SOUND DESIGN Part 1
Sound Designer's Goals
The sound designer's goals fall into two distinct categories: the designing of sound and music effects for the production and the amplification of the stage.
In sound and music design, the designer is responsible for the auditory environment of a production. Every sound not produced by the actors onstage is chosen by the sound designer. In selecting the audio, the sound designer's goals are closest to those of the lighting designer.
1. Establish time and place. For example, a medley of 1950's rock and roll songs played before a play begins, in the pre-show, will clearly establish 1950's America.
2. Create mood. Sound, like light, is extremely effective in creating a mood, whether in preshow, at chosen moments within a script, or as underscoring for an entire scene. Consider the impact of the music under the opening titles of Jaws : while the picture on screen depicts the ocean, the music gives us the feeling of menace.
3. Establish style. In some cases, sound or music will establish a style because we associate the sound with an artistic style (the 1950's medley again). In other cases, sound that does not have a clear motivation onstage (a jukebox, a radio, etc.), establishes a theatrical style for the production.
4. Movement. Sound is often used with changes in lighting as transitions between scenes. In a musical, music moves us from the more realistic tone of the book scenes to the clearly stylized song and dance numbers. Montage, a term developed in the cinema for the collapsing of time and/or space through a series of visual images, almost always relies on sound as the link among the disparate images.
5. Work within the director's concept and coordinate with other designers. The sound designer may also need to coordinate closely with a composer or musical director, the other theatrical artists who work exclusively with the auditory aspect of theatre.
The sound designer may also have the goal of amplifying all sound from the stage. Broadway theatres, outdoor theatres, and most sizable Regional and University stages are amplified today. In addition, there are many forms of amplification for the hearing impaired.
Sound Designer's Tools
The sound designer's tools vary with the two different sets of goals. For sound design, there are two basic kinds of sounds: live/practical or taped/canned.
Live sound effects, or practicals, are produced live on or just off stage. These could include door slams, offstage footsteps, explosions, gunshots, thunder, or music made by onstage performers. In the days of radio dramas, the 30's and 40's, manipulation of practical sound effects by a skilled sound man reached an artistic peak, allowing radio audiences to vividly image settings from the sounds produced live on the air by the sound man.
Sound effects can also be recorded, which is usually refered to as taped or canned. Some sounds are more likely to be recorded, such as car crashes, earthquakes, or violent storms. While in a musical most of the music is produced live, in straight plays most music that would be used in pre-show, between scenes, as underscoring, or in post-show will be taped.
Canned sound effects are available in collections on CD, and the designer may then digitally remaster these pre-produced effects to create exactly the right sound, of exactly the right duration, for the production. Sounds or music can also be created entirely digitally. Synthesizers and other computer software for sound synthesis have become increasingly sophisticated over the last decade, allowing a designer to create a tremendous range of sounds.
Sounds might be stored in analog or digital form for playback in production. Examples of analog formats include reel-to-reel and cassette tape or LP's. Digital media include CD's, CD-ROM's, and DAT. Until recently, a reel-to-reel deck was commonly used in production, because it stores high quality sound and can be cued very specifically. Today digital formats predominate, with DAT tape an increasingly common format. Digital systems are higher quality, more compact, can also be cued specifically, and maintain a higher quality when dubbed.
The sounds designed for a production are played in the theatre on a sound system which comprises at least an input source (DAT player), mixer, amplifier, and speakers. The mixer determines which input signals - from such devices as live mikes, CD's, reel to reel or DAT tape - are played at which levels, and then outputs those signals. Many systems also include an equalizer and synthesizer. Equalizers allow a designer to selectively enhance or dampen specific frequencies contained within a sound. Synthesizers allow the designer to add a range of special effects to the sounds. Like with lights, it is now common to have a computer controlling the sound designer's cues.
If a sound designer will also amplify the stage, he uses the same sound system but patches the additional sound reinforcement equipment into the mixer. Most theatres have a system specially designed for the acoustics of that space and the kinds of productions normally done, whether straight plays or musicals.
Several types of microphones
are used to amplify stage speech or singing. In amplifying the stage, the
designer may choose to mike the stage, the performers, or, most commonly,
both. To amplify the stage, mikes such as PZM's may be placed along
the front of the stage floor and/or shotgun mikes hung from the ceiling.
Performers may be miked with
wireless mikes, which consist of a
small, omnidirectional microphone and a body pack, which sends the signal
to a receiver, usually via a specific radio frequency.
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