Jonathan Guillen music + sound

Howard Barker is a mad genius

Now that the Trap Door Theatre production of Minna is about to come to a close, I thought I'd reflect on the process of creating the music and sound design. This first installment will cover the pre-production concept and subsequent posts will reveal the writing and recording process, how I created a surround sound score and sound design, and how I logistically made it all work.

First, Howard Barker IS a mad genius. It's evident when reading Minna that Barker was thinking about the entire stage experience simultaneously. Stage directions like
He is as if deaf, She peeps, They turn to her as if in a dance, and Minna smothers pity and self pity are a few examples of the detail Barker included regarding performance. Such detail was also directed to costumes, setting, and sound.

Several sounds recurred throughout, like
the shattering of glass, a cacophony of percussion, or a distant march. Other sounds had an evolving nature, like a gentle breeze, a violent wind, or the sound of traffic on the motorways, the sound of trucks like an ocean. As well, sounds occurred simultaneously, like wind, the sound of traffic, and dripping water or a gentle wind, distant drums, and shattering glass or the sound of breaking glass and trucks.

I made a creative choice with director Nicole Wiesner to consolidate the variety of sounds presented to the audience. This would immediately help the unification of themes presented in the work. I feel that as a reader it is easy to distinguish the subtlety between
water dripping, as in a thaw and water dripping from the oars of a boat; as a listener the ability to distinguish those differences is nearly impossible. The consolidation of sounds would also make control of the juxtaposition of these sounds possible. If I assign "all wind-like sounds" to be a and "all traffic-like sounds" to be b, then a gentle breeze and traffic on the motorways will equal (a + b), as well a violent wind and the sound of trucks is (a + b). Thus, cues would consist of larger entities created by the combination of "all sounds", (a + b + c) or (a + d + e) or (e + b).

The concept was complete and the next task was to create the individual sound elements and the music. I always prefer to write original music rather than use existing material, and fortunately Barker included several directions for music, as in
a distant waltz, a distant march, music is heard, and the sound of pipes playing. This was a great opportunity to create music that would have a stronger presence throughout the show and not exist merely as "scene change music".

In the next post, I'll discuss the concept for the music, the recording process, and the importance of flutes, washboards, and auto-harps.