Building a Soundscape for the Royal Ontario Museum

Towards the end of 2015, I had the good fortune of being contacted by director, choreographer and multi-disciplinary artist Brendan Fernandes to collaborate in building an original soundscape for a video installation for the Royal Ontario Museum. The piece was commissioned for the unveiling of a new exhibit, “Authority Inside” , featuring priceless cultural artifacts originally documented in the historical film Les Statues Meurent translation (Statues Also Die) – 1953.

Brendan chose to document the unveiling, by filming the opening of the vault at the Royal Ontario Museum, after many decades of being hidden away from public view. These ancient African artifacts were masks and objects, often used in ceremonial dance. Brendan used a film crew and location sound recordist, to capture the majority of the unveiling. He chose to emphasize key moments in the film, by opting to use a trained ballet dancer, who held the camera in a symbolic manner, moving in and out of static and tracking shots.

In regard to the sound design, it was important to Brendan that we used environmental sounds, like the wisp of ballet shoes on the concrete floors, the subtle crinkling of the packing material that cushioned the precious artifacts, and the haunting rumble of the vault doors as they roll open to reveal important ceremonial objects.

In the studio, we spent time discussing how to inject life and personality into each object and scene, to tell a story, driven by sight and sound that would connect all of the individual artifacts. Brendan’s vision was to utilize the aural textures captured on location, music from the original historical documentary, analog synthesis, subtle voice recordings, foley, stark instrumental composition and percussive objects to guide the viewer through the film.

One of my favorite examples of how we applied our method, was in a scene where the camera is tracking into a mask, resting on a cloak of straw, As the frame slowly closes in on the subject, there is a gentle rustling, almost like an unseen predator moving through dense brush. A labored breathing fades in low, all the while a calm wind gently flows. As the camera abruptly stops, the sounds that have started to infuse life into the artifact have suddenly vanished, leaving you with a sense of something that once lived and is now involuntarily static. 

Throughout the film there are tranquil, ambient, haunting and intense moments of audible texture, music and stark silence all of which strive to convey a fundamental purpose and desire to be released. Altogether, we felt the sound design did well to support the piece, Brendan’s vision and the spirit of Les Statues Meurent.

I hope you appreciate the film and feel free to comment.

Authority Inside