Mustafa fixing a broken drum kit
“Should your designation on the program be sound designer or sound engineer? Sound engineer makes you seem more important…”
Gee, thanks. For the sake of maintaining decent diplomatic ties between the US and Pakistan, I won’t even reveal who said that.
After working on the Voices of Partition project, one thing was for sure. In the theatre industry, the technical team is irrelevant. Sure, they make all of the director’s visual and aural dreams come to life, but that’s pretty much it. After a show in Massachusetts in October 2015, I noticed a few American girls talk to our actors about the play. So, I went and stood with our team. This resulted in the biggest ignore fest I’ve ever been a part of. Even Usman looked at me and said in Urdu, “He he. Mujhay pata hai tu kyun aaya hai.” (“He he. I know why you’re here.”)
But not entirely.
From early 2015 to early 2017, I attempted to make my own music many times. Most of these attempts resulted in obvious failure, because when it was time to put vocals on top of an instrumental track, reality struck hard. My voice sucked. However, mixing tracks on janky software taught me that I could create sound without creating music, and at least put what I learnt to use somewhere. For the Voices of Partition project’s show, This Stained Dawn, I designed almost twenty sound cues by either combining existing sounds, or on occasion, recorded my own, using a strange looking USB microphone.
Uhh, dude, you sure that’s a mic?
David asked me to give Q Lab a shot when running the cues, but back then, I definitely didn’t know how. Heck, I even designed the cues on Audacity, the most basic audio editing software in the world. David let it go, and the cues were run manually, but he vowed to use Q Lab if we ever worked together again.
The next time was quite different. When David returned to Pakistan to begin staging On Common Ground, I was quite fluent in Apple’s audio editing software, Logic Pro X. Tasks he gave me to complete took half the time, because compared to Audacity, this was a walk in the… farm. Yup. David also brought along a new MacBook Pro with Q Lab already installed on it, so I knew what was up. Luckily, I watched a few tutorials before his arrival, so I knew the very basics. But I continued experimenting with in anyway, and today I have a show ready, completely colour-coded, with stops, and fades, and hotkey triggers, and chandeliers, and a faux velvet ceiling, and shami kebabs, and chapli kebabs, where I teach, and I teach, and I –
Right, I bet everything has been understood by this point. But this does not change the facts. The actor will always remain important, definitely more important than the tech dude. DEFINITELY more important than the sound designer. There is still a sense of irrelevance I feel at every rehearsal. Halfway through, I think, if I were to leave right now, the show would still go on, and nobody would even notice that I wasn’t on my chair. But whatever, man. New MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. He he.