Using room tones in Theatre & Dance Soundtracks

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.

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Dougie Evans (left) using the Tascam DR-40, Rode NT2 microphone, and Boom Pole.

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.

stopgap-enormous-room-dance-photography-9Another 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.

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Thank you Vilnius!

I had an amazing time performing at the New Baltic Dance Festival last week in Vilnius, Lithuania. It’s a beautiful, and green capital city, and i really enjoyed my stayed there. The festival was really well organised, and it was great to perform to such a great audience.

It was an honour for me to play the piano live for Ieva Kuniskis‘s piece, He Lived Next Door, a solo dance piece featuring the incredible Darius Stankevicius. The music is a hesitant piano piece written in the style of a Russian waltz, and adds to the grandeur of Darius’s incredible movement.

Here’s a short excerpt from our performance at Wilton’s Music Hall in 2014

Reunited with an old friend

It’s great to be back in the studio this week with my close collaborator, Jerrel Jackson, researching his new piece Letters from Birmingham. I have a long history of successful collaborations with Jerrel, and it feels fantastic to be working together again after a few years apart.

Letters from Birmingham is a unique contemporary dance piece which explores stories of life from the different areas of Birmingham. The research is in collaboration with the Royal Mail, and features dance film, documentary footage, field recordings, text, spoken word, and dance.

We’re working at the Mac arts centre in Birmingham all week.

 

Weightless gets the heavy treatment

Military Helicopters, distorted Electronica, and Cello can only mean one thing…

Yep, Yael Flexer’s back on tour, and with it goes my international collaboration with Isreali Cellist and Composer Karni Postel.

The soundtrack is a massive array of sound, building all the way from quiet melancholic drones to a huge rumbling of twenty helicopters overhead. It also features some driving electronica beats, and immersive Cello playing from Karni.

Weightless had its Premiere at Salisbury Art Centre last month, and is now touring across the UK.

 

Ready or Not

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After an electric week in Eastleigh, the soundtrack to Commotion Dance’s new piece has been finished. It’s always fun composing for a new company, and even more so when the company develop contemporary dance pieces for young audiences.

‘Ready Or Not’ takes a peek at a world of hide and seek. With dancing, music and all things round, where things are lost and then are found. For children aged 3-7 and their grown ups, ‘Ready Or Not’ will premiere on the 21st of June at The Point in Eastleigh.

Tickets / The Point
Commotion Dance