PC: Aruna Manjunath

Originally written in English by Swati Simha as ‘Flypaper Trap’ as part of Writer’s Bloc 2016 and translated into Kannada by Varaavara, this is Karen D’Mello’s second theatre production under Katha Siyah , a theatre company she formed with Sunayana last year. Their first production was Neel Chaudhuri’s ‘Taramandal’ which premiered at Ranga Shankara in June’2015 .

karen

Karen D’mello is a theatre maker and facilitator from Bangalore. She is the artistic director of KathaSiyah as well as a team member of Indian Ensemble Theatre. Her training includes an intensive Directors Program as well as a Playwrights Program under the mentorship of Abhishek Majumdar,  an eminent playwright and director himself . Karen also facilitates theatre workshops for children and young adults in schools and colleges.

Here’s an email interview of Karen D’mello on the choices behind making this play, right from the theme to the translation,  her process of theatre making and about Katha Siyah.

  1. Could you share a little about how Katha Siyah was formed and what do you envision of it in the coming years ?

We needed a name to produce our plays as part of the Indian Ensemble Directors Program and that is how the idea of a theatre ‘company’ came about.

When Sunayana Premchander joined the production team of ‘ Taramandal’ in June last year just before it premiered, we found ourselves sharing a lot of ideas on what we would like to do in the theatre and the things that excited us. It is not that we want the same things but we think we could support each other to create the kind of work each of us envision. A lot of time was spent in coming up with a name. The K & S is really a fluke 😉 Without much thought we registered ‘KathaSiyah’ as a trust. We were not very sure of what exactly we wanted to do with a theatre group! But now things are kind of becoming clearer for us. We are attracted to do work that is written by young playwrights, mostly women, stories of women, or told from the perspective of women. We feel connected to these  stories and there is clearly a dearth of them  on stage

2. What excited you about this play ?

To be honest, with having directed just one play, I wasn’t sure what one really looks for while directing play. But what excited me was two things

  1. This was ‘new work’ written by a young woman playwright
  2. This was a story that revolved around a woman protagonist and at that time I was constantly thinking about how we didn’t have many such plays.

It started with that and slowly I started finding many things that I related with the play. During one of the play readings at my place, a lot of women participants saw parts of their lives in it . For me, the play’s engagement with woman’s sexuality was the entry point. The question that stayed with me – why are  women bodies, menstruation, sexuality,  seen as perennial problems for religious traditions. What are we afraid of when a woman chooses to explore her sexuality ? Why do we feel the need to control them?

3. You chose to translate the play in Kannada whereas Kannada is not the language you have studied or trained in . Could you elaborate a little on this creative choice ?

Swati and I had been in discussion regarding this play since October 2015 while she hads finished writing the 1st draft for  Writer’s Bloc 2016 organised by British Council and Rage with the Royal Court Theatre, London. Unfortunately, directing it for Writer’s bloc festival which happened in April this year was not an option but we were in touch, and our conversation around this play continued.
Swati was curious about how the play would present itself when staged in the language context in which the characters are situated, i.e. Kannada.

So Kannada in a way seemed an obvious choice. Yes, I haven’t trained in Kannada in any formal way and I still can’t speak it fluently. But along with Konkani, English, Marathi, Hindi and Tulu. It is a language I’ve been exposed to from Childhood – 2 months in a year. I didn’t see any reason why not.

We also had a tough time finding a translator to do this. But the journey of translation itself has been exciting with Sidhartha and Lekha. Swati and the two of them spent a lot of time understanding why a translation is need. And how this play will present itself in Kannada. They both are acting in the play, so we are in that way translating it all the time on the floor as well along with the other actors.

4.  I am very keen to know the methodologies you have employed in your rehearsals . Like which ones and why ?

Most of my learning comes from the Indian Ensemble directors program. So I started by reading the blog we created during the program. I revisited the tools and used those as a guide for direction. I re-read the tools shared in ‘The Director’s Craft’ by Katie Mitchell and ‘The Viewpoints Book’ by Anne Bogart. A typical rehearsals are a mix of text work and floor work I spend time drawing each scene. Looking at how each scene moves, how the characters within it move. Once I arrive at a drawing that I feel has some potential, I try to work on coming up with clear instructions in the form of tasks to help actors arrive at this or something ‘better’.

5. Funding is a major bottleneck and most of us in theatre use different ways to find resources and money to make plays through grants , sponsorship etc . How did you go about realizing that for this play ?

