A Sound Apart—interview with sound designer, Marco Lopez

 Sound Design, Sound for picture, Streaming Series  Comments Off on A Sound Apart—interview with sound designer, Marco Lopez
Aug 032021
 
Marco Lopez talks about how sound supports the story in “A Class Apart”

Sound helps create a miasma of privilege, power and tension for a drama set in an exclusive boarding school

A Class Apart (Zebrarummet), a new eight part mystery drama that will premiere on Viaplay on August 22 2021, is set in the hidden world of privilege and power that is an exclusive boarding school in Sweden. View the teaser on IMDB.

Marco Lopez, sound designer

We had a chance to speak with lead sound-effects editor, Marco Lopez, to find out more about how he used sound to enhance the narrative. Born in Leipzig Germany to Cypriot and Chilean parents, it seems inevitable that Lopez would become a multi-lingual citizen of the world. A solid background of 7 years of classical piano lessons and music theory led to sound engineering studies in Santiago, but it was almost by chance, during a short course entitled ‘Sound Design for Film’, added in his final semester, where he discovered his true passion for sound design, launching him on what he describes as “an endless search for knowledge and techniques”.

You come from a Cypriot, Chilean, and German background, but what about the Swedish connection? How did that come about?

In 2013, I attended Randy Thom’s sound design masterclass in Hamburg. Prior to the masterclass, each of the participants received a 5 minute sequence from the film “How To Train Your Dragon” and given the assignment of adding sound design to that sequence. By the end of the masterclass and after listening to my sound design, the Europa Studio (Filmlance International) sound design team invited me to visit them at their studio in Stockholm the next time I was in town. Eventually I took the decision to take the next step in my professional growth and move to Sweden, and I was fortunate enough to start working right away with the Europa Sound Studio/Filmlance team.

When Filmlance International mixer and sound designer, Erik Guldager, who was doing sound design for the first two episodes of “A Class Apart”, invited me to join the team, I immediately agreed! It’s always great working with them. Due to the pandemic the communication was done mainly by email, or Zoom. It was very effective, as if we were in the same place.

Is the dialog in Swedish? How does language influence sound design?

The dialog is indeed in Swedish. For the last five years, I have been speaking exclusively in Swedish with my girlfriend which has helped me a lot to learn the language. I think that it is important to understand the dialog and the underlying codes that sometimes might be carried along in this way. It becomes easier to support the story with the proper sound effects and build a better sound around them.

From the title and the synopsis, it sounds like class differences and privilege are a central “character” in this story. Did you try to create a “sound” or ambience that would convey privilege, exclusivity and power for some of the scenes? How did you go about doing that?

Yes, that is correct and that becomes even more prominent due to the mysterious death of one of the students of the boarding school: Tuna Kvarn. The central character is very well described both with the picture and with the dialog, so we began by highlighting those moments and, once we were happy with our first attempt, we then started adding details around those moments and enhancing them.

As part of this process, the director requested that we use “unnatural sounds”, sounds that would not be normally present in a certain room or an exterior space. This request made the whole project even more exciting for me, because it allowed us to open an extra door of creativity and gave us the opportunity to experiment and create elements (which I, unofficially referred to as “non-musical drones”) that functioned well in the overall context.

One of the guidelines from the sound supervisor of the project, Boris Laible, was that we were after a feeling. That is an inspiring place for me to be in, because sometimes it takes several attempts to nail it, and it’s interesting to be able to witness the different versions that can be created with different sound effects. Eventually we selected a few of those non-musical drones, based on the fact that they were blending well with the rest of the sounds and they were supporting the scenes properly, but most importantly, they were not distracting the viewer away from the storytelling. We kept tweaking and readjusting the sound design the whole time until the very end.

How did you use Kyma on this project?

I used Kyma both as an external FX processor where it receives and sends a signal to a DAW, and for offline processing (for example, to generate the non-musical drones).

One interesting sound design challenge was to create the sound of a grandfather clock ticking that, during some scenes, would slow down or accelerate to imply that something that was being said or some behavior was off. For that, I imported the sound effect in the Tau Editor and after creating a Gallery folder, I found a Sound where I could shift the tempo without affecting the pitch of the sound.

Then I thought of adding a clock bell and stretching its ringing, in a similar way as in the scene from the “Barton Fink” by the Coen brothers, where Barton taps the bell to register his arrival at the hotel. For that I used the Sum Of Sines Sound where I would modulate its pitch and give some sort of movement in the sound.

