Confessions of the Sound-Obsessed

Karla Lončar of the 2014 Talent Press reports from the panel "The World of Shouts and Whispers" with sound designer Eugene Gearty and filmmaker Peter Strickland at Berlinale Talents.

Eugene Gearty, Peter Cowie and Peter Strickland

Academy Award-winning sound designer Eugene Gearty from the United States, best known for his collaboration with Martin Scorsese and Ang Lee, and British filmmaker Peter Strickland, director of the films KATALIN VARGA (2009) and BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (2012), gathered at the Berlinale Talents panel "The World of Shouts and Whispers", moderated by film historian Peter Cowie. Although both filmmakers work with sound, their respective approaches are marked by a significant difference: Gearty collaborates with directors and helps them bring their concepts to life, unlike Strickland, who actively works with the sound engineers of the films he directs.

Regardless of the tasks various directors demand of Gearty, he stresses the value of good co-workers: "I’m gifted with a great team; Marko Constanzo and George Lara are my foley artist and engineer, and we’ve been together for 25 years." However, it all comes down to serving the filmmakers’ ideas. "The most important thing to directors is how the sound is used", Gearty said in reference to a clip from Martin Scorsese’s adventure-drama HUGO, which earned him an Oscar for sound editing in 2011. For example, he said, "Marty is sensitive to details", and while working on this film "he fell in love with the production sounds and their emotional content."

Strickland, for his part, explained why, as a director, he is so focused on sound – his latest feature BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO even takes place in a sound studio. "I’m obsessed with it", confessed the filmmaker, who is considered a master at combining diegetic and extra-diegetic sounds and is also known as a lover of music, especially the avant-garde. "Basically, music dictated those shots", he said. He also explained how he directed a particular sequence from the film, one in which vegetables are being boiled. He revealed that in terms of sound, "hardly anything was created in postproduction" because a lot of his friends helped him to create sound effects beforehand. "It’s all fake in this film", Strickland said playfully. Before closing the panel, both directors implied how convenient it is to design sound in an era of so much technological advancement. In that respect, most directors who influenced them weren’t as privileged as they are, and that’s why they admire those filmmakers – figures like David Lynch and Carroll Ballard – so much. "Anybody before me", Gearty affirmed, "had a lot less to work with to achieve great things." Strickland agreed, saying, "Their methods were so experimental, and their sounds are such a part of our language now; I can’t imagine what it took to get those things."