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Articles September - October 2023

Capturing The True Essence Of Sound New!

From Lewitt Audio's Pure Tube Microphone to Sennheiser's Profile USB Microphone, these studio microphones offer precise audio quality to the users and deliver crisp, clear sound. read more

Articles September - October 2023

Photo Feature: Studio Showcase New!

From A.R. Rahman's studio in Mumbai to composer Raag Sethi's first Dolby-compliant studio in Gujarat, PALM Expo Magazine's Studio Showcase features the latest studios in India. read more

Articles September - October 2023

Mastering The Art Of Sound With Donal Whelan New!

Whelan talks to the PALM Expo Magazine Team and discusses his foray into the world of mastering, his unique experience at the PALM Conference 2023, and more. read more

Articles September - October 2023

Nx Audio Celebrates Two Decades Of Pro Audio Journey New!

Nx Audio completes 20 years of delivering pro audio products for the Indian pro sound industry. Read about Nx Audio's journey over the last two decades. read more

Articles September - October 2023

Mumbai Studio Explores New Verticals With Genelec Monitors New!

The combination of Genelec Smart Active Monitors and digital audio interface delivered an ideal monitoring solution for BOING Recording Studios. read more

Articles September - October 2023

IRAA Awards 2023: Jury Reflections New!

Read about IRAA Jury's perspective on the bigger questions in the music industry - AI for music production, the status of mega consoles, & emerging trends in sound recording & mixing. read more

Articles September - October 2023

Gray Spark Audio Opens New Studio For Academy Students New!

PALM Expo Magazine Team talks to Ronak Runwal to explore how the newly-designed Studio D is poised to become a recording haven for the academy students. read more

Articles September - October 2023

Firdaus Studio: Building A Sonic Paradise For Recording Artists New!

The Firdaus Studio by A.R. Rahman stands as a beacon of innovation in the music production industry. PALM Expo Magazine explores the making of the musical maestro's magnus opus in the recording landscape. read more

Articles September - October 2023

Naveen Deshpande Elevates Stand-Up Comedy with Bespoke Lighting Designs New!

Naveen Deshpande, a renowned lighting designer, made heads turn through his recent collaboration with India's leading stand-up comedian, Zakir Khan, during the latter's international tour. read more

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The Art and Craft of Sound Design- Interview with Bishwadeep Chatterjee

PT met up with Bishwadeep Chatterjee, one of India’s most esteemed Sound Designer. In this extremely insightful interview, he generously shares his unique perspective and experience on music recording and sound design.

How did you get into a career as a recording engineer?

My interest in music got me into this field. I was not cut out for a conventional job like banking or engineering jobs. I was looking for something related to music and the arts. Though there were limited facilities for learning music in those days, you did not have any facilities for learning music production. A little research and networking eventually led to me applying for the FTII in Pune. Fortunately, I had a father who supported my decision to apply for such an unconventional field. I cleared the entrance examination and the interview that followed. As I entered the gates of FTII, I knew I had come to the right place.

Did you not want to be a music director instead of a sound designer or a recording engineer?

I had joined FTII to specialize in sound recording and sound engineering. Back in the day, this was the only place that gave us that option. We learnt how to record sound on location, dialogue and sound effects recording, song and music recording and mixing, film soundtrack editing, designing and film mixing. We had an integrated curriculum where we learnt motion picture photography, film editing, direction and screenplay writing as well. We also had lectures in music by musicians of various genres. FTII graduates were qualified to make films. You could become a composer or anything you wanted, related to films, but composition was something I didn’t really get into. I chose to work on the technicalities of recording first before being involved in the aesthetics, like design and music production. It’s just that we didn’t get separate credit for it. But our generation was very lucky; we saw the exit of the vacuum tube, we largely worked on analog medium and then witnessed the coming in of the digital medium.

How easy or difficult was it for you to adapt to new technologies?

It’s not very difficult once you are trained in the basics of recording and then it’s all about the mindset. Either you adapt to the new technology and move on or stagnate.  Those who became complacent with the conventional ways and did not upgrade themselves, were being left behind. Mumbai thankfully is place where every time a new product or technology is launched the recording and mixing engineers get to know about it and we also get a chance to try it out. This communication and interaction with vendors, companies that launch new products, fellow technicians etc. is very necessary because besides learning about new technologies, we have the opportunity to experience how it sounds in other studios too. The need to keep ourselves updated is a natural progression. In the late ‘90s, digital technology became a reality in Mumbai. I was fascinated. It was the first time I was experiencing the concept of non-linearity with the AVID. I took a full demo of the product and realized that non-linear was the future. I went in for a workstation and explored how I could exploit it to the maximum. With the advent, evolution and development of digital technologies, I don’t really miss analog today any more. It was good while it lasted but today I am much more flexible and I can concentrate more on the program than the mechanics of it. I am loving it and I think we are living in very good times.

