Interview with Glen Dunzweiler: Lighting and Sound Designer, Filmmaker, and Asst. Professor for Theatre Arts at CSU San Bernardino
How do you select loudspeakers when you’re designing sound for the stage?
The loudspeakers I choose depend on the content I am pushing through and how I want it to react in the space (frequency response and dispersion – ‘duh’).
What are some of the things you do to create a realistic sound stage?
So when doing theatre, I want the sound image to come from the stage. Much of the time, I cannot bury a speaker in the set, so I have to bounce the sound off of the set. This smears the image, but sometimes the sound placement is more important than clarity – ambient traffic, for example, needs to come from a place where the highway is off stage and I don’t need to hear the clarity of the car horns. In fact, I don’t want the car horns unless the story is about a car horn.
I am not a proponent of always aiming the speaker at the audience. Often, the sound needs to roll around the room to really help to create an immersive environment, but you always sacrifice control and that can be an issue.
Are there different considerations when designing sound for a play versus a musical?
Singing is another thing. I want the voices clear and present, but I don’t want them coming from some speaker above the actor’s head. It also needs to come from the stage where the actors are – especially in a small theatre. I have developed some tricks, but each space is a balance of these tricks thrown together with some honest listening and adapting.
You are an expert in both lighting and sound design. Which do you find to be a bigger challenge?
I was stupid enough to go through 2 MFA* programs concurrently because I honestly could not choose between lighting and sound. They are both challenging and both rewarding. Both have equipment that doesn’t work unless you connect it to other pieces of equipment – and that’s usually the challenge. Your production hinges on a cable or an adapter.
Do you also make sound recordings for movies and videos?
Yes. We are experiencing a convergence of entertainments where film, TV, new media, games, and live productions touch each other seamlessly. The technology has pushed us there for better or for worse and we are all better off if we branch out and ‘shake hands’ with other forms of entertainment.
Do you have a preference for one over the other – live stage work or recorded sound?
Recordings let me create something intimate and it satisfies the control freak in me. Live work is the pure adrenaline I need to survive. Both are amazingly collaborative. I started out as a drummer in a band and got into lights and sound because I got tired of our band looking and sounding bad because of equipment and operation of said equipment. I don’t wait tables. I don’t work retail. I have to work in entertainment and I am willing to learn whatever I have to in order to keep alive in this industry. That’s how I got into teaching it.
When you watch movies and videos, do you find yourself appraising the sound quality?
Always. If it takes me out of the story, I get upset. My students hate me (not really) because I can hear everything and it throws me off. One student clicked her tongue ring as a nervous twitch and I had her sit away from me so I could at least run the class. It’s great that everybody can now make videos, I just wish they would learn how to capture and play back the audio. Reality TV sound is so amped up to create ‘drama’ that I can’t watch it. It makes my brain twitch.
Do you have any tips for how people can record better audio for themselves?
Yes. Take time with it. Sound recording should not be an afterthought. Capture things in as quiet of an environment as possible. Use, at least, pro-sumer equipment.** This means microphones, cables, adapters, recorders. Make sure you can plug in to clean power. If not, make sure everything can run off of batteries and don’t plug in to the building. Get the microphone as close as possible. My old boss at Harrah’s Casino used to say, ‘sh*% in, sh*% out’. This is to say, if you don’t start with good content, good luck. You’re going to have to work very hard and you still might not make the output decent.
* Master of Fine Arts
** A word derived by combining “consumer” and “professional” usually denoting equipment that anyone can buy, but even a professional would use.