Full ‘Metal’ Racket: Sound Innovations in Oscar Contender

Full ‘Metal’ Racket: Sound Innovations in Oscar Contender

04/15/2021

“Sound of Metal” director Darius Marder says he and his Oscar-nominated sound team — Nicolas Becker, Jaime Baksht, Michelle Couttolenc, Carlos Cortes Navarrete — wanted heightened naturalism to depict varying stages of hearing and deafness of lead character Ruben (Riz Ahmed).

“This sound mix is as complicated as in an action film,” Marder says. “This has just as many tracks, but it’s not looking to wow you, like explosions. This is trying to engage your senses in hyper-nuance.”

“Metal” has many more layers of sound than usual in dramas, to simulate the experience of being deaf. “Deafness isn’t silence,” Marder says. “There’s a ton of low-frequency, so sometimes you’re hearing low vibrations; there is a whole sonic experience and you have to find the right balance.”

That involved such unusual moves as using underwater microphones for dialogue scenes, and multi-dimensional mics for the concert scenes.

It took a month to mix the opening concert, as they wanted to inundate the audience with sound, “to awaken your senses so you pay attention to sound in a different way,” Marder says.

Ruben gets cochlear implants and Marder’s team needed to create varying levels of sound as Ruben’s hearing adjusts. At first the sound is distorted, then the doctor makes an adjustment, and soon Ruben discovers he hears differently in a party setting or a street setting.

“With a cochlear implant, your brain at first doesn’t know where a sound is coming from.

“We took every layer of sound through multiple processors — every word, every line; we had 60-70 tracks of sound just within that cochlear world. We wanted a surround experience so you feel disoriented. That’s how implants work: Your brain over a period of years will make sense of it, but at first it’s a mess.”

And the work was unending. After the movie’s September 2019 Toronto premiere, they remixed the sound “because we didn’t get it just right. This was an incredible balancing act.”

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