JPJ Audio Supply Audio Magic for Harry Potter
Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage, and is one play presented in two Parts, which are intended to be seen in order on the same day (matinee and evening) or on two consecutive evenings.
After its success in London and New York, the play opened at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre with JPJ Audio the nominated audio supplier.
Sound designer Gareth Fry, who has scooped numerous awards for his work on the play including winning an Olivier Award, a Tony Award, a Drama Desk Award, and an Outer Critics Circle Award, flew in to ensure a smooth transition. Gareth has worked with director (and co-author) John Tiffany since 2006 saying they have a shared vocabulary for talking about things, shared reference points, and an understanding of each other’s tastes for things.
As the play is set in a fantasy wizard world where nothing is naturalistic, generating the sound effects was a major undertaking for Gareth who strived to ensure the magic appeared very real.
“With a normal play you can use a sound effects library or go out into the world to record it,” he explained. “As so much of this is spells and mystical creatures, all of that has to be created from scratch from the imagination. It’s a massively ambitious show in scale and storytelling, and we’ve had to create hundreds of sounds as well as developing a language to do that.”
Rather than prepare most sound effects beforehand, Gareth and his associate Pete Malkin were in rehearsals full-time from day one, creating the effects in Logic and Ableton Live in response to what was being generated.
“A lot of it was made in situ with the performers and creative team to make it really gel together,” added Gareth. “Quite often if you make something in the studio and then bring it to the rehearsal room, it doesn’t match.”
The PA at The Princess Theatre is all d&b audiotechnik, almost exclusively the Y-Series which Gareth says is a lovely sounding box, well suited to this scale of theatre.
“It’s a very large speaker system, particularly for a play, there are hundreds of speakers all over the place,” he said.
A TiMax Tracker is deployed to make vocal mics precisely follow the movement of actors. “Each performer wears a tag that the computer tracks so the TiMax system can pan their voice around the sound system so it sounds more like their amplified voice is coming from where the actual performer is,” Gareth elaborated.
The show is so complex that two sound operators are required at FOH. One operator is kept busy mixing the mics and vocal effects on a DiGiCo SD10T, whilst the other person triggers the sound effects and music on QLab and Ableton Live , through a Yamaha CL5.
“There are a lot of sound effects, and a lot of Imogen Heap’s pre-recorded music that moves between underscoring and the foreground,” remarked Gareth. “We’re using Apple MainStage software for all the different vocal effects, as well as a Lexicon PCM96.”
A few of the radio mics had to be mounted in unusual places in strange costumes and so the aptly named DPA d:screet microphones were chosen as Gareth says they sound great, are very tough and are small enough to hide on cast members. As the show has progressed around the world, the microphones have kept pace with newer models being implemented so that by the time it opened in Melbourne, the new DPA d:screet 6000 Series was utilised.
“They are effectively invisible,” stated Gareth. “The actors prefer wearing them too, because they are less obtrusive. They sound great and they are incredibly water resistant.”
Gareth describes the transfer to The Princess Theatre as incredibly smooth saying the JPJ team were amazing. “I couldn’t have asked for it to go any smoother!” he declared.
Photos: Matt Murphy