So you recommend FTII to people who are aspiring to join the film industry?

Yes, because unlike other countries, in India the film industry still rules music. There is no independent music industry as such, and television is only recently become an independent industry. Movies are where you get your recognition and that’s the biggest platform. You could be a very good composer but sadly, nobody knows you unless you score the music or compose songs for a film. The same goes for every department… be it acting, direction, cinematography, editing, sound, production design etc. FTII, I believe would be a stepping-stone to this platform. Being a government institution, it’s much better equipped and much cheaper than most private options.

Bishwadeep Chatterjee with Team URI: The Surgical Strike, a film for which Chatterjee won the National Film Award for Best Audiography

You have recorded some major Bollywood soundtracks, what are some of the main technical challenges and how did you overcome them?

There is always some challenge. During the initial stage of my career, I first started doing location sound recording for a documentary by Ketan Mehta. Then I worked on a film called Salaam Bombay, where I was assisting the main technician who was from LA. Back in 1987, we were doing sync sound recording and were shooting in places like Grant Road, Kamatipura, Colaba etc. That was a huge challenge. Meanwhile in our film industry, the concept of location or sync sound recording was discontinued around the ‘70s with portable analogue recorders like the Nagra becoming popular. Soon they realized that all the dialogues could be dubbed in a quiet studio and they did not have to spend on ‘blimped’ cameras and generators. So now the shooting sound was limited to just a pilot guide track. Today I am glad sync sound is back again. Dubbing sounds fake and we must only dub where it is absolutely necessary.

I wanted to get into music recording, which was my main intention when I initially started pursuing a career in this field. For a long time, from 1989 to about 2000, I was mostly doing song and music recording and I enjoyed it. The challenge was to adapt to a new technology and everyday was a challenge because you had a new product each time and you were learning something new every day.

My biggest recognition came from the film Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam thanks to music director Ismail Darbar and Sanjay Leela Bhansali. There were a handful of studios where film songs used to be recorded. Each studio had a distinct sound of its own; I could identify which studio a particular song was recorded just by listening to it. Naturally there were inconsistencies when each song of the same film was recorded in different studios and were stringed together and handed over to the respective music companies…there was no concept of “Mastering”. I wanted to change all that. I sat down with Sanjay and Ismail and explained to them that we need to do something different. I wanted to record all the songs in my studio, but there were times when they had to book other studios as mine was not available sometimes. Then I asked them to bring all the tapes to my studio so that all the mixes at least could be done by one person. This itself made the whole album sound very consistent. The studio I was working for was Spectral Harmony in Santacruz. It was designed and named by me. We had the Otari MTR 90 MKII - 2” 24 track machine (with Dolby SR in every track). I had the Soundtracs Solitaire mixer, which had fader and mute automation. The biggest challenge would be to make notes of the eq and compressor settings with a pen and paper as only mute and fader automation data could be ‘recalled’. Now the next challenge was more aesthetic. I processed instruments like the violins, the woodwind, brass, percussions, the mandolins etc. very differently from what the typical trend was in Bollywood at the time. My generation at that time was trying to rebel and bring in a ‘new ‘Sound in Bollywood. I started treating the songs in a different way. I had got myself a SADiE workstation by then. I locked the SADiE with the 2” 24 tracks and I would edit, cut, paste tracks that I needed to and use it to double my outboard effects processors by recording the processed tracks on it so I could free the processors for other instruments or vocals. I took three to four days for mixing a song and achieved the quality, because I was spending so much time on the product and doing it with so much care. With the support of both Sanjay and Ismail, we came to a fantastic mix and then I dropped the bombshell that I want to go and master this in London. Sanjay, Ismail and I got it mastered at the Townhouse studios in London. The Album and the film created a sensation. Spectral Harmony was a tiny studio by Bollywood film song recording studio standards. This album broke the myth that you needed at least a 5000 square foot area studio to record a film song. I was now on the “Bollywood Map”.

Never take short cuts..!! One can always perceive the compromise in quality! It is the attitude you have towards your own creation that will bring recognition and with that, the respect that you so much deserve.

Who are the top five music directors/composers you like to work with?

