Oscar-winning sound designer/supervising sound editor Richard King (“Dunkirk,” “Inception,” “The Dark Knight,” “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World”) has two this year with Christopher Nolan’s explosive “Oppenheimer.” Frontrunner” and Bradley Cooper’s musical “Maestro.” While each of them offers very different soundscapes, they capture the essence of these two giants of quantum physics and 20th century music.
For the sound design of the biopic thriller about the father of the atomic bomb J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy), King, the Oscar-winning music and sound effects mixer Kevin O’Connell (“Hacksaw Ridge”) and the dialogue mixer Gary Rizzo (“Dunkirk” , “Inception”) had to create the horrific sound of the Trinity test explosion along with the sounds of the subatomic world of particles and waves that stirred Oppenheimer’s troubled mind.
For the sound design of the complicated love story between legendary conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein (Cooper) and actress Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan), King worked with the Oscar-nominated team of the “A Star Is Born” director: production sound mixer Steve Morrow, the re-recording mixers Tom Ozanich and Dean Zupancic as well as music editor Jason Ruder. They’ve taken the Dolby Atmos experience to a higher level of immersion with live recordings. This included parties, but was dominated by Bernstein’s epic musical orbit, highlighted by a rousing performance of Gustav Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony No. 2 at Ely Cathedral in London and re-recordings of famous Bernstein cues (such as “On the Waterfront,” a “West Side Story” medley and “Candide”), which serve as the score.
The Boom Boom from “Oppenheimer”
“For the [quantum physics]“The idea was to feel it rather than necessarily understand it intellectually,” King, who has extensively researched the sound of science, told IndieWire. “Oppenheimer operated in the world of the 1920s; I imagine it was a bit like the 60s on steroids. It was an explosion of creativity, art and science. The world was truly moving from ancient times to modern times, and everything was up for grabs. There aren’t many moments in the film where you really get inside Oppenheimer’s head because he was such an enigma. I don’t think the point of the film is to explain him, but the beginning is one of those moments where you really see him at his most vulnerable, trying to reconcile the contradiction between light waves and particles in his head. “
King said the goal is to reveal the latent power of these infinitesimally small phenomena and “to convey some of the magic of these physical paradoxes.” In fact, he suggested that it was counterintuitive to view these subatomic forces as the most powerful in nature, much stronger than gravity or electromagnetism. Therefore, they used a variety of real-life sounds, such as large, sparking sparks, physical bangs and cracks, and many electronic components.
“And with the kind of light, dancing waves of energy, we wanted to convey a sense of them merging and going out of phase as they overlap and drift past each other,” King continued. “For the sound of the black hole that Oppenheimer explains to his students, Chris wanted to have a sense of this thing that never stops, like it’s getting smaller and smaller. It was something I manipulated, the idea that gravity becomes so strong that you can’t stop it from imploding on itself. We ended up using it like a reverse explosion with a lot of EQ sweep and there’s some sounds of shattering rock to get a sense of compression and pressure.”
The 20-kiloton Trinity test was fully documented, and King and the team read firsthand accounts from onlookers who described the explosion as a passing freight train or an unnatural thunderstorm. He went on YouTube and found different sounds. Additionally, he sent a recording engineer to capture one of the special effects explosions on camera under the direction of SFX supervisor Scott Fisher.
“One of the reasons I like doing this research is that it actually gives you more ideas to steal from the stuff,” said King, who described one of the sounds as a “cosmic door slam.” To this, the team added modified thunder, lots of deep rumbling and the sounds of shaking equipment in the bunker.
The 40-second shockwave delay that reached the bunker created a great moment of awe, which was heightened by the lingering silence. “What the audience sees is incredible,” King added. “And I think they appreciated those moments of reality where they were just listening to it breathing and moving a little bit and kind of gasping for air as they witnessed this really dramatic event.”
The Long Symphony by “Maestro”
Cooper has described the sound of “Maestro” as a two-hour symphony, to which King added: “The film is very tailored to the music and the sound was actually used in a musical way, in the sense that… there is no There was a difference in the sound of the transition, one scene merging into the other, each one having its own specific sound and quality, so it just flows. And how [Bernstein’s] Life moves forward, there is a sense of dynamism that doesn’t stop and start, stop and start.”
As part of this process, Cooper commissioned King to create the sound of the wind as a motif when Lenny and Felicia are in Central Park and Tanglewood or in their homes in Connecticut and Long Island. “They’re found around the city quite often, so there are specific sounds for them, but not as bold or prominent as ‘Oppenheimer’.” [Cooper] We wanted it to be a part of nature and we worked very hard on the winds to get them appropriate, which is surprisingly difficult. How strong is the movement, gusty, not gusty. And I think the wind motif that he had in mind was the wind of Bernstein’s trajectory, which was so fast, and his rise to fame was so fast, and so his life became so full and constantly evolving.”
The music and sound effects are coordinated. In fact, the use of live recordings is innovative because of its realism. The audience is like a fly on the wall at the parties, which have microphones everywhere so they are more lively and the actors can behave more naturally. Additionally, they added loop groups. This allowed Cooper to be very specific about who and what we were listening to and gave him great freedom in the editing room to focus on the relevant information while keeping it alive in the background.
“It puts the actors in the moment a lot more than if you just told them to shut up and not make a sound because the star is talking,” King said. “It forces the actors to act as if they were really at a party. So if they need to raise their voices to be heard, they will.”
The Thanksgiving gathering is a tour de force, culminating in an argument between Felicia and Lenny in her bedroom as the Macy’s parade passes her window and she attacks him for his selfish behavior and musical elitism. Cooper wanted the sequence to have a heartbeat and rhythm as part of the film’s long symphony of sound. “That’s the entire production, I think,” King added. “Maybe there’s a tiny loop group, just a few voices, but those are primarily the characters that were in that room and the codas.”
Additionally, Cooper places the audience at the center of the musical performances. The Ely Cathedral scene featuring Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony was recorded in this room and broadcast with microphones throughout to capture the reverberations of the building. “They did a wonderful job of mixing all of these tracks together using Atmos, which Steve Morrow and Jason Ruder recorded on set, so you really feel like you’re in a theater,” King said. “And [they] When Mahler came in, they very gently removed themselves from all the backgrounds and only brought in the actual sound of the world, apart from the music, at the end. And there’s this meaningful pause, and the audience is stunned, even as they listen to the music, and the applause erupts.
“I learned a lot from the film just by hearing music by Bernstein that I had never heard before, or that I had heard before but didn’t attribute to him,” King added. “The music has such a strong sense of the era.”