I even used Kyma in order to add an extra element to a CCTV electrical interference noise. By combining an FFT analysis with Christian Vogel’s ZDFResonatorBank prototype from his ZDF Filters Kyma Capsules, I was able to create some variations that blended very well with other sound effects recordings that I already had in my SFX library.

For the non-musical drones I would create Galleries and go through all the options given and if a Sound sounded interesting to me, I would spend more time experimenting with creating presets. This procedure was the most time consuming but it definitely gave fantastic results! By the end of the project, I realized I had used Kyma to create 96 non-musical drones along with a few extra sound effects.

Every space had its own defined character and within a certain situation we would introduce the non-musical drones and blend them with the rest of the sounds.

Are there any things that are easier (or faster or more natural) to do in Kyma than in other environments?

Just by importing a sound in Kyma, creating Gallery folders of Kyma Sounds it’s luxurious, because you can choose which one best suits your idea. Also the fact that I can control a Kyma Sound with my Wacom tablet, a microphone or my keyboard, gives me the freedom to perform the sound however I want to, or according to what is happening in the picture.

Could you describe your sound design studio setup?

I work on a 5.1 system, both on Pro Tools and Nuendo with the RME UCX audio interface. I use the MOTU Traveler mk3 connected to Kyma. I recently started using Dante which allows me to share the interface that the DAW is connected to and it gives a stereo format with 48Khz. Otherwise, I’ll just connect the interfaces of Kyma and the DAW via ADAT.

Do you usually work to picture? Do you use any live controllers or MIDI keyboards?

I always work to picture. I sometimes use a keyboard but for Kyma, I use the Wacom tablet more often.

How do you build your sound library?

If there’s a sound effect that I don’t have in my library, I’ll go out and record it, or I’ll use Kyma to create what I am after.

Any advice for Kyma sound designers? Any resources you recommend?

The fastest way to get into Kyma is to open a sound effect in Kyma and create a Gallery folder based on the options you choose. Then go through each folder and see the different Sounds that Kyma has created for you.

Personally I think of Kyma as an instrument in that, the more you practice, the more you will start seeing results. At the same time you also need the theory, so you understand the powerful possibilities and philosophy behind Kyma. That is why I would strongly recommend to read the manual. Once you begin to understand how it works you will be able to start building your own Sounds based on what you envisioned in the first place.

Having Kyma lessons is also a big plus. There’s, for example, Cristian Vogel, Alan Jackson and Will Klingenmeier. All three of them are very helpful!

Check the Kyma Q&A periodically and also ask questions there. You should also feel free to join the Kyma Kata Group! There’s a lot of great people that practice and share their knowledge on Kyma. I’d like to thank Charlie Norton, Andreas Frostholm, Alan Jackson and Pete Johnston, of the Kyma Kata group, who generously offered valuable suggestions and helped me out when it was needed.

What is the function of sound for picture?

Sound helps define the picture and brings up emotions that support the storytelling. In “A Class Apart” there were scenes where sound was underlining what was going on visually, but in other moments we would create something a bit differently from what was going on in the picture. I would say that in the last episode sound helped build up the tension gradually, right from the beginning until the very last scene.

Any tips for someone just starting out in sound design? 

Give the best you can on the project you are working on, because your performance will open the door to the next project. Allow yourselves to make mistakes and learn from them. Especially in the beginning nobody expects from you to know everything. Later on, it can also happen that something that we might consider as a mistake, might trigger an idea to create something new and exciting. In every moment experience the world around you through your ears and hold those experiences in your memory. You never know when they will be a source of inspiration for you. Study as much as you can about sound design and meet other sound designers. Watch films. A lot! Two or three times the same film. Study them and listen to what the sound is doing in relation to the picture.

Tell us what you’re the most proud of in “A Class Apart” (don’t be shy!!)

I am proud because we delivered an exciting sound. The overall process was creative and fun. There were moments when it seemed overwhelming like there was too much to do, but I trusted the creative process and decided to enjoy it.

What kind of project would you most love to do the sound for next?

I would like to have the chance to work on an animation, a scifi or a thriller.

Finally, the most important question, where can we all binge watch “A Class Apart (Zebrarummet)”? It sounds really intriguing!!

A Class Apart (Zebrarummet) premieres on Viaplay on the 22nd of August!

A taste of some of Marco Lopez’ “non-musical drones” from A Class Apart (Zebrarummet)

Marco credits his first piano teacher, Josefina Beltren, with teaching him various ways to “perform the silence” in a piece of music. Clearly that early training has translated to his talent for creating different forms of meaningful “silence” to advance the story and lend character to rooms and spaces:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2012 the eighth nerve Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha