Hello hello, I am Klaire, a Singaporean girl who’s trying to “make it” in the film industry with audio post-production in LA. I was recently reminded that it hasn’t even been a year since I started working in audio post-production, but it already feels like quite a journey – probably because of how suddenly, quickly, and deeply I fell in love with sound, and now it’s all I want to do.
Growing up in a culture that simultaneously values and disregards the arts (Chinese/Asian culture), I started violin, piano, and singing lessons from a young age, and was encouraged to practice as much as possible; but I also had music and art classes taken away in school, only to be replaced by math, Chinese, and English classes that we already had every day. I was expected to spend hours practicing my instruments, but I never really got exposed to Art. Believe it or not, I rarely listened to music other than when I was the one playing it before the age of 12. In my confused little head, math, Chinese, and English were important, just like practicing my instruments; but music and art classes were replaceable and useless, just like listening to music, watching films, or any other kind of consumption of Art or entertainment. Not surprisingly, I did not associate playing the piano with making music, or with expressions of any kind. It was associated with skills - how fast and clean my fingers can play, how smoothly I can read and play out a difficult passage without having previously seen it, and how I can play through a sonata without making any mistakes.
Fast forward to high school, we were asked to choose our IB subjects. For those who don’t know the IB, it stands for International Baccalaureate, which is a two year program for the last two years of high school, where you choose six subjects to study. Out of the six subjects, it is required to take math, two languages, one science subject, one humanities subject, and that leaves one more for the student’s own choice. I was always eager to learn more about math and sciences, and I was good at them, so I did want to take a second science as my sixth subject. However, it meant that I could not take music. To keep my doors open for university/college, I had to give up the second science to take music as my last subject. It was engraved in my head that music and STEM subjects just don’t go together.
After high school, I attended Berklee College of Music wanting to be a self-producing artist. At this point, I have discovered the joy of expression through music. I wrote songs, recorded instruments, changed up presets on virtual synthesizers, added plugins and effects to the sounds I was making, and after all that, I struggled to show anyone the end result that I was supposed to be so proud of. I was stuck between my own sound and what others liked; between my own ideologies of spreading positivities through my music and the expected pain and suffering in music that attracted most others; between my exploration of new, strange sounds, and the more popular, familiar sounds that are in every other pop song; between feeling guilty for keeping away from social media, and feeling like someone else when making my music seen and known. How was I to know that the balance would be so difficult to find between producing work following my own intuition, and wanting attention and popularity from an audience? A year into my Berklee journey, I was looking into master’s programs for going into scientific research, so that I could leave this industry where I felt so out of place, and took everything so personally.
As I focused on getting through my degree as quickly as possible to get on with my life in something unrelated to the arts, my heart got excited for the first time in a while when I took this mandatory class on audio post-production. It opened my eyes to how important sound is in what I always thought of as visual media like film and video games – how subtle details in something seemingly tiny, like differences in frequency or filtering in the footsteps foley, can convey a different weight, attitude, distance, shoe texture, flooring texture, and more, which, in turn, can basically change the whole character. The magic of sound seems even more mind-blowing when it comes to sounds that don’t exist in our world (at least as we experience it through our human ears). The Demogorgon in Stranger Things, the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, and the Sandworm in Dune are only a few examples of sound design that boggle my mind. The powerful silence in A Quiet Place, the sparse and understated sound choices in Lost In Translation, and the fine line between what’s sonically scientific and what’s needed to elevate the film in Gravity, gave me insight into the delicate choices in sound that fundamentally defined the audience’s experience of the film. After this one class, I ran towards the world of audio post-production, and welcomed every opportunity I could get with open arms.
The following semester, I took a collaboration class between Berklee College of Music and Columbia University’s Film MFA program. I got to work with two filmmakers on their REAL projects, instead of replacing the sound of pre-existing films. Sound for visuals started to feel like the perfect mix between technical and creative to me: there are so many options within all the choices to be made, but with the goal of elevating the story and the visuals in mind, I can hear the possibilities of how it could sound in my head; then, I just have to find a way to realize my imagination with the tools I have. Everything about it just felt right, so right that I moved to LA two months ago without ever having been here.