GETTING TO KNOW: PETER BAILEY

Peter is a digital media artist based in Canberra. A BVA graduate from the Australian National University School of Art and Design; Peter has a background in sound design, experimental animation and video production. He has enjoyed working on numerous media projects, including the Urthboy music video The Arrow (2016) and has exhibited work at the Nishi Gallery in Rendered Experience (2015) and the M16 Artspace with his work Remains (2014).

The Street talks with Peter about the 2020 creative development for the sound design of Milk undertaken with the creative team entirely via zoom.

WHAT SPARKED YOUR INTEREST IN SOUND?

I think I’ve been interested in sound and the way sound can affect us from a fairly young age. However, it wasn’t until I began studying that I really became aware of sound design as an art form. At the ANU School of Art and Design I was introduced to a lot of interesting sound work and installation art, which kicked off my interest. I also had a great teacher in Alistair Riddell, who taught sound and installation art in digital media. 

HOW DID YOU RESPOND TO THE SCRIPT OF MILK?

Milk is a script with a really compelling sense of place and of history. It touches on forgotten history and unacknowledged history that more of us should learn and be taught. But it also looks at family history, it features the good and the bad side of family history and explores how those connections impact generations and individuals. For me, I was always looking for ways I could represent the individuals in this story and bring those individuals together in a way that would reflect their connections to each other through sound.

THIS YEAR’S FIRST SEEN SEASON IS BEING DEVELOPED AND SHOWN VIA ZOOM. WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES IN DEVELOPING A SOUNDSCAPE IN THIS WAY?

Our biggest challenge is audio fidelity in a live zoom setting. Not all sounds come through in a zoom meeting as you want or expect and we have had plenty of sessions exploring the best way to play sounds over zoom. Unfortunately zoom does not like multilayered soundscapes playing while people talk. But despite those difficulties I think we are still able to showcase the sound being developed. Overall, I think zoom has been extremely useful in developing the soundscape for Milk. It allowed me to work closely and quickly with the cast and creative team, which I found extremely helpful. 

TALK US THROUGH THE IDEAS YOU HAVE BEEN WORKING WITH IN BRINGING DYLAN VAN DEN BERG’S SCRIPT TO LIFE?

From a sound perspective, the most important development was to consider the wind sounds in the play as like another character. It has agency and a will, it has a real impact on the other characters in the play. Another idea that is important, was to separate the soundscape into a series of planes based around the themes of the play. We broke those down into sounds exploring nature, spirit, memory and future. Those concepts helped me develop different sounds for different parts of the play and how they related to the overall story.

WHEN DOES THE SOUND WORLD OF A WORK BECOME CLEAR TO YOU?

I think it depends on the project. With Milk, we had a fairly strong idea of how sound would work in the play. But over the course of this development, the role of sound has changed and become clearer. The soundscape has much more impact in the work now and moved from being more of an ambient, passive soundtrack to an active participant in the play.

AND HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE IT FOR MILK?

From the beginning Milk had a strong sense of place and the prevailing nature of that place. In particular, I’ve tried to achieve this sense of a changing landscape through the sounds of the wind and ocean. Each character has a series of sound elements that relate to them and those sounds help transport us to the places they are going.

WHAT IS YOUR VIEW ON SOUND DESIGN FOR THE THEATRE AND NEW TREATMENTS.

It is really exciting to be working on sound design for the theatre and to be part of a new treatment. Bringing sound to live performance in a way that adds to the actors performance is challenging but really rewarding as well. Working on a new treatment is great because you get to actively participate and witness how it all takes shape.

HOW DO YOU WORK – WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS FROM START TO FINISH?

First I read through the script and note any thoughts I have on the text. I then write down my ideas on how I think sound should work for the project and develop that into a concept for the sound design. From this point, I usually gather references and sounds that relate to what I want to achieve. From here I begin producing content for the elements I believe are most crucial or just the elements I find most interesting. In general, I like to experiment and try out lots of different stuff to see what works and get feedback from the creative team. After a period of trying out different things I find the piece starts to take shape and I begin to bring it together into a cohesive form. 

WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?

Most recently I’ve been inspired by sound based storytelling through audiobooks, radio plays and podcasts. I love the way scripts, sound effects and music can be layered to produce something that feels almost visual. I feel like sound can kickstart our imagination in such a unique way. Without imagery in front of you, the mind is compelled to fill that void with your own interpretations.

I have been listening to a lot of things, the musician and sound artist Tim Hecker has featured pretty highly for me, in particular his 2013 album Virgins. On the production of Milk, I have experimented with synth instruments and I’ve been listening to music and sound design in this area; the artist Makeup and Vanity Set is one which stands out for me as they have soundtracked a lot of storytelling material from audio driven to cinema.

WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING AND WATCHING ONLINE?

Working on Milk made me want to revisit the documentary series First Australians and First Footprints. They are both amazing pieces of historical storytelling and an inspiration for me.

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