Integral to the beautiful and imaginative The Sea Project is the production’s music. We talked to Composer/Sound Designer/Performer Tom Hogan about working on The Sea Project.
I’d composed with live music for theatre before, most notably on Woyzeck, downstairs at Belvoir in 2010 with Alex Spence, where we chose a nice clunky selection of acoustic instruments (banjo, clarinet and sax). The Sea Project required an altogether different beast. As the script had been put on before in Tasmania, we tried to steer clear of the more acoustic and traditional folk sounds, so I started with a guitar with battery-powered pickups and a second hand amplifier. I sat in on as many rehearsals as I could to allow for an educated improvisation during the production, occasionally playing up to 8 hours a day.
I’ve been developing my aesthetic as a solo performer only since January, and I’m loving this stage of experimentation – trying to create unconventional soundscapes, without a loop pedal, and finding odd hiccups in noise. I’ve focussed on using old reverbs, frequency sweeps, and design faults, relying on harmonic feedback, warbled notes and curiosities within the room.
Harmonically, The Sea Project is straightforward in order to open up experimentation in other areas. The entire production sits in a simple 3-chord progression, with rhythms from Cuba, over chord extensions and scales borrowed from Klezmer. Somehow, it sits well within the European aesthetic.
In a space like the Griffin, with the equipment I’m working with, volume control can be difficult. Using an extreme wah pedal and a ratty tube amp, we’ve achieved some great sounds, but there’s an unpredictability associated with this combination. Frequencies get boosted and dropped, and bounce around the oddly shaped space in a way that an EQ tuning won’t just fix up, so different parts of the audience will each have a slightly different musical experience. Shoving a compressor on the end can help with some elements of this, but then we lose the vibrant dynamic range and some of the feedback, which works in our favour when building real tension. It’s interesting to see the tension of the play leak out into the real world, the same way the tension builds over the course of the production.
We’ll see how effective all of these choices are when the reviews come out! In any case, as the music is live and improvised, so no two shows will be the same, and musical decisions can change and adapt to responses from the audience. But ultimately, what we’re left with can be confronting and beautiful at the same time. And completely exciting.
The Sea Project plays at the Stables until 29 September. For more info and to book tickets, click here.