Remembering Alan Splet
One of the main reasons to start this site back in 2008 and also one of the things that keeps me motivated to do this is the impact that some people had in my life; curiously, people who I haven’t met in person, but I’ve deeply met with my ears.
I’m talking about those sound designers who created initial routes for all of us and started to develop a truly amazing way of working with sound, by establishing the essence of this art, not just from a technical perspective but an emotional, narrative and even spiritual one. I’m so glad to make this post about about one of those sound genius, a person that I know many of us deeply admire, Alan Splet.
He had the main faculties any sound designer needs to have, as described by Splet’s widow Ann Kroeber: “attention to detail, nuance, perseverance, ability to vastly influence the mood of a scene by the choice and placement of sounds”.
This thing about “choices” is really what defines any sound designer and it’s what makes sounds to be truly alive in a film or just about any context. Tools become secondary at some point and what matters here are aspects such as the listening capabilities and the aesthetic vision, not even the thinking and reasons one may find when designing a particular sonic experience, as Splet wonderfully said in an interview about the sound of Dune, when the interviewer asks him for the sounds he uses:
A squeaking cable, slowed down, to make a roaring sound? Why this? “It just came to me,” he says. “There’s a point where you can talk about things logically and then, after that, you have to leave the world of logic. I don’t know where a lot of these ideas come from. They just do. In this case, I got the sound from guy wires, wires that support TV antennas and things like that, and they were vibrating from some sort of machinery running. I don’t know why I decided to do that, really.”
Those words have always had big impact on me, because sometimes one tends to think too much about the reason of the sounds or tools to be used, but the real deal is what’s being listened, told, felt and experienced, no matter what we could explain or talk about. It is about loving sound and not just conceiving it and Alan Splet is clearly a master of that, and of course the directors he had the fortune to collaborate with, who are also responsible of leaving him space to sonically revolutionize a film, as Randy Thom said towards commentaries of several directors on Splet’s work:
“I had the amazing fortune to have worked with, and to have been mentored by Murch, Burtt, and Splet in that magical time when the three of them lived within a few miles of each other near San Francisco. Alan was a kind and generous man, and a genius. The praise these directors give him is so well deserved, but I hope they realize the importance of the canvas they also gave him. As you watch and hear the excerpts from these films please notice that they are all written, photographed, directed, and edited in ways that give articulate and focused sound an opportunity to be heard. All these sequences were designed for sound before sound was designed for them. Notice the sparse music. Notice the use of subjectivity and point of view. The sparse dialog. These directors opened the door, and Alan walked through it elegantly and powerfully.”
I’d say that any sound designer needs
to listen to Splet’s magnificent works and realize the consequences of his particular way of working with sound. We’ve previously talked about him on the site in several occasions and we even had a monthly special with his loved Ann Kroeber, who is a great person and really wise sound designer.
Actually, this post got started after reading a nice article recently published at The Paris Review and entitled “Snapping, Humming, Buzzing, Banging: Remembering Alan Splet”, dedicated to explore the sound work of this great artist, specially from the inspiring Splet-Lynch relationship.
Directors on working with Alan Splet (be sure to also read Randy Thom’s comment on the article)
And last but not least, Tonebenders have just published a fantastic podcast dedicated to the work of Ann Kroeber, which totally worth a listen. Below is the promo, where she talks about Splet.
By the way, two years ago I decided to leave my editorial role on this site in order to focus on other projects, and casually (or not), the result of those adventures led me to came back as editor on this wonderful community. It feels great to be here again!