Sound Design - Theater
at: Commonwealth Shakespeare Company - Sorenson Center for the Arts at Babson College
by: Ariel Dorfman
directed by: Steve Maler
scenic and costume design: Clint Ramos
lighting design: Jeff Adelberg
Death and the Maiden is set in an unnamed country (inspired by playwright Ariel Dorfman’s life in Chile) recently emerging from years of military dictatorship. A woman, Paulina, a former political prisoner and surviver of torture under the previous regime, unexpectedly comes face to face with a man (Roberto) who she is convinced is the man who was her torturer. She never saw him, but she remembers his voice, his smell, and his penchant for playing Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” string quartet, which he used as an underscore during torture sessions.
As Paulina plans how to find justice, and details are slowly revealed to Paulina’s husband (Gerardo) and the audience, the play examines the scars repression leaves and questions the blurred landscape of justice, closure, and revenge.
The entire action of the play takes place in the beachside vacation home of Paulina and Gerardo. I was inspired by a sense of this ever present ocean being at once beautiful, mysterious, powerful, and dangerous. I created a series of sonic collages fusing sounds of the ocean with abstracted snippets of Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” quartet (sampled from a recording by the Ehnes Quartet) and original music. I edited these cues such that the waves become another instrument in the musical gestures - with the music seeming to echo out of the crashing waves or the wave rhythms and textures reflecting the music. Used in transitions and to underscore sections of textless action, these cues varied from smokey and airy to driving and violent based on the story. Likewise, the musical quotes from the quartet become more specific and recognizable as the audience learns more of its significance.
In the opening sequence of the show, Paulina is alone at night in the dark. The music seeps in under the waves until the arrival of a car sets her on alert. This cue also contains a layer of abstracted metallic sounds as hints at Paulina’s past suffering.
In this early transitional cue, the musical element with the waves is more established.
This later cue expresses more of the tumult and present danger of the later stages of the show.
The script of Death and the Maiden calls for certain character text to be recorded live on a tape player and immediately played back from a specific moment in the recording. Because of the timing of the moment, prerecorded text differences would be very obvious, but the team also didn’t want the actors to have to record, rewind, and play an actual tape with extreme precision.
To solve this, we placed a battery powered speaker with an in-ear monitor receiver in the tape player prop and hid a wireless lavalier microphone under a table on the set. I then created a midi-triggerable Max/MSP-based application to record from the microphone and play back to the wireless speaker. Triggered from QLab, This gave the Stage Manager total control over exactly what was recorded and exactly when it was played back.