Evening Standard Best Design Award for The Encounter

Last night I was very honoured last night to receive the Evening Standard Best Design award for the sound design of Complicite's The Encounter.  

We only got 45 seconds to thank everyone, but Pete Malkin and I have spent many years developing this show alongside some incredible people. It would be impossible to name all of the people who have contributed to the show but I'm going to try... So much credit is due to Simon McBurney with whom I've been working since 1999, whose ideas and inspirations have formed the heart of this show. So much of this show has come out of his work with co-director Kirsty Housley and assistant director Jemima James. Traditional theatre job descriptions and titles fail to recognise the collaborative process that devised shows often are. This show was made by all of us being in a room contributing and playing with ideas. We've had an amazing sound team: Helen Skiera and Ella Wahlstrom who have mixed the show for the last 18 months through workshops, rehearsals and performances, expertly responding to Simon's nuances and improvisations, Guy Coletta and David Gregory who have marshalled the show into an efficient, reliable touring entity, Ben Grant and Amir Sherhan who have taken up the reins as operators for Broadway, Andrew Kirkby and Joshua Robbins who marshalled the headphones into life in the early inceptions of the show, and many more who've helped make, install or reset hundreds of pairs of headphones every day, in Edinburgh, in London, in New York and across Europe! Caroline and Jo, and now Adam, the Stage Management team who've dealt with the chaos and craziness of running a show where there is no script. Then there is Judith Dimant, Poppy Keeling and the amazing team at Complicite who expertly nurtured an experimental idea into the success it has become. Production manager Niall Black who made so much of it actually happen. Sennheiser who gave us a lot of headphones! Christer Lundahl and Martina Seitl who introduced us to, and lent us their binaural head for the early workshops. AMS Acoustics who lent us their binaural head for another of the workshops. The Mayoruna who guided us through the Amazon Rainforest for several days as we recorded sounds, with the expert guidance of Paul Heritage and logistical coordination of Chloe Courtney. Synergy Aviation and Fairoaks Airport who flew me around in a Cessna and let me sit on their runway and record planes flying overhead! The London School and Hospital of Tropical Medicine who let me record their mosquito colonies. The twenty odd volunteers who came to Epping Forest to run around, dance and get bitten by mosquitos. Christina Cunningham who helped me develop seat belts to attach headphones to seats and got together a team to make 800 of them! There were many other Complicite regulars who fed in ideas and thoughts, and many contributors who we interviewed, whose taste and thoughts wove into the show. Almost last but not least, Pete Malkin who has been an exceptional associate on many shows over the last 6 years, but whose input to this show, both creatively and as a collaborator rose above and beyond and who is an exceptional talent.

None of this would've been possible without the support of my wife Laura, who juggled two small children as I went into the unknowns of the Amazon Rainforest, and provided support and love for the unknowns of all the other times. 

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Here are some photos from the past 6 years

Bose F1 project

I recorded and made the sounds for this Synergy Sponsorship project for Bose, with Unit9, utilising multiple ambisonic sound and binaural sound.

Spot the 5 ambisonic mics...

Spot the 5 ambisonic mics...

The Encounter on Broadway - reviews

New York Times - Ben Brantley [Full review]

"Mr. McBurney and his ace sound designers, Gareth Fry and Pete Malkin, have created an aural labyrinth of many layers. You’ll be watching Mr. McBurney’s lips moving in sync with what you’re hearing, only to discover that it’s just a recorded voice you’ve been listening to.

Did I say “just a recorded voice”? It’s a mistake to give undue value to what’s “real” over what’s a simulacrum of reality. With your earphones on, there’s no distinguishing between the live and the prerecorded, a blurring that allows Mr. McBurney to conduct very immediate-feeling conversations with his past selves."


Hollywood Reporter - David Rooney [Full review]

"the production's most astonishing artistry is the infinitely layered enveloping world conjured by sound designers Gareth Fry and Pete Malkin. Close your eyes and you might find yourself reaching for bug spray."


Variety - Matt Trueman [Full Review]

"Gareth Fry’s design piles up layers of sounds — recorded interviews, foley effects, a soundscape of McBurney’s home study. The effect is a soundcloud of a process, in which fact and fiction, past and present, research and production intermingle, spinning a story out of the air."


Talkin' Broadway - Matthew Murray [Full Review]

"the astonishing sound design by Gareth Fry and Pete Malkin ... play games with time, space, and thought you probably never thought possible. Echoes repeat and sustain themselves into infinity. Seemingly random noises layer into gorgeous but chilling tapestries outlining entire ecosystems. The British McBurney, simply by angling his head, can conjure an electronic American voice that rings utterly natural. Words transform into memory, which in turn become a wholly different reality, which is itself then subject to McBurney's tiniest whims. And if he wants you to become hot, cold, or despairing, or to escort you to the brink of death, he'll stand in exactly the right place and unleash his utterance in just the right way to ensure you're helpless in his hands. It really is all this precise. Perhaps the most arresting facet of this towering accomplishment is that it all feels as though it's been created just for you. Delivered as it is through a headset you're provided upon taking your seat, the soundscape is intensely intimate, which only makes the shivers cut deeper."


