A View from the Bridge: Designing the sound

A View from the Bridge: Designing the sound

Thursday, 19 March 2015

by Edward Crook

What did Red Hook, Brooklyn, sound like in the 1950s? John Leonard, sound designer for A View from the Bridge, gives an insight into his profession and some of the creative choices for the show.

How did you get into doing this as a job?
When I was about ten, I decided that I definitely wanted to be involved in theatre somehow. I was a really rubbish actor, lazy being the main thing, but I discovered that you could be technical, so when I went to my secondary school, you could become a technical person and be involved in theatre and not have to learn lines.  I started out doing lighting, but everyone wanted to do lighting, and then when I went to drama school, everyone wanted to do lighting there and nobody wanted to learn sound. I was the only person who wanted to do sound, so I had all the sound equipment, such as it was in the 70s, to myself.

Tell me a little bit about your involvement in this production.
Usually, what you get is a director that will sit down and say 'I want this here and these kind of noises', and that didn’t happen with Stephen. He just waved his arms around a bit and went 'expressionistic, industrial, machines, loud'. Those were basically my notes.  I’ve got a friend who is a historian and lives in Brooklyn, so I got a lot of detail from him about what life was like. Stephen was very specific, he didn’t want music. Part way through, when I was looking for sound, I remembered that I worked on a project for a friend of mine a few years ago, who attached strain gauges to the Millennium Bridge in London. You can take the output of a strain gauge and convert it into sound.  I looked up the recordings I’d made, and they are the basis of the sound, the sound of the bridge. I played with it for a couple of weeks, and thought about what I could do. A couple of other rather strange noises, the big clangy noise at the top and tail of the act, is effectively somebody abusing a piano, but repeated and slowed down.  The show is effectively a lot of sounds strung together, making a vaguely coherent progression through the play. There is also a sort of cannibal ticking noise that varies in speed and pitch depending on where we are in the show. It is a very, very deep kinda rumbling sump that comes at the more tense moments. That is in fact, simply an industrial power driver, so the kind of thing that you would hear on a building site, slowed down and given reverberation. It acts as a low frequency pulse so that it can play underneath the actors.

There is one more industrial track in there, which I love, but which nobody knows anything about, as they are all far too young.  When Eddie makes the phone call to immigration, there is a noise in the background, a lot of very fast kinda ticky noises that go off at the same time. It’s the noise of an old automatic telephone exchange. It’s a beautiful noise. It's processed and mixed with the sound of a fog horn from the river, and made into just a hint of a background sound underlying the telephone call. I know that what I’m listening to is the sound of communication. For me, it’s kind of an in joke, but I think it works. Just noises really.

We normally ask all the actors what is their favourite line, however, can I go back and ask you, what is your favourite sound cue?
My favourite sound cue is definitely the phone call.  Apart from anything else, I think it is the turning point in the show. The point at which Eddie betrays everything. Absolutely everything; his family, friends, the lot. It all flips over at that point.

Did you face any particular challenges with this production at all?
It's been an incredibly quick production period.

A View from the Bridge opened at Theatre Royal, Nottingham, where it ran from 4 to 7 March 2015. It then toured to Cheltenham, Darlington, Wolverhampton, Bradford, Coventry and Edinburgh, where it concluded on 2 May.