 3 days of listening and tweaking the final product, heres a link to the Q&A of the Director, Simon Mcburney and Artistic Director of the Schaubuhne Theatre, Thomas Ostermeier.
The Kid Stays in the Picture was a highlight of the year and I hope we can go back to the show over the next few years and continue the work we started.
Next up was Twelfth Night at the Manchester Royal Exchange. Directed by Jo Davies, I was yet again surrounded by a lovely team and welcomed into what is a weird, yet interesting theatre to work in and a beautiful building. I had the pleasure of working alongside Alex Baranowski who Composed on this one and it was a delight to work with him as a collaborator but also with his fantastic music. We worked closely with 4 musicians he and Jo bought onto the show to create the sonic world of the show.
A few years ago I started taking piano lessons as a way to develop my skills and having worked with Alex, it pushed me to continue to spend some time on developing those skills outside of the the Sound Design world and it's been refreshing to do so.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child had it's first cast change in London spring 2017 and leading that change from an audio perspective was an interesting task of maintanance and preservation, whilst keeping in a position where the actors are changing and adding their own take on the piece, reacting to those updates.
Into June and Frogman, following a lot of research and experimenting with 3D video and audio, I took a 3 week trip with Jack (Artistic Director) and Milla (Designer) from Curious Directive, to Brisbane, Australia. We worked with 4 young actors in a set made especially for our 3d film content. I took on the whole process of audio production on this project which meant planning, recording, processing all of the audio content from the on set filming. Then the theatre part of the project which was about finding the very best way to give an audience the 360 audio experience in a theatre context.
Milla was interviewd for a great piece talking about the Design elements of Frogman here
During those three weeks the Tony Awards Ceremony in New York took place, where Gareth Fry and I were awarded a Special Tony Award for our Sound Design work on Complicité's The Encounter. Not only this, but alongside our award The Tony's also announced that Sound Design categories will resume as a regular yearly fixture after they were axed in 2014. A huge moment in the year and a big step in the right direction for the recognition of Sound Design on Broadway!
Back over to Brisbane to finish off the filming and finally back to London to edit the recordings. I plan to do a set of short walkthroughs of the process so I can get a bit more detailed in that, but for now those interested should check out Facebook 360 spatial workstation. We then created the live theatre side of the show, I should explain that the concept of the show is part VR and part live theatre. Frogman will be back in the UK at Shoreditch Town Hall in 2018 and you can find out more here: https://shoreditchtownhall.com/whats-on/frogman
After a break in august I started working on two more Sound Design projects. The first was Simon Stephens’ adaptation of The Seagull, directed by Sean Holmes at the Lyric Hammersmith in London. The second called White Bike, newly written by Tamara Von Werthern, directed by Lily Mcleish at The Space in Canary Wharf. They were very different projects and both exciting to be leading the Sound Design of.
The Seagull gave me an opportunity to play with naturalistic content against a less naturalistic set and lighting design, working closely with the rest of the creative team, and lovely sound team at the Lyric in a fairly large/mid scale venue. The White Bike was in a much smaller venue and so smaller system also, but it’s content and the integration of the Sound Design had a more abstract sensibility. Again a wonderful creative team and we were pulling together a beautiful piece of work in a short time. We workshopped some ideas in 2016 and we found it useful to start a collaborative playlist on Spotify where Lily and I could form ideas for an auditory world, which grew over the year and played in rehearsals whilst devising, a large amount of which ended up in the show in one way or another.
Once finishing both of these I moved to Hull for a 4 weeks to work on The Last Testament of Lillian Billoca. Written by Maxine Peake and directed by Sarah Frankcom and Imogen Knight. We had been in conversations and meetings about the project since early 2017, it was a large scale site specific project in Hull’s Guildhall, a still fully functioning building in the centre of Hull. We used 4 main rooms and a handful of small auxiliary rooms around the building to tell the story of Lillian Billoca, a controversial, strong campaigner for the working rights of trawler men in the late 1960s.
I had to put together a strong team for what was a difficult venue to implament a design into, production engineer Guy Colletta, who worked with Gareth Fry and I on The Encounter, took on the production engineer role and getting our system into this none theatre building was a bit of a challenge but Guy is the master at this. We worked with live Music from The Unthanks in two of the rooms, one room was an audio/movment led sequence with a headphones and each room was very different in style and size. Part of the challenge was to decide how best to link or unlink the rooms and corrioors, depending on the audience experience and route around the building. It was a great situation to work our way around and we came away with something to be very proud of.
In December I decided to focus on music and composition. I went to the Tune Up event on the Southbank, which was an inspiring day, I took time learning more about the many sample libraries I’ve not delved into before and went much further into MIDI in Logic X. I've now begun writing music aimed towards media for a brilliant European publisher. This time away from Sound Design has been helpful to focus on my own projects outside of theatre, and I’m looking forward to bringing focus back into theatre again this year.
There are a lot of exciting Sound Design projects on the horizon, in and out of theatre, the UK and abroad. I plan to post more often, to put my thoughts down about projects I’m working on, software and hardware I pick up along the way, walkthroughs for things like 360 audio capture, sync, and getting that to a live theatre audience, composition, sound design content creation, etc… Though, one of the hard things about posting about the show you’re working on in theatre is the secrecy behind it, especially before press have been in and reviewed the show, you want to keep the excitment. So I’m aiming to work around that and show the parts of my own process that I can. Some people pull this off in a very slick way so hopefully I can find some ways.