I like to work with every music composer. I am not being diplomatic because for me it’s a creation by an individual and I have been chosen to be a collaborator. I have been fortunate enough to work with most of the very good music directors. I have worked with Ismail Darbar, Vishal Bhardwaj, Shantanu Moitra, Amit Tridevi,  Annu Malik etc. I mixed the songs for Shantanu Moitra’s Ab ke Sawan, Lage Raho Munnabhai, Parineeta and 3 idiots, even though I had started working on these films as a sound designer. I have not really had the chance to mix a song with A R Rahman, but I have worked on three films for which he had composed the music - Sachin, A Billion Dreams, Sanju and Shikara. I have recorded and mixed Silk Route’s Dooba Dooba album, Mika’s Sawan Mein Lagi. etc. As independent music bands and composers, they were just great.

I have even worked with senior music directors like Naushad, Pyarelal, Bappi Lahiri, Uttam Singh and many others but my biggest regret is that I could never work with R D Burman, Salil Chowdhury and Kishore Kumar.

What is your advice to independent music producers doing their own production in project studios or home studios?

Never take short cuts..!! One can always perceive the compromise in quality! It is the attitude you have towards your own creation that will bring recognition and with that, the respect that you so much deserve. Even the average gear that you work with comes at a staggering price- treat that as your ‘investment’. Cut costs but don’t cut corners. If you have to record a live instrument and you don’t have adequate gear or your own decent studio, hire a proper facility to record that instrument or those wonderful vocal parts…it will stretch your budget a bit, but you will never cringe at an inferior patch in your otherwise fantastic track. I would not be able to live with the guilt of mediocrity. This was the very reason that made me buy expensive studio monitors with great difficulty when I started out on my own, because I needed to hear right to record right. There is a way of intelligently preserving the quality; it depends on how you source it and how you plan your work. Keep yourself updated with all the new developments in your field. Today you have the internet and social media…. There are really no excuses.

Which was your last project as a studio music recording engineer and your first as a Sound Designer?       

My ‘last’ major project as a studio music recording engineer was Devdas. Starting with Devdas, I think I was the first music engineer in Mumbai who went from mixing his own stereo song mixes to mixing them in 5.1 surround for a film. I would also mix the film score in surround. I was never happy with the way film mixing engineers would mix songs or the music score. This whole exercise acted like a catalyst towards switching over to sound designing for films. I didn’t want to restrict my involvement to just the music in a film. I wanted to create the entire soundscape of the film…. The sound effects, the musical effects, the stylization, the tonality of the dialogues etc…I had explored almost all aspects of recording music and felt the need to do what I had always wanted to do since I was at FTII - design sound for films. With the advent of more sophisticated ‘VSTs’ Acoustic recording was diminishing and music producers were doing a great job in their home studios. As a recording engineer, I started finding my involvement in music recording to be very limited. We used to spend an average of 10 days per song in a studio, right from conceptualization, programming, recording, to the final mix. We were now hardly using one or two days for live recordings in the studio. As a result, many big studios started folding up since the billing went down and the music industry started going into a recession. This was a worldwide phenomenon. Under the circumstances, to survive as a music recording engineer would mean attaching myself to a composer, which I did not want to do.

My first film as a sound designer was a Bengali film called Chokher Bali by the late Rituparno Ghosh starring Aishwarya Rai. I recorded most of it in Kolkata and did most of my sound designing work over there. I also recorded the music there and went down to Chennai to record the string section. None of the studios in Mumbai then had a Pro Tools system, so I took it to Ramoji Film City to do the mix. It was a fantastic experience and it gave me the confidence that I needed as a sound designer. The second film that I worked on was a film called Raincoat. I started with my own workstation. I brought a Pyramix and carried my entire workstation into the mix studio. I did the mix of this film in that process. I was always challenging the system. The agents of Dolby at that time would say you can’t work like this, you have to bring it in Hi-8 tapes and 24 tracks. My only problem was that I was 20 years ahead of my time. Later when Dolby themselves stepped in, all of that changed of course and they were much more encouraging. I have been working in a similar fashion ever since. Eventually I bought my own Protools and the films that followed soon after were Parineeta, Eklavya, Lage Raho Munnabhai, 3 Idiots etc. to name a few.

In a documentary, you cannot take certain liberties, which you would otherwise in a fiction film.

What is your go to gear for getting the job done?

If you ask me, then I want the world. I have six studios, and all of them have the Pro Tools because that is something I really love. I wanted to get the control surfaces, but I cannot afford them right now. I would like to maybe get the S4. I have some outboard gear like the Bricasti Reverb unit and SSL Compressor, but I would like to get some more like the new SSL Fusion. I prefer Genelec Speakers; all my studios have them. I love the Genelec sound because of the consistency I get from them, and it is something that I could not compromise on. You are ultimately going to be designing a mix depending upon what you hear. I use the Genelec 1037c with corresponding subwoofers and I have the Genelec 8050s and Genelec 8040s in other studios. A recent Plugin that I really liked was the iZotope Bundle. I bought the iZotope 3 Bundle that has got pretty much everything. It is an expensive bundle, but it will help me not just in dialogue and effects processing but also in music.

