The sound studio
Three professions are sharing the space: the sound engineer, the director and the performer, or it could be the sound engineer, the producer and the journalist depending on what kind of work is at hand. The sound engineer has knowledge of the technical equipment in the room, a profound understanding of both acoustics and editing tricks that can achieve the desired result. They also know their way around the facilities, where to get coffee and where the toilets are etc. These knowledges give them a kind of implicit authority, consciously or not they become a kind of informal host for the gathering. However, they usually have very little information about the creative work that is about to take place which reduces their ability to plan and prepare more in depth for the encounter. The performer – usually an actor or journalist, comes with the one thing that is absolutely necessary for the studio encounter: the material to be recorded, the voice. The performer position has a fascinating duality. They are at once submissive, eager to satisfy the needs and demands of both the director and the sound engineer and at the same time indispensable, both the director and the sound engineer are totally reliant on their compliance. The director or producer holds the main responsibility for the project. They have usually invested emotionally and professionally over a long period of time and so have the greatest understanding of what is at stake. Sometimes they are even economically implicated. They might have the most to lose if the final result is a commercial failure or a cultural reject. However, the director can never completely control how the material is performed or recorded nor do they have the ability to conduct the work without the other two experts in the room.
Sound engineer expertise
Several capacities and skills are gathered under the label sound engineer, here is my understanding of what they may be.
There is the technical expertise. This concerns knowledge of analogue 'practicalities' such as soldering cables or understanding how speakers and microphones are constructed, as well as a comprehension of digital technology necessary for operating high end digital equipment and computer software. The physical skills of the sound engineer are perhaps less evident but parts of the practice require rather advanced bodily coordination, strength and stamina. Boom operating for example - moving in relation to the camera team, being careful not to dip the microphone into the frame, keeping the extended boom over your head for a lengthy period of time, taking equal care not to damage the sonic signal - all of these things call for a certain bodily control. Foley artistry, mimicking the movement of an actor to recreate the sounds they make, is another area that requires both a capacity to ‘read’ rhythm and rather sophisticated coordination skills. As soon as there are moving bodies and microphones mingling, a certain amount of precision choreography is called for.
Building sound-scapes and creating sound narratives reorients the necessary expertise from the physical to the intellectual. Selecting, rearranging and negotiating sound levels and engaging in the interplay between what you hear and how that resonates within you, combines noetic, poetic and somatic expertise via practical handling. The practice of sound editing requires a sophisticated ability to recieve, observe and translate sound in order to master the ephemeral communicative potential of sound aesthetics.