Thursday, May 22, 2014

Don't Break the Circle

UCI Sound MFA student Matthew Eckstein and Honors in Sound Design undergrad Karli Blalock recently sound designed a project called Elysian Roux. This excitingly unusual piece of theatre was meant to be the first mounting of an immersive theatre piece conceived by Vincent Olivieri and Mike Floyd. We spent two weeks working intensely on the project, and the results were pretty outstanding. Elysian Roux took place on UCI’s campus, all around the Claire Trevor School of the Arts. This presented some obvious challenges for the sound team, especially considering we had no budget. After gathering every extra speaker and amp available in the shop, we were left with 7 passive speakers, 5 amps, and hundreds of feet of Speakon cable. What we hoped to achieve with the design was establishing the location, creating a rather hellish mood, and acting as a device to help the actors know where the rest of the cast was so that each scene would sync up.  All of these functions, of course, had to fit in a fluid and consistent bed of sound. With such a large playing space and so few speakers, this presented quite a challenge!

We found ways to use the space to reflect the sound in the most effective ways. For instance, we placed one speaker in the amphitheatre, playing a neutral loop, and because of the acoustics in the amphitheatre, this one speaker filled in the silence of an area of about 300 ft of pathway. Most centrally, we had an alcove that played a 27 minute long loop of unearthly ambience; within the alcove, we placed 2 Ramsa A-80s – one in a corner, facing the opposite wall, and the other in the center facing towards the mouth of the ‘cave.’ Pointing a speaker towards a wall!?! In this case, the reflections and natural reverberations within the cement alcove were exactly what we needed to create the ominous and cavernous sound we were aiming for.

We also placed a RH speaker in a tunnel, which we called Hell’s mouth. This loop was triggered as the spirits began to emerge from the underworld and continued to reverberate throughout the space until the end of the show.

Hell's Mouth Ambience track embedded here:

Of course we couldn’t keep all our equipment laying out every night, so we had to strike after every rehearsal and performance. Vinnie let us keep all of our equipment in his office, along with all the props and set dressings. The entire team’s Tetris skills finally paid off!
Overall this project was a fun challenge and very rewarding. Audience members called it “delicious and disturbing” and “a unique interactive experience.”  As this project (and backstory) continue to grow, we are all hoping to see future productions of Elysian Roux.  But remember… don’t break the circle.

Hellaciously yours,
Karli and Matt