Is the timeframe for completing a project sufficient?

I am very confident about time. If a particular project comes to me, I pretty much know how much time it’s going to take me. There is just one challenge we face and that challenge is that the film’s release date is fixed, theatres are booked, overseas release is planned, marketing and announcements have been done, but are we given the film on time? Is the VFX completed on time?

I would prefer to have 3-4 months to work on a project, but usually what happens is that they give it to you when there are hardly 20 days left. A lot of time is invested into the visuals, VFX, rendering, editing but the general impression is that the sound can be taken care of easily. I have learnt not to crib, as that does not help. I don’t want to be the problem but rather try and be the solution for the entire process. This gives the film makers the much - needed confidence in a crisis like situation. What I always do is that I start taking the edits of sequences as and when they are completed so I can start the work of sourcing, planning out, aesthetically thinking of key sequences of the story line. This is pure time management because I am constantly trying to stay ahead to avoid a crunch when the final edit is ready.

The Sound Designer is like a composer, it’s just that we are composing sound to try and get a particular effect. My aesthetics come into play when I design the sound. Dialogue, effects and music has flow seamlessly, with the visuals. They should not individually stand out or it will be very distracting for the viewer. 

How challenging is it to work with multi-channel systems and technologies like Dolby Atmos and Auro 3D?

I have never worked on Auro so I cannot comment on that format, but I have extensively worked with Dolby, right from 5.1 to 7.1 and to the current Dolby Atmos. It’s not so much of a challenge for me. I’m a lot more comfortable because with the Dolby Atmos, diverse sounds are becoming a possibility and that is something which I am relishing today and which is why I say we are living in good times. Earlier when we used to record sound in optical, we were stuck with a 30 dB dynamic range; we had to try to pack everything into that but today the entire spectrum of sound can be heard and that’s the beauty. However, I have to be a lot more careful now about what I put in my soundtrack because everybody can hear exactly what we are mixing and we have to be careful not to become gimmicky. You can’t just put random things in the surround, or instead of watching the film people will keep turning their heads to hear what these sounds are. You have to understand where not to step above the film.  

Is there any difference when you are doing 3D movies?

With 3D movies, the challenge we face is that a lot of films are made into 3D in the post, but what is disturbing is that we have mixed the film for a 2D format. In a 3D format, there is a huge change in visual perspective. We don’t have 3D mix theatres and many movies like Padmavat have been released in the 3D format. Since the visual perspectives (and in many cases the magnification) change, the sound mix does not seem to compliment the visuals. I am working on a particular film where I am insisting that if they are planning to release it in the 3D format, then we must do a separate mix with proper 3D projection in mix theaters- this will also have some technical challenges as workstations like the Protools would have to  play 2 parallel picture files simultaneously… (I don’t know how they’ll do it).

Do you have a library of your mixes and tracks? Is there a process you go through deciding how much sounds you take from an already existing library versus creating entirely new sounds for a given project?

Yes, I do have a huge collection of several terabytes. For Uri I had decided that we didn’t want to use the old stuff. I have a very large collection of guns and choppers, needed for a war movie, but for Uri I decided that we need to upgrade our library. I did not want to use the same sounds all over again. I needed sophisticated sounds, more contemporary sounds. Whenever there was a requirement, I buy and download libraries, I also have a collection of sounds recorded by me and my team. I record foley, process it as per the requirement, enhance them with my library sounds and blend it with the other elements in the effects tracks. For instance, in Bajirao Mastani I had five or six layers of just Bajirao’s footsteps because the footfall of this king had to have ‘authority’. The crunch in his step, the leather squeak, the heavy sole, a low frequency thump all combined to create the desired effect. We are conscious about what we see, but usually not about what we hear. All these minute details add a certain ‘weightage’ to the visuals which we can ‘feel’.

You have done a lot of movies, as well as documentary sports films like Sachin. Are there quantitative or qualitative differences in terms of mixing such movies versus a mainstream commercial movie?