Time Out - David Cote [Full Review]

"Part mystic thriller, part tricksy aural illusion, The Encounter offers a meeting of ear, mind and soul you will never forget."


The Guardian - Alexis Soloski [Full Review]

"a triumph of binaural recording"


Exeunt - Nicole Serratore [Full Review]

" the show is heavily reliant on binaural sound to create a sonically immersive environment (the incredibly complex sound design by Gareth Fry and Peter Malkin is a great reason to resuscitate the now-defunct Sound Design Tony award). With the headphones, we have no distance from the events because the show is happening inside our heads. With the intimate power of sound, we give over entirely to what we hear, even if we know it is not real. We’ve been told that’s not an actual recording of a buzzing mosquito and when we hear it later as part of the artificial cacophony of jungle sounds we do not stop and question it."


The Village Voice - Miriam Felton-Dansky [Full Review]

"With sound designers Gareth Fry and Pete Malkin, McBurney transforms our own relationship to reality, space, and perception through the constantly shifting sounds in our headphones. "


Epoch Times - Judd Hollander [Full Review]

"The other star of the performance is the sound design. McBurney himself acknowledges the considerable efforts of his sound design team, led by Gareth Fry and Pete Malkin—all of whom deserve the praise they have received."


Theatre is Easy - Ran Xia [Full Review]

" McBurney, with the help of sound designers Gareth Fry and Pete Malkin, has turned the performance into a synesthesia-inducing, orgasmic auditory experience, "

Glastonbury Land & Legend exhibition opens at V&A Museum

I've visited Glastonbury twice to record the sounds and interviews to create the soundtrack for this exhibition. Both times it was very wet and very muddy. I only took one coat with me so Fritz took priority when it rained... 

The exhibition is open now until Feb 26th 2017 in the Theatre & Performance gallery.

https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/about-the-glastonbury-display

Volvo Sound Affects

Binaural recording and mixing for Volvo and M-is

Boy trailer

Here's the trailer for Boy (at the Almeida) which I made the soundtrack for... 

Home

Gareth designed and mixed the sound for this new short film, Home, made by 59 Productions and Richard Curtis. The film explores the notion of what it is to have a home, or to be without one, and is tied into the launch of the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development.  It was shown to an audience of thousands in at the Global Citizen concert in New York's Central Park and was broadcast on BBC1 and MSNBC.

UN Global Goals launch

Working with 59 Productions, Gareth Fry and Pete Malkin created a sound design to accompany 59's projected artwork celebrating the launch of the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, which was projected on the side of the United Nations building in New York this September. We also provided modified versions which were used for broadcast on BBC1 and MSNBC.

Complicite's The Encounter opens in Edinburgh

After 5 years of workshops and experiments Complicite's The Encounter has opened Edinburgh's International Festival. The project has taken me further than most - myself, director/performer Simon McBurney, photographer Chloe Courtney and guide Paul Heritage spent 5 days in Brazil in 2014 staying with a community of Mayorunan's, the tribe who feature in the story of Amazon Beaming, which this show is based around - hearing their stories and travelling into the rainforest to record it's sounds. Several hundred mosquito bites later those recordings form the bed for the show. Since then I've been binaurally recording Cessna aircraft, various mosquito colonies at the London School of Tropical Medicine and leading a merry band of volunteers around Epping Forest - though perversely I got more mosquito bites in Epping Forest than I did in the mosquito colonies.

Photos by Gareth Fry, Chloe Courtney and Simon McBurney

It's all very well having lots of binaural recordings to play in the show but they mean nothing without headphones to listen to them through. Most shows that use binaural sound go down the wireless headphones route, but I didn't feel the quality was up to the needs of this show. Further experiments ensued to develop a wired headphone system that could deliver the sound to over 500 people, one that could do weekly touring with a variety of different auditoria and seats. Custom hardware was manufactured by a team of sound engineers and seamstresses across the country, and the show requires the installation of several kilometres of cable, ably installed and managed by Joshua Robins, Shaun Clark and Andrew KirkbySennheiser have very kindly provided us with HP02-100 headphones to use for the show. 

Photo: Gareth Fry

Photo: Gareth Fry

Photo: Gareth Fry

Photo: Gareth Fry

Whilst the headphone system requires a lot of preparation, The Encounter is also a devised show - the script came out of rehearsals as a process of experimentation and refinement. In fact our press night in Edinburgh marked only the 5th time we'd ever run the show from start to finish. The show is and will remain in constant flux so we can change and refine the story as we go. To do this we have an unusually large sound team. We have Helen Skiera operating microphones and loops - busking with Simon the different voices and microphones he will use and looping them, alongside Simon's onstage looping controls. We have Ella Wahlstrom operating and Pete Malkin, design associate on music and fx, playing in and riding the level of the music, sound effects and voice-overs to the headphones and wireless speakers around the space. Between them they can respond fast to changes in the show, whether pre-arranged or as they happen during performance. One of the large parts of the many weeks we've spent making this show has been about learning how to respond to Simon, to anticipate and to lead with sound, so that together we can act as one, and the division between storytelling and sound design are non-existent. 

