Dies Irae from Verdi’s Requiem is the musical equivalent of the gates of hell opening up.
With no warning or preamble, you get an instant hit of drama and hysteria, the perfect soundtrack for the theatrical entrance of Audi’s new Q8, in Sam Brown’s latest film for BBH.
Mike sat down with the team at the early stages, to plan how best to tackle the sound on a night shoot…. with an orchestra… and double choir…. outside…. over three nights…. on a working dock in the Ukrainian port of Odessa. Sam had already done a comprehensive music search and we were unable to better it, as Verdi bullied his way to the front of the queue.
We wanted to attend the shoot, not only to supervise the audio recordings but also to have a pair of ears on the ground to capture any interesting sounds or reverberations, from the dockside environment.
Whilst there are plenty of excellent recordings in existence, the Berlin Philharmonic being the benchmark for sheer terror, we opted to arrange and record our own, to give us maximum control over the many variables. After listening to multiple existing recordings of Dies Irae and taking inspiration from Haruki Murakami’s excellent book on the subtleties of orchestral performance we were able to dictate the tempo, level of aggression and mix perspectives of the different musical sections. Most importantly we could also record bespoke orchestral tune-ups and try out different ways of the orchestra falling apart as the menacing Audi rolled past them on set.
In preparation for the shoot we timed out different music edits, against placeholder sound design, which the editorial team used to piece together a storyboard paper-cut. Once timings were locked, we orchestrated our arrangement, printed out the scores but also created playback audio should the conductor or orchestra tire throughout the long nights.
Adam was despatched to the shoot in Odessa. The location was simply amazing.
Recording on an active dock provides certain disadvantages when capturing live sound. Every once in a while, during a take, a crane would start up or the grain conveyor belts would fire off rendering the sound unusable. So, the sound team and Adam had to get creative with microphones placement, to achieve the best sound capture and separation. Mics were placed on the car engine, in the interior of the car, against the inside wall of the crate, on a crane arm, in the middle of the orchestra, on the bass drum and hung as a stereo pair above the choir. Adam captured so much great reference sound that coming back and going through the rushes was a real delight. We could get pretty down and dirty (literally lying on the floor between the orchestra) and pick up unusual perspectives of the players, car and crate: Klaxons, cranes, trucks, crates, metal crashes and the atmosphere of the dock. A lot of our recordings made it into the final edit or at least provided inspiration for the sound design!
Our playback was a fixed tempo version of Verdi’s Dies Irae. This meant that when we re-recorded with the Prague Orchestra, our performance would exactly match the sync of our Odessa performers. Basically, we were ADR’ing an Orchestra. It’s the little nuances in performance that make this spot special. The shot of a violinist plucking the A string. Two players to her left and right are tuning by bowing and by plucking. All these ‘orchestral pickups’ from the shoot were ‘foley-ed’ with our orchestra in Prague or picked up in our studios at String and Tins.
Working with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra at Smecky Studios and having 96 players at our disposal was a real treat. Apart from capturing the biggest and best performance of the piece, we also recorded in separate sections, so we could push different perspectives as per the cameras POV in the TV and Cinema mixes. As the camera slides through our brass sections we could alter the levels of the brass to become louder and place our audience right in the middle of the action.
A key thing to record was the ‘slur’ of our orchestra as the Audi Q8 passes. Working closely with the conductor Richard, Adam tried multiple options of how to pull back our orchestra from ritardandos to rallentandos. Individual sections were captured, to give us and the creatives maximum perspective choice when piecing together this tricky slow down. Our choir then joined for the last two hours of recording and took the whole recording to 11. We tried recording them in a traditional layout but in the end went for a mixed line-up (bass, tenor, altos and sopranos) all blended together as per the shoot.
Back at String and Tins we brought in all the field recordings, shoot rushes, Prague performance and added a finishing touch of violin foley with our very own Eimear. Will was spoilt for choice when building the sound design layers but still managed to slip in a dipping gnarly-drone for the lowering of the massive sea container. The percussion layers were embellished with some heavier Zimmer-esque percussion and the film was almost complete. The final TV mix was finished in our Studio 1 by Will and prepped for a theatrical mix which Lawrence completed in Goldcrest’s Odeon-sized Theatre 1 (Lawrence you jammy sausage).
The final part of the Audi Q8 adventure was co-ordinating a ‘flash mob’ performance of the spot with a live 16 piece Orchestra and 60 piece choir at the BFI in Waterloo. This was the third orchestra and choir we had involved in this project! To the surprise of our audience and with the help of LMO and Metro Voices, String and Tins producer Kotryna and Adam helped direct a very special live version of the ad. The greatest challenge was ensuring sync between video playback, sound and our live players. Using our tempo mapped piece & click track, we rigged our orchestra with in-ear-monitoring and did a live balance of the spot using all the stems from the final mix. Our choir acted as ‘audience’ members and cued their own entry to the music. The assembled audience couldn’t contain themselves as our 60 strong choir stood up and the combined sound of live singers/players blended with the original spot.
All in all, this has been one of our most diverse team efforts since String and Tins started and we loved every minute of the ride.
Music Mix / Sound Design: Will Cohen
On Set / Re-record Direction: Adam Smyth
Music Supervision: Mike Bamford, Adam Smyth, Will Cohen
Theatrical Mix: Lawrence Kendrick
String and Tins Producer: Kotryna Nasutavičiūtė
Music: Requiem: Dies Irae – Verdi
Creative Agency: Bartle Bogle Hegarty
Creative Director: Ian Heartfield
Creative: Simon Cenamor / Raymond Chan
TV Producer: Georgina Kent
Ass’t Prod (Agency): Sam Ramsey
Film Production: Rogue Films
Director: Sam Brown
Producer: James Howland
Executive Producer: Charlie Crompton
Cinematographer: Franz Lustig
Editor: James Rosen @ Final Cut
Post Production: The Mill
Orchestra 1: Odessa Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Richard Hein, recorded on-set, Odessa, Ukraine
Choir 1: Odessa Philharmonic Choir, recorded on-set, Odessa, Ukraine
Orchestra 2: The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, recorded at Smecky Studios, Prague
Choir 2: The City of Prague Chorus, recorded at Smecky Studios, Prague
Orchestra 3: London Metropolitan Orchestra, conducted by Andy Brown, performing live at BFI, London
Choir 3: Metro Voices managed by Jenny O’Grady, performing live at BFI, London
Orchestration and parts: Simon Whiteside @ String and Tins