The sound design of Ashish Pant's Byron Jones

Luigi Porto
composer and sound designer

When Ashish contacted me to do the sound design for Byron Jones - probably mainly based on the fact that in that period I was focusing a lot on reality, or so-called magical realism, with my sound installation Quattro Tempi and some collaborations with artists - he basically called me on the phone and narrated me the whole film, like it was (and it effectively is) an action movie. He wanted to reach the climax of the narration with the opening of the window, in the evening of the second day. I haven't done the math, but I am pretty sure that is the golden section of the film, like the climax point in a symphony. The whole film is probably leading there.

The initial approach that Ashish wanted - a director that hired me at the beginning, a lifetime friend after: his family is my American Thanksgiving family now, and I am writing this from one of his sets, during a MOS shooting - was that of a subtle augmentation of the original recorded sound. The foley would not replace, but reinforce the reality, making some sounds more heavy and creating new protagonists in the one-man show.

One is the floor, constantly creaking under the audience feet - a very important presence in a New York apartment. The rocking chair, with its slightly-unreal rocking, almost suggesting a life of its own, something that objects acquire because of Byron. The neighbours: the family upstairs and the one on the other side of the hallway.

Also, the film, due to his nature of sterile "document" (different from "documentary" because it does not include the "commentary" element, but leaves complete dominion to the facts over the narration, and the absence of any modification of the point of view) delivers Byron Jones's actions for a good 40% by sound only, when he goes offscreen - and he moves very often, much faster than the camera. The apartment's architecture was recreated and respected, the director wanted the audience to be able to draw the house after the end of the film.

And when Byron opens the window, the effect had to be that of breathing fresh air for the first time: we achieved that by putting outside "airy" atmosphere, gently boosting the high frequencies and making it reverberate in the room with the help of the 5.1.

One curiosity is that in the beginning, when Byron is using the toilet at night - Ashish wanted to hear the sound of an old man urinating with an effort, it had to be a dramatic action suggesting health problems. Totally committing to the idea of reality, I recorded the act by myself, in the studio restroom, after drinking water for a whole day. I knew I only had a single take!