These two sound designers will share their collaborative process and what it’s like making the transition to the Great White Way in their BSMC discussion, Moving to Broadway—The Nuts and Bolts. The following is from an interview that will appear in the May issue of Live Design.
By Hannah Kate Kinnersley
LD: Let’s talk about a project with a musical component.
Rob Milburn: Why don’t you talk about The Bluest Eye?
Michael Bodeen: It was a nice project, The Bluest Eye. Originally commissioned by Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago from the book by Toni Morrison directed by Eric Ting.
Where we started, of course, is where it always starts; with the text. So we read the text and had a nice long conversation with the director about what is the approach: its a text that can be based in reality, the here and now, its also a text that is based in memory and so you want to enhance the reality but also be able to kind of explode it in abstract ways.
Eric Ting had found, at the Library of Congress, all these great Alan Lomax recordings from the 1920s when Lomax went out all over the South and parts of West Virginia, Appalachia, New Orleans, and Mississippi and he recorded all these folk musicians. We started listening to these pieces and Eric thought it would be great to incorporate them into the play, though they weren’t written into the stage directions. We were fortunate we had Miche Braden, a wonderful singer, piano player, jazz but also gospel and blues, and a lovely human being as well, We decided it would be great to have a piano on stage, Miche would be playing it and singing, and we culled from a long list of songs and started working with Miche on trying to put these songs into the play. It turned out terrific, Rob and I worked together to say this is how long it should be, two verses and a chorus, etc. I think the funnest part for us is also discovering how you dramatize certain moments, there is another part of the play which has direct address, taken from the book, but a lot of Dick and Jane language, you know, see Spot run, see Jane run, often very childlike and steeped in innocence. We took what we had with the piano onstage, and contrasted that by using a prepared piano, popularized by John Cage...
RM: ...John Cage is someone that we respect and admire enormously. And the oddness of the sound of the prepared piano contrasting with the live piano was a terrific boon for us, that was really great. So we were working with Miche sharing the music direction, and then making these recorded sections of the prepared piano and Michael playing slide guitar. In terms of sound design, we were also mic’ing the piano and mic’ing Miche and using reverbs and different speakers in different locations to make a big wonderful mash that we got when all these different components came together.
MB: We also use violin harmonics and the prepared piano to suggest a lot of rain, there’s a moment of big rain in the play, it was sort of indicative of the rain drops, the violin harmonics were a slightly tweaked version of what might have been a sweet sound, but environmentally could have been wind, it could have been all sorts of things.
LD: When you are working, do you have favorite equipment?
RM: We often work in regional theatres where they may only have a stock of certain things, and we are happy to use them, we don’t poo-poo anything.
MB: Well Rob brings up a good point, we work in regional theatre quite a bit and their budgets are different from, say, a Broadway production but we do have favorites, for example when you mic an actor, if we can ever get it, a DPA 4061 Lavalier microphone is a favorite.
RM: The Meyers have been incredibly generous to certain regional theatres and a couple of theprojects we were lucky enough to work on. In terms of a go-to sound system in NY, there are a lot of great speakers out there, but we tend to favor Meyer equipment.