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?
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.
It’s no surprise that Joli Vyann’s new show Imbalance got a standing ovation at its premiere. I was super excited after they first asked me to do their sound design. The two performers are mind-blowingly talented, and they’ve fused contemporary dance with hand-to-hand circus to create a really spectacular take on modern life. The show explores our obsessive dependence with technology, asking whether our lives are ‘in’ or ‘out’ of balance? And Jonathan Lunn’s choreography has clearly taken the company forward leaps and bounds to create a show that feels incredibly current and well crafted.
I write a lot of music for dance, and this show is a sound designer’s dream. We are surrounded by the sounds of modern technology all the time- from the clicking sounds of typing on a smart phone to sell service check outs- and that gives me a lot of material to make my music. For one section, the two dancers try to keep up while the sounds around them, which constantly demand their attention, gradually get faster and faster. The result is a hilarious reflection on how pressured and under control we can feel from the technology around us. And yet, later in the show the same sounds are chilling when they return over the top of a section on cyber bullying.
Alongside the music I composed for specific sections, we used a few tracks which were so great they sounded like they were made for the show. It starts with the beautiful Georgian singing of Ensemble Georgika, has a few glitchy Matmos tracks, and ends with an equally beautiful but completely different track by Fridge called ‘Our Place in This.
Here’s a teaser for the show.
Last month I finished a new soundtrack for Bootworks Theatre’s new children’s show The Many Doors of Frank Feelbad. The play follows Frank, a young boy with a habit for losing things, who discovers he’s lost his mum. The show tackles some difficult subjects and themes for young children, and it was really important that the music supported this in a fun and engaging way.
It was awesome to work with such a creative theatre company. The performers do a phenomenal amount both in terms of making elements of the show, as well as during the performances, changing costumes whilst triggering sound and lighting cues.
One of my favourite tracks from the show is puzzle:
For a play about grief, the magic of Frank Feelbad is that it’s a hilarious show and kids will love it. The music has everything from a scottish jig to a dubstep baroque track (something i never thought i’d say).
Image-Line are running a sound design competition for their new animated logo, as a long time user of their software I felt compelled to enter. Here’s my entry