It is a huge bottleneck even for us.We did try different options – Writing a fundraising mailer that talks about our past work and future plans. Writing to Foundations and CSR initiatives of organizations. But most of the funding for this play has come through individual contributions from friends and family – Friends from the theatre, childhood friends, friends parents , my ex-manager during my corporate stint and ofcourse family

6. There are new theatre groups being formed in Bangalore almost every month now and of  course that also means that there is a lot more theatre happening in different spaces and contexts. What do you feel about this ?

It is exciting and I think in a way we are also associated with the new work that is being created.  A lot of us are part of different groups but still collaborate on different projects.

swati

Swati Simha is a playwright and actor. She graduated with a degree in theatre from FLAME School of Performing Arts and holds a Master’s degree in Intercultural Communication Studies from Shanghai Theatre Academy. She has written two children’s plays and is currently commissioned by Royal Exchange, Manchester to write he next play ‘Ouroboros’. She is pursuing her MPhil/PhD in Political Philosophy at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Below is the email interview with Swati Simha, the playwright, where she talks about the idea behind writing this play and it’s evolution since Writers Bloc.

  1. Could you share the initial ideas that went into writing this play ? Would you say that some aspects of the play are autobiographical ?

The play was developed as part of the Writers’ Bloc residency so the initial questions of taboo played a central role in the conception of the play. It was my first full length play so it was very difficult for me to think of cultural and geographical spaces that were not from my memory. So, yes. You could say experiential, but not in the sense of the events that take place but the location and the culture of my central characters were from familiar spaces.

      2. You developed this play at the Writers Bloc and there was also a production of your play directed by Ashish Sen. This is the second production but in Kannada . Do you think the play is a vision of the writer or the director and what do you feel about it being performed in kannada? What difference do you  see in the translated version ?

Although the writing process was stretched out through a year and a half as part of Writers’ Bloc, I did not develop this play with the director. I handed the text down and had brief discussion before and after the first show. Ashish worked on the play for a month or so and mostly with actors. There was little time to develop the script as such.

Translating the play with Lekha and Siddharth was like writing a new play altogether. It was thoroughly enjoyable and helped me look into every detail and was made to justify my choices and understand why something works and why something doesn’t.

Karen has been invested in the play for a while now and we have had a journey with the play together as a team. Several important scenes were re-written/ removed/ re-worked, even certain characters have transformed drastically, both due to the language and different accents/dialects of Kannada that have been used and the primary research that Karen and I engaged in. At an earlier time I might have been uncomfortable saying this but now I feel like it is Karen’s play as much as it is mine. I think we have been able to communicate with each other well enough that the process of play making can no longer be considered under mutual exclusive categories of director driven or writer driven.

       3. How did Writers Bloc help you in shaping your thoughts, ideas into a play?

I think when it is your first play, deadlines are very useful. Playwriting is a self initiated process where you have to constantly drive yourself and that can be hard. Lot of times you conceive of an idea and you leave it at that. But being part of the residency, a community of writers discussing each others plays trying to meet deadlines is useful until you learn to motivate yourself to go on writing and re-writing. Writers’ Bloc also gave me a solid understanding of structure. Some writers found this restrictive but for me this was essential learning. I can already see in my next play that I am able to experiment with structure although I stuck to the rules in Flypaper Trap. Additionally, Richard was my mentor and he being a director was able to draw from my central questions and clear my writer’s block by making the actors improvize situations that would hold my questions.

4. Onalways hear that a play changes the moment it goes on floor . Do you think playwriting should happen with actors and directors as opposed to writing it alone?  

I think of writing as a lonely process. I would not engage with a director until I am able to satisfactorily articulate my key ideas and questions. I find going into the process of collaboration without having made any strong choices can be problematic. Of course the play will change once it goes on the floor, doesn’t mean the process of writing should begin simultaneously. In fact any contingency requires grounding if not a ground, as in the play should tend towards something for it to be conducive to transformation on the floor otherwise you have nothing and encounters the least common denominator syndrome where actors are trying to find a common ground.

(Interviewed by Chanakya Vyas, Associate Artistic Director at Indian Ensemble)

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We have tried mechanical movements with chorus in Dhanbad scenes. The idea was to find the connection of the human beings with the machines in the place and establish a mechanical scenes in the space. Also during the scene it can be used it as a machine itself. Here are some videoa of the chorus as machines. These are initial ideas about chorus in Dhanbad.

Chorus1 Chorus2 Chorus3

We are slowing and steadily moving towards the day….Rehearsals and  Collaborations in full swing. Talking about collaborations, here a result of one of them.

