A Silent Voice Sound Staff Roundtable

This is from the A Silent Voice “making of” book published by Kyoto Animation in 2016. I translated this for another site, but it never got ran on it. With the ongoing incident at KyoAni, I wanted to share some of these translations that were finished, but never seen publicly.

Director x Sound Staff Roundtable
Naoko Yamada x Yota Tsuruoka x Kensuke Ushio

Naoko Yamada
(history published in self-interview)

Yota Tsuruoka:
Animation sound director. Representative of Rakuonsha Limited. Chief representative works include High Speed! –Free! Starting Days- and the Sound! Euphonium series.

Kensuke Ushio:
Has released three albums to date as the solo artist agraph. Also active as a member of LAMA and Denki Groove.

The shape of sound desired in the film

– First, now that production on the film has finished, including sound production, what has been your reaction to finishing it?
Yamada: It feels like a pleasant accomplishment. Even before I had the privilege to direct A Silent Voice, I thought about working on something with a strong sound component. And I don’t mean presenting something that you could simply say as “beautiful music” or “nice melodies”; I mean some kind of sound that would appeal to someone’s instincts or the physical sensation of sounds. I thought about who I would need to speak out to in order to represent that and who “I really want to work with,” and as a result, I was truly able to work together with everyone. As all of the staff shared lots of common emotions, we were able to live up to the challenge of how we wanted to present the surface of sounds.
Tsuruoka: Once the film opened, I reached out to hear responses related to the sound of the film, but I was a bit perplexed to their impressions because I got reactions that were just “the sounds that should fit this film were naturally there.” While there were some that had “they were bitter because that’s what you desire in a film like this,” the consensus was that the sound felt natural. I’m not trying to exaggerate that by any means.
Ushio: Like Tsuruoka-san said, we steadfastly made the sound that we desired for the film. When I went to work with director Yamada and the studio, I felt it was a location brimming with creativity and so much energy from all the people she had gathered with similar feelings. Everyone could chase after the shape of sound they wanted in the film with truly no reservations. That is how we were able to achieve such a rich and pure result.

“Want to work with me?”

– It appears like you structured this title around sound, director Yamada. Fundamentally, what was the reason for that?
Yamada: I began working on this film wanting to make a film where the audience felt something viscerally. They would sneak into the world that Shoya Ishida viewed and sense his own mental emotions. It started with me thinking about how I wanted to delve into how Shoko accepted sounds, but I wanted to attack that how sounds affect our vital organs and interact physically with us in ways beyond audition like the shape of odors and the shape of memories, so I constantly thought how best to represent that. Communication isn’t just words; it’s the unconscious presentation of things like line of sight and atmosphere. Since I felt A Silent Voice was a work that could play on all five senses, I chose to challenge it in that manner.

– In what ways did you communicate that instinctive image?
Yamada: I’m not that great at putting what I’m thinking into words. There’s many times where I ask myself “how can I fundamentally convey that image?” Whenever I spoke with Ushio-san, I would talk until I was sure he understood 100 percent what I meant at that moment.
Ushio: You conveyed that immensely to me. For example, the direction of waves is absolutely a fundamental concept necessary to sound. We have to use waves as an intermediary in order to derive sound. As soon as you said that, I instantly agreed with you.
Yamada: It’s because the root of all physical phenomenon can be used as a way to represent something. Conversation itself may be light, but conveying something in the right form is a miraculous experience. That’s why when Tsuruoka-san said to us “Want to fit sound with the visuals with me?” we accepted your kind offer and gave it a try. Having Ushio-san by my side while working on it, there were many instances where we would start working and I would be vaguely thinking of things like “wouldn’t it be better to have a more positive sound here?” or “I think there’s too many sounds here” and not be able to put them into words, Ushio-san would say “please change this to a brighter chord here” or “there’s too many sounds, so please remove this.” It was a very mysterious and wonderful experience having someone peek into my head like that.
Ushio: When two people have the same sense, they grow to rely on one another and can create something great. I wonder if that’s what Tsuruoka-san wanted us to realize when he asked us “please do this with me.”
Tsuruoka: That’s right. I think two people who create something by feeling and not simply theory is the best way to create something.

– Tsuruoka-san, how was watching over these two while working on the sound?
Tsuruoka: Usually I adjust this and that at the point of the final mix (the last stage where sounds and visuals are mixed), but due to everyone sharing similar thoughts, this film’s process went comparatively smooth without any major issues.
Ushio: For me, I had heard from people around me that the final mix of a film is difficult, so I thoroughly prepared beforehand and so it went very well.
Yamada: That’s right. I reviewed over everything at the final mix. There were things I wanted to change at that time, but I think I was able to make the right judgements with immense calmness.
Tsuruoka: And when you include all of that, doesn’t it make the process go that much smoothly? There aren’t any big hardships to overcome.

