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Emojiland_DukeTheatre_IMG_3486_Crop-770.jpg Jeremy Daniel

Software Update: The Sound Design of Emojiland

All the beeps and buzzes of handheld digital devices and their notifications come to life in the electric ensemble musical, Emojiland, currently downloaded to The Duke On 42nd Street until March 19. A Grand Jury Selection of the 2018 New York Musical Festival (NYMF), the production follows a diverse community of archetypes that begin to question their existence and purpose when a software update threatens to erase their code. With book, music, and lyrics by Keith Harrison and Laura Schein, the creative team includes scenic designer David Goldstein, lighting designer Jamie Roderick, projection designer Lisa Renkel and Possible Productions, sound designer Kenneth Goodwin, costume designer Vanessa Leuck, and wig designer Bobbie Zlotnik.

Live Design chats with Goodwin about Emojiland’s journey from NYMF to Off-Broadway and the sound system that took it there.

Live Design: How did you get involved with Emojiland, and what was the design directive going in?

Kenneth Goodwin: I was invited to the NYMF (New York Musical Festival’s) Designer Meet – n – Greet at a local bar in the summer of 2018. It’s a mixer for the producers and creators of the new musicals to meet local designers and talk about their shows. Designers sometimes bring portfolios and resumes. When I met Emojiland producer Jacquelyn Bell, I promised her a bottle of KALUA for Opening. I’m pretty sure that’s how I got the gig.

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Soon after, I was introduced to our director Tom Caruso, and we had a great meeting discussing the world of Emojiland, the digital-meets-reality sound effects, the pop-like quality of the songs, the world of the phone the characters live inside, how he saw sound working with LX and video. We also discussed the practical limitations of working in a rep-festival setting. Emojiland had to be loaded-in and tech’d in eight hours at NYMF.

LD: Describe the collaboration among the creative team and how it impacted your design.

KG: Our director, Tom Caruso, was adamant from day one that Emojiland would not work as a show without total collaboration between all design departments. Creatively, that means all of our design choices had to support each other’s design choices in order to build up the world. Technically, that means my job was to provide the infrastructure for every department’s show control. Designing the signal flow and cabling for OSC, MIDI, and SMPTE Timecode was my job. At NYMF, we spent a whole day at Lisa Renkel’s office, pre-programming our cues to handshake. For our current Off-Broadway run, I created the SMPTE LTC files for our composer to lay under the songs click-track files.

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LD: What kind of aesthetic are you striving for with this sound design?

KG: I needed a small but powerful system that could squeeze into a small theater but deliver the sound of a pop-album. The digital world has to be bright, but the characters needed to feel warm and human.  I needed a system that could flip between and melt together all these sounds.

LD:  What’s your process like?

KG: The first thing I always do it talk with the Broadway rental shops. I have ideas in my head about all the possible sound consoles, DSP, and speakers that I can use but availability is always limited on an Off-Broadway budget. My relationship with a sound shop is critical to the success of an OB production. Scott Kalata at Masque Sound in East Rutherford, NJ provided the backbone to Emojiland’s sound system. We were able to find available equipment that gave us flexibility and even try a few new products!

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LD:  Let’s get into the technology supporting your design. Can you give me a top-level view of the sound system?

KG: The Emojiland band are almost all digital inputs. We have a plethora of Radial Engineering and A-Designs RED Tube DI Boxes to handle the inputs from Mainstage Keyboard rigs, V-drums, and guitar amp emulators. All the cast are on DPA 4066 headsets and Sennheiser 2000 Series Wireless Transmitters and are wired up by my A2, Mitchell Prescott. My A1, Jackson Williams, mixes everything on a DiGiCo SD9T with two D-Racks. Outputs are sent to either Aviom A16 personal mixers for the band or to two Meyer Sound Galileo 616 loudspeaker processors. 

As for loudspeakers, my hodgepodge of brands worked out pretty well. The center array is made up of six Alcons LR7 arrays with ribbon drivers. The Main L/R speakers are two d&b auditotechnik V10Ps. Subwoofers are two Meyer Sound 600HP. The delays and mixer fill are Meyer UPM-1Ps. Surrounds are EAW JF80s. Foldback and Onstage FX are EAW JF60, EAW UB22, and EAW JF260 speakers. Playback is provided by a dual redundant mac-mini computers running Figure 53’s QLab v4 via DiGiCo UBMADI and a RME MADI Bridge for switching inputs.

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LD: What types of sound effects are there? If so, what role do they play, and how do you integrate them into the production?

KG: The smaller sound effects are theatricalized phone notification tones, practical effects like party horns and walkie-talkies, and world noises like taxis and street sounds. The larger sound effects include some magical powers, a threatening computer virus spreading, a phone software update, and system reset. Electrical buzzes, Sci-Fi Wooshes, and DJ stabs were all liberally destroyed and re-constructed in making the larger cues.

LD: What were the biggest challenges overall, and how were they overcome?

KG: There are always challenges on an Off-Broadways show with time and budget. But one particular challenge was that our band soundcheck was on New Year’s Eve and the crowds and noisy RF environment in Times Square didn’t help!

LD: Anything else you’d like to add about the design, team, or production?

KG: I just want to give a special shout out to my production audio, Mike Deyo, and to my assistant sound designer, Jason O’Neal, for really being on top of their game. They were instrumental in applying last minute changes quickly and effectively. Also, special thanks goes to David Rahn from Alcons Audio. He helped us source our tiny center cluster and made my projection designers very happy!

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