Our poster. Dipitha Dilipan created this for us. From a discussion on whatsapp, in between breaks during anmol’s workshop at shoonya and a few phone calls, here it is.

TM

About 2 weeks back Sunil Shanbag was flown down from Mumbai to spend some time with the directors as a part of the guest lecture series that has been planned for the  fourth term . Apart from Sunil taking us through his journey he had also asked us to come prepared with a scene to present to him so that he could de- construct it and work with the actors so as to offer a whole new perspective to the way the scene is seen . He asked us to choose a scene from the play based on the following criteria;

a scene that is critical to the understanding of the play OR

a scene we are having difficulty working on OR

a scene we are happy to share because it works well for us

I decided to present a scene that was in a way critical to the understanding of the play . Putting down a brief description of the play to set a bit of a context to the play for  what is to follow ;

The Cockroach Collector is a  dark and witty  play woven around three people of a doomed household; the mother referred to as Ma, a daughter called Alka   and a son called Mano , who is the cockroach collector. Amit ,  Alka’s beau,  tries his best to enter the fabric of the family by dealing with the mother’s quirky ways and  forcing himself into cockroach-friendly gestures that are very much against his own nature. As the mystery of why Mano collects cockroaches slowly unravels, Amit is bewildered at first and then  aghast .On the face of it , this is a story of a seriously dysfunctional family . But it is also essentially the story of a dysfunctional world , where horrendous violence and inhuman acts can exist in the crevices of ordinary life .  

I presented a scene where Mano , the cockroach collector is introduced in the play for the first time and takes off on a long monologue as to why he collects cockroaches . Amit ( who is also introduced for the first time in the play )  is at the receiving end of this crazy rendition and goes through a riot of emotions as the scene unfolds .  I had directed the piece , to show Amit’s discomfort in the beginning and he goes through a journey through the entire piece where at the end he reaches a level of acceptance of Mano and his strange habit where I show them streached out on the floor lying down next to each other ( like 2 girls in a slumber party 🙂 ) .

Sunils Observations : 

The device used to represent cockroaches :  There were ropes from one of  my previous plays, Equus ,that were lying around in my rehearsal space . I cut them into pieces and tied them into 3 knots and left the two loose ends long enough  to look like the antenna. A lot of the scene has Mano physically handling the cockroaches , making them walk on his hand  , talking about how beautiful and compact they are etc .

Sunil’s commments : While  Sunil thought that the device was natural and beautiful he also felt that I needed to think it through some more . There was a comment about how I was making an inanimate object do animate things . Like when Mano is demonstrating how he feels when the cockroach walks on his hands he holds that rope cockroach with two fingers of the left hand and makes it graze the inner side of his right arm slowly by pushing it himself  . It’s a lot less ridiculous when you see how it’s done as opposed to reading about  it 🙂 . I thought these were little liberties we could take in theater cause it’s about representation . Sunil said there might be a better solution and I needed to think about how I could take this rope idea forward . He did indicate that I should stay with the rope idea when we came up  with alternate solutions which were more mechanical in nature ( like a mechanical device ) .

Mano’s treatment of the scene : Sunil felt that Mano’s love for cockroaches did not come through in the way the scene was being played out , He thought that the actors emotions had to be much bigger . I totally agree with this and I am to blame for why this did not happen . We did attempt to treat Mano’s character as a lot more passionate about the cockroaches  but then I consciously decided to bring it down a few notches . It’s to do with that dilemma I was facing about whether it would be a better option to play a scene that is bizarre in it’s context and content ,with a certain normalcy ,or would it be more effective if it be played out a lot more ,with a lot more passion  . I must say that I did not succeed in bringing out  what I had in mind for that scene through the actor . AS I kept insisting  during rehearsal  that I did not want him to get so excited and passionate about the cockroaches (cause he mostly conveyed it by using  high decibels   ),  somehow the energy of the entire monologue got compromised as the actor probably got very conscious about showing excitement even in places where he needed to while presenting it at the session . To be fair it was a monologue and wasn’t an easy one. So what Sunil got to see was a compromised version of  perhaps a questionable decision . I am still looking for a form for the play ,and about the decision, I will be able to make up my mind when I see the perfect rendition of the scene , we are chipping away 🙂 .

