A conversation with Marco Patricio about sound design on 'HIDE' and the future

This conversation occured with filmmaker and multidisciplinary artist Marco Patricio over iMessage while I walked to my office on the morning of Friday, Oct 13 2017.

This conversation explores Marco's process sound designing an interactive horror project I directed and produced called, 'HIDE' for a futuristic entertainment platform called Tap. As well as some general thoughts about the future.

IMG_2633


Apple iMessage: Friday, October 13, 2017 (Toronto)

VV:
OK Marco, what tools did you use on this project?

MP:
Tools? Pro Tools. Aside from that a lot of the effects were recorded over the past couple of years with my Sony PCM D100.

VV:
Yeah actually, I've always wanted to ask you about that. You have a huge catalog of sounds. How?

MP:
I used to carry my recorder around everywhere and just record anything that was interesting, unique, or that might be useful at some point in the future. There’s a lot of random sounds to be recorded when that’s all you’re thinking about. I’ve also bought a lot of specialized sound packs for specific projects. I think the BOOM library Magic Kit we used in a few places in HIDE. I also took a lot of libraries from studios I’ve worked at or collaborated with in the past - downloaded my university’s entire sound library before I graduated etc.

VV:
interesting

MP:
You kind of pick up stuff as you need it and then one day you have a few TB of sounds for almost any use case. And when you don’t have something you need you can always just approximate it or build it out of sounds you do have. The great thing about sound is you never actually need the exact sound you’re trying to replicate. You can just build it out of its core elements and it’s almost always better than the real thing.

VV:
yeah that makes sense. I've always thought it was so cool that you are the type of human that carries thousands of sounds around with him. It's a funny thing to think about.

At a high level what were the steps you had to take to wrap your head around this project?

MP:
Really it was mostly about understanding how to work within the medium. There’s a lot of reference for horror films that have the illusion of being found footage but the output of those films is always for a screen in a movie theatre or a laptop or something like that. So the thing that needed to be worked out is how to design for something that feels native to the platform when it’s created and consumed in the same place. It’s basically like if they made Blair Witch but then everybody watched it through the viewfinder of a video camera. Sort of. So it was really about understanding how to create realism in an environment that every single member of the audience is an expert in. Everyone has recorded videos on their phone and watched them back on their phone and they know what that looks, feels, and sounds like. So how do you create a sonic experience that feels as true to that as possible?

VV:
yeah totally

MP:
But like there’s things you could do in a traditional film that you definitely can’t do here because the audience is way less likely to suspend belief because they’re so familiar with what videos on their phones should sound like. Even though it’s paranormal the floor for realism is way higher in my opinion than if you were designing sound for something that’s going to play in a traditional playback environment.

VV:
Yeah for sure. These days videos or applications with sounds playback on the mobile devices we carry with us everyday. Sometimes people are using headphones and we don't know the kind of headphones they are using, sometimes they aren't using headphones at all and playback occurs on the speakers of their phones or sometimes they're muted.

What do you think all of this means in terms of how we think about the sound design of our projects in 2017?

MP:
I actually think it’s a great thing. Taking away the “ideal” playback allows you to let go of the idea of everything sounding exactly how you want it to and means that you get to (and have to) focus more on sound as a part of the narrative.

VV:
What do you mean by that?

MP:
The nuance becomes an added bonus instead of the main event. You have to create a baseline experience (in this case a scary experience) assuming that somebody’s going to hear only the important moments and then everything beyond that is just deepening the experience for that person. If you don’t have headphones that’s cool. But if you do that’s even better and you’re probably going to have a way more intense experience. But in a way you’ve already made that decision by deciding to wear headphones or not, or experience the story in a loud place vs a quiet place. But ultimately that’s up to the audience to decide and the sound still has to work in service of whatever experience they’re choosing.

VV:
Wow yeah that's great. So the design needs to support multiple contexts while also rewarding the more immersive ones.

MP:
Yeah where as I think in the past if you’re not in the ideal sound environment that the person was designing for you were just kind of fucked. Like even in 2017 if you download a movie on iTunes it’s almost never as loud as you’d want it to be because it’s mixed for a cinema and nobody’s really interested in the other contexts. So as an audience traditionally you’ve had to adjust to the way the creator wanted to have the thing viewed and not the other way around. But to assume that people will care about your ideal viewing situation in 2017 is just out of touch with the way people actually consume things.

VV:
Yeah absolutely. And all of this is super exciting really. What was the most difficult or nuanced component of this project for you?

MP:
The two things were realism and working with a video chat format. A lot of early ideas had to be adjusted (for the better) because a lot of horror tropes just don’t work in this format. It’s a lot less forgiving. So being creative doesn’t mean adding more elements it just means using the ones you do have in the most efficient way. A lot of stuff I was trying early on would have made sense in a more traditional film but the moment you watch it on a phone the illusion sort of fell apart.

VV:
Do you have a specific example of that? When it fell apart?

MP:
The video call thing was just really interesting because you had to make a decision on how much to make it sound like it was coming from a phone. It comes back to the realism thing as well. Because iPhones are actually a great piece of technology and sound really clear etc. But when you’re watching a horror on it your brain thinks “that sounds too clear” which makes you feel like it’s less real. Which is sort of counter intuitive. So using a bit crusher and some vinyl effect helped to kind of smooth over the fact that were were adding high quality sound effects into a less clear iPhone audio recording.

VV:
hm, yes

MP:
One of the examples I can think of is the scene where the babysitter is pulled by the demon. Originally there was all this chaos happening. There were dogs barking outside and a car alarm going off and then there was a single clock ticking in the house that stopped right before the demon pulls her in. Which would have been great in a theatre but it’s sort of like when have you ever heard that happen in real life? It just doesn’t fly on an iPhone video. But that was the weird thing about this project. You’re putting demons and stuff in there and then you hear a clock stop and your mind is like nah that would never happen.

VV:
Yes,that was a really good learning experience. On the note of playback and the different contexts in which we consume content. What do you think about things like AirPods - that are making audio input even more fluid and convenient?

MP:
Yeah I mean in the sense that it makes it easier for people to have headphones on them at all times in an unobtrusive way. The more things start to shift to technologies that use more of the capabilities of our phone as opposed to just using them as a way to view videos or whatever the more interesting things are going to become.

Right now you can’t assume that everyone will have headphones. But in 5 years from now when our phones are going to be used in more immersive ways then you’ll start seeing some crazy stuff with audio that specifically use that hardware.

Like there was a startup that made wireless earbuds that allowed you to put an EQ over the way that you hear the world. All of these little ideas are going to get swallowed up and included into this hardware. We already saw it happen with those new Google headphones. Remember like a year ago there was this kickstarter for a product that did the same thing in terms of translation? So the big players are going to start involving themselves more in the way that we hear the world. And that’ll be super cool when it comes.

VV:
I'm absolutely loving the space right now. This is so much fun and there's so much potential. I guess one last question for now is, outside of your own film and art projects; what kinds of projects are you interested in exploring right now in terms of sounds and audio?

MP:
I think AR stuff is going to be super interesting in terms of sound. It’s really obvious that there’s a lot of potential to tell new kinds of stories with sound or create new experiences with sounds in physical spaces. I think a lot of times we think about the ways in which sound can augment an experience or a piece of technology. But what about the way that technology can be used to augment sound? I’ve always thought podcasts would be way cooler if you could see what people were talking about in a compelling way that still keeps the focus on the audio. AR is probably the answer to that.

VV:
Alright, I love you dude. Thanks for everything.