Adam Savage. Editor of Audio Media International Magazine wrote to ask a few questions on my work on The Encounter with Gareth Fry, as well as about the challenges we faced on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and asked me to talk a little about the industry as a whole. I felt privileged to be included in the May/June 2017 edition of Audio Media International. Thanks to Adam for getting in touch!
Here's the link to the online version of the interview:
This week I've been working on two Complicité pieces. One is 'Beware of Pity' at the Barbican Theatre, we made the show over a year ago in Berlin at the Schaubühne Theatre with 7 of their ensemble of actors and it's in London this week.
Its been a very swift couple of days to get that up and running whilst rehearsing the next Complicité show, which will open in a few weeks at The Royal Court called 'The Kid Stays in the Picture.'
Beware of Pity will be live streamed on YouTube this Sunday and it'll be available to watch for following two weeks all at the following link:
Check it out if you can, it's been a pleasure working with the amazingly talented Schaubühne actors who really are what make the show.
This week we're going into the final week of performances of The Encounter on Broadway! It's been almost 16 weeks of shows and I've been in New York operating with the team for almost 6 of those weeks. The Audience have been widley varied and it's amazing to know that the show has reached a much wider audience than it has anywhere else, hopefully opening their imagination in a different way.
It's a pleasure to be part of the broadway experience and have my first experience of the US, I've met some lovely people over here so far and next week I move onto St Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn for The Donmar's The Tempest which we recently opened in the UK as part of The Donmar's Shakespeare Trilogy.
The show will preview from the 13th January with opening night on Wednesday 18th Jan, running until the 19th Feb.
Oh, and Happy New Year all round!
A few weeks ago Gareth Fry and I were awarded the Best Design award in the Evening Standard awards for our work on Complicité’s The Encounter. Conceived, Directed and Performed by Simon McBurney, the piece allowed us so much freedom to experiment and give an audience auditory cues to key into their imagination, it was a real pleasure to put together with such an wonderful team of collaborators.
Gareth does an amazing job of listing those we wanted to thank and so linking to that would be easier than trying to do so again:
The team of Sound Engineers/Designers/Operators we’ve worked with are second to none. The show is always alive and changing all the time, they keep the world of The Encounter afloat and work like musicians with Simon to react to these new ideas and changes. We’re very lucky to have them!
It’s also key to mention the gratitude we have for being awarded the Best Design award and how, Sound Design has been recognised and considered for a design award not only that, but amongst other design disciplines too. I only hope that it can help spread this school of thought elsewhere.
Last weekend was the London Marathon 2016. My girlfriend's brother ran and managed a time of 3:25:13. Awesome achievement.
In the moments when we weren't wandering around London trying to catch him, I managed to get a few short recordings.
I took the oppurtunity to take out my little portable stealth kit to see how well it performed. It consists of a Sound Devices 702 in a camera bag with two DPA4061's with mini rycote windshields strapped to either side of the bag.
Drums fuel of the atmosphere around Canary Wharf, I spent some time underneath a bridge where 2 taiko players were living.
After clambering up a railing I got a recording from slightly above the action, people with plastic hand clappers, horns in the distance, and the ever present drummers.
I think the setup performerd pretty well all told, there are some big pros and cons of it for sure.
Pro: It doesn't attract attention. Which leads to a more natural performance and causes less interruptions from interested passers by.
Con: positioning, It's difficult to be consistent with the mic positions, as there is a bag in the 30cm gap between the two mics, it's also not very natural sounding stereo image.
Next time around I might test out a different method of strapping the mics to the bag with a bit more precision and maybe some sort of stereo spacing bar involved in the bag to help.
A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be in Lausanne for part of Complicité's 'The Encounter' tour. I took the opportunity to test out my portable recording rig thats slowly been pieced together the past few months.
Earlier in the year I went on tour to Asia and took my Rycote Blimp and found so many places where it was just unrealistic to whip it out and start recording, the inevitable "whats that" would be all over the recordings. So in comes the portable solution, I have a bunch of portable all-in-one recorders which are much less attention grabbing. But having put money into a Sound Devices recorder I bought a set of DPA 4061's to try out with it. I've had some reasonable success with sticking these things in my ears to get binaural recordings, but wanted to mount them onto a bag that also contains the 702 so it was super inconspisuous and can just sit there when I want to put it down. A camera bag seemed like the most logical solution, there may be better ways, but I went and bought a messenger bag from a nearby camera shop.
A customisable camera bag with multiple sized velcro panels was able to fit everything and any excess cable to sit below the 702, plus having a weird sized battery is was also fine! Heres a short recording of Lake Geneva, I stood maybe a 1.5 metres away from the shoreline and let the bag dangle in front of me...
I'm looking at other solutions to how I can attach the mics to the bag to allow for less movement noise and perhaps better stereo imaging, there seems to be a little dead spot in the centre on some recordings... Either way, the fact that no one asked "what is that" made it all worth it!!