03 April 2023
Recording of the week: The sound designer: the theatre as an experimental stage
Photograph of an actor on stage. Photograph by Antonio Molinari on Unsplash.
In this 2004 interview from British Library collection ‘Theatre Archive Project’ (C1142/350), sound designer Ross Brown describes the process of sound creation in theatre.
Sound design is, among many things, an art of illusion. It serves a purpose to recreate familiar sounds and convey emotions. The role of the theatre sound designer is to create a sound that can fit a certain venue. The designer imagines how the sound will fill the ambient space and how the audience will receive it within that space. Sounds create another dimension to what happens on the stage.
Brown states that the role of the sound designer was not perceived as a separate entity until the modern day, when new equipment was introduced to create sounds in theatre. With the arrival of new technologies, playback became an integral part of the performance, almost similar to a cinematic experience. Naturalistic sounds could then be stretched and manipulated before being incorporated into the final products.
This new way of sampling sound needed to be marketed. In fact, this became a niche technical aspect of the staged performances. However, budget in theatre downplayed the sound designer as a professional role until very recently. Brown’s consideration made me think of the historic way of adding sound to a film as a separate track, with the final product merging two different mediums of communication (images and sounds).
Ross describes sound creation as a parallel narrative: an experimental discipline, which combines the ability to use these new technological tools with the final making of the performance or play. Some writers, Ross continues, raised objections to this new professional role of interpreting and shaping the musicality and rhythm of speech and interaction. Altogether, it was the whole experience of the audience that would be different with the sound actually abstracting from the script. Ideas could spark from attending rehearsals. An understanding of how the characters would interact with each other was an integral part of this new process of making sounds and creating the new pace of storytelling.
This week’s post comes from Giulia Baldorilli, Sound and Vision Reference Specialist.