OBADIAH EAVES: Sound Designer Blue must be sound designer and composer Obadiah Eaves' lucky color. He may not notice a pattern, but a quick glance at the 29-year-old's already jam-packed resume reveals he's on something of a blue streak. He has designed a few shows at the Blue Heron Theatre, an arts complex that features two theatres under one roof, composed for Blue's Clues Live!, the national touring stage version of the popular Nickelodeon kids' show, and worked with the youngish but already established Blue Light Theatre Company on a number of shows.
Okay, there's more to his resume, which reveals a multi-genre career in theatre, film shorts, and television. But some of his major theatrical projects, including Willow Cabin Theatre Company's Nighthawks and this past summer's The Second Man at Blue Heron, and Blue Light's Oedipus and 1999's surrealistic The Pitchfork Disney, are tinged in blue.
But before theatrical and television sound design and composition, Eaves, who spent the first 15 years of his life in Albuquerque, NM, before his family moved to Rochester, NY, was a violinist who attended a performing-arts high school and then went off to Bard College to study photography. It was in school that he realized a career in a symphony orchestra wasn't quite for him. "While I was at school, I discovered the electronic music studio and the school recording studio and sort of got involved that way," he says of his circuitous route into the world of sound design. The studio work at Bard in turn led to post-graduation theatrical productions at the University of Rochester, where his father is a professor of English and where his brother, Dashiell (an actor who's appeared on Broadway in The Sound of Music and James Joyce's The Dead), has worked on productions. "The first show I did [Speakeasy, by Joanna Scott], I had really good luck with," Eaves says. "I had the right feel for it already, and I came at it from a composing point of view, which is how I like to work. And it was successful, so I kept working there. Once I had done a few shows there, I thought I might be able to make a go of it here in New York."
And it is in New York City, in an Upper West Side apartment, that he has his own studio, in which many of his compositions are created and sound designs mixed and edited. He describes his setup as "a Pro Tools rig with SampleCell and Logic Audio." Here he composes and designs, aiming for a final product that is "musical in the sense that I think a good sound design should have a theme that is recurring. It should flow and not be choppy, and it should never sound like someone is pushing buttons." He especially aims for an "environmental" design that "sounds like it's part of the space."
For last season's Nighthawks, an interesting mood piece dramatizing four of Edward Hopper's paintings, Eaves designed what he laughingly refers to as "a mess of sounds." The prologue featured dissonant noises, which by play's end "slowly organized themselves and revealed themselves as an almost musical or rhythmic construction of sounds. They are sounds that evoke images of people in the city. There are footsteps and somebody playing the piano, or you hear a jazz club." The design consisted of both previously recorded and original pieces.
He also composes for television shows and commercials. In 1999, he worked on designing woman Dixie Carter's ads for Bell South Yellow Pages (titled "Get an Idea, Dixie Designs"), which were a "kick; they were utterly absurd and schlocky." But it gave him the opportunity to write a score for a full orchestra, something he had never done before. "It wasn't a real orchestra," he explains. "I ended up making it on a Mirislav system, which is a high-quality orchestral sample collection."
Asked whether he prefers theatre or television, Eaves replies, "I'd like to be able to do both. Theatre usually ends up being more difficult, more hours, less pay - really long hours, much less pay. But in the best productions, that's where I do the work that makes me most proud, and I take it very seriously. But by the time I'm done with that, I usually wish I'm working on a TV commercial, because that's where I get to have fun and write goofy tunes that I like to write on the side."
He continues to work for the University of Rochester, designing around four shows a year, and is now an artist in residence at the school. And his varied career has seen him as a violinist on Brian Friel's Give Me Your Answer, Do!, as audio editor for Anna Deveare Smith's House Arrest at Arena Stage, and playing electric violin for The Collectors, a 1999 documentary film that featured a soundtrack composed by Donald DiNicola.
Continuing with the blue theme, yet another "something blue" recently occurred in Eaves' life. The designer got married this summer, postponing all design and composition work until the fall, when he will return to Rochester to work on two comedies.