Director/producer Patrick Shen recently relied on Sound Devices’ 633 Digital Recorder and 6-Input Field Production Mixer to give his audience a highly authentic listening experience for his new documentary feature film, In Pursuit of Silence, which explores the value of silence and the implications of living in a noisy world.
In trying to capture the essence of truly silent environments, Shen and his crew quickly realized that his previous recorder wouldn’t work for this film. “We found ourselves in especially quiet environments that call for equipment that produces as little self-noise as possible, but the noise from the unit itself was sometimes louder than the environment we were recording,” he explained. “We asked our friends at Designing Sound and other film advisors which recorder would be best suited for this project, and everyone agreed that the Sound Devices 633 was the only option.”
This film marks the first time Shen has used Sound Devices equipment. “I found the 633 to be a well-designed and manufactured piece of equipment,” he said. “During production, we’re constantly on the go, and it can often be very frantic. We’re always careful with our gear, but we don’t have time to babysit it either. Sometimes things don’t get packed up the way we’d prefer when we’re off to the next shot. Poorly constructed equipment just doesn’t last long under those conditions. I learned that the 633 was built to withstand this sort of production.”
To create such an immersive aesthetic, Shen sometimes employed longer shots to draw people in and enable them to interact with the film. This required capturing the ambiance of some of these environments, especially those places with a unique aural quality, in the cleanest and most authentic way.
“What one quickly realizes when pursuing silence is that ‘silence’ is much more than the absence of sound and that it can change from one person to the next,” Shen explained. “Silence, as we experience it, can have many textures and qualities, which all combine to form a sonic environment that is pleasing to both the ear and the mind. We like to say that silence is a sound. Having a piece of gear that can capture the sounds of an environment in all its frequencies and idiosyncrasies is paramount to this film. The 633 worked incredibly well for this.”
In addition to the 633, Shen’s rig also included a RØDE NT4 cardioid studio condenser X/Y stereo microphone in a Think Tank shoulder bag, which he kept slung around his shoulder when he was shooting to keep it close at hand.
“From live television to music production, I’ve spent a good deal of time working with sound in a number of different settings,” said Shen. “At the same time, I don’t know sound like professional sound recordists and sound engineers do. What’s important for me as a director is that the sound is not only clean but authentic. I love that when I listen to the recordings we’ve captured with the 633 that it is totally indistinguishable from having actually been where the sound was recorded.”
Shen made his feature directorial debut in 2005 with the critically acclaimed Flight from Death: The Quest for Immortality. Beautifully photographed in eight different countries and three years in the making, Flight from Death won seven best documentary awards at film festivals all over the United States. Since then, Shen has released additional documentaries, including The Philosopher Kings and his most recent release, La Source. Narrated by Oscar-nominated actor Don Cheadle, La Source tells the story of Josue Lajuenesse, a Haitian janitor from Princeton University who returns to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake to bring clean water to a small rural village.