Creating sonic worlds

Singapore-based sound designer, Jing Ng, illuminates the craft of sound designers in theatre, and how audio technology is specially curated to create optimum sonic experiences.

In the world of theatre, sound designers play a pivotal role in shaping the overall sonic experience — deciding the what, how, and why of the sounds that envelop both the audience and the production team. Yet, their craft is oftentimes veiled in mystery.

Meet Jing Ng — a Singapore-based freelance sound designer with extensive experience in designing for theatre, dance performances, and short films. Ng details his journey into sound design: “I was introduced to this field by Singaporean sound designers Darren Ng and Jeffrey Yue, through them I began to question how sound could create evocative meanings that impact the audience on psychological, physiological, and philosophical levels.”

But what exactly is the role of sound designers? Ng weighs in: “I collaborate, question, and unravel the creative impetus of the theatre director’s vision in order to bring sonic experiences to fruition using audio tools. Beyond producing audio content, I also plan for the appropriate reinforcement of tactile and acoustic sounds, creating an audio system best suited to the performance’s needs — from control and speaker systems to software.”

Ng’s direction to crafting soundscapes for theatrical productions foregoes a one-size-fits all approach. Instead, he sees how each venue can accommodate specific sound design goals.

He elaborates: “I begin by analysing the architectural nuances of each venue – spatial dimensions, interior walls, and ceilings, and the compositions of reflective or absorptive materials — which would influence the dispersion of sound. Rather than feeling restricted by established spatial compositions, I recognise each theatre’s unique sonic signature and reverberance, then select the appropriate audio tools that can enhance the desired sonic experience.”

The possibilities for enhancing sound in theatre are boundless, but choosing the right technology to realise specific artistic visions is important. Ng shares: “The ergonomics of the technology should encourage smooth workflow because of how tightly scheduled the local theatre working environment is. Having to flip between various audio hardware and software has made me appreciate tools that are intuitive and comprehensible. I also consider how effortlessly a specific tech integrates with other technological solutions within the broader sound system.”

Such considerations, however, come with their share of challenges too. Ng has to navigate the practicality of achieving the desired sound design directions in accordance with the overall development process of live theatre productions. He observes: “Live theatre can change dramatically in form, structure, or style during its developmental stages. These changes give us limited time to respond without compromising on the entire sound system.”

He illustrates further: “Recently, I had the opportunity to work on the local musical ‘Into the Woods’ where I utilised d&b Soundscape to achieve high-fidelity immersive audio soundscapes. However, the set design and limited availability of rigging points made it challenging to acquire the ideal locations for individual speakers while ensuring that the audio setup was theatrically ‘invisible’. Thankfully, we could alter the system configurations on-site with d&b’s ArrayCalc.”

Moving forward, Ng aims to dispel the misconceptions surrounding the work of sound designers as mere audio content creation. He concludes: “Sound designers do more than simply compose and playback in live theatre. Sound is a live phenomenon; it is crucial to allow for time to adapt our desired designs in the given space. Moreover, engaging sound designers as engineers without a defined sonic direction is like asking an engineer to implement a vision without the architect’s design — risking misinterpretation of the desired experience for the audience.”

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