“OK. When did you know it was love?”
I had great fun making some music for Amy Morvell’s new duet called Turtle Dove. All the sounds take their lead from some beautiful soundbites of people talking about love, that Amy had collected during her research. So rather writing music for contemporary dance on the theme of love, the musical tracks are inspired by the places and characters we hear in the text, and that is what makes it so varied!
Huge thank you to The Point for hosting a preview of my immersive sound exhibition The Choreography of Sound. The exhibition gave me an opportunity to test some of the recordings I have made while researching the project, and get some audience feedback on what has been successful so far.
They Live Next Door is a touching, tender and gritty show that knits unique stories with intricate choreography and nostalgic live melodies. Set in a home, on a street not too far from your own, it explores the light and the dark of familiar relationships. The duet is an emotional rollercoaster that sensitively uncovers the complexities of preconceptions around masculinity. At times conforming and other times shaking off stereotypes, multiple relationships between the two men unravel, weaving memories,expectations and domestic rituals. They Live Next Door sets out to ask how social stereotypes affect our identity and our relationships with each other.
Following an 8 year career writing and designing sound for contemporary dance, the Choreography of Sound is my first attempt at taking away the dancers and exploring just the movement of sound. After all, sound is a wave; and exists only within movement. So what happens when I start to shape how that sound moves in a space?
In Brighton the sound of seagulls, traffic and people blend into a mixture of noise that most people have unconsciously trained their minds to filter out. Modern life has added a fairly invasive mix of mobile notification sounds, buzzing home appliances, music piped into every shop, self service check out machines, and phone waiting music to name a few.
Room tones are the sound of silence.
I‘ve borrowed the term ‘roomtone’ from the film industry, where regular practice is to record the stillness of a room or location after each shoot. That way, when various takes of are edited together, they can be glued into one continuous scene by a consistent audio background.
Every environment has a its own distinctive audio fingerprint of almost imperceivable sounds. They include everything from the quiet humming of electrical equipment, extractor fans and appliances, to the weather outside or distant traffic noise.
If room tones were missing in a film, the silence would be so unnatural that the audience would think that the sound had stopped working. And yet I am constantly surprised at how many Theatre and Dance soundtracks don’t include a constant ambient track. For me, the moment I hear silence breaks the illusion of the theatrical world, and I remember that I am sat watching a show.
My soundtracks are peppered with recorded silence, room tones and ambient tracks. In The Deluge by Lila Dance, I created a track called endless rain. It’s over an hour of constantly evolving rain which loops automatically so that the audience will always be immersed by the sound. The soundtrack is run on Qlab which allows the tracks to not only overlap, but also automatically cue volume shifts in the rain. The Deluge is an immersive physical theatre show, and the sound plays a huge part in helping the audience feel like they are living in the fictional world.
Another example is Stopgap Dance Company’s The Enormous Room, which features a track predictably titled ‘The Enormous Room Tone’. It runs throughout the show, and ensures that when a music track ends there is never ‘true’ silence. The whole show is situated in a living room, and the track reflects that by including a ticking clock, gentle hums of the kitchen next door, and the faint sound of traffic outside the house.
For me, these sounds at the edge of our perception fill theatrical worlds with life and character, and have become a fundamental part of my work. But perhaps my ears have become too tuned into this kind of thing.
So let me know if you’ve ever noticed silence, or felt completely engulfed by a soundtrack in the comments below.
Anyone familiar with my soundtracks will know that I am a huge fan of using field recordings to add a layer of everyday realism to live performances. This can be anything from a recording of an empty room to enhance claustrophobia (as in The Enormous Room), helicopters flying overhead in (Weightless), traffic lights beeping (A Readiness), or the endless rain and thunder of (The Deluge).
Most of the time I use portable recorders to capture the sounds of objects or places, and below are three options which list some equipment that i recommend for field recordings.
1. Microphones for iPhone
If you don’t fancy learning how to use a new piece of kit, there are some excellent microphones that turn your phone into a mobile studio. They are small, super portable (so you can always keep one with you) and very affordable. The downside is that its fiddly to get them off the mobile and onto a computer to edit, and you will inevitably run out of storage on your phone.
In my opinion, the best mic for iPhone is the Rode IXYL, which is mae up of two condenser microphones in an XY position (90 degrees from each other) which allows you to accurately capture a wide sound, or two people in conversation. Rode make excellent microphones, including the VideoMicro which I plug into my camera to improve audio when filming dance shows.
I also recommend looking at the cheaper Blue Mikey, and the 30pin connection Tascam iM2X.
2. Portable Recorder
If I want a quick, but still high quality recording of a place or environment then I like to use the nifty little Zoom H1. It’s quite cheap at around £75 (UK) and you can simply point it in the direction of the sound you want to capture. Just make sure you use a wind shield if you are outside, the foam ones are ok, but no where near as good as a proper windjammer from Rycote. Check out this recording of a choir at Charing Cross Station. As soon as I heard how great the choir sounded on top of the train announcements, I whipped the zoom out of my bag and recorded it.
3. Portable recorder + Professional Microphone
When I need a really professional recording that I can set up anywhere, I use my Tascam DR-40. It has XLR inputs which means I can connect professional microphones to it and get maximum control over what I record. I also use this to record film audio, because using a separate microphone on a boom pole lets me get much closer to specific sounds, or record individual sounds on separate tracks.
Let me know if you have any questions I might b able to help with in the comments below, or if you have a great piece of kit you recommend.
Depicted through a David Lynch-esque filmic style, The Enormous Room portrays a relationship between a father and a daughter who are trying to deal with grief.
The soundtrack for The Enormous Room is a complex mix of dreamy nostalgic music and household sound FX. When I first met Stopgap’s Artistic Director, Lucy Bennett, to discuss her creative ideas I knew instantly that it would be a production in which i could really flex my sound design muscles. So in order to write my tracks for the show I divided the sound design into two aspects:
- An internal soundtrack which creates a realistic, nostalgic and at times claustrophobic environment for the characters.
- An external Soundtrack which is more musical, cinematic and heard “from above”.
(Continues after photo gallery)
I loved composing the music for the show. It’s a mix of synths and guitar quite unlike any other i have written for contemporary dance or theatre. It has almost a twin peaks feel to the reverb drenched guitar loops and distant vintage synth sounds.
For the more surreal moments such as Nadenh Poan’s utterly enthralling solo and the beautiful Rooftop Duet between Hannah and Christian, the percussive elements of the music are made from recordings of me drumming on kitchen utensils, pots and pans. In the second half of the show some of these rhythms return for Christian Brinklow’s solo, this time played on a wooden door to give a deeper more dream-like texture to the music.
Under the whole show is a track called the enormous room tone. This is an infinity looping, almost inaudible track of kitchen sounds, opening and closing doors/cupboards, fridge/freezer buzzes, kettles boiling and outside traffic. This track is to make sure that there is never true silence during the performance, keeping the audience immersed in the bizarre melancholy of the show.
The show is touring in 2017, please visit Stopgap Dance Company’s website for more details. http://stopgapdance.com