The following principles shape Jim's approach to sound design:
• Theater is a collaborative environment.
Theatrical productions create a world in which the script, actors, and design elements live and breath: expressing a viewpoint intended to amuse, to inform or to teach. Typically, the director leads this creative process by shaping and coordinating the contributions of the various actors and designers involved in a particular project. As an active collaborator with this process, the sound designer’s aesthetic must remain flexible and serve the broader goals of the production.
• Sound contributes an essential and unique element to a theatrical production.
Scenic, Lighting, Costume, and Projection Design are all visual in nature, but the medium and impact of sound design (like the actors’ voices) is aural. This allows the sound designer to enhance the vision of the production through the emotive quality of sound — whether through music, environmental sounds, or individual sounds that support the other elements of the production.
Within the collaborative process, the sound designer provides a wide array of options in the use of sound within the production and adapt the final design for a play to the desires of the director (and, where appropriate, the other designers) as well as the technical capabilities of the theater in which the play is presented.
• Sound design draws upon a wide range of tools to achieve its goals.
Sound designers engages many different creative and technical fields of expertise to conceive and create new sounds and aural effects. Their creativity is enhanced by a sensitivity to the nuances of sound and the various ways it is produced and projected. So, a sound designer should be aware of many types of sound creation, especially the composition and history of various styles of music (which may shape a director’s approach to a play), as well as the physics of acoustics and the technology of recording or presenting sound.
During the collaborative process of theatrical production, the sound designer refines the contributions of these various areas of expertise into specific creative options intended to enhance the director’s vision of the play and its performance.
• Sound design should underscore the aesthetic desires of the director and other designers in a production.
A subtle and minimal approach to sound design lures the audience into the world of the play, often shaping their perceptions delicately and subconsciously. Elements of the design should tease the hearing of the audience, enhancing their experience in ways they may not consciously recognize. The sound designer should play on the imagination of the audience members, drawing them into the play through choices that do not overwhelm the other elements of the play.
Still, the ultimate goal of a theatrical sound designer is to collaborate with other artists in support of the director’s vision of the playwright’s text. Sometimes, sound is intended to punctuate moments that shock the audience and throw their perceptions into sharp relief. In these cases, the sound designer needs to present an array of sound options to the director capable of creating this effect.
• Sound design requires the selective and deliberate use of technology, both new and old.
The technology used in sound design is always changing, but these tools do not replace the artistic sensibility or skill of the sound designer in creating the aural world of the play. Instead, they should be used to enhance the sound-based environment to theatrical audiences. So, it is important that sound designers learn about new equipment and techniques used in the production of sound as well as develop the expertise to adapt these developments to theatrical production.
However, new technologies do not erase their predecessors and the sound designer may find it more useful to use old techniques and technologies of sound production to create the effects desired in a contemporary production. Like the aesthetic choices of sound design, the technology used in sound production should reflect the overall creative goals of a theater production.
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