Almost, Maine – Sound/Music

This year's production, 'Almost, Maine,' is shaping up to be a massive team effort. Original music is needed to link the scenes and the transitions between the episodes. The playwright, John Cariani, also calls for some magical phrases to musically represent the appearance of the northern lights. We recorded these part way through Term 1.

At the start of this year, five students formed a band to begin work on the project.

We began brainstorming different ideas about how to create a magical atmosphere. Preliminary ideas focused on using a harp glissando – a sound that audiences often associate with magic.

However, as we improvised additional musical phrases, we decided against using the harp. We realised that it might feel too much like a perfect, predictable, happily-ever-after, cliched "Disney" love story, and that was not the musical atmosphere that we wanted to create.

We also explored playing different harmonics on the violin, cello and guitar. This created a high-pitched scratching dissonance that we thought initially might conjure a prickle effect, like when the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. However, we eventually abandoned this idea in favour of a purely vocal sound.

In our rehearsals, we aimed for clashing harmonies. We layered in single, sustained notes to form an atmospheric, dissonant cluster chord. This was much easier to practice than to record, as we were only able to record single voices at a time. It was great to be able to work with the sound team, who were able to run the technical side. To record, we took turns to sing our note, working with headphones, so we could pitch our notes correctly in the evolving arpeggiated chord.

Once the seven parts had been recorded, we also incorporated the unison sound of breath and soft whistling. This was quite a challenge to record, but something that we wanted to pursue to create the feel of a cold landscape.

We look forward to hearing the final product and seeing how it will complement the changing lights onstage in the performance.

Student Musical Director

I'm studying Sound Production as a Year 11 Vet subject and was in the Hall Tech Activity with Mr Bingham in Unit 1. It was great when Ms Wharington approached us to record some music for this year's Senior Production, Almost, Maine. A group of seven students, who had limited recording experience, jumped at the opportunity to learn and make something using Woodleigh's recording software.

Bingas showed us how to use Cubase, which we used to record and remix the audio. I have to admit, we struggled with the program at first, as it was our first time working with the software, but we enjoyed the practical side of setting up microphones and adjusting audio levels as the girls sang.

During the recording session, students took on the role of sound engineers, connecting the different leads for headphones and the microphone to the sound desk. Mr Bingham taught us how to operate the desk, which allowed us to monitor and adjust the amount of sound coming from the microphone. He also taught us how to stop, start, replay and trim the recordings. For each singer, we adjusted the microphone stand to suit their height and recorded each voice on a separate track so we could manipulate them in post-production.

Over the session, we learnt how to apply audio filters to their voices and experimented with adding basic effects like reverb and compression. Recording each voice required us to set different levels for each track, and as the voices had quite unique timbres, we had to make adjustments as we went along.

It was more difficult to record the breathing lines as they were significantly quieter. We had to watch the gains on the audio desk and had to adjust them accordingly so that the audio was loud enough to be heard in the hall/cluster chord but not so loud that they distorted. Recording the breathing allowed us to add ambience and atmosphere to the track.

Overall, it was an amazing experience to be able to work with the singers and be part of the sound team. I know this will be really useful as I continue to study my Vet Music course.

As the student in charge of sound for 'Almost, Maine', I also look forward to manipulating the recorded music, sound effects, and the actors' microphone audio throughout the performances, as sound is a very big part of the show.