Amit’s Journey just did not make sense : THis was again my doing . Instead of playing with extremities I decided to explore the middle ground.The stakes were not big enough to make good theatrical impact . I thought I would make Amit someone who is not that grossed out by the idea of Mano collecting cockroaches ( someone who is more open and really curious about ideas and things in general ) and so the journey that was charted out was of a curious person who was uncomfortable about cockroaches and then went to a place acceptance where he understood Mano’s  obsession  with cockroaches and where he came from . His making an effort with Mano also stems from the fact that he is with Alka and is making an effort with the family in general . Sunil’s take on this treatment was that it makes logical sense but comes across as dull , ‘ No one wants to see a dull play ‘ he said . The curious nature also did not come through cause Sunil thought he needed to be much more watchful .

This is quite a challenging role to play , cause for a monologue ( by Mano ) that goes on for about 13 mins , Amit has all of 3 lines . As Sunil mentioned , his reactions and his journey is key to this scene and one must be able to get a sense of what is happening throughout the scene even when they completely shut Mano off from their field of vision . I could not agree more and there was a definite flaw in the way Amit’s character was treated in terms of my vision, and how little attention I paid to it  . Most of my focus went on directing the monologue knowing in a way that the actor playing Amit was being the neglected child . The way things stand today , the treatment for Amit’s character has changed from what it was . The stakes are bigger now .

As self indulgent as this might sound, what I was especially kicked about, ( the most kicked ) was the fact that I was able to engage in a spirited   discussion with THE MAN about the scene in question . There were times when he offered certain suggestions and  I wanted to make sure if he would offer the very  same suggestions if there was more of a context in place , so I would tell him what would happen in the next scene and how I plan on treating the next scene so maybe treating the scene in question the way he is asking me to might  give away too much at this point in the play . He was amazingly open to listening and considering what I had to say and also considering the reasons for doing what I did . Post the session someone came and asked me if I get defensive when my work is questioned . All I was doing was getting as much clarity as I could  about what he was trying to tell me and making sure that we were on the same page in terms of our understanding .It was of extreme value to have first hand experience of someone like Sunil Shanbag and get a peek into his way of seeing things and his way of thinking .

Guest Lecture held as a part of the Riad Mahmood Education and Arts Foundation and Indian Ensemble Director’s Training Program on 9th May 2015.

Topic: Sound Design 
Speaker : Abhijeet Tambe 

Below is a list of key points from this lecture

PART I

 4’33”

 Movement I:         0:30

Movement II:         2:23

Movement III:        1:40

 Video: An orchestral performance of 4’33”: John Cage – 4’33”

(1) John Cage

John Milton Cage Jr. (September 5, 1912 – August 12, 1992) was an American composer, music theorist, writer, and artist. A pioneer of indeterminacy in music,electroacoustic music, and non-standard use of musical instruments, Cage was one of the leading figures of the post-war avant-garde. Critics have lauded him as one of the most influential American composers of the 20th century.He was also instrumental in the development of modern dance, mostly through his association with choreographer Merce Cunningham, who was also Cage’s romantic partner for most of their lives

Water Walk (4:30 – 9:20): John Cage performs Water Walk for a tv audience.

 Merce Cunningham, Episode 15 (12:05 – 17:30):

– “If they don’t know what it’s about or think they know what it’s about, they don’t know how to look or listen. They think, well maybe it’s this or maybe it’s that. But the idea of receiving an experience that you may not have had before, that certainly interests me more”. Question: To me, a new experience is certainly an interesting prospect but I am not sure if Cunningham sees it as a communication.If there has to be communication is there a vocabulary or a grammar through which this is happening? Where does such vocabulary come from?

– Notice that John Cage often uses a watch. Typically in music, events do happen at predetermined points in time but these are dictated by the rhythm and not by a clock (except in electronic music where the two happen to coincide). However Cage’s use of a watch to me is an artistic rejection of rhythm, which can be seen as a device to create expectation and then fulfill that expectation, and he replaces it with just artistic choice about when an event is going to happen.

John Cage on Silence (4:18):
Video: John Cage on Silence

John Cage about loving sounds just for what they are and not needing them to communicate anything to him.

  • Sound as a feeling: When he listens to music he feels like someone is trying to talk to him and express their feelings but when he listens to traffic he feels like a sound is acting. So if we believe this, then it suggests that to understand sound better we might study how it makes us feel.
  • Sound as something existing in space as well as in time. The classical understanding is of visual images occupying space, while sound occupies time, but they can both occupy time as well as space.
  • Kant says music doesn’t have to mean anything (in order to give us very deep pleasure/feelings). How do we interpret this? Is he contrasting “meaning” to “feeling”, as in cerebral understanding versus subconscious feeling?

The New Sound of Music is a fascinating BBC historical documentary from the year 1979. It charts the development of recorded music from the first barrel organs, pianolas, the phonograph, the magnetic tape recorder and onto the concepts of musique concrete and electronic music development.

