Sound for One Night In November (but in April)

Lately I’ve spent a bugger load of time putting together the sound design for the Bawds spring production of ONE NIGHT IN NOVEMBER, which is currently (at the time of writing) at the ADC Theatre in Cambridge.

Following the story of one family’s harrowing experience of the Coventry Blitz, the play examines the idea that Winston Churchill had advance warning of the attack.  Was Coventry sacrificed for the greater good? Or to provoke and hasten America’s entry into the war?

It’s an interesting piece – not only for the recurring conspiracy theories floating around in the subtext, but also because it has presented me with the most technically challenging play I have ever been involved with.  Along with the usual telephone and vehicle effects (which are par-for-the-course in most productions),  most of the second act involves the bombing of Coventry, so I have needed to put multiple complex bombing sequences together that are linked to midi cues which, in turn, trigger lighting cues for explosions. Oh, and projection.

Sound design in a nutshell

Sound design, at least for me, is about immersement.  I love being able to create an atmosphere in the theatre that puts the audience right in the middle of the action, bouncing the sound around the stage and auditorium to keep the audience interested.  Sadly I’ve seen plenty of productions where lazy sound design means every effect is played over the front-of-house speakers at a constant volume, which give no variation or interest to the design and spoils my enjoyment – although I may be a bit picky!

The principles are quite simple.  If the effect is happening to the characters directly on stage – put the effect on stage.  If it’s atmospheric or an ambient effect then I like to get more creative and use extra speakers in the auditorium where I can put sounds in, around, and sometimes under the audience.  This creates a really rich and immersive experience that I hope the audiences appreciate.

Choice of sound kit

View from the ADC sound boxThe  equipment design for One Night in November is as follows:

  • Yamaha M7CL Digital Mixing Desk
  • Effects and projection in QLab
  • 2 x on-stage Bose 802 speakers
  • 2 x rear auditorium Bose 802 speakers
  • 4 x front of house speakers

This show also smashes my all-time effects record, with 739 sound, projection and midi effects in the overall design.  Yikes!  It’s fair to say that the main complexity in this design is in QLab itself.

Deciding on the design

When I tell people that I do sound design I’m pretty sure some of them think it’s easy and just involves playing a few sounds during a show – but for me there’s so much more to it than that.  I’m always looking for things that are not in the script to see if there’s anything else worth ‘pointing’ (a theatrical term emphasising something).  Sure – some scripts are simple and don’t need any more effects than what the writer intended, but sometimes you can add more as long as the director agrees with you!  Once the effects are agreed then it’s up to you how you construct them – whether that be through existing sound libraries or by recording your own.

This post is likely to be one of many to do with sound design that I’ll put on this blog, as I think it’s quite interesting to show the types of design that I’ve done and pass on some of the things I’ve learnt along the way.

What’s your view on sound design?  Did you come along to One Night in November?  If so I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.

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