Sometimes, the best sounds come not from synthesis, not even from electrified instruments, but from the purity of a mic and acoustic instrumentation. It remains electronic, or even digital sound, but its source is organic. And so, one of the best reasons to see the new Sherlock Holmes movie in theaters is the wonderful noises that bounce around Hans Zimmer’s score.
Behind many great film scores are great soloists as much as great composers, and Sherlock Holmes is no exception. Zimmer worked with Diego Stocco, sound designer, sound artist, inventor, and composer in his own right. To realize the inner workings of the mind of Sherlock Holmes, violin player, the pair turned to Stocco’s own creation, a kind of meta-instrument made of all string instruments, dubbed the Experibass. Looking only at its appearance, the instrument looks like a practical joke, with the bridge and neck of a violin and viola pasted onto a Double Bass. But once you hear the creation, the instrument is sheer genius, combining the Double Bass’ superior resonance with the more delicate sounds of the treble instruments.
Brilliant as this instrument may be, let’s not get entirely distracted from the really important things in life, like how to make great pasta. Watch the video interview above for insight into the sonic and culinary recipes in the duo’s kitchens.
That’s just the beginning of the inspiration to draw from Diego and other artists whose work is heard from behind the silver screen in this blockbuster cinematic month of December.
The above video alone is unlikely to sate your Diego appetite, so fortunately there are some other interviews with the artist – features that are guaranteed to inspire you to attempt inventing your own instruments around the house. (Contact mics, you are truly the world’s greatest invention.) Jacob Resneck talks to Maestro Stocco about his ideas as a player and creator:
Interview with Sound Artist Diego Stocco [Cool Hunting]
On Bandcamp, you can find short albums devoted to their sound sources, including sand, a tree, and broken instruments:
On Diego’s Vimeo account, you’ll find a series of short films that not only feature and document his inventions, but serve as lovely audiovisual vignettes. Among them is this film “Dissonant Echoes,” featuring dismantled piano, antique zithers, and chimes, as discovered at the blog Synthtopia last month.
Diego is, naturally, not the only talented collaborator on Sherlock Holmes. Tina Guo is the stellar cellist who worked on the film, and speaks about her work on the film and her experience as a cellist; you can see more of her on her YouTube channel. Ann Marie Calhoun provided violin – yes, there is violin in the score, even if Holmes himself may have actually played viola (depending on whose argument you hear).
Ultimately, though, it’s the strange and broken instruments, recorded intimately in place of the usual, overblown and overused “lamplight” symphony orchestras, that forms the sound of the movie. (Believe me, you might hate the film and still love the score.) In addition to the Experibass, Zimmer made heavy use of detuned, abused pianos, one of which was defaced in an underground parking garage. I have no idea why he talks about Kurt Weill, but the results are nonetheless fantastic, and a reminder of how much can be done with real, recorded sound. Hans Zimmer talks himself about his ideas behind the score to The Times:
Hans Zimmer: ‘The sound of Sherlock Holmes? It’s a broken piano’ [The London Times]
Zimmer also speaks to CMusicTV in a video interview:
More Behind the Scenes from Winter’s Movie Releases
For still more inspiration, Migul Isaza’s wonderful blog Designing Sound probes some of the other talented folks who worked on Hollywood’s record-breaking December films at the box office. Whether you were fans of these films or not, there’s still plenty to learn from the soundtracks. (Hey, does this mean lots of movie watching can be a tax write-off?)
Via that blog, here’s a powerful story of using real sounds for film sound design. The audio team, working with director Clint Eastwood, went to extraordinary lengths to achieve sonic realism in the picture Invictus. Not only did they research the sport of rugby, but they recorded audio in Nelson Mandela’s prison cell. Of course, those sounds might have been recreated nearly as accurately on a California soundstage, but to me, the spiritual journey to the original location is even more important. It’s an attention to detail beyond what even the listener may directly perceive. Perhaps, after all, that’s why we do field recording – not simply for the results, but for the experience and the process of being in the places in which we make the field recording.
At the other end of the spectrum, Designing Sound has an interview with Paul Ottosson, who used sound design on the movie 2012 to create imagined worlds and play directly to the audience’s reactions and emotions.
Exclusive Interview with Paul Ottosson, Sound Designer of “2012? [Designing Sound @ noisepages]
“Destroy the Earth” might seem to be the simple charge of that movie, but in practice, the work goes beyond that. For his part, Ottosson emphasizes storytelling.
But, wait – there’s more. For a sense of what the experience of being a sound designer is like, and – whatever your career – how to manage your professional and creative demands, look to Andrew Lackey, whose work with sound cuts across box office blockbusters (They) and hit games (Dead Space).
Lackey tells Designing Sound blogger Isaza about the sound tools he wishes existed but don’t, and how to survive the economic crunch and stay mentally and physically healthy.
“Heard” a movie lately that inspired you? Seen good behind-the-scenes information from the worlds of movies, television, or games? (These are all bigger-budget releases; there’s plenty happening in the “indie” scenes, too.) Let us know.
And keep recording.