Aleksey Klimas – Is There a Universal Language of Sound?

Tell us a little about yourself and how you got into cinema sound design?

I started studying music when I was 15. After entering music school, I graduated from it as an external student in 3 years and successfully entered an academy of music, “percussion instruments” class.

During those years, I was writing music and songs and making arrangements. In 2002, I released my solo album in Germany. The group was called “Megamix.”

At that time, I had no idea that I would take up sound engineering. The album was recorded at Soyuz studio. High-class sound engineers worked there; they recorded and mixed my songs. One of them was Konstantin Yasinskiy. I watched with interest all the time as he worked with that huge console! A lot of wires, different buttons, tape-recorders! At that time, I only tried to mix something on my computer at home. Of course, nothing good came out of it. I wondered all the time: “How do you do that??!!” And still, I tried to master the profession on my own.

After graduating from the academy of music, I faced an alternative: to go further and obtain a higher music education or to do something else? But, for some reason, it did not come to my mind to go and study to be a sound engineer!

I failed to enter an institute in my specialty due to a lack of free education places; I got a job that was not related to music or sound engineering. I worked for three years and continued to study the secrets of sound engineering on my own.

And in the mid-2000s, by a lucky chance, I found a vacancy for a concert sound engineer and successfully got that job in a group that danced and sang live “Moscow Nights.” At that time, Russia was flooded with performers who were only lip-syncing, and the group that sang live gave me great experience in holding concerts and, in principle, in concert sound engineering.

For almost five years, I worked with that great group and visited thousands of different concert venues. The level of my professionalism became so high that when I came to a concert, the main sound engineers of the venue left to rest with peace of mind.

My career as a concert sound engineer ended in 2008 due to the economic situation in the country. There were a few concerts, and I had to survive somehow.

In 2008, I entered a university to receive the “Sound engineer” degree. Why didn’t I think of that before?

And when I was in my 4th year, I accidentally met a man who worked as a sound engineer in one of Moscow’s leading dubbing studios. (Sergey Makarov). That is it, I thought! Cinema! A new area for me! Super!

Having got a job at that studio, I plunged into the world of a completely different area of sound engineering. That was dubbing, lip synchronization, voice-over foreign films and cartoons for cinemas and television. That is a different world! It is the same music; only it is expressed in the voices of the actors who should get to the maximum into the character of the actor on the screen and convey to the maximum the personality, emotions and many other things!

I had been working at that studio for eight years! I was recording and mixing programs, feature films and cartoons. I was engaged in post-synchronization of films, creating sounds, effects, sound design, and slowly mastered the profession of a dubbing actor.

After eight years, I decided to change my life drastically and build my own sound recording studio. It is called Akimbo production. There I am now, calmly doing my work.

They ask me, why Akimbo? Because the first film dubbed at the studio was ‘Guns Akimbo’ starring Daniel Radcliffe.

If we go back, have you always wanted to work with sound?

Yes! I have always wanted to work with sound! And I have always been working with it! I just worked in different areas. They were music, concerts. I did not even suspect that someday I would be working with films! A film from scratch, when you have a picture and nothing else. When you have to make up everything yourself! When actors are sitting in front of you, and you have to record them. Go through hundreds of noise and sound libraries or create one or another effect yourself and write music. Then put it all together.

When you started working after your studies, what was a surprise for you or what was unexpected for you?

What surprised me most of all after my studies were that the things I was taught had nothing to do with making films! As a rule, institutes teach the theory of sound, master some or other sound devices, their classes, the possibilities of their application, and many other things. That is to say, the subtleties of making or dubbing films can only be mastered in practice when you work in a dubbing studio or a film studio. In that area, you must necessarily have a mentor – a sound engineer with great experience and “right ears,” who will show and tell you the whys and the wherefores. My mentor and teacher, who put me on the path of film-making, is a sound engineer and composer, Sergey Makarov. Thanks to him, I got the basics of film and television sound engineering.

When you talk to the director about the sound features of production, it seems that it is more difficult than a discussion of camerawork or design. There are no sketches or photo collages to show the visual mood. How do you discuss sound?

