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!
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.
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)
Enormous Room- Stopgap Dance
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
We have a section in They Live Next Door affectionately titled the Man Waltz, because the music is actually based on an Argentinian tango (which is obviously more manly than a waltz). After running the section in rehearsal Ieva (fully assured of the rationality of her request) asked me if I could play it so that it sounded more major but still in a minor key, which I couldn’t help but laugh at, particularly because it followed her direction to the dancers to speak less in order to say more.
On a more serious note the duet is shaping up to be a really powerful and beautiful piece, and it was lovely to get such positive feedback from our sharing with The Point staff on Friday. Nick Minns and Mark Boldin are absolutely fantastic performers.
Next week we’re off to Theatre in the Mill Bradford, to put the final touches on all the sections, transitions and finer details. All of the music is written now, so it’s just about making sure that the music and the sound design really support Ieva’s vision for the piece.
Watch this space…
PS. I did manage make it sound more major, whilst playing in the minor key, in case you’re wondering…
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.
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).
Just finished working with La Petite Mort Dance Theatre on a new show called Cabinet of Curiosities, which premieres in Accrington Library and will be performed in non-dance venues across Lancashire.
I collaborated with choreographer and Director George Adams on Cabinet of Curiosities over a few weeks during April in Lancaster. The soundtrack features everything from a Fly buzzing around the space to my trademark acoustic guitar, piano and found sounds.
George and I have previously collaborated together on the EU Cultural Commission, Integrance, which featured Stopgap, Platform-K, Micadanses, & Indepen-Dance.
LPM Dance Theatre creates evocative, cross-artform theatre that puts entertainment and artistic collaboration at the centre of its work.
Cabinet of Curiosities Forthcoming Performances:
Accrington Library- 26th June-7pm
(Taster performance) The Storey Gallery, Lancaster- 3rd July 6.30 and 7.30
The Dukes Theatre, Lancaster- 12th September -8pm
I wizzed over to Ghent (Belgium) on the Eurostar for three days this week, to work with an inspiring inclusive dance company called Platform-K (english link here). I’m currently composing a new soundtrack for a dance work being choreographed by George Adams for Integrance, a project funded by EU Culture Programme, which brings together Sg2 (Stopgap Dance Company’s new ensemble for emerging artists, England), Indepen-dance 4 (Scotland), Platform-K (Belgium) and Micadanses (France). It is a truly unique and innovative project that involves 16 disabled and non-disabled performers, and the premiere of the new work will take place in February Ghent in 2015.
We had a fantastic and productive few days together in Ghent, which was a beautiful and inspiring city to work in. I think i’ve found my new favourite city.
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.