DESIGNER / Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama
A/B Machines is a new work that was adapted from the work of Andy Warhol by director Philip Gates as a part of Carnegie Mellon University's 2018/2019 Package Plus season.
"The work explores Warhol’s preoccupations with our performance of self, our need to be seen by others, and our underlying fear of death."
- Philip Gates
The show is three Andy Warhol's in conversation with each other, and in order to help the audience through the complex and non-linear script, the sound design had to get into the essence of who Andy was. Andy was, of course, a pop artist, but at the same time, he was a season ticket holder to The Met Opera, a producer of a progressive rock group: The Velvet Underground, and obsessed with new music. Andy used to listen to the same record on repeat until he truly understood every piece and moment of it.
As other departments focused on aspects of Andy, the sound design embraced every piece of him in order to bring everything together, so there was an opera aria that was slowly processed to lead to the climatic ending of part one, there were three songs by the Velvet Underground for the three Cabarets that were arranged for the actors and then backing tracks were recorded by the designer, and the lip-sync dance number -- the climax of part two -- was a modern track with a message where you really had to listen to it to understand it. Finally, to make sure everything pulled together, Wendy Carlos's work with Classical music and 60's synthesizers connected those avenues, and during scenes with no other sound there were drones that were recordings of the theater's mechanical machine room in four-channel audio that were processed to both follow the ebbs and flows of the script and bridge a gap between 1960's rock where noise began to be integrated with music and today where resonators and cloud-like drones are very popular.
On a more technical note, there was a vocal reinforcement system combined with a surround sound system. For more integrated microphone moments like the incantations, microphones built into each actor’s ring light were used, but for the Cabarets, a Sure SM 58 was used to give a more rock sound and give the visual aesthetic as well. A vocal main closer to the audience and then three instrumental main speakers spread across the stage on a more upstage plane allowed for imaging closer to what one would expect from a rock show.