“Sachin” is a docu-drama, which people know about because it was released in theaters. Sachin’s childhood sequence was the drama or the fictional part of the movie. For Sachin’s interviews, we used the sounds of his home videos, we used recordings of his matches, and even painstakingly sourced commentaries from Pakistan. We also had to obviously insert particular sounds. For instance, I wanted an open stadium sound so I got a hundred dubbing artists into Bhavan’s college ground, shouting the ‘trademark’ “Sachin...Sachin...!” These things made an impact and induced drama into the documentary. However, for a real documentary, it is most important that we reproduce the real sound. If I am out on the street for an interview with a character, I cannot bypass the sounds on the street and the realism of the street. I cannot dub that particular character’s voice because the spontaneity of the voice cannot be re-created. In a documentary, you cannot take certain liberties, which you would otherwise in a fiction film. If you are adding music to a documentary, you need to consider the subject of the documentary. I worked on one very interesting documentary about some tribal people in a certain region of Odisha. It was about the obsession with hockey among the youth of the villages of that region. Their biggest ambition was to join the Indian Hockey team. At one point there were actually four players in the Indian Hockey team from that particular village. Hockey matches in that region are as popular as league cricket matches in our country. It’s like a huge festival and if there are festivals, there are rich tribal dances, music and drums... this gave us a rich music track. The biggest challenge in documentaries is the budget. Not everyone is lucky to have budgets like National Geographic or docu - features like “Sachin a Billion Dreams …”

A typical Bollywood feature film on the other hand has budgets, with budget comes scale and finesse. We also have the luxury to create and design sounds, music, graphics etc. the way we want. That is a different level of excitement. We take liberties like creating interesting and usually ‘larger than life’ effects or stylization to create dramatic impacts.

Do you think sound designers are given enough recognition and credit in our country?

Of late, I believe that people are beginning to understand that there is something more than music and dialogues in films and that something is sound effects. Thanks to Resul Pookutty for getting the Oscars; at least people know there is something called sound in cinema. Mostly people don’t know what I do but they are slowly becoming conscious of the fact that there is something called sound designing and people are beginning to understand this whole concept of Sound Design. Sound is what has brought back the audience to the theatres. When they are listening to Dolby surround sound, they automatically know they are listening to good sound; it’s not an alien subject anymore. I’m not expecting the common man to understand the details of photography or sound or editing, but that ignorance should not be within the industry. Many producers and directors have no idea about sound or the role of a sound designer, so that level of ignorance within the industry is very unfortunate. I expect people who are making films to know every department. Sanjay Leela Bansali, is one of my favorite directors because he understands what you are going to do as a Composer, as a Sound Designer, as a Choreographer, as a Visual Artist; I think he is complete. If his films cost Rs 300 Cr, then that 300 Cr is visible and audible in his movies and that should be the attitude. I get very put off by people who treat sound as a small part of the movie and thankfully I don’t do work with such kind of people. I automatically know that I am not going to make any kind of difference to this guy or his film. I would rather work on one good project than 10 bad projects.

Your best work so far as a sound designer and why? 

(Laughs). When I mixed Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, at that point in time, it sounded very nice. Today I would not probably mix it like that. I probably today will record and mix Devdas in a different perspective as today I am a slightly different person and our environment and tastes have changed; we have been introduced to so many new things. When I mixed those sounds they were very new, and they had a fresh vibe. The kind of sound design I did for Parineeta was very different from what I did for Bajirao Mastaani, which was again a milestone. I loved Bajirao because it was a period film wherein you had to create a period environment for which I needed to create a particular effect. Bajirao Peshwa came from a very staunch Maharashtrian Brahmin family. A typical Brahmin household environment of that time would be immersed in distinct orthodox religious sounds like, prayers, bhajans, mantras, temple bells etc. My research lead me to this place near Panchgani where Brahmins from all over Maharashtra would come and chant the Vedas and senior women singing old Marathi bhajans every year. I wanted those kinds of Vedic chants and bhajans in the film and I have used these in my soundtrack. Sanjay Leela Bansali loved these bhajans coming out of Kashibai’s room’. I always have a “parallel sound script” discreetly running alongside the film. Bajirao Mastani was my favorite work for a period film until now. Madras Café is also one of my favorite films. That is when people stood up and noticed that there is something called sound design. Madras Cafe was the first film, which was mixed in Dolby Atmos in India. Uri was a very contemporary, very different war film. Both Uri and Madras Café had different challenges. The sounds in Madras Café were different from the sounds used in Uri, which was very contemporary and sophisticated. Every film has its beauty, so I cannot point out to any one favorite. Ten years down the line if someone asks me to mix a movie like Uri, I would do it differently. Nothing is permanent.

As they say in Hollywood, “You are only as good as your last project”. Sound Design is a creative process and a particular method may not work for you the second time.

I have never differentiated between big or small production houses, directors, composers, technicians and artists in general. Both have rewarded me well. This year I got the National Award for Uri and I got another National Award for a short film called Children of the Soil. This was the first time that Audiography received two National Awards in two categories in the same year. This was proof enough.


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