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How barriers helps to make good decisions

If you ask a hundred “sound person” about their needs, about their working structure, probably most of them will tell you that the best would be if we have no barriers. If we could have unlimited resources, unlimited tracks, etc. But is this really the best way? I know we live in a quite limitless world, but in our vocation, in my opinion, many times barriers are good things.

Welcome to the ancient world of CD players

As you might know, I’d been working for a big theatre for many years. There were many different challenges there, but to make the long story short, for the live job, we only had 2–3 cd players. Why was it a problem? Because we have plays where we needed to perform more than 200 effects during the acts, all “synced” to action on stage.

This immediately pose a few problems. You need precision and need huge amount of flexibility. CD is not really flexible. You must follow the rules of the Red Book, so even a tiny short sound effect track must be at least 4 seconds long. And this 4 seconds brings up another major problem. If you have a chain of effects, you must spread them across multiple players. One would say no big deal, but actually it was a big deal. There were two ways to do it. One is to cut the effects together and play it as a single track. But very often you cannot do this as the action on stage require separate effects. In this case you grab a piece of paper and a pencil and start to plan your effects. Not only track by track, but logically think through many ways, and orchestrate your effects so you’ll be able to play them at the right order in the right moment.

This means you have limited space and time (remember the Red Book). First I was doomed. Many times I said that it’s impossible to do this. Probably only a very few times I was right. And this is where barriers actually sparks creativity. You are forced to make more evocative, more meaningful effects, forced to organise them in a much better way.

It’s hard, sometimes very hard, but most of the times achievable. But you have to stick with the problem and reorder your effects again and again and again. I guess you already know what I wanted to tell you. With this process, your brain start to work very hard to figure out the best solution for the given problems.

When you’re ready with the solution, tried it and proved that it is actually working, you’ve achieved much more than a few well organised cds. Because of the hard work you put into it, at the end you have much more meaningful, evocative sound effects, and you have an unbeatable structure, a logical way when you can safely play the effects “synced” to action.

Of course this does not mean I would always like to work with cd players. All I want to say is that many times these limits can actually nurture your creativity and teach you many things. Even if your logical brain will tell you right away that this is impossible, stick with the problem. There’s a chance that it is impossible, but if there is a little chance then you’re able to solve the puzzle if you’re persistent enough. Remember, we can benefit from the barriers.

So don’t be lazy and remember these cliches, which are true:

Less is more. Simple is good.

After a few occasions, you’ll discover much more than you’ve imagined.