 

Part 1 (10:52):

History of music technology, mechanical pianos, tape machines, the start of The Radiophonics workshop at BBC.

  • What is sound “recording”? In the visual arts, painting and illustrating as a means of recording history have been around since the stone-age. But sound recording as we know it started only in the early 20th But perhaps the first “recorded” sounds were heard through pianolas and barrel organs in the 19th century, they recorded not actual sounds but performances, and “music” performances at that.
  • Sound reversing and doctoring sounds: why do it? Just because technology lets us? To counter the boredom of hearing the same thing again and again? Or to draw a person’s attention by giving him something different to listen to but using a vocabulary that he is familiar with, which is in this case the basic texture of the sound of that instrument?

Part 3 (12:18):

Modern (1979) musicians/sound-designers composing music to a brief. Robot mouse vacuum cleaners, Doctor Who sound design, composing “The New Sound of Music”, tick tock: music for a 17th century film.

  • Malcolm Clark writes a basic tune using a sine wave synthesizer but then replaces the sine tones with mostly white noise and leaving very little of the tones. So you get the white noise sounding like a vacuum cleaner and the little bit of tone from the original melody has almost a comic effect, that’s kind of fun.
  • Dick Mills has to create a futuristic door opening sound. He starts with the sound of a regular sliding sound. Then he uses white noise and a modulated tone dubbed over it to make it sci fi. So the final sound is a combination of two sounds: the regular sliding door and the sci fi add ons. When you hear the composite while watching the film they both play a role in creating a feeling in the listener. The sound of the regular sliding door is a familiar one that roots the listener in a place she is familiar with and the white noise and modulated tone, creates a sense of the futuristic, and together they convince the listener about the setting she is being asked to imagine, where the story is being told.
  • Roger Lim is creating music for the film you are watching and story is of about the new sound of music. The music starts in a familiar place using a drum kit, a horn, and a basic melody, and then transitions into electronic sounds but keeping the same melody through out. So there is change through the usage of wild sounds but while at the same time giving the listener a foothold with an established melody.
  • Peter Howl composes on piano a tune that most European listeners would recognize as having a quality of being stately but then he uses lots of modern instrumentation to play the same tune. So a listener has the foothold with the melody but is taken to a different place with the use of modern instrumentation.
  • All the composers here seem interested in using new methods (at least for the time) but they also purposefully give the listener a foothold somewhere.

(3) Stockhausen

Karlheinz Stockhausen (22 August 1928 – 5 December 2007) was a German composer, widely acknowledged by critics as one of the most important but also controversial composers of the 20th and early 21st centuries. Another critic calls him “one of the great visionaries of 20th-century music” (Hewett 2007). He is known for his groundbreaking work in electronic musicaleatory (controlled chance) in serial composition, and musical spatialization.

 

Tuning In (1981)

Tuning In – A Film about Karlheinz Stockhausen was produced for the BBC in 1981. Directed by Robin Maconie, who authored The Works of Karlheinz Stockhausen, this documentary is a lively and informative introduction to the work and process of a man who shook music and consciousness up.

 (1) 3:22 – 8:30

  • Notice the use human voices but making them sing in tones and melodies that are unfamiliar
  • “New means change the method, new methods mean new experiences and new experiences change the man. Whenever we hear sounds we are changed for ever and this is more the case when we hear organized sounds: music” So, we have here a definition for music, he calls music as organized sounds, an idea that is echoed by John Cage. So music is not so much about the instruments used, but about organization of sound.
  • When Stockhausen starts composing he expands the idea of intervals, the space between two notes, to compose. He does it using familiar instruments (piano, horn, cymbals) but with absolutely un-recognizable and un-hummable “motifs”. He finds at first the idea of silence in music unbearable.

(2) 12:55 – 15:40

  • Stockhausen’s goals seem to be geared towards creating new experiences

through sound.

(3) 40:55 – 42:35

  • “Liking means remembering. When I like something then I discover

something that I have been before, that is profoundly within me and resonates like a piano when it is hit.” Is this then the power of sound? To invoke us to remember something that is already within us , with or without us being aware of it?

Stockhausen does not seem to be particularly interested in giving the listener a foothold. In fact his goals seem geared towards creating totally new sound experiences.

PART II

(4) Gordon Hempton

Gordon Hempton is an Emmy winning field recordist. He describes himself as an acoustic ecologist and he has captured some of the best nature recordings that I have ever heard. He is also referred to as the Soundtracker and the 2010 documentary by the same name is a portrait of the man.

