Listen. What can you hear? Nothing? Listen a bit harder.
To the untrained ear, the sounds of life often disappear into the background – but to Ian Dickinson they are the soundtrack to a thousand scenes.
I’m never going to get the chance to go again, so I want to make the most of it!Ian Dickinson
The 44-year-old, who lives in Havant with his family, has made many recordings around the area as part of his job as a sound designer for the stage industry, both in the West End and on Broadway.
One of the most recent productions he has worked on is The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time’s national tour, which comes to the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton on June 23.
Ian says that the mark of a good sound design is that nobody notices it.
‘As a sound designer, part of your job is to help with atmospheres and moods and if you can do that subtly, that is success.’
This has much to do with mirroring the real world.
‘If you think about your life, it is very rarely properly silent, and when it is you really notice it,’ says Ian.
‘Silence is a technique sound people use to really pick out a moment. In a play for example, you will play something barely perceptible in the background, and audiences tune it out. But as soon as you take that away, it becomes another type of silence – a silence of nothingness that makes you pay attention.’
To explain, Ian cites an example from his daily life at home.
‘I walk my dog every morning along the Hayling Billy line, and you would think that is silent because you are stood in the middle of a field, but it’s not.
‘With the louder noises removed, what you hear is the traffic from the A27.’
When Ian speaks to The News, he is at the National Theatre, where he is working on a show called The Red Lion. His credits include The River at the Royal Court, Jerusalem at the Apollo, Royal Court and on Broadway, and Rock ’n’ Roll at the Royal Court.
For his work on The River, Ian recorded ambient noises in the Nore Barn Woods in Emsworth, which are now being played on Broadway.
‘The River is set in a fishing lodge in a forest, which is near to a river by the sea, and I needed ambient noise for this setting at various times of day, so I went down to Emsworth foreshore to do some recording.’
For the dawn recording, Ian spooked some early-morning joggers.
He says: ‘It was pretty dark then, and I’m just stood in these woods with my microphone waiting for the sun to come up.
‘The number of people I must have completely spooked out – they are off for their early morning jog or to walk their dog and just as the sun is coming up they’re confronted by this man in a woolly hat and a pair of big earphones with a microphone.’
Ian’s dad joined him for a night-time recording in the same location – it would be fair to say that Ian didn’t inherit his sound designer instincts.
‘He just doesn’t get it – obviously you have to be really, really quiet but my dad kept saying “you ought to get a recording of that” and I would say “yes dad, I would have if you hadn’t just mentioned it then.”
‘I thought it was going to become a bit of a pointless exercise but I did get a good recording of night-time silence in the end.’
For his work on Jerusalem and Rock ’n’ Roll, Ian was nominated for a Tony Award, and he won an Olivier for his work on Curious Incident.
He says: ‘It’s lovely, especially the Olivier Awards because it is in your home country and your work is being appreciated by your peers.
‘You don’t do a job to win an award but it is nice when your work gets recognised, even if it is someone picking up the phone and saying “I saw the show last night, and this part was my favourite.”
‘The Tonys are on a much bigger scale out there, so it is a much bigger deal in the industry, but it is quite interesting. I have done shows where I have been really proud of them and they have really felt like me, such as Curious Incident, and I have done other shows that I haven’t invested so much of myself in.
‘Sometimes you might get nominated because it is what people perceive to be good.
‘I got nominated once for a show which in essence, if I’m being brutally honest, was playing popular music but loud.
‘People go “wow, I really like that”, and it did service the play and worked well, but in terms of creative input it wasn’t half as much as other shows I have done that didn’t get recognised.’
Ian says that the experience of winning an Olivier was surreal but rewarding, particularly as he could share it with the team.
‘When we won the Olivier, it was a fantastic experience.
‘There is this magic moment where your name gets read out and you can’t believe you’ve won over these other talented people.
‘I remember walking on stage at the Royal Opera House and being overwhelmed by the number of people staring down at me.
‘It was made weirder because pretty much everyone who worked on Curious Incident won an award, and we all said what a great team experience it was – so we also went through the experience of winning as a team too.’
Ian has a finely-tuned appreciation of sound, but his favourite noise is one that was shared by many.
‘Being a Manchester City fan, my favourite sound ever was when Sergio Agüero scored the winning goal against QPR.
‘The whole of Manchester City’s stadium erupted into mayhem.’
He adds: ‘What I do love actually is the sea. I love the morning, and the sound of things coming to life outside, those external ambiences. I enjoy my outside life, because for work I’m locked in a black box in a theatre most of the time.’
Tonight Ian will be at the Radio City Music Hall in New York for the 69th Annual Tony Awards to represent The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, which has picked up six nominations.
It will be a whistle-stop tour for Ian, who will be supporting his nominated Broadway team-mates.
Last year, the Tony Awards administration committee removed the sound design awards from their roster, so Ian has been ineligible for nomination. He says; ‘It is a shame that the award no longer exists. Over 32,000 people in the industry signed a petition to have it reinstated, but the committee didn’t change their decision.’
He adds: ‘The National Theatre have made this lovely gesture to take everyone who was part of Curious Incident out to New York, not just the nominees. I’m never going to get the chance to go again, so I want to make the most of it!’
Ian will join thousands of his industry colleagues for one of New York’s biggest events.
‘New York goes mad for the Tonys,’ he says.
‘So much of the city’s economy comes from Broadway.
‘I will be wishing my fellow creative team good luck and I hope they win.’
‘I am doing a flying visit - I will arrive, get changed, go to the award ceremony, move on to an after party, have a snooze, get a plane back, go to work and see a show preview. It’s going to be very busy.’