DRAMA 101, INTRODUCTION TO THEATRE, MODULE 3 – Sound Designer


In an ideal world I start with a blank
palate and then I get to slowly add in the ingredients to make the world real.
I am Robert Kaplowitz and I am a sound designer.
[MUSIC][MUSIC] . On every show a sound designer is
responsible for putting together the sound system for the show, whether it be
a musical or a play. And then, sound designers are also
responsible for the sound content in a play, so on, on a play I often write
music and also sound effects. but also I’m then responsible for the
reinforcement for conveying the sound of the orchestra and the singers to the
audience in a way that actually connects the audience to the fundamental text of
the play or the musical. The whole idea is that we are trying to
sculpt. An environment that you’re not deeply
conscious of for the most part. In a musical that, you know the old joke
is that the sound design, if you notice the sound designer, it’s a bad design.
In essence the sound designer is trying not to be noticed.
While still very subtly often affecting you.
I can draw attention to a moment in a play by turning, taking sound away.
So sometimes I’m a silence designer. I kind of became a sound designer because
I realized it was the thing I did best. I did theater in high school.
We had a technical theater class, and so I took the technical theater class and I
fell in love with the theater, and I’d gotten into electronic music.
And so I was doing all of this sort of really sort of getting into esoteric
sounds. And then, so with all of that, I then
went to college, I was able to study design, as a conceptual art.
And when I, when I finished college I went out, and I, I was doing, you know,
anything I could to to pay the bills of course.
And I was doing sound design and lighting design and set design.
And as my work evolved I began to realize that I didn’t care enough about the
details of lighting or scenery. But at the same time computer editing was
just coming out. And I remember spending hours zooming in
to a thousandth or a millionth of a second and literally seeing the wave
form, oh if I edit it right there. It will sound perfect and I said oh well
that’s what I care about. That’s what I’m excited by.
There was a March I remember in the, what I remember most clearly, I think it was
March of 1995. And it was the first month I earned my
entire living as a sound designer. And I designed five plays in one month.
I think it was a $300 fee and a $200 fee. [MUSIC] I remember thinking I’ve actually
done it, I, I’ve earned my living as a sound designer for this month.
In order to be a sound designer, the very first thing absolutely is to listen.
but I think it’s two kinds of listening. I think it’s listening to what’s there,
and it’s also listening to what’s not there.
It’s listening to the space where you want to add, where you want to make more.
[SOUND] What I’m working on is a production of, of the play’s called The
Secret of Sherlock Holmes. if you’re a, a Sherlock Holmes fan,
you’ll know he plays the violin. What I’m trying to explore is[SOUND] the
idea of making textures out of the violin, that aren’t necessarily music per
se. [SOUND] I think that my primary value as
a designer. I would, you know, far above my composing
skills. Far above my listening skills is, is my
ability to read a play and understand what it is.
And what it’s about and how to help the audience connect into it.
So when I’m working on a play that has a lot of sound dictated by the text, that’s
of course where I start, I want to make sure I’m giving [SOUND] whatever the
world of the play requires. anything from, you know, this guy’s a
cellist to, there’s dogs barking and trashcans rattling in the alley,
alleyway. The thing that gets interesting about
that is, how do I make that, take that to an artistically interesting level?
But sometimes what’s interesting is, how do I transform that sonically?
Do I make it, you know, can I make it rhythmic?
Can I make it tonal? Can I,[MUSIC] can I find a way to make
whatever these sounds are more connected to this particular world.
This show that I just did with Annie Kaufman, called This Wide Night, I make
music out of refrigerator. [NOISE] That’s just your refrigerator
droning. I took refrigerator drones and I recorded
them, and I put them in a sampler, which is a program that allows me to play
sounds musically. And I wrote a score out of that.
And I can have multiple samplers. You know, as sound designers we get the
freedom to play with that. And again, working in a way that the
audience doesn’t even know is happening. [MUSIC] When I’m doing a musical, I’m in
no way responsible for the music. You don’t want a musical, you’ve got an
orchestrator. You’ve gotta get a composer first, you
get an orchestrator, you’ve got a music director, you’ve got a lot of people on
that team already who. Know very well what they are doing and
then there is me and my job is to figure out what they are trying to achieve
within the score and find a way to bring that to the audience.
In Fela one of the things that I was really interested in doing was creating
an environment that the audience was immersed in the sound and the music.
Now wasn’t that the music team’s job, that was my job.
That we were working in a Broadway theater there, and so the proscenium
march feels like an obstacle to some degree.
And one of the things, you know, Marina Draghici who did the set, really managed
to pull the set into the house, and Robert Wierzel who lit it, and Peter
Nigrini who did the projections. All of them did a lot of work in the
house, and I wanted to do the same thing so that I created a sound system that
could allow us to do a full surround of the vocals and the band, without it ever
seeming like the actors were behind you. And how do I do that, still maintain the
power of Afrobeats, still give us a really clear sense of where everyone is
in the room? So how do I do that?
And still embrace the audience, wrap the audience with the sound.>>And the Tony Award goes to Robert
Kaplowitz, Fela!>>I’m insanely grateful to have been a part of a company that made art, so to Senille
/g, to the Fela! company, Thank you.
I think one of the reasons I love sound design is that it gives me a chance to
make an art that I am good at and that I love making in the company of others.
It’s like a fission, you know, like a nuclear reaction in this very positive
little tiny way where the, where a bloom of energy is created.
A bloom of artistic creation happens. I get to do it live and I get to have
their response and I get to let the. [MUSIC] The design and the soundscape,
the score, as it were, develop in collaboration. [MUSIC][MUSIC][MUSIC]

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