Soundtracker

  • 00:00 – 6:20
  • Introduction to Hempton and his gear. He’s looking for the sounds of “silence”, million year old sounds as opposed to the sounds of civilization. Is he searching for something timeless?
  • 10:35 – 15:50
  • Hempton recording by the sea side, tall grass and the airplane disturbance
  • Hempton is troubled by the fact that nature channels use editing to create the illusion of undisturbed nature while he finds that it hardly exists. However a large part of his income will come not from those that buy his pristine nature sounds just for the pleasure of listening to them but from those that want to buy them to place them into their own context often with added layers of their own, which is as much if not more of an illusion as that created by nature channels. I used one of his night-river-side sounds as a layer in theKaumudighat scene and layered it with a recording of my own made in a Borneo forest.
  • 42:20 – 46:40
  • “I am not a preservationist”, shots of Hempton in pristine natural surroundings, the intuition about the leopard
  • Hearing is an ancient faculty and most animals in nature can hear much better than humans, it is essential for survival. In the modern world we don’t foreground sound a lot any more unless it is music, but perhaps it affects us at a gut level. The fact that Hempton was gripped by fear even while listening to the recording, could be read as a gut instinct triggered by sound that something was wrong. Could we extend that understanding to mean that for a large part of our living experience the soundscape we are in is being processed by our brains and convincing us at a subliminal level that what we are experiencing is “right” or “authentic”?
  • 1:06:35 – 1:09:00
  • Field Recording is a solo endeavor.
  • There is almost a contradiction here where a field recordist is trying to record sounds as they occur naturally but at the same time he is trying to record the sound as he wants to hear it or in this case as Hempton imagines it in its “perfect”, pure state.

(5) Copyright Criminals
Video: Independent Lens Copyright Criminals legendado

  • 0:45 – 8:50
  • introduction to sampling
  • Jeff Chang suggests the idea of sounds having history and memory associations.
  • “The definitive sound of hip hop is the sound of a needle skipping over a scratchy record”, “a good appropriated sample has a good quality of its own and it has a strong reference that evokes cultural resonance”
  • arguments over the choice of using samples. “Laziness” vs “moving forward”. Right vs wrong from a legal perspective.
  • 18:00 – 24:30
  • Public Enemy makes music by assembling sounds and adding lyrics on top (rap)
  • Hank Shocklee talks about taking sounds non-musical and putting them into music. He talks about “reality records”, taking sounds you hear on the street, putting them into a record that goes back out on to the street.
  • 39:00 – 45:42
  • “Rick James biggest record was by MC Hammer” and many examples of the original record being outsold by the remake.
  • Art and culture is ALWAYS created by collage.
  • Jazz musicians when they do a standard, everyone knows it’s a standard and it does not belong to them but when they do the riff and the adlib, the solo so to speak, you think of that part as representing the musician in front of you.
  • “Melodies have always been borrowed”. The question that comes up in my mind is, is that only because the melodies are in some sense “good” and worth borrowing, or have they also created a cultural reference point in the past that the borrower can now exploit? In other words, the melody is already in your head because you have watched the 1978 movie, so when I use it in my 2015 song, 90% of my work in making you like it is done. Not because the melody is good but because it is in your head. When I use it, and if I disguise it well, you may not even remember that you’ve heard it before but it’s in your head and you already like it, so there’s a big chance that you will like my song too.
  • The Grey Album: “the artists themselves did not seem to have any objections, it was the fans that got all annoyed and started posting stuff and then the record label got involved”. Question: as if to say the record label got involved not just to protect their financial interests but to protect the sanctity of The Beatles in the eyes of their audience, the Beatles fans.
  • Can sampling and collage in music be viewed as a method of deconstruction and rearrangement that facilitates the understanding of a topic? After all, what am I doing in this presentation if not exactly that?
  • Is it a coincidence that sampling as a method of creation has attained so much importance in music? Or is it telling us something about the nature of sound and the way that we hear? You could do the same in any other medium but the amount these sounds are doctored and the speed at which they are flung at you in hip hop, what would happen if you tried to do that using another medium like say video? I suspect that for me it might create confusion and exhaustion because at a certain level I try to intellectualize what I see, I need to understand it at some conscious level. But with sound I don’t need to understand it at a conscious level (Kant, as quoted by Cage), as long as my subconscious is getting it and making sense of it instinctively (Hempton’s leopard incident) and we know that instinct reactions are really fast.
  • Can sound sampling be thought of as a way of picking up words from an established music vocabulary, through clips, melodies and drum breaks, and rearranging them to form new sentences? If the components they some interesting possibilities for deconstruction and understanding.

