How I Married Myself (and Other Misadventures)

Last spring I worked with a Columbia 2nd-year playwright, Mariana Starolesky, and first-year director Anna Rebek, to develop an original sound design for the premiere of Mariana’s newest work.

The play explores themes of identity, self-love, and self-realization, and the all-important moment that follows the emotional adolescence of a young person’s life, when that young person fully grasps the vastness of the world and believes they must try to make sense of it. The main character of the play, Levana, is one such young person, and the titular misadventures make up a two hour odyssey as she breaks out of the Orthodox Jewish culture of her upbringing to define what she needs in order to be happy.

The play quickly moves through many locales and characters, often taking on a surreal, absurdist bent with both the setting and characters. Combined together, this gives the script a dream-like quality. I chose to emphasize this aspect of production with sound, as I, and the rest of the creative team, sensed the sometimes-subtle (sometimes not) unreality of the scenes, and recognized the desire within the script to represent not a naturalistic emotion, but a purer, more iconic version of an emotion. One that could only happen in a dream. To depict a dream in the aural space, I chose to use amorphous, patterned sounds – oscillating, detuned synths at perfect intervals to each other, slowly moving through the same endless chord progression.

The dream-sounds are one aural thread that weaves the many places and scenes into a coherent whole, and the second is the sound of water. Many of the locales of the play are set outside, within nature, and to reflect that and historical settings of the “Hero’s Journey” (e.g. the Odyssey, or more recently, Lord of the Rings), I though it was important to include natural sounds. I chose sounds of water for this purpose: waves, rain, the trickling of streams, the splash of puddles, etc.. Not only did those sounds fit in naturally with outdoor settings, but it modeled the theme of change: water is constantly in flux, not only in the sense that it is constantly in motion, either due to gravity or the tides, but it is constantly changing form: from liquid, to ice, to cloud.

While creating audio for this show, I began to learn more about modular synthesizers and additive synthesis. I was fascinated by building sound from the basic shapes of waves: sines, saws, squares, etc… I delved into the science behind sound: how human ears work, how frequency and pitch are represented by computers, and how different kinds of sounds are built. A few pieces of score feature oscillating textures, but it is most apparent within the track I recorded to underscore Levana’s nightmare.