Awards Daily’s Megan McLachlan talks to Sound of Metal supervising sound editor Nicolas Becker about his groundbreaking work on Darius Marder’s film.
Critics Choice Award winner Sound of Metal’s supervising sound editor Nicolas Becker has worked on many high-profile films, including Gravity and Arrival, but his sound work on the Darius Marder film has proven to be one that has had everyone talking for the way it forms a relationship between the audience and protagonist.
Sound of Metal follows heavy metal drummer Ruben (Riz Ahmed) as he accepts losing his hearing and joining a new community, a journey that utilizes sound to take the audience into his experience.
Becker describes his work on Sound of Metal as an extension of his foley work on Gravity and Arrival, with each project he works on building to the next.
“Foley is such an interesting thing because of the physical aspect [of sound]. You meet with directors who are pushing you to do a bit more. It was a natural movement for me.”
Becker also suggests a tonal link between projects like Sound of Metal and Arrival, pertaining to the questions around the point of being human to the point of hearing. These introspective studies in film are something he especially excels at drawing out through his work.
“If someone asked me to do a Marvel film, with all the big explosions, I don’t think I’m the person to do it.”
Very much interested in the experimental aspects of his field, Becker enjoys working with conceptual artists and unconventional methods.
“What I’m doing on Sound of Metal is really something that’s close to my world.”
Like so many people, Becker is astounded by the fact that Sound of Metal is Darius Marder’s first film.
“He’s such a master. He knew exactly what he wanted. This guy is so clever. For 13 years, he wrote the story of every character. He created this entire world.”
But even though Becker nixes any Marvel movie plans, his enlistment in the project was a bit like Iron Man summoning The Avengers, with Marder uniting an A-list team of artists like himself.
“He found us. He looked for us [to achieve what he did]. Everyone felt that.”
So much has been written about how Becker achieved the sound of the cochlear implants, how he utilized software like Ircram Lab to separate harmonic contents from noise contents and placed microphones all over Ahmed’s body (including his mouth) to produce the unique sound. But one of the most underrated qualities of his work is the ability to translate what people with cochlear implants can hear when you as a sound designer can’t experience it for yourself.
“The people with cochlear implants had been able to hear before and they described the sound as something digital and crackling. Things not quite working together.”
In addition to doing a lot of research, Becker took their feedback and worked between simulations of the technology to try to capture not only the way the heard it, but the way they were feeling.
Renaissance Sound Man
If attempting to capture the sound design of cochlear implants doesn’t sound like enough of a task, Becker also serves as co-composer on Sound of Metal, making him not only someone who pushes the story through sound, but also helps draw the mood through it. Having sound design and composing duties isn’t necessarily something he often seeks out, but is something that comes through during the process of “blurry collaboration” of working out the logistics.
“I’m open to the potential of working as a sound designer. I’m open to working with a lot of musicians and developing musical textures. I’m very open to working with a lot of people, from university to biologists and physicists.”
With the success of Sound of Metal, this renaissance sound man should soon find everyone open to working with him as well.
Sound of Metal is available on Amazon.