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In conversation with Madhu Apsara, a well-known sound designer who has worked for major films like Dhoom, Company and Ashoka, among many others, Naressa Coutinho gets an insight into Sound Designing as a career

The next time you watch a movie at a theater, be sure to tune your ears to the different audio effects that take the audience from comedy, intensity, impending action to suspense, morose or THE END. Sound designers have an immense role to play in filmmaking, TV productions and advertisements, theater, sound recordings, cyber games, podcasts and radio. With a gene for hi-tech equipments, ear for music and inclination towards cinematography, sound designing is a world in itself.

Most of us watch a movie and speak of its 3D effects, action and even theme songs, rarely commenting on the arty audio tricks that give a film its actual feel. As a sound designer, having worked with famous directors, will you tell us what exactly sound designing is?

Bhhum! An explosion. People in the mall start running scampering towards the exit. Tak…tak…tak…the firing continues. Smoke emerges from the cracking glass panes. The human shouts and screams merge into a chorus.

At a given time it will be difficult to tell whether it is the sound indication or the visual description that is imparting the impact of the story. The more chaotic a situation, the more selective we become through paying conscious attention to what is relevant. Sound can lead the audience in the direction of the main narrative, or mislead temporarily to something else and come back to the narrative, or simultaneously instigate a parallel thought. It is the job of the sound designer to understand the inherent aspects of the narrative and work accordingly.

What are the different aspects of sound engineering?

There are mainly two aspects to sound engineering. One deals with the recordings and technicalities of the audio elements, while the other is how he uses this technology to enhance a scene which may involve compositions and manipulation or combinations for desires sound effects. For e.g., live effects like footsteps might need to be supplemented by experts who decide on the tone and level of every bit of sound or at times maybe even creating the required sound using different objects.
A sound track of a film consists of the dialogues, Foley sounds (Sync sounds), outdoor recorded effects, and in some cases additional Decorative Sounds, Ambience (Atmosphere sounds) and Background Music. In case of live recordings, in some films, the original dialogues and effects are retained. The designer has to make sure the tonalities of the additional effects and dialogues should match with that of the original especially in the case of dubbed films.

Your best works according to you.

Johnny Gaddaar, Ek Hasina Thi, Throne of Death and Manjuben Truck Driver (video documentary)

How would you describe the lifestyle of a sound designer?

As a freelancer, my work is project-based and so I have the freedom to choose or reject an offer which is not the case with studio sound recorders who might get their monthly paycheck, but no flexibility. At times, it does get hectic when a project takes about four to five months and then, there are lean times too when there aren’t good projects.

What are the courses recommended to gain adept knowledge in this field?

I did my graduation in Physics and joined Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune. After which, I started recording and designing sound for documentaries and feature films. Physics and Electronics background will help to follow the technologies involved as well as to keep pace with the constant development. Knowledge and sense of Music will help in organizing the sounds.

Would you call it a rewarding profession?

With time and experience, like any other profession you earn, but since it is project-based, the amount will differ. In fact, working on advertisement projects will help you earn more, but there’s lesser flexibility because it revolves around the product to be sold.

What would you say is the downside of this profession? 

It’s only after the picture gets edited that it is time to place the sounds. The particular film could take years while you may be expected to complete a perfect postproduction sound piece within months for release which makes it hectic. But then, if it’s what you enjoy like any other career, it’s worth it.

What is it about this career you like best?

The world of sound is abstract unlike the visual aspect which is concrete. It gets even better when you have the freedom to be inventive and creative which depends on the narrative and director’s faith in your work. For e.g., some films require stylized sounds for certain action scenes which are created by the combination of several sounds to enhance or decorate the sequences, like the sound of vehicles, large water splashes, gun shots, blasts, etc. Mostly, prerecorded sounds are picked up from the sound libraries. As a sound designer you need to have the art for producing good design effects.

Your message for aspiring sound designers

Citing an example from Robert Bresson, a film director’s ‘Notes on the Cinematographer’ a visual of an escaping prisoner, with the sound of a running train followed by a visual of him in a village gives you the idea that he travelled by train without having to actually show it. The technology provides numerous facilities. Now, it is for the sound designer to arrive at the right combinations and projection of sound that works the best for each film. Hence, it is an interesting field with space for exploration and invention.
A kitchen with all the facilities does not guaranty good food but we know what to expect from a good cook.

Film and Television Institute of India 

Law College Road,
(Maharashtra) INDIA Pune-411004,India
2025431817, 2025433016
Eligibility: – Bachelor’s degree in any discipline with Physics as a subject at senior secondary (10+2) level

L.V Prasad Film and TV Academy

28Arunachalam road, Saligramam,
Chennai-600 093
Tel: +91 44 – 65257476/ 77
Email: info@prasadacademy.com

Adayar Film Institute
4/16, First Cross Street, 9th Main Road,
Swaminathan Nagar, Kottivakkam,
Chennai – 600 041
Tel: +91 44 – 65181182
Email: mail@chennaifilmschool.org

Whistling Woods International 

Film City Complex, Goregaon (East),
Mumbai 400 065
Tel: 022-30916107/ 30916146
Email: http://www.whistlingwoods.com