PART III

Abhijeet played “We Built Our Own World” by Hans Zimmer (Inception OST) and shared his notes with the group.

Assignment on thinking about sound as a feeling:

Choose a piece of music with no lyrics. Listen to it carefully and try to think about what it makes you feel like at various points during the composition. Note down your feelings against a time line. Your feelings might be in any form, visual, story like or whatever it is that you are imagining.

Give it a three day gap and do the same thing again with the same piece of music. Don’t refer to your previous notes.

Be as honest as possible on paper while you are making notes.

Now compare notes and see what you find. Are some feelings at moments in the music repeated? Are some different? Edit your notes into a format that you can share, if you are comfortable doing that, and bring them to the next session which is on 16th May.

Guest Lecture held as a part of the Riad Mahmood Education and Arts Foundation and Indian Ensemble Director’s Training Program on 16th May 2015.

Topic: Sound Design 
Speaker : Abhijeet Tambe 

Below is a list of key points from this lecture

Part I: What is sound?

 Sound as a physical phenomenon

  • What is sound? Anything we hear is sound. So what kind of things do we hear and how do we hear them? We hear sounds when bodies vibrate. (Knock on various bodies and produce sound) But is sound = vibrations? What about a clap?
  • Video: What Does Sound Look Like?
  • Video: How The Ear Works
  • Anything that can make our ear drum vibrate is sensed as sound. That can happen through quick changes in air pressure or even through bone conduction. That’s how we hear the sound of our own voice or when we put our ears against a wall and hear vibrations. We can also sense slow changes in air pressure like when we go up a hill. We don’t hear that but it is in fact our eardrum being pushed in or pulled out due to change in pressure.
  • Image: Eustachian Tube
  • Vibrations are an important phenomenon in nature. Things with mass tend to vibrate. All things are a bit like springs or pendulums. Explain periodic motion, restoring force, natural frequency and damping. This is as true for a guitar string as it is for a bell or the clatter of a bullet engine or even a flute where you are making the air vibrate using what is now known as the Helmholtz principle.
  • Video: Resonant Bridge – many harmonics.
  • In that video it’s important to note that the people jumping around where not the ones deciding how fast the bridge was going to go back and forth. That is a natural quality of the bridge. They were just reinforcing that quality. It’s a bit like pushing someone on a swing. If you give a push at just the right moment they keep swinging but you have no say in the frequency of their swinging.
  • At some level, every object around you is behaving in this way when it receives any energy. IWhen an object vibrates, it vibrates the air around it and begins to propagate in all directions. The air is filled with such vibrations and from all the vibrating objects around us and it so happens that we sense these as sound. Some objects are damped less and tend to resonate for long periods of time (guitar strings and bells). Others are highly damped (a table or a wall). The different volumes, pitches, dampedness, and textures that you hear when different objects are struck in exactly the same way are a result of their differing behavior depending on what they are made of, their shape and their size. When you hear sound you are hearing behavior.

Waveforms, up close and personal

  • I would like to get everybody familiar with “looking” at sound. With software that has been developed in the last 20 years or so, it is possible to record and digitize sound so that we can actually look at the waveforms on a time line and edit them.
  • Amplitude | Frequency | Textures | Envelopes | Rhythm
    • Seeing sound vs hearing sound. What do sound waves look like and how do we resolve those aspects in our brains when we actually hear them.
    • “Amplitude” traces the movement of a sound wave through time. It has instantaneous value at any point in time.
    • Frequency is a statistic measured over a chunk of time. It is related to pitch. It is a way of understanding how our ears resolve sounds where the amplitude is going through a cycle of repetition in “micro” time.
    • Volume swells and dips that we hear in time are not changes in amplitude but changes in envelope over “macro” time.
    • What lies within the envelope, the details (shown by the amplitude changes), can be thought of as the texture of the sound.It tells us something about the nature of the body producing the sound. The envelope can be thought of as something that tells us how that body is being struck.
    • Texture vs Envelope is a bit like fabric vs costume
    • Matlab examples
    • Release characteristics reveal texture and decay and tell us something about the nature of the object that is being struck
    • Attack characteristics tell us something about how it is being struck (with a stick, with your hand, a guitar string with a pick or played with your fingers)

