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In this episode of Sound Design Live Podcast I talk with Canadian actor, designer, and record collector Brian Linds. Guess what? It pays to design from the actor’s perspective. Also, we finally answer a long-standing question. Yes, there are square-dancers in Canada.
- Broadcast: CFUV, Canadian Broadcast Corp
- Theatre: No Exit, Kim Collier, Electric Company Theatre, The Virtual Stage
- Music: Gilles Gobeil
Sound Design LIVE
Brian Linds, you are an actor and a sound designer and I want to know which came first and what makes you think you can do both?
[Laughter] Well, if we go way back into myself being an avid listener of music when I was 13 years old, probably sound design I started forming in my head back then because I used to listen to music. I liked to listen to music that was not of the norm, the top 40 stuff. I always would find interesting sounds that I really liked to listen to, and people like Frank Zappa really inspired me. Just that they were doing amazing things.
And, so I was always a music collector, and I always had music around me and I got into the habit of buying records so much, the fact that we had to buy a house that would house my record collection [laughter] because I have like over 10,000 records. It got a bit crazy. I wasn’t necessarily designing, but I have a huge kind of treasure trove to go to, to find interesting stuff.
But, basically in theatre, I became an actor first. But I would always have people over, and I think this fits into sound design, as well. When I was younger and starting to be an actor I would always have people over and say, “You gotta hear this piece of music. It’s amazing either because the musician is so unbelievable or the musician is so bad you better listen to it to laugh at [laughter].
So, I would have people over all the time and then that turned into me doing radio work, which I did community radio stations at universities. And then, even started getting…
As a DJ?
As a DJ, yeah, a host for a radio show called Uncle Brie’s Funhouse on CFUB radio in Victoria, and I did that for about 12 years! And I started to, you know, add in little bits of kind of samples, and I would do themes on trees or something, and I would throw in Pioneer Chainsaw commercials from the 50s, that kind of stuff.
So, I started editing and so I started to learn the editing process. And then, I was also paid. I started getting some sort of other [material] on the Canadian Broadcast System like NPR in the states we have the CBC here and they started paying me to do these all-night shows, which was really cool.
So, that kind of got me into playing around with some of the software, but really I was an actor first. In 1981 I graduated from theatre school, and worked professionally for probably about 25 years, and then someone asked me to do a sound design cause they knew about my music, kind of qualifications, I guess, and knew that I came from another kind of side a little bit, and I might be able to come up with something unusual, and that sort of is what I’ve been doing now, so, it’s cool.
Well I think it makes a lot of sense because whenever I work on a show I realize that I need to understand it at a certain level to make appropriate choices, but then when I’m watching rehearsals and when I’m watching performances, I also feel like the actor has another understanding. They need to understand their part incredibly well to make all of the thousands of choices they make about their blocking and all of the choices that go into creating a believable character and telling a story. And so, you are bringing a really deep level of understanding of the pieces and to your sound design.
Well in a way I do. I’ve understood plays since I was young going to see them and then actually being in them that I understand rhythms of writing, directors’ kind of concepts and that kind of stuff, so already there’s a kind of an understanding between me and the director, or even me and the play or the actors.
I know when it’s gone wrong. I’ve been in plays where you’re, you know, back stage going, whoa, you know? And I was never that kind of person, before I was a sound designer to go, “Geez I could have done that better. I never thought that for an instant, but I just went, that, it’s just not right. It’s not helping the actor. It’s not helping the play. It’s overdone. There’s too much of it. Or maybe that could use something. Occasionally I would think that, you know? Geez a piece of music might be good there.
But in shows, you know, it’s always an interesting thing when you are talking about underscoring, for example, and one of the exciting things for me as an actor and a sound designer is to watch the actors that understand music so that you decide with a director this piece of music might work really well as an underscore, and you throw it underneath, you know, in a rehearsal and you watch the actor take to it, and his monologue becomes music with the music, you know what I mean?
So that’s pretty cool. And then there are other actors who just do what they have to do. It’s kind of interesting that, I mean, I’ve worked with really good directors that understand the music and we’re not going to put in something that’s going to disturb an actor’s performance or the play. I mean we try not to do that all the time, right. But, you know? I sometimes feel like the director wants too much, and I’d like to pull back, and I say, “You know, I don’t think we need that. The director is falling in love with it, and sometimes keeps it, “but I’ve never had an actor sort of say to me, you know, “Can we get rid of that?” Or, “Is that going to be under there?”
Well, I have had actors say that to me. So, I’m wondering if maybe you are an actor sound designer like you look at it from an actor’s perspective, and do what you think is really appropriate for the actor or for the action.
Maybe, maybe, maybe I have that in there because I wouldn’t want to have something supporting me that’s not supporting, you know, the designer thinks is going to be right. [music]
So, I recently saw “No Exit” at ACT, for what you did at Sound Design. First of all, how did you get the gig?
Oh, really interesting. I had worked with Kim Collier who directed the show. We had done a play. There was a theater company on Vancouver Island called Chemainus Theater Company, and they did a production of Doll’s House. And, Kim Collier comes from a very visual, well, I mean, if you saw in “No Exit,” you kind of get the idea, lots of video and sound, and theater. And, they create their own pieces.
