BRECHT IN PRACTICE
Sound Design

Nick Newman’s sound designs for the production were intended to suggest themes and atmospheres prior to each Act. They layered sounds and musical textures to offer the audience clues to what was to come and a mostly uncomfortable sense of danger and foreboding.

Pre-show

 

This track combines whispering, menacing tones and audible crackle with authentic material taken from Brecht’s appearance before the House Un-American Activity Committee in 1947. The interrogation and Brecht’s responses connected the witch-hunt theme of The Crucible with Miller’s contemporary context, Senator McCarthy’s ‘red scare’ and the hunt for Communists.

 

Act I

The ticking clock suggests the passing of time, that the audience is going back in time. The rising chants and singing invoke the pagan dancing that precedes the action. Church bells conclude the track, reminding the audience of the church’s presence. In little more than a minute, the soundtrack articulated a central conflict between the energy of the girls and the order of the church.

 

Act II

The ticking clock, a constant motif in the sound design, opens to suggest time passing from the first to the second act. A more harmonious chord underscores the laughter of children, introducing the domestic setting of the Proctor’s house. The joy of their voices will be contrasted with the difficult relationship between the Proctors that will soon play out.

 

Act III

Time passes again as the audience returns from the interval. They hear shouting and uproar, and the sound of a judge’s gavel trying to maintain order. In short, this track sets the scene for the Court. The track faded after the gavel to allow the offstage dialogue to begin.

 

Act IV

The act in the gaol opens with menacing tones and the whispers that featured in the Preshow track. The sound of cows lowing uncomfortably can be heard, and this is a pointer to subsequent dialogue that notes how the cattle roam the countryside because their owners are in prison. A fire also burns with its obvious connotations of destruction.

 

One audience member commented, in the anonymous online questionnaire, that the ‘Artaudian’ soundscapes were not in keeping with a Brechtian production. While the tracks don’t really square with Brecht’s use of music, it is difficult to agree that such approaches were inconsistent with the ideas of the production. The embedding of thematic sounds signalled tensions and conflicts, and the musical underpinning created moods that prepared the audience for the action that followed. Music and sound is primarily about an experience, and Newman’s work delivered material that was subsequently unpacked in the production itself.

 


BRECHT IN PRACTICE - Copyright 2017 © Prof. David Barnett | All Rights Reserved

David Barnett
Professor of Theatre
University of York

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