Chunky Move – Mix Tape

Published:  August 20, 2010
Brendan McKnight
Chunky Move – Mix Tape

Like for many of us, it was the humble Commodore 64 that introduced Luke Smiles to the world of computers and music. With no formal music training, but with a keen interest to learn and develop his skills, Smiles has gained a cult following amongst choreographers that has seen him compose and produce soundtracks for many Australian and international artists and companies.

Smiles is the sound designer of contemporary dance company Chunky Move’s Mix Tape, a performance about love, which is driven by an eclectic and personal set of songs and recorded interviews that illuminate the experiences of regret, desire, ecstasy and disillusionment.

Premiering in Melbourne in September and part of The Next Move, a series of performances created by the next generation of dance makers, commissioned and presented by Chunky Move, we spoke to Smiles to find out a little bit more.

Mix Tape sound designer, Luke Smiles

Mix Tape sound designer, Luke Smiles

Hi Luke. You have a Bachelor of Dance and are a founding member of Chunky Move. Could you please tell me how this came about?
When I’m not composing music or sound design, I work as a professional dancer.  My background and formal training is in dance and not music.  I started ballet classes when I was six and eventually graduated from the Victorian College Of The Arts with a degree in dance.  During my first year as a professional dancer I became a founding member of Chunky Move and have worked on many projects and tours with the company since then as both a dancer and a composer.  I’ve always had an interest in sound but with the dedication necessary in the pursuit of dance, I had to develop this interest in my spare time.  I try to alternate between these two disciplines as I still maintain a keen interest in performing.

What is your approach to designing the music for a particular dance piece?
The process of designing music for a dance work begins by discussing themes and ideas with the choreographer and sharing references to music, films and pictures that help to build a clear understanding of the type of work we wish to create.  I spend a lot of time in the rehearsal studio with the choreographer and the dancers, trying out ideas and watching how the piece evolves.  The collaborative process is always unique to each project but with my dance background I understand how dance is made and are encouraged to influence its creation.

What is the process of creating the sound design for a dance performance, and how can sound enhance a performance/dance piece?
I’m heavily influenced by film sound and see no reason why audiences for a dance or theatre production shouldn’t enjoy the same level of detail and immersion as they do in the cinema.  Music is just one element in a soundtrack along with dialogue, foley, sound effects and atmospheres.  Where appropriate, I utilise all of these elements to create the environment in which the performance exists.  Even the design of the sound system in the theatre is customised for each production – allowing me to choose how the audience engages with the piece.  I’ve used everything from headphones all the way to fully immersive 7.1 surround sound systems for delivering the soundtracks of many dance & theatre productions.

What would you say has been the greatest advancement of sound design technology over the past five years that has enhanced the work that you do?
Without a doubt the increased power of portable computers.  Apart from microphones and speakers, the computer (and more importantly software) is the working domain of the sound designer.  The power available in recent laptops has provided the ability to run multiple DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) along with many processor intensive plug-ins simultaneously.  My work-flow involves exploiting features particular to various DAWs and moving sound files between them, which now happens uninterrupted by any hardware limitation.

For someone who has not heard of Mix Tape, how would you describe it?
Mix Tape is driven by an eclectic and personal set of songs along with recorded interviews about love, regret, desire, ecstasy and disillusionment.

What kind of collaboration is involved in the sound design of something like Mix Tape?
The collection of songs that make up a significant part of the soundtrack for Mix Tape are very personal to the choreographer of the work, Stephanie Lake.  My role in this collaboration is to take these songs and the scenes built specifically for them and consider the emotional tone and the way each track links from one to another.  Mix tape is like a compilation where my goal is to understand the bigger picture and enhance the emotion of the entire piece.

Mix Tape choreographer, Stephanie Lake

Mix Tape choreographer, Stephanie Lake

What is the biggest challenge when working with sound design for dance?
Whilst working on a dance soundtrack, I often video sections of rehearsal to refer to whilst working outside the dance studio.  When working to video you can be super specific with every timing and detail because you are working with a recorded medium.  Dance of course is live and so the biggest challenge for me is to provide as much detail and synchronicity when working with the flexible realtime medium of dance.

Where do you feel most inspired?

I’m most inspired when I’m in a room of creative and motivated people who share a clear understanding and enthusiasm and have the opportunity to make something together.

What are you working on at the moment? What is next for Luke?

Unfortunately I’ll be following an endless winter this year by heading to Europe until Christmas.  I’ll be creating and operating sound for two dance theatre works to be performed in Germany and possibly in Australia sometime next year.

Mix Tape’s world premiere season is 2-11 September at Chunky Move Studios, Melbourne. Tickets are on sale now.

2 Responses

  1. CAT

    Can’t wait. Love love LOVE chunky move!

  2. jammin

    ha – i was just looking at this yesterday. sounds like an interesting concept (the ‘mix tape’), and will be great to see how it comes about. i saw ‘mortal engine’ a few months back and it was terrific.

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