Melbourne Talam

Feature | Darius Kedros on creating sound

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Darius Kedros tells us about his latest sound design in Melbourne Talam.

How would you describe the sound design you’ve created for Melbourne Talam? Can you describe the world of this play?

The script jumps back and forth in time and place using a series of flashbacks that might be described as filmic in style. The dialogue, location, and the sound work together to set the scene in film, which allows jumps in time and place to make sense. However, in theatre there’s no time for snap set changes, or at least not without projections, so it largely falls to the sound and lighting to shift the space in this production.

The sound design approach for Melbourne Talam was to instantly transport the audience, because without this information the flashbacks might be hard to follow. The trick was to make these locations clear, but without being too obvious or repetitive, nor distracting from the dialogue or performances. It’s a tightrope walk to get this kind of thing right. If you’ve ever been to watch a band and you come away at the end thinking, yeah, it was good, but the drummer was the star, then that’s probably a bad thing because a great band is something we should experience as a whole, not in it’s constituent parts. The same can be said of sound design and music in a stage play or film. The sound design and score should support the story and the performances, not be perceived as a separate entity. It’s a supporting role, not the lead singer.

With so many locations in the script, can you give us some examples of how you established these different places?

The play takes us to various bedsits, flats, and transport hubs in Melbourne, as well as teleporting the audience to several Indian cities and villages. To make this believable I incorporated a lot of real recordings from these places, and embellished them only where necessary. This sounds like a simpler task than it is. It actually requires a lot of recording, editing, and mixing to get it working right.

What are some examples of diegetic and non-diegetic sounds that you use?

The play is full of diegetic sounds – trains, trams, road traffic and phone sounds to name a few, but there are also many less obvious, non-diegetic sounds that are there to create atmosphere. I make lots of field recording of weird sounds that I discover, and then in my DAW and other software I manipulate them to create textures that subtly shift the emphasis, move the story forward, or support the dialogue.

How did you arrive at your design choices? What influences have there been, and what practical considerations?

When I start work on a play, the first thing I do is make notes about what is clearly required by the script. Secondly, I talk to the director to get their vision. Thirdly, I think about what I can bring to the creative process beyond what has been requested or specified. In my experience, the cast often have excellent insights into how the sound design and music might work, and in this play we took that to the next level, mainly because I am not Indian. Unfortunately the budget did not extend to me taking a two week sound recording trip to India, so cast member Sahil Saluja kindly arranged for a sound designer friend of his in India to supply some authentic field recordings.

What is an example of where you’ve used original composition? What music has been included from existing sources?

For the end of act one I created a tabla track from a sample library. I slowed it down over the course of about 32 bars using time stretch to make it feel like time was slowing down and degrading, which helps the scene to feel off-kilter. Apart from that there wasn’t much call for me to compose music for this play. It was more a case of remixing and editing or adapting music. I asked the Indian cast and writer to suggest appropriate Bollywood songs, and I spent some time researching Carnatic music.

Is there anything else about your composition/sound design that you’d like to share?

There’s never just one approach to a sound design or score. I’m a great believer in experimenting, trying things out, seeing what fits, figuring out what helps the story and the actors, and what doesn’t need to be there. Every creative development is a process, and another opportunity to learn about storytelling, and of course about people, which is in fact the joy of collaboration with the creative team and cast.

Melbourne Talam plays at Southbank Theatre, The Lawler from 4 – 20 May. Book now.

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