At many of the larger theatres, as a sound designer and composer, I don’t actually program the sound machinery, necessarily. The Festival Theatre sound system is a behemoth of networked devices spread out over the entire building – computers, screens sharing and controlling other computers, amps, fiber optic cable….it’s a massive system and there is no way I would be able to get my head around it all to use it optimally.

My sound operator and programmer is William Griff (you can see him in the photo below), and he’s managing the technical end of the sound system and making my material sound good. I provide the material and the cues, and he makes sure it all goes out the system in the ways that I want (and suggests some ways I haven’t thought of, but invariably make it sound even better).

some of the many sound files that I made out of the audio I’ve composed; these are both “music” and “sound design” and often straddle both categories. Uh, there are many, many more than in this picture

Once we set up everything and get all the computers talking to each other, there’s a phase of making sure that the ways in which you’ve translated your work actually work, and speak in this new environment of multiple speakers and multiple computers. We spend a time just ensuring that the architecture works – that the sound is being transmitted and that you learn a way of working together, a shorthand and an audio picture that makes sense for the room and the story. Experimenting with placing that sound here and then the other part of the cue there, and learning how you and the technician think and work so that you can communicate efficiently.

As part of the shift I was speaking about in the previous post, there’s a second stage to it as well. You end up working through the technical architecture phase back into the idea and artistry phase again. A kind of beginner’s mind that reveals a lot that you didn’t hear before in your quest for making the thing you imagine.

The thing I actually like about not programming (and not everyone likes this) is that it frees me to listen and move into a listening mindset. A lot of our programming yesterday was me standing in various places in the hall, letting cues run, calling out some thoughts and ideas to Will to translate into programming and settings.

Will, translating

To free myself to think about sound and story, to imagine the bodies onstage moving through space (the actors are not present for programming, it’s a slow and tedious process and their time is better spent elsewhere). To pay attention to the ways the sound unfolds in the room, the qualities of the storytelling it offers.

To be sure, the architecture and the programming and the technical nerding out is fun, and useful, and does serve the story as well. But ultimately you need to step out from behind the desk and sit in a seat, and listen.

It’s the best.

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