It took a little while, but the winner of SDC010 and I recently finished our interview. Appropriate, now that SDC012 is underway… ;)
Designing Sound: Please tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you become interested in audio, and what work do you currently do?
Malgorzata Polit: My name’s Małgorzata Polit (Margherita to my Italian friends) and I’m a Polish soundywoman (lol) presently living and working in Italy. Since I was a kid, my passions and interests were always pivoting around the sound. First it was music which I got to know better while studying violin and piano from early school days with the help of marvellous teachers, whose wonderful work has had a great influence on my personality and feeling of music. After twelve years of musical education I found it obvious, that my future had to follow that path, I only had to find my place in the world of sounds – and that’s where sound engineering turned up. Having passed a series of entrance exams for the Sound Engineering Faculty at Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw, I began the five years of fascinating studies on all the aspects of sound production, both from technical and artistic point of view. Right after graduation I worked for a year in one of Polish TV stations gathering practical experience, but my professional life got a new start when I moved to Italy and was lucky to find a job in my occupation right away. I still work there, at Top Digital studio in Milan, dealing mostly with post-production of commercials, dubbing, recording speakers. From time to time we have also a chance to face other exciting challenges.
DS: You’re entries have never failed to impress me, so I’m glad we get the opportunity to have this conversation and share your thoughts with the community. How has your musical training influenced your development as an audio professional?
MP: Thank you for your recognition. It comes with a question that’s really hard to answer. To pin down the exact influences of musical grounding on my professional life is almost impossible as it’s so vast. Music as a part of one’s upbringing becomes the intrinsic part of personality, shapes the character, creates the imperceptible basis for a particular sensibility. Certainly the musical training improves the hearing skills, but above all many years of inevitable practice routine makes one patient, stubborn and consequent, which turns out very useful in future. Very often we say we act on intuition, but we forget that usually this intuition consists of lifelong experiences and reactions that seem involuntary and spontaneous, but mostly are a result of regular practice thus become mechanical.
DS: So how did you approach your design for this challenge? Was it something you were able to plan out ahead of time, or did you piece elements together as you went?
MP: I must admit I made my entry offhand, playing with the elements and ideas to achieve the final result just in my spare time. There was something funny about the very start of the process: I was burdened by my strange initial emotional reaction – I recorded my boss’ scream (as similar as possible to Neo’s) and believe me, it was so intense and full of suffering that I wasn’t able to work on it! I experienced emotional torture every time I played it. You don’t usually get to hear your boss doing this kind of thing : ). After some time I got used to it enough to go on with my work on the entry.
DS: I don’t want really want to get into how you created your entry (specific tools and settings for example), but I would like to explore how you made your decisions. Were there any ideas or elements that you tried out and decided not to use? What told you they weren’t what you were looking for?
MP: In this particular case it wasn’t a problem to choose from sounds acquired by modifying the basic scream, as they all proved useful. The important issue was to achieve the perfect balance between them in order to achieve the fluent transition. I took my time to experiment with a couple of sounds to conclude the composition, finally picking out the sewing machine. Then I only had to decide whether the piece was complete and coherent and didn’t require any further additions.
DS: Wait…sewing machine?! Alright, I take it back. Now you’re going to have to give a little description of how you built your entry, because I know I’m not going to be the only one surprised by the fact that you used a sewing machine.
MP: Before I started to construct my entry, I already knew that improvising with methods and solutions was the best approach to acquire necessary substitute sounds. I was actually having fun applying a kind of rising gating effect to obtain the harsh, grainy texture of the voice, or arranging layers of various processed sounds like electric saw, beeps or already mentioned old sewing machine. No holds barred! Having nothing to loose, developing my own way of creative research, even though omitting many other possible means, I explored the options while forming this fake homemade Neo’s scream.
DS: You’ve been very active in these challenges. What kind of opportunities do they provide that you don’t have in your day to day work?
MP: The greatest opportunity of these challenges is freedom of creation and the occasion to express myself with no obligation to situation or other people’s demands. I can also confront my ideas with these of the other contenders and always found it inspirational to analyse their reading the given exercise-question and sonic interpretation-answer, which I might never think of. It is very instructive and offers the moments of true surprise and astonishment. This sort of simultaneous collective experience doesn’t happen in every day tasks, maybe a bit of it you can encounter when you observe your colleagues working. On the daily basis, when working with clients I always try to keep good compromises (that are of course necessary) at a creative level and I even find it stimulating.
DS: If you were to describe your work-flow, either in a client situation or one with complete freedom, what is critical to your approach? What’s something that defines you as a sound editor/designer?
MP: To me, every commission or contest is like a blank page waiting to be filled. There is always some initial thrill, a question how the final product would sound. I try to obtain the sound that I imagine in my head, constantly examining if it is the best and the most adequate one, if it’s ever possible to say facing the whole ocean of combinations. Each task is different, each stimulates my curiosity and enthusiasm. I endeavour, search and learn to produce the results that would satisfy me, but to be frank, that happens occasionally.
DS: Following up on that idea…if it only happens occasionally, what do you do when you are unsatisfied with the result?
MP: Oh, when I’m not entirely satisfied about something I’ve worked on, I just let this feeling flow away. This impression has nothing to do with putting my work into proper perspective, I just always insist on the best in terms of precision and artistic expression. But then comes the deadline! Fortunately, listening to what I’ve done a day before I usually think: “Hey, it’s not that bad after all”. I believe this form of self-judgement powers the professional development.
DS: You just touched on a subject that many people in creative environments will mention, giving yourself time away from an element. It’s often good to come back and listen to work you’ve already done with a fresh set of ears. You’ve just described a situation where you’ve found something redeeming in work you thought to be sub-par. How do you react to the opposite, when you later discover that you no longer like something you’ve done?
MP: It would be optimum to put your work aside for at least a day and listen to it again later, even short breaks while working do, because then the vision of the whole is clearer. But it’s seldom that we’re bestowed with such luxury. As for my attitude to the results of my work, it’s not that I completely reject what I’ve done, but I always think: what if I had read the task differently or started my work from a different angle, inclining towards other solutions, maybe more interesting than the ones settled by my initial choice. I try to combine a suitable dose of healthy self-criticism with understanding of the reality of work (I mean especially the limiting time-frames). But then, tomorrow always brings new tasks and new challenges!
DS: Let’s bring in the standard final two questions. What was the other entry (or entries) that grabbed your attention the most, and why? Who did you think was your biggest competition for this challenge?
MP: In my opinion the most interesting entries were sound8’s and Giorgio Riolo’s. The first one consisted of bold and clear stages. Giorgio’s entry captivated me with its structure, and of course it appealed to my sentiment to everything that’s Italian ;-).
There’s something you often hear when it comes to competitions, that it’s important to participate, not only to win. Usually it sounds like consolation because everyone would like to win. But I really think, summing up the inspiration drawn from such occasions and their influence on self-development, that this saying is more than true.
DS: Finally, is there anything you’d like to say to the community at large that we haven’t already discussed?
MP: I’m glad I could share my simple thoughts with other people. It meant even more than I can express with words!