09 July 2011

Research (why I love my job)

There are a lot of reason that I love design. I love working with disparate groups of people. I love creating lasting relationships with people over many years, and I love not working with the same people every day. I love writing music, digging into a script, and figuring out how to do technically what's inside my head. There are lots of reasons to love sound design.

Today, I'm going to talk a bit about research. Specifically, music research.

When I start designing a show, one of the first things I do is start listening to music. If I'm composing music, my research can inspire me. If I'm not composing, then the music will invariably end up as part of the design. In either case, research is a great opportunity for me to start digging into (and expanding) my music library, and I love reminding myself what amazing music humans have created.

Sometimes, my conversations with directors lead me in very specific directions, and my music research will reflect that. When I designed 'Treasure Island,' the director wanted the play to feel like and old swashbuckling movie, so the music reflected that - I used music by Korngold, Steiner, and that ilk to set the 'classic Hollywood' mood.

Sometimes (ok, usually), the director is not so specific. Or, like in my current situation, I'm starting my research before actually talking with the director at all. In these cases, my research becomes the starting point for the conversation. I'll pull a lot of music from a wide variety of styles, cull it down to a few representative pieces, and pass that to a director. Invariably, much of what I pull will be wrong for the show, but some of it will be on the right track. Through conversations with the director, I'll discover which parts of my research are on the right track, and then I can continue in that direction.

These wide-net research tasks are always exciting for me. They're a little frustrating in terms of designing the show (the mathematician in me objects to all of the wasted effort), but the curiosity in me is delighted for more opportunities to listen to the music I've collected. Right now, I'm working on a new play, which features a fictionalized 'lost text' of Kafka. This fictionalized text is being produced on Broadway, and we are watching a rehearsal, complete with sound cues. So, what does a modern production of a Kafka play on Broadway sound like? Who knows? There are so many possibilities, and until I get a chance to talk with the director, I don't know what he's thinking about. In the meantime, I'm pulling a huge swath of music for him to consider and be inspired by. When I packed up my CD binder of research, it had a wide variety of musicians contained therein:

Korngold (old Hollywood swashbuckling)
Brenda Angiel (modern dance)
Bach (organ and chamber ensemble
Bavarian beer-drinking songs
French movie scores
T Bone Burnett (newgrass genius)
Michael Brook (Canadian studio wizard)
David Byrne (weirdo)
Cafe Tacuba (Mexican rock)
Ennio Morricone
Richard Einhorn
Hurdy Gurdy dance music
Max Steiner
Nordic folk compilations
Schubert lieder

For the past few days, I've been sitting at my computer, listening through a lot of this music. It's beautiful, and as I listen to it, I'm rejecting anything that could not possibly be part of this play. What's left could be part of three or four different productions, dependent on how the director wants to move. But, that's a conversation for he and I later...

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