The Hidden Considerations of Sound in Theatre by Debashis Sinha

Debashis Sinha’s masterclass in sound design looks at the totality of the sound designer’s world, the ephemeral elements of the design process that often are overlooked or elided in the visceral rush of executing a sound design for a stage production. The skill and practice of listening, architecture, collaboration, the importance of questions are addressed and considered in a series of videos that invite the viewer to expand their notion of best practices around sound design in theatre. Is sound design simply content creation and (sound) system design? Sinha holds that it is not - it is a cross-sectional collaborative process, and in this series of short videos he extensively probes at the outlying considerations at play to make an engaged design that allows the storytelling of the content to be realized fully. Additional thoughts are explored in a conversation with acclaimed Berlin based theatre designer and electronic musician Robert Lippok, whose work has been seen and heard on many of Germany’s premiere theatres (as well as nameless squats and basements in east Berlin before the fall of the Wall). In this masterclass, Sinha uncovers ideas and issues, questions and strategies that benefit theatre practitioners of all backgrounds.

  • A series of 13 videos that participants can follow on their own time
  • Available below until June 30, 2020

1. Sphere


Imagine a sphere.

Imagine yourself suspended directly in the centre of it.

The surface of the sphere is made of a transparent material which you can sense and see somewhat in the light. It is very far from you. It is impossible to estimate how large the sphere is due to the play of light on its surface and the way the sunlight comes to you, but you can tell it is massive.

When you close your eyes, you sense the boundaries of the sphere.

Very far.

Your body begins to slow. You feel the systems that make it up begin to settle and find their sync. Things become quiet.

You cast your senses outwards.

(a smooth high pitch, hovering just outside your hearing
a low rush, blood in your veins
air from somewhere, somewhere at middle height, behind
the rustle of fabric close to your body
further out another rushing sound, wind
something out farther still
and farther, to the front of you and up high
under your feet - there is something
at the boundary of the sphere, a sound passes)

As sound designers, we listen. We parse and understand our environment with an attention that is hidden but fierce. We take apart the layers of sound present in the most mundane of moments, find in them small quietudes that tell a larger story.

We can take the space of the story, take the smallest quiet rustle and make it a roar, or place it forward, or back, or behind a wall. We can take it and slow it down, speed it up, raise or lower it in pitch, and make the story something else, something more.

To practice this listening is the necessary work. To make the story hum, expand and move into the body of the listener. To make them lean forward - “what is that?” - without them realizing it, until the house lights come up and they find themselves nearly falling into the aisle.

Watch the Class

2. Workthrough I (Introduction)

3. Questions

If you want to learn more about Scott Gibbons, visit:

4. Workthrough II (Scene)

The scene used in this class can be found here:

5. Listening (Sync)

6. Workthrough III (content A)

7. A Day In the Life of a Sound Designer

8. Workthrough IV (content B)

9. Live at New Adventures in Sound Art 2013

Excerpt from a live performance at NAISA's Sound Bash Installation, 2013, an annual installation of contact microphones installed on various sound making found objects.

Thanks to Stefan A. Rose for shooting the footage, and to Darren Copeland and Nadene Theriault-Copeland and the NAISA crew. For more information on NAISA, visit Contact or visit

10. Workthrough V (Preparing)

11. Line


The only way we care to understand the world is by drawing lines on a page - words, borders, blueprints, equations, spreadsheets. By some trick of logic we have told ourselves that the first step to understanding the universe is to put it in a frame, a box, a boundary. A useful tool to be sure, but only a means to an end, not the end in itself.

Lines are product of our minds, an overtone of the impulse to divide space into sections that maximize the acquisition of ideas and material goods. Lines are a a refutation of nature, an imposition of order on a chaotic universe, a futile gesture nonetheless full of its own beauty.

These lines, we think, are the descriptors and signifiers of the building we practice in. But this is not the totality. The line is an approximation, a designed signal that points to the beam in the space. There is a rich relationship of the line with the air and this relationship gives us the architecture of the space the sound designer plays with, creating yet another relationship which intersects and complicates the expression of the architecture.

For every person involved in the active storytelling of the play this is true, and so the architecture becomes both an expression itself and a cell in a complicated organism that is the play.

We, as always, need to ask questions of the space.

where does it support
what are the lines
what are the curves
what is the energy of the architecture
do we want to confound, hide, or engage with that energy in our storytelling
what frame does the architecture impose on our perception
on our content
do we work with the frame
do we push back against it?
how much energy is needed to push back
what is the cost to the story and the production?

How do we negotiate our relationship with the architecture and the realities of the needs of our storytelling?

We must also look as well at the constructed architecture of the set and the playing space (and the players’ movements in it). There are secrets hidden in the confluence of the design elements that are not clear on the page, no matter how many notes we take, how many annotations our .pdf version of the script contains. The movement of air and light as everything comes together within the story’s architecture and the place of storytelling reveals much more than what we might surmise from the rehearsal room.

The theatre artist develops the ability to imagine this confluence within their space (the actor, how their voice will carry; the lighting designer, how the beams of light are interfered with, the sound designer, how the sound is deployed with and without amplification). Ultimately, though, it is only inside the actual architecture of the story and the storytelling that those secrets will truly be revealed.

(the rattle of set pieces
footsteps on surfaces of the stage
reflective surfaces of the auditorium
breathing and rustling of the audience
voices on and off)

The sounds of the production and the listener bodies in the architecture combine to make a fractal feedback loop that must be at the periphery of our design. The real actions of people in the theatrical architecture must be folded into the sound design and invited to participate in the process of storytelling.

We cannot mask the sound of a set piece being dragged across a wooden floor - theatre is (/made up of) a participatory listening, and to mask that sound is to mask the stage, to mask and eliminate the collective experience in the architecture the players and audience enter.

12. Workthrough VI (QLab)

13. Robert Lippok Interview: Theatre, Design and Attention

▪ Find Robert on the web at: and

▪ See Sinha and Lippok together in concert at:

14. How To Do Theatre

Debashis Sinha

A stalwart and consistent presence in the Canadian sound world, Debashis Sinha has realized projects in in radiophonic art, sound art, theatre, dance, and music across Canada and internationally. A winner of 2 Dora Awards for Best Original Sound Design, his credits include work at: The Stratford Festival, Soulpepper Theatre, The Shaw Festival, Why Not Theatre, The Barbican Centre, Peggy Baker Dance Projects, The Theatre Centre, Nightwood Theatre, YPT, Theatre Passe Muraille, Project Humanity, Volcano Theatre and Necessary Angel, among others. His live sound practice on the concert stage has led to appearances at sound art and electronic music festivals around the world.

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