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He has worked on numerous large-scale projects and is very well known for his work on the original version of The Bridge. Carl visited Edinburgh in 2014 and Annette Davison (www.eca.ed.ac.uk/reid-school-of-music/annette-davison) and I conducted an interview with him in response to what he told us during that visit. This was subsequently published by Springer in this book: link.springer.com/chapter/10.1057/978-1-137-51680-0_22
Carl’s second visit to Edinburgh was different. While we wanted to know even more about the roles and responsibilities of different people involved in the TV and film making process, we also wanted to learn more about Carl’s techniques. Therefore, on the second day of his visit, he ran a workshop for the class which revealed how he constructs extremely complex and dramatic sound worlds.
What follows are scant and potted notes I took while he was here. Please feel free to add to these with your own observations of the event via the comments box below. At the foot of this post are videos of an explosion the class were asked to sonify at the workshop.
2 in the lecture
- In The Bridge and in sound design in general, it is as much about the silence as what’s actually sounded
- As TV shows expand in size into multi-episode and multi version projects, there is a challenge in keeping the design concept consistent across all episodes. This is particularly the case with The Bridge as it is now 38 episodes in length and has used numerous directors and other key personnel as the series have gone on.
- producer, composer, sound designer and post-production supervisor only people present across all episodes of The Bridge
- Once Carl had the director locked into his sound design proposal for the series, it seemed to stick.
- In more recent projects Carl has found himself involved at the level of script development which is a privilege and a responsibility, happening `once in a blue moon’
- A key idea is that the human brain learns to ignore and filter sound information so, rather like Twin Peaks, footsteps start a segment and end a segment but disappear as the person/scene progresses
when do the creative devisions happen?
- plans for the silence, but it’s all designed
- cut notes is a useful app that syncs with the transport of the DAW and allows you to add an array of custom markers to the scene as you watch it
- transitions are key across all sound design for scene-based media as they signal what to listen to and for as the time goes on.
- challenge of keeping it interesting throughout the scene so things have to come into and out of focus. This is a design process.
2.2 Most dramatic scenes
- In the most dramatic scenes, you have almost no sound from the set, it’s all done safely with a green screen, so everything has to built up until the world starts to breath.
- starts with the details (small ones) first this is perhaps counter to intuition where you may feel drawn to add the key and noisiest moments first, but actually all the incidental and occasional sounds are key to place and position first so that these can be heard. These insignificant-seeming sounds are key to a convincing aural-scene.
- Sound Design is also a process of selecting sounds that should not be heard, it’s all about taking sounds away
2.3 creating space
- if you don’t have the space you can’t anticipate what’s to come next so you have to suck sounds away in order to create perceptual space for the next event
3 on design
- it always sounds different when someone else is listening, get someone into the studio and pay attention to the things you pick up
- for an explosion or big and complex scene, put the details in first to make sure that they’re accommodated
- don’t just add sounds on the things that you see happening, you have to imagine the other things that are in the environment and that could be seen. You need to make room for these sounds too in your mix.
- the obvious things are the easy ones to spot. The challenges creatively and sonically are the less obvious sounds.
- the incidental things are what completes the sound and everything
- interesting how easily you are influenced by what you’ve seen, archetypes and so on/cliches etc work well, but we can quickly tire of them, so use them not only sparingly but intelligently.
- When you also try to do something different, beyond the cliche, that’s design
- sound design is adding everything with a thought and sometimes also to put an explanation for that thought for others to get behind
- you find your own style – it’s important because you have to find ways to bring yourself, your taste, your skills, your experience into the project.
3.1 on mixing
- the only argument between composer and the sound designer has been how loud the opening theme should be
- lowering the theme tune means that listeners won’t turn it down and you can configure the listening space at home in order to have more headroom when trying to conform to broadcast standards
4 role of sound designer/sound supervisor
- sometimes the sound supervisor has the economic supervision responsibilities too, get to know them and understand how to leverage cash in your direction.
- Carl as sound designer tries to avoid the spreadsheets and wants to be concerned with the sound alone
- usually works with a post production supervisor who is responsible for the whole post production process including the finance, this role is usually budget supervisor
- a sound editor edits the sound FX that are required for the scene. Sometimes explains where and what is wanted via interpretation from the director
- supervisor can filter between the producer//directors and the sound team
- in smaller productions it’s better to go to the director directly so that the sound editors hear about what’s wanted
- has a showing with sound editors and director so that they feel connected with the process
- the sound editor is so important, different sound effect editors have different skills so these relationships and skill sets need to be understood by the sound designer
- good relations with the team are important
- some people can deliver good things in a short time, others need more time
- when a section has become so complex and over the topdon’t be afraid to start again working from small and peripheral sounds up into a thing
5 on mastering
- we master as we are mixing
- when we mix for TV we turn it down so we’re compressing as we go
- quality control – these guys set the level very low and if people can’t hear it, the mix comes back
- in TV you don’t have
- lower levels before the impact to make the audience reset their own levels
- There is an intrinsic link between the design and the demands of the broadcast standards. You have to thin out your exciting parts, both to have an impact in the format, but also on the psychology of the listener
- because people aren’t watching TV in the same way anymore, watching online, on a laptop, it’s hard to follow the same set of rules for mixing / mastering as studios used to use.
6 on jobs
- experience is hard to get
- internships can work very well to get you into a position
- in the early days a lot of work is done, can be fun, but risks of being exploited are high
- doing all of that hard work paid off for Carl
- do projects together with your peers
- practice the more you do, the better it gets
- it’s good to be educated in the craft itself
- but you also have to be able to try all those things that you don’t have time for in the real-world at Uni.
- to have the time to find your own voice at Uni, explore what it is in the process you enjoy most
- deadlines are essential – setting deadlines for oneself so that you can integrate with other people is key.
- deadlines and others make you invent stuff that you wouldn’t do otherwise
- in a group you have to tell others what you think, you have to put your thoughts and feelings into words, to explain them and this process clarifies thoughts for yourself
- “movies aren’t released, they just escape from the studio” – Ben Burt
7 Linkwitz panasonic microphone Modification
Carl has advocated building one’s own microphones that you’re not afriad to use anywhere. The Panasonic mic listed here (the more expensive of the two) has a full and flat frequency response, but is cheap enough to not mind if it gets destroyed while recording. We’re ordering some immediately. www.digikey.co.uk/product-detail/en/panasonic-electronic-components/WM-61A/P9925-ND/252843
Check out the Linkwitz mod too, plenty of advice on youTube for how to deal with these:
(Citation) Davison, A., & Parker, M. (2016). Interview 4: Building Bridges: Sound Design as Collaboration, as Style and as Music in The Bridge—An Interview with Carl Edström. In L. Greene & D. Kulezic-Wilson (Eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of Sound Design and Music in Screen Media (pp. 321–328). Palgrave Macmillan UK. doi.org/10.1057/978-1-137-51680-0_22