A NORPA production.
Written by Janis Belodis, Directed by Julian Louis.
This month I’d like to talk about a theatre project – Engine - that I have been involved with as the sound designer and composer. The play opened in Lismore at the end of July and is touring to Coffs Harbour, Byron Bay, Murwillumbah and then off to Brisbane at the end of August. The story revolves around the family and friends of a teenage car crash victim as they come to grips with the tragedy. The narrative unfolds in a manner where the characters shift (2 actors play multiple parts) and the past and present merge.
The play features plenty of sound cues, some quite literal and others more abstract. Some were fairly explicit in the text such as revving car engines, horns honking, screech of tyres, crash sounds, and the ticking of hot metal. For most of these I used material from foley CDs. (There are many of these available commercially that feature all manner of creaking doors, explosions, animal noises and such). However sometimes the sound required was a little more specific, such as the sound where an engine drops from a chain and pulley system in the middle of the play. I tried unsuccessfully to piece together various chain and pulley sounds from my foley library but I finally found the sound I needed at the Dunoon Garage. My local mechanic, Russell, was happy to pull his garage door up and down a few times while a got a decent recording and the results were exactly what I was after.
Another more complex literal sound was for a scene set on a headland at night with bass heavy music coming from a parked car. For this one I started out by going to the Byron Lighthouse one night and recording the ambient sound from the carpark. However, whilst the mood felt right, the sounds didn’t convey this with any great clarity; the ocean was a dull roar and the cars that came and went didn’t really have a suitable party vibe. Instead I assembled the various elements as separate layers (see the screenshot of the Pro Tools session). I combined 2 layers of ocean sounds and a layer of night crickets from a foley CD. A fourth layer was a recording of some Year 12 students from Kadina High School (who were involved in the production) chatting away in party mode. To this I added a doofy track I wrote with most of the mid and high frequencies missing to give the impression that it was being played in a car some distance away and some occasional cars coming and going. The various layers were then panned across the stereo field to give a sense of the space.
Other scenes required a more abstract association with the stage action where the director (Julian Louis) wanted a particular feel such as ‘pain and insomnia’, ‘anger and frustration’ or ‘blissed out’. Translating these qualities into a sound that conveys these qualities, and satisfies the director, can be quite challenging. In preparing the more abstract cues I found it very helpful to have a lot of sounds on hand. This process involved scrolling through the presets of various software synthesisers and selecting suitable starting points or wading through my catalogue of drafts and offcuts from various other projects to find things that might fit the bill. I would then present a number of options to Julian for him to select from and with a bit of tweaking and redrafting the right qualities emerged. Like most digital sound constructions, the tweaking can be endless and it is nice to have a deadline where it all must stop and be handed over.