Anyway, she’s also a very good director, and she was doing this production of Doll’s House, and she asked me to do it. I don’t know why. Maybe because of some of the other staff had gone in Vancouver, so we did that, and it was a really exciting project. I mean, she’s really great. She’s a director who totally understands music, and she had even gone through the script, and said, “This is where we need sound,” just like she did a lot of the job. The sound designer has to do, just finding the places where you want to put sound.
But, she basically had an idea in her head. She gets an idea of almost everything, and then, works with it all collaboratively during the rehearsal, which is fantastic. Like, you’re not forced to do anything. She just opens up avenues that you never expect to be, or even going to be there.
So, we worked on that show together, and it was really exciting. I mean, one of the things that excites me about theater and sound design, as well, is the researching and finding stuff. And, I thought, like I’ve done a lot of the like 60s or, more modern sound designs using music. But, this was Doll’s house. It was the traditional telling of the story.
So, I started researching Norwegian music from around the time of Henry (8:02 Keeves?) and it was so exciting because doors were opened and I reframed these pieces of music that were unbelievable perfect for the play because everyone was having the same hanks.
Anyway, we did that production and it was great! And then, all of a sudden, I got a, because it was a co-production with Virtual Stage Company and Electric Company, Andy Thompson who played (Cradeux 8:25) in the show, called me up, and offered me the show, and by basically no money at all. It was going to be a ten performance run of the show in a warehouse in Vancouver, and there was basically, you know, like no money. It’s probably embarrassing probably to say how much it is.
Anyway, I said, “I don’t know, I have to think about it.” Then, Kim found out how much it was and offered me double back, which was still no money at all. But, I wanted to work with these people, of course, and started some of the projects that we worked on and we do it for the love, not for the money. And, so, basically, they asked me to do it, and I came over Vancouver — I don’t live in Vancouver. I live in Victoria. I stay with my relatives. And, basically, worked on the show.
The cool thing about the show is that they did it originally in a warehouse. And, there was nothing in the warehouse except for this bunker. And, that’s where the hotel rooms were if you saw the show. And, they’d set up all the cameras inside of the bunker, and then, we brought in everything else: lights, sound, equipment, and all kinds of stuff.
The great thing about the show was that because the actors and the directors were working inside of this room, I could (9:35??) away and listen to stuff while they were doing scenes, and just kind of underscore while they were working, so as working on the fly. You don’t get an opportunity to do that a lot. So, that’s kind of how the show came about. And, like I said, we did it for ten shows, and then, it was the little show that became bigger and bigger. The next thing you know, it’s in San Francisco.
Did somebody from ACT come to see it? How did they found out about it?
Well, we did the show and it closed, basically, two years ago, and everybody packed everything up, like I don’t even know where the records went, like when I found out it was being re-mounted, I went, “Oh my God!” Because one the things about the show is that there was live turntables spinning on the show.
Right. I wanted to ask you about that because there’s moments when the Valet plays records on his antique turntable, are really nice. So, I wanted to know, I was going to ask you later on, but I’ll go ahead and ask you now, how was that accomplished, and how did you pick the music, and technically, how did you do it?
Technically, how we did it was basically, I had found this, I do a lot of garage sale in looking for records, and musical things. I found this old, kind of turntable. It’s, I don’t know what they call it, but, basically, it can play down to 16 upto 78. There’s a little light, and you have to match up these little dots to get the right rpm. It’s really cool, and you can spin it backwards. The people who were who were selling it were because they were, it was like in a state sale, and their parents were square dance scholars, and they would go all over British Columbia. And, they had this long speaker like 50-foot cord of the speaker that you can basically put at the other end of the gymnasium, and have the microphone with your turntable.
Anyway, I found that, and I lent it to the show, and basically I brought it in, and again, while Kim was working with the actors inside the box, the Valet was creating his own world outside. And so, we would go, and I brought my three boxes of 78’s. And, I knew one had to be kind of a South American dance. It had that kind of flavor. So, we just like collect 78’s as well, as our, you know, 45’s and LPs. So, we just had listening sessions where we’d listen to stuff, and he’d take a box and start spinning and mixing stuff and then, because it was a belt turntable I guess, that you could slow it down, and speed it up, and he started manipulating it, and I was just like, it was so exciting, you know, to have live sound from a 78 record player, and that adds a really nice touch to it. So, that was pretty cool.
And so, when the show was remounted, I was looking for the records, that did they have them? Did I have them? And, basically, I had to search around and looking it. We never thought that show would ever come and have another life.
And, to answer the question that you asked earlier was that basically, the year after we did it, or it was a year and a half later, it went out on tour. It went to Kamloops, British Columbia for a two-week run, and then, it was invited to Toronto to a festival, and then, it went to Calgary where, I hadn’t been to the Kamloops or the Toronto side of the production, but they brought me in to Calgary because I got to play with a million dollars sound system, 160 speakers in this theater, 120 surround. And, like this, basically, this show was out of the box. It’s like it was a stereo show, and here we have like lots of things to play with.
So, all we could really play with was like really great kind of something for sounds and just really filling that theater with a lot of “Oomph!” That was pretty cool. [music]
There are intense mechanical sounds at the entrance of each character on stage. I wonder if you could take us through your creation process and talk about some of the tools that you use where you got some of those sounds.
Well, I have to admit that a lot of the sounds come from a composer from Quebec named, (13:38 Ziergobil??). He basically manipulates, he takes a lot of sound effects, and creates these kinds of wonderful soundscapes that are really of emotional charge. [music] And, I had this music and wanted to use it somewhere, and it vary very well mostly because you hear a lot of crashing of trains and banging. And, in the warehouse where they were working, there was the first entrance of, was it Ynez? I think it was Ynez, yeah, came through a metal door that was like on a chain. So, it was pulled back.
And, in the piece of music was the same sound. I mean, it was just unbelievable that it matched. And, not only that, because outside of the warehouse was a train delinking place, so that trains were constantly banging outside. And so, I started taking lots of train sounds, and adding them to the (Ziergobil?? 14:45) music.
Yes, it was just one of those things. You just sort of, you know, it’s like you’re working on something, and (you’re a playwright) and you’re working on something, the train flies up, and then you go, oh well, (14:56). I mean, it was like, “Oh, at this moment, a train should, you know, smash.” So, it worked really, really well.
The sound reinforcement of the people when they’re in the room was strange. And, I wonder if you could tell me about how that was done because I didn’t go in the room to see how microphones were set up, if there were some area mics, and is there someone constantly mixing those, or I don’t know, were you having some difficulties there? It just seemed a little odd, and I wanted to ask you if you felt like that was the sound that you’re going for, if there were some helpful things in that process that you could share.
Well, one of the things about the sound in when we did it in the warehouse and in the Calgary Productions, we didn’t seem to have the same issues that we were having at ACT. And, I don’t, because, a lot of the sound, you know, it was very hard to get the same quality across the board, and then, of course, to match it with the video portion of the show because people didn’t , you know, you needed to question more about that video. Was that live video, or not even… No, but that was video, that has actually happened, and all of a sudden the camera starts moving around.
But, we had a lot of difficulties and kept working on it, working on it. It was difficult. I don’t think anybody was totally happy with the sound. What we were trying to achieve is basically have it a theatrical presentation inside of that room, but also mic it. And, you can’t do it naturalistic. We weren’t, we couldn’t go for a film quality, and body mic them all.
Is that because the director didn’t want to see mics?
Not that she didn’t want to see mics, but she didn’t want it to, she wanted it still to be kind of a theatrical presentation, that it would be, their voices were being enhanced by the mics. So, that’s what we were going for, yeah.
I wanted to ask about your sound insulation that I read about called, Isotank. Could you talk about that for a second?
Yes, you know, I’d love to. There’s a theater company in Victoria called the Belfry Theater, and I do a lot of work there as an actor, and they hire me a lot as a sound designer, and creating between the jobs, you know the acting jobs. And, they have a festival called the Spark Festival, and before each, and they bring in kind of innovative theater productions.
Not that they are a traditional theater company, but this festival allows them to do something just a little but different so, two films that are touring around Canada, they bring in, and prior to each show, they have lobby shows, 10-minute lobby shows. So, they ask some of the smaller companies to put on 10-minute shows all over the Belfry Theater. So, you can be doing it and it actually has a belfry, so there’s stairwell to the belfry, and some people do shows in there for seven people. You can go on underneath where they keep some of the gardening stuff, and someone is going to show in there for like eight people, and I found a place in the back. I was going to do it in the bathroom originally, but they didn’t let me. [Laughter]
So, there’s a small hallway that would hold twenty people when I set up the two speakers on either side, and I hid a speaker down another hallway, and basically, for ten minutes, I took people into an installation chamber. [Music]
So, we basically… It was all about the sound effects, and sometimes sounds that I had, and some vocal sample, that kind of stuff.
Basically, it took them through like, you know, you enter it, and the sounds of it, and many started feeling good and relaxed, and then, they started getting scared, and then, they start feeling better, and then, they bring you back, and people said that it was like, you know, who have been in an isolation chambers felt that they had actually had that experience of everything that they had felt, and it was kind of cool.
And, having this third speaker hidden, it was really great because it has like, at one point, there was like the waters rushing back and forth, this strange cello would start playing way off in the distance. And, because the speaker was off in the distance, it had this really cool effect. And, I would also use it in an underwater area where a guy was kind of, “Help! Help! Help!” And then, screaming, but he was way off because the speakers were really close like everybody was basically just, you know, surround like big headphones on top of twenty people.
So, having these extra speakers was really cool, and had a lot of surprises with it. It was cool. And, people really liked it. It was nominated for Critique’s Choice for Best Sound in Victoria last year.
Congratulations! It sounds very cool.
Yeah, yeah, I have been nominated for a couple of awards, and Vancouver’s on the big awards which kind of blew my mind, because again, I feel I’m just like a little guy in sound world that people didn’t know, and now, “That was kind of cool.”[music]
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