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Awards contender-Kyrsten Mate, Jarhead

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Jarhead sound designer Kyrsten Mate says working with legendary editor and sound designer Walter Murch was not at all daunting—despite this only being her second big film credit for sound design. “Walter’s so nice. He’s much more inspiring than intimidating,” she says. It was, however, a little strange, she admits, enhancing certain sounds in the Apocalypse Now scene. It is, after all, a film that sits at the pinnacle of sound design, and, of course, was designed (and edited) by Murch. “There I was, enhancing the best sound job ever.”Working in tandem with Murch, Mate immediately grasped director Sam Mendes’ existential aesthetic, crafting a soundscape that was stripped down and focusing intensely on what she describes as “small moments.”When Swoff (Jake Gyllenhaal) enters combat, it was not simply a case of creating sounds of falling bombs. “We’re sucked into Swoff’s point of view,” she explains, “and the only thing we see and hear is the rain of the debris of the armament that hasn’t hit him.”That rain of debris and, particularly, the scene where oil fires burn in the desert, were the film’s “big sound moments,” says Mate. “The oil fires I was very worried about. It’s a difficult sound, and it goes on for an entire reel of the film. It had to sound like a powerful fire, and it had to be far away and not be boring; and additionally not obliterate the dialog. That was a challenge.”To accompany the arresting visual of oil raining down on the desert-based marines, Mate recorded a collection of sounds of semi-viscous liquids plopping into buckets of mud. “We used Karo syrup, Hershey’s syrup, vegetable oil and chocolate drops for all those drips and drops. It was quite a fun recording session,” she says.Conveying the atmosphere of the highway of death, where the marines come upon a road in the desert strewn with the bodies of dead Iraqis and bombed out vehicles, was also a challenge. “How do you convey stillness, decay and death when nothing is supposed to be living and moving?” says Mate. She opted for textural sounds that evoked a lifeless alien landscape. “One of my favorite recording sessions was out in the desert recording ambience. Literally in the middle of nowhere we came across a rusted 1930s windmill that was half decaying and falling apart, just enough to make it creak in the wind. That sound became the highway of death.”Based at Skywalker Sound, Mate had the advantage of seeing ILM’s visual effects at every stage in the production pipeline, which greatly aided her in the creation of her part of the picture. But slotting her sound design into the bigger sonic picture—particularly in a film that has such a prominent musical soundtrack—was a challenge. “I tried to work rhythm-wise and space-wise with where the music was. You try to do something that’s in tone,” she explains. “I like to work with the music, not against it. Because it can be a losing battle.”

Written by Sam Molineaux

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