Photo: Gareth Fry

Photo: Gareth Fry

For me this show started out in a rehearsal room five years ago with rudimentary technology as we explored the ideas that would form the show. We've harnessed the technology so it becomes invisible - but far from inaudible! - and indivisible from the process of telling the story. 

Photo: Gianmarco Bresadola

Photo: Gianmarco Bresadola

Encounter Reviews

★★★★ Time Out ow.ly/QP8Py
"jaw-droppingly sophisticated sound design"
"nature, technology and theatre all straining cacophonously at the possibilities of what they can be"

★★★★★ The Daily Telegraph ow.ly/QMvpo
"What you hear has the intimacy of someone whispering in your ears, as if snuggled up beside you. But, more than that, thanks to an array of sonic gadgetry ... the effect is fully immersive – so that you hear sounds from all sides, conjured with disconcerting pinpoint precision."
"perturbing, polyphonic paradise."
"we too are taken into a synapse-altering space, floating free of modernity’s plastic trappings. Does that sound like a far-fetched claim? Honestly, with this head-turning, spellbinding show, hearing is believing."

★★★★★ The Independent ow.ly/QMvzV
"A must-see - or perhaps I should say, a must-hear."

★★★★★ Financial Times ow.ly/QMvHG
"a rich and intricate soundscape ... this one-man show bursts with colour and life, a seamless blend of technology and storytelling."

★★★★★ The Scotsman ow.ly/QMvLH
"a complex, beautifully-balanced and almost infinitely inventive stream of live and recorded sound, delivered to the audience on headphones,"

★★★★★ The Herald ow.ly/QMvX5
"sound designer Gareth Fry ... [has] integrated a dazzling technical display into McBurney's journey ... in an astonishing theatrical feat where discovery is all."

★★★★★ Variety ow.ly/QMw6S
"Gareth Fry’s design piles up layers of sounds — recorded interviews, foley effects, a soundscape of McBurney’s home study. The effect is a soundcloud of a process, in which fact and fiction, past and present, research and production intermingle, spinning a story out of the air."

★★★★★ The Stage ow.ly/QMwgg
" the performance is transferred from the stage deep into the heads of the audience (literally, or so it feels). ... his whispers move around the inside of your head: the way stories are heard at night by a child on the way to sleep, ... Advanced technology and storytelling are married to take a great yarn deep into its roots"

★★★★★ WhatsOnStage ow.ly/QMxlA
"This extraordinary show is a sonic blast and a half ... Sometimes you catch yourself turning around in your seat, so convincing is the wrap-around aural babble of voices, insects, crackling fire, rushing rivers."

★★★★★ The British Theatre Guide ow.ly/QMwpy
"McBurney and his hidden cohorts create some amazing visual and more particularly audio effects ... sounds that initially emanate from his actions begin to reverberate and take on lives of their own."

★★★★★ Edinburgh Guide ow.ly/QMwPj
"a vividly evocative soundscape with its myriad of voices and music revolving in our mind."

★★★★ The Guardian ow.ly/QMwvJ
" In a solo performance made with many people ... he pulls the thread of a story from out of the noise of contemporary western life and the sounds of the jungle to create a meditation on interconnectedness, perception and time."
"McBurney’s piece is a Chinese whisper of a show from a far-distant world that is delivered straight into the audience’s head using binaural technology and headphones."
"the technology combines with McBurney’s dense, complex storytelling to lure us deeper into the thickets of the imagination where time is not just one dimension, where there are many different kinds of language and where jaguars hunt."

★★★★ The Times ow.ly/QMxdt
"this revelatory new one-man show from Simon McBurney and his company Complicite, can make you hear the world through new ears".

Find out more at Complicite's website.

Edinburgh International Festival
8 – 23 August
Théâtre Vidy-Lausanne
8 – 12 September
Bristol Old Vic
18 – 20 September
Warwick Arts Centre
8 – 11 October
Barbican, London
12 February – 6 March
HOME, Manchester
17 – 19 March

Harry Potter And The Cursed Child

I am very pleased to be able to announce that I am designing the sound for Harry Potter And The Cursed Child. It will be opening at the Palace Theatre next year, and it is a reunion of most of the Let The Right One In creative team. Plus music by the amazing Imogen Heap.

The official website

 

Oxfam spot

I did the sound design for this animation for Oxfam, discussing coal pollution, climate change and overpopulation. Animation was by Joseph Pierce and the other geniuses at 59 Productions. Music for the German and French versions was by Jeff Beal (House of Cards), and for the UK version was by Origamibiro. The English version is narrated by Simon Pegg, who sadly I didn't get to meet as was busy in Prague.

Glastonbury: Land and Legend opens at Prague Quadrennial

In 2014 I spent a few days wandering around the Glastonbury Festival with a binaural head and a bunch of other microphones. Not to record the music, but to record the rest of the festival. I was there with the V&A Theatre & Performance in a first wave of archiving Glastonbury. As well as this we knew we were going to be producing an exhibition for the Prague Quadrennial.

 

On May 27th the exhibition opened in Prague, featuring a simultaneous quadrophonic soundscape over speakers and a binaural soundscape over headphones!