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Designing With Imagination: SFX and Sound Design in ReThink’s On Air

Updated: Jul 26, 2021

By Celine Dirkes

“I got a guitar when I was thirteen and was obsessed with anything audio,” says Eric Browne, the Sound FX Director of ReThink’s On Air.

Eric has a background in sound design and foley art for film, but has never done anything like On Air before, where five radio plays are performed with live sound effects created simultaneously on stage. What makes this different?

“This time you have no visual cue,” Eric explains. Part of the challenge here is using imagination and collaborating with the full team to create a specific image of settings and events.

In order to tackle this unique challenge, his design process began by questioning each director and writer about their vision for the sci-fi worlds depicted in the plays, saying “It’s basically taking everyone’s interpretations of the way that they read the scripts and hearing them [aloud], and finding a cohesive sound effect that can mesh with it [that’s] appropriate for the show.”

Eric used the example of a zombie making machine (that may or may not be featured in Katie Siegel’s [Zombie Noises]). “Is it a large machine?” Eric asks, “Can you give me any examples?” He says he uses his imagination to break down what components might go into such a machine, find the sounds that go into each mechanism, and then layer the different effects so they blend into one: “If somebody can tell that it’s a sound effect then you’re not doing your job.”

“My favorite part is the foley,” Eric admits, “Finding random things around the house or outside that work with what you’re trying to create.” Eric carries a hand-held recorder with him in order to invent and record sounds in the field. “I wear headphones and I just walk around the house or wherever I am and I’ll just tinker with stuff,” he says. The only drawback comes when he can’t recall how he originally created an effect.

He’s interested in the way sound evokes emotion, and told an anecdote about his girlfriend playing the video game Resident Evil, and turning off the sound to make it less scary. “The elements of the sound effect is what keeps you engaged when you’re consuming some kind of art or content,” he says, “Growing up I always had art classes and when I was older I slowly found out that sound can be its own art.”

As for creating the soundscapes for On Air, “There’s a couple of things we can’t do on cue,” he jokes, “Like making a baby cry--that would be unethical,” but he strives to create a balance between pre-recorded and live effects: “Things always sound better and they mean more when you take the time to do it. You can go online and you can find a phone ringing, but it just means so much more when you find a way to make that phone ring.”

Reserve your tickets for On Air today to hear Eric's work!

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