Part II: Working With Sounds

Mixing

  • Analogy to cooking: mix things in the right proportion but don’t overflow the pot. Watch your meters. Show clipping distortion. In general distortion is bad but sometimes you can use it to create a certain effect?
  • Use mixer images to explain audio mixers
  • Live mixing vs studio mixing: in live mixing you can process sounds but you have no control on when certain events are going to take place because that is up to the performers. But in the studio, you can compose a soundscape as a combination of sounds you either use existing sounds or you record them yourself. Working with sound files, you can place events in time exactly where you want them to be.
  • 3 part process:
    • Work on individual sounds
    • Place them at the right points on the time line
    • Adjust each “mix level” and take a spoonful and taste what you just made.
  • cooking analogy – making dal:
    • First work on each ingredient and give it individual treatment
      • take dal and boil it
      • make a tadka on high heat using dry masala
      • fry up tomatoes | ginger | garlic | onion
    • Now combine them all

Using mixing to create a sound with multiple layers. Each layer has a purpose. In classical sound design when the composite is ready you should not be able to hear individual components but just have a sound that feels right. Just like cooking.

Editing a sound

  • Introduction to Reaper
  • Using software for sound editing is just one way of coming up with sound design in theatre. There are many other ways to achieve the design. But even in such cases software can be useful as a sounding board to try out ideas and play with sounds in the initial stages of your ideation.
  • The time line
  • Working with a single track
    • Placing a sound in time
    • Mute, Solo, Fader, Arm (Record), FX
    • Editing a sound: cutting, moving, amplitude envelopes like fading and cross-fading to smooth transitions, reversing.

Effects.

  • Typically applied on each channel (sound) in order to achieve specific goals with that sound and what it does in the mix

EQ (Equalizer)

–     Sounds we find around us are complex and comprise of many frequencies.

  • EQ is used to “equalize” the texture of a sound in terms of frequency content. It uses filters to do this. A filter is like a security guard that only lets people through the door as instructed. If the sound is too sharp with lots of hiss that you want to reduce you reduce the high frequency content. If the sound has too much bass or is booming you might want to reduce the low frequencies. Sometimes you want to emphasize or sometimes you want to reduce.
  • How to use EQ to locate an irritating frequency and then reduce it (for example 50Hz hum)
  • How to use EQ to create a sense of space. A sound that is far away is less loud than a sound that is close to you. Barriers, like walls, tend to absorb high frequencies a lot more than low frequencies. So to create the feeling that there is a barrier between the listener and the sound you could reduce the high frequencies.
  • When I hear a sound with mostly high frequencies it feels external and a bit cerebral while a sound with low frequencies feel primal. Our ears are tuned to picking up mid frequencies especially 200 Hz to 4000 Hz and indeed that is where most of the frequencies of the human voice lie.

Reverb

  • Reverberation is a natural phenomenon that occurs when sound is reflected multiple times from surfaces around you so that you hear a series of echoes. But there are so many echoes and they happen so fast that you don’t hear them as individual echoes but as a wall of texture that makes sounds last longer than the event that caused them.
  • There is reverb in every room of any modern structure and even if you don’t notice it consciously it gives you cues about the space that you are occupying. An empty house has a particular sound – that’s reverb. Perhaps it is the sound of emptiness. Or perhaps it is the sound of lingering. A church is designed for long reverbs that create a feeling of awe.
  • You can use reverb to create a sense of real space or as an effect to create a feeling.

Compressor, distortion, flanger, phaser, and others do things with sounds that mostly don’t occur in the natural world so try them out and see what you think.

Part III: Sound as a Backdrop

 

The goal here is to create a soundscape that forms a bed upon which the story is being told.  The classic goal here is to locate the story in a specific space and time. I tend to think of it as the chords upon which the melody of the story is played. But it can also be non-realistic. Or it can start realistic and become non-realistic.

  • Essentially even a backdrop soundscape has the possibility of having a journey through a play.
    • Thook: The 3 children scene with water. The sound of water is used quite a bit in Thook.
    • Kaumudi: The progression of the audience on the 3 nights of the play. The 3rd role that the stage actors are playing.
    • Wolf and the North Wind: The progression of the crowd outside.
    • NIRBHAYA: the various kinds of glass sounds and music.
  • If you’re going with being realistic then detail the scene. Where is happening? Indoors or outdoors? If indoor, what is happening outside? What are the objects in the room? What are the building blocks that you can use to construct a soundscape?
  • Process: Construct and then deconstruct. Start putting together ideas for scenes individually. Build those soundscapes. In the process of doing that you will hit upon some kind of a conceptual idea – water, glass, audience. Now you have a foothold to deconstruct around whatever you have done so far.