King Lear

by William Shakespeare directed by Emily Mendelsohn
designed for F100 at the California Institute of the Arts opened: April 26, 2007


Cordelia's Flute Download Link

A flute plays through a scratchy record in the background while Lear is slowly returning to sanity with Cordelia.

The War Download Link

The sound of a stampede and violent wind processed with a variable low pass filter computed by Max/MSP and controlled by QLab. This cue was in time with lights and actor movement at the end of the play. The war exists at the fringe of the second half of Act IV, and as it invades the space more completely, the low-pass filter is opened up and the sound grows.

Design Concept

The goal of the sound design was to create the run down, desolate atmosphere of a country at war. Goneril and Reagan's castles are run down and dangerous places, filled with the sounds of steam pipes clanking and water dripping. The war exists at the fringes of this world, and its low frequency reverberations nag at the characters' subconscious until it grows to take over the action at the end of the act.

To achieve this with limited equipment and time, speakers were placed at the four corners of the audience seating and pointed outward to bounce the sound off the walls of the small space. The audience is greeted by the sound of a record player endlessly playing static. The record static disappears when the Old Man helping Gloucester leaves him with Edgar. The ambiences for the castles were played primarily through speakers that would bounce off walls near the actors' positions during those scenes, but the other two speakers on stage also contributed to the enveloping soundscape. The record static returns with flute music hidden in it when Lear wakes at Cordelia's encampment.

Design Analysis

With more time and resources, I would want to revisit the speaker positions to achieve a more enveloping sound for the audience. My original sound plot called for eight speakers, with two mounted at each corner of the audience seating. One set pointed inward at the audience while the second pointed out toward the walls. The goal of this setup was to create an interior and exterior space for the audience. In retrospect a better design choice would have been to point the four available speakers inward: since the actors acted around and through the seating area, the sound should have been more enveloping to match this movement.

Furthermore, Ms. Mendelsohn and I could not come up with a way to design to support Lear's madness, so those moments were left with silence. Fortunately Joel Legger is proficient in bird noises and was incredibly engaging as a performer so we decided that no extra sound was necessary at this point. The problem still nags at me, though.