Saturday, June 25, 2011

Sound Off

The work of my department is often challenging to convey because the quality of sound engineering and design is measured in how well it blends with a piece. When Geoff announced this year’s season I knew my primary challenge of the summer would be Assassins. The language and texture of the songs is hugely important in Sondheim’s work and often -with Assassins in particular- the lyrics fly by so quickly that it’s a challenge to just understand what a character is saying; never mind the full orchestra and gunfire in the score!

Our production team planned the show around the huge demand for wireless microphones, managing to assemble sixteen mics and an incredible digital mixer. Now that probably sounds like some sound geek rattling off a list of fancy things, but the bottom line is that Endstation’s production team built a fully-functioning Broadway-level sound system in less than a week. I was floored.

But building a system that plays sound is really only half the challenge. Once performers are connected to microphones and the orchestra kicks in the real challenge is managing volume levels. If the microphones are turned up too loud they create feedback, too soft and we lose the language and lyrics. Part of how sound engineers overcome this challenge is by utilizing effects like compression. A compressor allows the engineer to flatten the changes in volume from an actor’s voice, so an actor’s whispers are as loud as their singing.

I write this post as I’m aboard a train slowly working it’s way back to New York and I find myself with ample time to muse about this past week. I feel I may be restating previous sentiments, but the work has been an amazing, challenging experience. I hope you get a chance to see and hear it. Assassins is some of the best work Endstation has ever made.

Bryce Page
Sound Designer

No comments: