Interview with Nick Powell: Sound Designer for Of Mice and Men
1. What was it that first drew you to becoming a composer/sound designer?
As a kid I played in bands and was always interested in theatre. I discovered fairly early on that I was no actor though! When I went to university I shared a flat with a guy called David Greig who has gone on to be quite a major playwright. We made some shows at college so it was logical that I wrote the music. We ended up forming a company called Suspect Culture that existed for 20 years. When we formed the modern concept of sound design was just forming as new technologies developed. We were a small company with limited resources so, as the composer, it was logical that I did both roles. I grew to really love the process of both writing music for a show and then putting that music into a three dimensional space and mixing music with other types of sound. It is hard for me to separate the two things now.
2. What is your process like when working on a production such as Of Mice And Men?
Process suggests something quite regimented or planned…much as I’d like to, I’ve never been able to be like that. I guess I read and re read the script… Live with it, go into rehearsals, soak up the atmosphere, put pictures of the design up around my studio, do a bit of background research and then sit with some instruments mucking about until some idea really starts to resonate. You know when it’s right. With ‘Of Mice and Men’ I’ll be working with two actor musicians, so that will be exciting. I prefer to work with musicians, finding out their strengths and allowing them to feel ownership of the music, rather than preplanning everything and telling people what to do.
3. Would you say you have a particular style as a composer/sound designer?
Difficult to say from within, but I hope so. I avoid just writing within what might be the obvious genre related to the time or location of the story… if I think electric guitar might work, I don’t care if the show is set in the 12th century, I’ll still use it. My taste in music is skewed towards more experimental things. I am not classically trained, but I work with classical musicians quite a lot so I hope I bring something to those forms, and musically I don’t think any form of music has any higher legitimacy over any other. Great art can come out of pop songs just as much as symphonies. I’ve always loved the raw power rock music as well as the richness of an orchestra or the otherworldliness of electronically produced sound. The modern studio, with all the things computers can do these days, is a real playground to mix all these things up. With regard to sound design, I think being composer too maybe means I don’t feel the need to put sound in just for the sake of justifying my credit – well judged sound design can be a wonderful thing but I like to be sure I know exactly why I am putting sound into a moment. A play is not a film and a theatre is by definition a totally non-naturalistic space to enact stories, so naturalistic sound effects to establish location are not necessarily necessary – they need to have a role that supports the vision of the production. I like blurring the boundary between music and sound too – pitching sound effects musically and making music feel environmental.
4. What themes or emotional qualities in Of Mice and Men did you want to draw out through the sound?
I hope the music will reflect the scale of the Northern Californian landscape. I hope the music carries some flavours of the music of the era and locale, but is underpinned by a sinister rhythm that propels the protagonists towards tragedy. I hope the music helps convey the calloused and gritty toughness of the lives and characters within the play by being simple and unadorned – I don’t want it to have too many layers. Finally I hope the music has a yearning at its centre. George and Lennie, despite the harshness of their existence are reaching out for the American Dream, they have, at least at the start of the play, some of that American optimism that believes that everyone in the USA has a chance to achieve their desires.
Read this interview with the play’s sound designer for greater insights in how sound is used in this production. – See more at: http://theatrecloud.com/of-mice-and-men/learning#sthash.ESa6l11h.dpuf
Of Mice And Men
Grand Theatre Blackpool
Tuesday 22nd to Saturday 26th March 2016
Evening and Matinee performances
(check individual showpage for more information)
Opening Night Offer: 2 for 1
Tickets £19 to £24
Concessions £3 off (Evenings only)
Grand Friends £5 off opening night, £3 off rest of the week
School Groups £9.50 (Tues to Fri only)
Groups 10+ £4 off, 20+ £5 off
Under 26s £12.50 (first 50 tickets, weekdays only; subject to availability)
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Call Box Office on 01253 290190 or visit blackpoolgrand.co.uk
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