The starting point to express Shoya

– Sharing a similar concept was key for this work, but how did you progress to develop that concept?
Ushio: In order to meet and discuss the music, I had the opportunity to stop in and visit Kyoto Animation’s studio. At that time, I was worried about the music for the final scene of the film, so I talked with director Yamada about it. She said “you’ll be aware of it if you visit the riverbed near the studio,” so I went to it after our meeting. Once I arrived there and waited a few minutes, drops of tears started flowing down my face. If I could understand what director Yamada had realized and was moved myself, then surely Kyoto Animation’s staff would be aware of it too. (laughs)
Yamada: Actually, I couldn’t find a way for Shoya to exit the film myself. So when I was beyond my wits end thinking about Shoya, I walked around that river bed and then suddenly it felt light something had entered into Shoya. It was just an ordinary riverbed, but I felt like it had some atmosphere for him such that Shoya could see the light forward.
Ushio: That’s right; there wasn’t anything special about that river bed in particular. I was also born and raised alongside a river and so the scenery I saw was related to my music production. In comparison, this river’s width was very small and the walking area was quite narrow, so it appeared like a miniature garden to the world. At the moment rain started to fall, I saw many colors of umbrellas open on the other side, neighborhood old men walking around, and local students gathered around and rapping. Right then I saw the scenery that was in front of Shoya in that final scene. I became aware of the people living all around me and knew the warmth of the world. Before then, director Yamada had said “You’ll see the light at the river bed,” and so I carried that same image inside me, so I abbreviated the title for the track during that scene from “light” to three letters: “lit.” That image wasn’t limited to just us; we conveyed it to Tsuruoka-san and sound effects specialist Kurahashi-san and so because all of us progressed with that same image of Shoya until the very end, we were able to make something unshakable.

– It felt like both of you were able to see the same world that Shoya saw from his point of view.
Yamada: I think so. This is a work that concentrated on making Shoya’s world both inside and out.
Ushio: I was shocked when Yamada-san brought an artbook of Giorgio Morandi’s paintings during the early concept work. I joined that meeting without any knowledge that Yamada-san had also seen a hint from Morandi’s works at that time.
Yamada: At the time our meetings started, I was worried about how to draw Shoya, so I looked through various things I recalled while gnawing on a piece of straw. While I was looking, the revolutionary way Morandi depicted things the way they are stuck with my heart. I became aware of the way he depicted light by the way he drew shadows on one of his sketches. I noticed something important about how to draw Shoya from seeing how light came to the surface on that sketch. Morandi was a painter who spent his whole life drawing still-lifes with the same motif, so his paintings may appear to be the same image, but he was constantly thinking about how to draw something different, so those small changes that appear to be repeating themselves are composed from an entirely different love and attention. I was immensely sympathetic to how he constructed those paintings.
Ushio: Our connections aren’t limited to just Morandi; we were able to bond easily during that period of getting to know one another since we had shared similar experiences with arts and music in our lives. We chatted about music from 15 years ago and artists from half a century ago. That was an amazingly precious time before making something together. Perhaps we were able to create something because we had experienced the same things and could think similarly.
Yamada: It wasn’t limited to arts and music too; I felt similar to you in the way we view the world. For example, everyone looks at something differently; even if you’re very intimate, you may not be able to share a similar appreciation for it. Since the way Ushio-san approached things was in cooperation with my own, it was very easy for use to talk and understand each other. I was immensely grateful.

Creating sound with no “notation.”

