Artwork for A musical world of shadows
Sound Design and Music

A musical world of shadows

Composer and Sound Designer Kelly Ryall discusses the sonic world he has created for Berlin.

Learn more about Kelly Ryall’s composition and sound design for Berlin in this Q&A.

How would you describe the sonic world you’re creating for Berlin?

‘The world of Berlin is a musical world of shadows, composing in a film noir style with the romance of a string quartet.’

What kinds of sounds/instruments are you using in this play?

‘Most of the instrumentation in the score to Berlin revolves around the string quartet. So violin, viola, and cello. When I'm writing music I like to choose an instrumentation and then stick to it. I find creating strong parameters or limitations early on allows me more time to make melodic, harmonic and textural decisions’

In your opinion, what is Berlin about? How does your design support the play’s big ideas?

‘Without giving the game away, Berlin contains a mystery which both ignites and shatters the love found between our two characters. The music plays to both romance and mystery. But hopefully keeps us always guessing what kind of play we are in.’

MTC_BERLIN_photo_Jeff_Busby_155.jpgGrace Cummings and Michael Wahr. PHOTO: Jeff Busby

Are you creating Berlin beyond the apartment with diegetic sound?

‘Absolutely. I think if a place on stage is real, the sounds that come from it need to be from that place and come from within that space. The script calls for a record player, so anytime the characters play a record it comes from the speakers attached to the record player as they would in any apartment or house. I am also a big fan of real domestic sounds wherever possible - in this case a real tap and water to ground the space as a real apartment.’

Could you tell us a bit about your process as a composer/sound designer?

‘Every score differs. Given the fast turnaround times on theatre scores (in this case 4 weeks), there is very little time to record real instruments, though I always try to where possible. In a 4 week rehearsal: Week 1 is spent understanding the play and hearing voices read it for the first time. I develop a playlist of potential musical genres and styles so I can start a conversation with a director; Week 2 is spent creating musical sketches once I have narrowed down the genre or style from above playlist and also playing these in the room wherever possible to make sure they'll fit; Week 3 is writing the music; and Week 4 is compiling the music into cues to work with the runs of the play as it moves forward. There’s really only a week to compose, so it’s very important to get the musical ingredients right first.’

How does a composer/sound designer collaborate with the cast and creative team in rehearsal?

‘Lots of conversations with the director and trying things out with the actors in the rehearsal space. There are conversations with the designer in terms of points to add speakers in the set, either diegetic (record players, TV) or non-diegetic (hidden from audience view wherever I can).’

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