Usually, in each scene of a feature film or a documentary film, there is its own sound, its own noises, its own effects, different music. When working on a film, the director can tell his vision of a particular episode, a moment in a scene. My task is to turn his vision into reality and make my own adjustments. Usually, before I start working on a film, I have a script with a storyboard in front of me. There it is written down right to the second exactly what, where, and when should be. Then it is up to the composer and me.

The creation of sound for a film is difficult to explain, but it is a very important part of the story. How difficult is the creation process?

The creation process is very difficult and long. At first, we start post-synchronization of all the scenes in the film. Professionals stand in front of the microphone and repeat everything that happens on the screen. It can be anything. Walking, running, banging on the table, rustling of clothes, opening a door… in a word, everything that people do on the screen. After that, we start selecting the sounds of nature, streets, cars, and so on. If we cannot find what we need in available libraries, we go out with a portable recording studio and microphones to the street, to the hangar, to the toilet, to any room in order to record some or other noise or sound. At the same time, the composer is writing music for the film. Then we record the actors (we are voice acting in the studio) if it turns out that the sound recorded during a shooting on the set is bad. Once everything is ready, we start working on the mixing and sound design of the film.

Do you sometimes feel disappointed due to the inability to visualize?

As a rule, modern technologies allow almost everything. Almost everything can be turned into reality when you have vast experience, understanding, modern software and tools for processing sound. If something really does not work out, there is an alternative, as a rule.

Is there a universal language of sound? Do you try to find some sound that is unique to the local culture?

There is no universal language of sound. It is always different. Each sound engineer has his own ears, and we hear differently. Each film is a new work—different scenes, different rooms, different sound processing. For example, films made in England and America are very different. They are different in terms of sound and mixing style. We all have in common the technical specifications and the broadcasting rules that must be observed for both theatres and television.

How much does the final version of the sound environment differ from what you initially imagined when reading scripts?

It is impossible to imagine for 100 percent what will turn out in the end. Cinematography is great creativity! You have to use a creative approach to making a film! This always means experiments. And it will not necessarily turn out the way it is written in the script. Everything can be changed, discussed and improved.

When you work on a film, you certainly find something new, try it and apply it. Modern technologies do not allow us to live peacefully!) A sound engineer learns something all his life!!!

How important is it for a sound designer to have programming skills?

You do not need to have programming skills or be a programmer at all. Other professionals have done that for us. Those who developed our software and tools for processing sound and other things. In our work, it is very important to know what and how a particular tool (plug-in) works in order to make dreams come true.)

How do you keep track of all records? Do you have any system to catalog all sounds and save them for further use?

All sounds and effects are marked and distributed by folders. They are stored on our server. We can use them in different projects at any time, and it is easy to find them for use.

When you watch a film that you have not worked on, do you wonder how they created some or other sound effects? Does it distract you from the story?

Yes. I think that any person involved in making films, whether it is creating from scratch or dubbing a foreign film, cannot watch a film like an ordinary person who does not know all the details of production. They are watching the film. I am not watching the film, but first of all, I am listening and wondering how or why they did it that way, when it could be done in another or opposite way – wow! Super! Sometimes I have to watch a film several times in order to understand what it is about). If I do not like the sound of a film, I often just turn it off.

There are so many screens in our lives; people even watch films on those tiny screens on airplanes and in such noisy places as the subway. Does it bother you how the sound that you created is perceived in such difficult situations?

When we are mixing sound, we consider all possible reproduction methods from different sound sources. After mixing on studio monitors, we always control the sound in the picture theatre, listen to it on TV, household speakers and headphones. A master record is made (frequency, dynamic sound correction). After that, as a rule, people do not feel any discomfort when listening from any sound sources.

Are you satisfied with the software that you have at your disposal?

I am very satisfied! I have everything to turn my vision into reality! From an analog preamp, equalizer, compressor and high-grade A-class microphones for recording to software for post-processing sound! We get soft, warm and surround sound.

Imagine that you could travel 20 years back in a time machine and give advice to your young self. What would you say?

I’d leave everything as it is. Success in any profession can only be achieved through trial and error. A sound engineer is always learning and can learn something new every day. A good sound engineer is a sound engineer with dozens of years of experience, good ears and a great wealth of knowledge.