The Living Thames is a 60-minute documentary that I completed the sound design and mix for. I don’t mix very often, and the less you do it, the longer it tends to take when you do. Nevertheless, I had a really enjoyable time working on this film, which was thanks to some lovely material (and fascinating stories), and the constant encouragement and energy of Dorothy Leiper, the director.
This is a thought that I wrote about three years ago but stumbled across a few days ago. Seems incredibly apposite at the moment.
There are at least two stories that a sound can tell you: the first is what it is (literally) and the second is what it is to you (figuratively).
In a previous post I wrote why I love the philosophical aspect of what I do. The second thing that really excites me is grabbing some microphones, grabbing a recorder, and going out into the world to capture the sounds needed for a project. These are often, though not always, the sounds that will make the difference between an ordinary ‘okay’ soundtrack, and something that feels just right and exciting to the viewer, and that brings whatever story is being told, to life. When recording (and this for me is the same for Foley just as much as sound effects and ambiences), whatever else is going on suddenly and quite undemocratically becomes subordinate to the inner ear detective that has taken over me. Nothing else matters.
Capturing sound effects and ambiences out in the field call to mind what life might have be like as a hunter-gather, and I say this because when I’m in that outdoor recording mode I am very much trying to assess the environment that I’m in, in order to get the best sounds. I’m constantly observing and listening for things that will either warn me or alert me to issues that could compromise the quality of what I’m trying to capture, or put me at risk of physical harm. I survey and analyse where is best to record for the quality of sound (timbre, perspective) I’m after, and then - click, press - I gather them - record them. I’m collecting sounds like treasure and taking them back into the studio where I’ll be able to really understand what I’ve got and how I can use them.
The common aesthetic though is to not do that, and so when we embark on a journey of creating sound design and music, we are obviously making choices. Those choices should be important.
And never mind what we see on screen, it’s what happens after the cameras have stopped rolling that truly terrifies me the most.
Daydream and Drunkenness is the first time I’ve mixed binaurally, and the thing I found is that results have a lot to do with intention, I think. Well, for me, at least.
At the beginning of a project, when ideas first begin forming and preparatory work is undertaken, this philosophical trait is at its most febrile.
There is a caveat to this piece of (excellent) advice, however. When you carry your recorder everywhere you are 10 times more likely to lose or misplace said recorder, and this can become quite an expensive extravagance.
As a sound designer, I spend a lot of time with these tools, so it makes sense to spend a lot of time finding (also nurturing and sometimes creating, or at least hacking) the right ones. It makes sense, too, to spend a lot of time thinking about them, for without them I cannot work, or cannot work as well.
Also, is (film) sound so subjective that finding commonalities among the many different textures that exist is, while not impossible, trickier, more murky, or even politically sensitive, than when talking subjectively about, say, colour, framing, composition, and shot length?
When working with people, for other people, what I'm trying to do is help them to realise their goals and their overall creative vision of the project.