– You were able to share similar concepts, but did you think about anything that you “wanted to do” beforehand?
Ushio: One component during the early part of development was to intentionally work with the “noise” you hear from hearing aids. In that incredibly early concept about this work, we began thinking about similar ways to show that “noise” by using tools to blur images or bokeing the light so that you could sense not understanding language. It’s not so much “noise” that’s important, but that unconscious “sound” instead. So when I was thinking about how to control noise, I remembered that upright piano I had at my parents’ house. If you hit it with a nail, then a sound from a wooden device comes out. If you strike it with a hammer, then a jarring sound like castanets would sound from the piano. I thought that if I were to substitute that into A Silent Voice, then wouldn’t that jarring noise sounding represent the jarring of the world Shoya’s in? This is related to how drawing shadows gives birth to light that director Yamada mentioned before. Depicting jarring gives birth to music. Depict the world and you draw Shoya. By no means does this mean that Shoya just plops into existence there and that it’s not just laid out for the world. In short, the shape that surrounds Shoya and the world itself isn’t divisible. I had to tackle this as the root of production for music in A Silent Voice.
Tsuruoka: Speaking of the “sound” of pianos, I’ve also been tugged towards representing my own movements as piano “notations” in recent years.
Yamada/Ushio: I understand…..
Tsuruoka: If I was thinking something like “shouldn’t we not go with an expression like ‘the piano entered my head’ this soon?” you two would say the exact thing. In this film, the piano isn’t a notation; it clearly sounds.
Ushio: I had the same thoughts, so I’m very glad to hear you say that. After all, the piano was originally that kind of instrument.
Yamada: It disintegrates phenomenon.
Ushio: If you hammer a piano, of course you only get a dong sound, but the piano is a much more complex instrument. The piano has noise and the entire piano vibrates when you play it because the vibration from the fingers is conveyed to the piano itself. Furthermore you’re not able to play something because you want to; you get an immense feeling of gratitude because you constantly persevere from the beginning concept work until the final mix. Really the piano is that kind of instrument.
Yamada: I’m happy that that sound can unconsciously be delivered to our viewers. It would be great if that indescribable feeling stays in their hearts.

Soundless anacrusis

– Were there any memorable events that occurred at the mixing?
Yamada: Now that you mention it, I was aware of a lot of anacrusis this time.
Ushio: For example, in the scene where Shoko is running to the bridge, from the moment she wakes up from her dream (which gradually filled with noise) until the point where the violent begins, that entire bit is one beat. We used several ms (millisecond) of soundless portions there.
Tsuruoka: That was also what we did when we were attaching SE (sound effects). We called it a “sinkless shape” when we had moments where a single sound wouldn’t stand out. But they were immensely wonderful to comprehend.
Ushio: What I found fascinating at the studio was when we would insert a soundless anacrusis no one would say “Oh, that would be awesome!” It would be a natural conversation like “Alright, how many ms do you want this soundless anacrusis?”
Yamada: Nonchalantly.
Tsuruoka: That nonchalant figure would think “This already is cool!”
Yamada: I created a “black anacrusis” similar to those for the visuals where I inserted a completely black cut right before the scene where Shoya jumped into the river. Since I used a very short fade-in and fade-out before and after that bit, they enhanced the black tinge and they appeared closely tied together. Because the way we thought and analyzed that kind of sensation was similar, that image was instantly understood and progressed the commonality inside the story smoothly.
Ushio: I think so. Thanks to that sensation, I think it was able to serve as a substitute inside all of my work. Do you remember the musician story I talked about a while ago?
Tsuruoka: Where when performing, the bass is slightly shifted for rests, right?
Ushio: Right. It maintains that soundless awareness. I think that exists in each role here.
Yamada: The unconscious visual effects were from a feeling like I was in a microscope everyday. The confidence I had to include that tinge of black was from that momentary silence in agraph’s “the shader.” Because I could sympathize with the planning that Ushio-san did to make that single effective silence, I was able to substitute that effect in the visuals.
Ushio: Returning back to our conversation about concepts, probably the use of tools to blur images or using vignette lenses to obscure portions of the image easily convey that representation. For example, when a water drop plops down and spreads out, if you’re able to see the center swell up, it makes it easier to gently perceive it moving towards the outside. You have to be incredibly attentive to each nook and cranny of the audio and visuals if you want to express that kind of nuance. Since we were able to come to a common agreeance early on, then I think we were able to match on those attentive points when we were creating this film. Don’t you think that’s why were we able to make a film that immensely coherent?
Yamada: This was an awfully memorable work that we were able to make together bringing together people who shared the same senses and who shared a common awareness while working on it. Additionally, we didn’t become complacent with the film; I think it became a film that had power towards the outside world.

– Finally, as representative for the group, please give us your impressions now that sound production has finished for A Silent Voice, Tsuruoka-san.
Tsuruoka: Originally movies were “images.” And before they became aware of it, it became natural for “sound” to be added to it. I’m sure people from the time where movies went from silent to “talkies” would be astonished at today’s films. My career as sound director has spanned many years, and yet I can see various new revolutionary methods and have experiences where I see the light.
During this decade, I’ve fenced myself in and have closed myself off to some opportunities. Being able to work with these two youngsters who came in without any preconceptions and gallantly grappled with this film, never hesitating, has allowed me to become aware of so many new things. This has been a work that has me rediscover what it means to “add sound to a movie.”

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