The music for Women in Jep

July 6, 2012

By Daniel Perelstein, Sound Designer for Women in Jep

Most of the sound design for Women In Jep takes place in the transitions between scenes. Like many comedies, Wendy’s play moves quickly and it was important to us not to lose momentum between scenes, despite the fact that I anticipated long transitions. [Director Ed Sobel] has done really interesting work choreographing the transitions so that they maintain visual interest.  My job was to match the energy Ed and Wendy have created.

An early design meeting for the play. That's Dan pointing at the groundplans.

It took me an unusually long time to find a useful musical vocabulary for this show, and I’m not sure exactly why that was. I think that part of it is due to the timeline of this project, which was shorter than many design processes. This meant that we jumped right in and skipped some of the initial phases typical of a design process. It wasn’t until the night before tech (after a handful of reminders that Ed and I didn’t seem to be on the same page) that I finally asked Ed to send me music in the style he was hearing for the show. Often in a design process this is a starting point, but for Women In Jep, I had jumped in assuming he and I would be on the same page. Another reason that it took me so long to discover the musical aesthetic may have been that this play calls for less music and sound than many plays, so I had fewer clues to rely on.

After a few false starts (the first sketches I sent Ed were all kind of short piano miniatures that kind of floated instead of driving rhythmically), Ed sent me the name of a female Salt Lake City pop / rock duo, Meg & Dia, as well as a song from the soundtrack to the movie Juno. After listening to these suggestions, it was instantly clear what sort of music Ed had been hearing (and just how far I had been from his wavelength initially). I finally made a sketch that Ed liked (and so did Wendy!). It involved a base of light strumming on guitar, with a melody played on bells, electric bass, and drumming. I don’t own a drum kit, so the drumming was a layer of me drumming on my chest of drawers at home, and another layer of me stomping in my slippers and patting my thighs with my hands. This homemade aesthetic, even though it originated pragmatically (the more traditional way of recording rock music involves expenses including hiring musicians and renting recording studio time), was really appropriate for the style of music Ed had sent me, and really wound up working for this production.

A fundamental question I worry about in all of my designs is “what’s the same? What’s different?” from one selection to the next. It is relatively easy to create a design that feels disjointed, especially when my only tools are a handful of pieces of transition music. Often these designs can wind up feeling like a random series of jukebox selections. To avoid this, it was important for me to create a consistent and strong musical through-line that would underlie all the music in the show. I typically use melody as the musical glue that ties together the moments in a piece, but the style of music Ed and I eventually settled on (pop music) is a style that isn’t really suited to this level of melodic construction. As a result, I used the homemade, DIY, aesthetic that I discovered in my first sketch, as the glue that tied the music together. All the music in Women In Jep shares this sensibility, regardless of whether I created it on my own, or whether I stitched it together from existing music. I think the music we settled on all feels fun and familiar, and matches the energy of the actors, staging, and text.

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