Producing 'beautifully simple' sounds

Dunedin-born sound designer and musician Jimi Wilson at work. Photo: Supplied
Dunedin-born sound designer and musician Jimi Wilson at work. Photo: Supplied
Former Dunedin man Jimi Wilson is part of the team creating a different kind of dance experience for Footnote Dance Company’s latest national tour. He tells Rebecca Fox about the primal process.

Helping to create the sounds used in Footnote Dance Company's latest show has been ''beautifully simple'', sound technician Jimi Wilson says.

''They danced, I wrote.''

Wilson is part of a team of three that has created the sounds for Search Engine, a performance of three short works by choreographers Lauren Langlois (winner of the Green Room Award), Rose Philpott (Eileen May Norris Dance Scholarship recipient) and Tupua Tigafua.

''Within this luminous, metallic world, three choreographers explore and define their experiences of what it means to seek out and to search within our technologically driven society,'' Footnote says.

An image from Footnote Dance Company’s production of Search Engine. Photo: Supplied
An image from Footnote Dance Company’s production of Search Engine. Photo: Supplied
Along with lighting and audio visual designers, the sound designers have created a ''striking and physical projected world'' that punctuates the physicality of the dancers.

This is to emphasis the closeness of the audience to the five dancers - Georgia Beechey-Gradwell, Tyler Carney, Joshua Faleatua, Anu Khapung and Adam Naughton.

For Wilson, Search Engine has been a chance to challenge his skills.

He began to explore rhythm and beat-driven ''stuff'' as opposed to the ambient music he usually created.

''So the style change, while difficult, was welcome. Of course, when I could put my ambient stuff in, I did.''

It also required Wilson, who was raised in Macandrew Bay and attended Bayfield High School, to change a few of his working practices, including his ''write for fun, see what happens and bang it up on the net'' general approach.

''There was a lot more direction and a lot of audio that didn't go anywhere. Writing this work over a couple of weeks was a pretty massive undertaking.

''It required me to cut a lot of my standard practices, such as shifting my 'creative hours' from 1am to 10am.''

He enjoyed working with choreographer Rose Philpott on her first commissioned work.

''Depending on what kind of emotions the choreographer was wanting to display, I either found something that suited the mood or found some tasteful contrast that I feel brought out another depth to the project.''

For Philpott, working with Wilson was an amazing experience as she had not worked with a composer before.

As much of Wilson's ''day job'' involves creating film soundscapes, Philpott opted for a cinematic feel to her piece.

''I like to try and juxtapose movement with sound.''

A self-claimed perfectionist and control freak, she tried to stand back and allow Wilson to come up with ideas.

''He came up with some great offers, some really beautiful electric guitar sounds from a friend of his and a haunting alien sounding track for the last section of the piece, which is my favourite.''

Wilson has discovered that dancers are ''truly'' professionals.

''The dancers were incredible; I had some really strange time changes, so I was shocked when they adjusted their movements pretty much instantly.

''Those people can move like nothing else.''

At the end of each day he and the dancers would have a listening session so they could give feedback. Then a couple of times a week, he would meet Footnote's professional sound designer, and ''with his guidance, make some more changes''.

Wilson's work with Footnote is just one of many jobs and activities he juggles with completing his master's degree.

He is spending most of his time focusing on producing 5.1 audio (surround sound), foley (sound effects for film), sound design and ambience for film as he is hopeful of getting an internship at Park Road Post Productions, in Wellington, next semester.

Wilson also makes his own music in his spare time under the name ''Domovoi''.

''It doesn't pay the bills, but I guess that counts. I'll be putting out my first full album in October and from there organising some live shows and hunting for record labels.''

He loved the work because it enabled him to explore some ''strange frequencies in a really rhythmic way too''.

''Using high frequencies alongside some basic knowledge about perceptive hearing, you can really make some weird sounding noises that you probably haven't heard before.

''I took some strong influence from Ryoji Ikdea, an installation artist and sound designer whose work I fell in love with my first year up here.''

Wilson got into sound design when he discovered the more ''traditional'' forms of composition ''really weren't for me''.

''Counterpoint and harmony felt like unnecessary restrictions that drove me into the world of audio engineering, electronic music and sound design.''

He considers himself lucky that the New Zealand School of Music (NZSM), where he is studying composition, understood the importance of musical progress and had a degree endorsement in ''composition in sonic arts''.

It has been a great result for a ''kid'' who left Bayfield High School early.

To see
Footnote Dance Company National Tour: Search Engine, Queenstown Memorial Centre tonight, Invercargill, Scottish Hall, May 12, Oamaru Opera House May 15, Dunedin Regent Theatre, May 16.

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