intelligent (((sound))) design?

earlier today a fellow sound designer and i were discussing the fact that we have never seen any decent literature dedicated to the aesthetics of sound design for theatre. we both arrived at the conclusion that to actually speak on the subject of what constitutes a good sound design would only really measure our immediate feelings, losing a sense of the bigger picture on the subject.

nevertheless, we both realized that it was incumbent upon us to lend some clarity for those who might searching.

in order to be as productive as possible in this discussion, i will try to keep all of my clauses brief. some of these assertions may open up to further exploration later, but these are basic principles. i invite any and all scrutiny.

here goes nothing


the goal of all productions is to be meaningful.

no one rule can describe the creative role sound design has in theatre.
the rules describe themselves from production to production.

a large sound effects library is worth the world.
clear expression of your imagination is worth the universe.

all of the technical know-how and pristine equipment on earth won't give you a good idea.
adaptation and improvisation with crappy equipment can unlock many interesting designs.

speaker placement, levels and equalization are the instrument of your design.
concepts and ideas are the music.

you think by making connections between ideas in your head.
a design is thoughtful when it connects ideas in the play.

some designs require a deep understanding of physics.
some designs require a departure from reality.

sometimes a sound designer is really a space designer.
sometimes a sound design is really a character.

when designing, imagine the production overflowing with sound.
when you are in tech, strip it down to its barest essentials.

when a sound design is too prominent, everyone thinks it is perfect.
when a sound design is correct, everyone thinks the show is perfect.


when devising the sound for a show, the primary text is not script: it's the production.
make no absolute decisions until you have seen a run, then consult the script for guidance.

scenic and costume designers always furnish renderings.
sound designers get to make mixtapes.

endeavor always to be respectful to your stage manager and/or board operator.
their work ultimately decides whether or not your design is expressed.

sometimes your director will not know what they are talking about.
this doesn't mean that you can't know what they are talking about.

sometimes your director will like anything you do.
when granted this freedom, be your own fiercest critic.

when a director disagrees with you, don't defend your idea until you know what they are looking for.
you may find that you both share the same idea.

since you are the designer, you can solve any problem in the design.
often this means that you are blind to the design's problems.

making mistakes is not a source of suffering or shame.
fixing mistakes is a source of joy and satisfaction.

there are tricks that sound can perform, and there are ideas that sound can serve.
tricks should only be in service to ideas.

since all design ideas must flow from a central concept, all sounds must belong to a single landscape of ideas.
if there is no central concept, there can be no design.


the concept is the birthplace of the sonic landscape.
the landscape is the birthplace of ideas.

meaning is relational.
all meaning comes from the marriage of ideas.

your first idea will always come from your sense of taste.
as such, you should always seek to broaden your horizons.

your sense of taste is meaningless.
the sonic landscape is where meaning lives.

every aspect of every choice you make can be meaningful.
ask yourself if the design is functional.

sometimes the simplest ideas are the most hidden.
sometimes the oldest ideas are the most original.

listen to random, atonal sounds.
all sounds are by nature musical.

some of the finest designs are too subtle to be noticed.

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