A successful career dedicated to professional sound and specialized in musical theater. He flew from his native Argentina to become a heavyweight of the audio sector in Spain. Today he is responsible for the sound of The Lion King of Stage Entertainment, the international music producer par excellence, at the same time officiates as an associate designer or assistant of the designer from time to time. German Schlatter visits us at the Fluge facility, which will always be his home, and tells us a lot of things.
Since the first musical step on Gran Vía to this day, many things have happened … many productions, high quality or worse, with millions of viewers or with just a few months on board … and it seems that today musical theaters have established a solid base in Spain, it seems that the public has welcomed it as an important leisure alternative. How do you see the panorama today? Where are we heading?
Firstly thanks for the introduction, although I do not consider myself a “heavy weight”. There are people out there who know a lot and I’m lucky to continue learning. I prefer to see myself as a worker passionate about what he does and fortunate to have been able to take root in Spain.
Regarding your question, I think that although there has been a lot of progress and the musical genre is a good leisure option for a large part of the national public, there is still an important path to walk. There are many people who have never gone to the theater to see a musical, and if unfortunately they premiere with one that they do not like it is very likely they won’t try again. This will change with the passage of time and the public will accept that one show has liked much more than another.
Regarding your question, I think that although there has been a lot of progress and the musical genre is a good leisure option for a large part of the national public, there is still an important way to go. There are many people who have never gone to the theater to see a musical, and if unfortunately they premiere with one that they do not like it is very likely not to try again. This will change with time and the public will accept the distinct style of each
We have inherited the musical genre recently from the English and Americans who have been creating new proposals for more than 70 years. I think that in order to reach the level of these people, we should duel deeper into our rich history and heterogeneous culture. The national production is a subject to develop in my opinion. The public is already prepared to receive something more “representing” and of greater quality. We have the composers, producers, directors, and artists capable of such a challenge. The question is who will come up with it and bring everyone together to an agreement …
Madrid that despite having a significant tourist flow, can’t host more than four or five medium or large format productions. This is because the national public still does not consider the musical as the first leisure option. If we compare it with New York or the West End where there are more than 20 shows at a time, there is still field to be sown.
At the educational level we have both public and private schools that are already offering official degrees in musical theater and luckily the new generations are increasingly prepared in the different areas that encompasses this genre (singing, dance, interpretation, etc …).
At the technical-artistic level of sound I think that what we lack is a method or way of facing the new productions. This will commence when the local producers dedicate to an adequate technical pre-production and followed by the recognition of the key figures that are the sound designer, the head of assembly and the mixer, according to the scale and level of the project .
I have seen several productions where “the sound team” is responsible for designing, preproduction and assembly, adjusting the equipment, programming and operating the table, distributing the microphones in dressing rooms and if you hurry up, also pass the vacuum cleaner through artist rooms. In an international production I have come to see a Sound Designer, a Designer Associate, a Designer / Mixer Assistant hired until the premiere, a Production Sound Engineer, a PSE assistant added to the local crew of 3 or 4 people. It is not about the quantity of people, but by the specialization of the human team that you obtain better results. The more and better specialists, the level of detail that can be achieved will be higher.
And as for the public, is it demanding with the sound quality? Do you think they clearly identify a good sound or are is it unconsciously perceived and associated with the quality of the show on a global level?
There are very good days at sound level and others not so good, and the public’s reactions are unexpected. I think people see it as a whole and do not identify sound as something isolated. The purpose of sounding a musical is to help convey in a clear way what is already happening on stage and is not an end in itself. As soon as the design becomes intrusive (for example an intimate song to a concert volume) instead of helping to tell the story, it dulls it. I do not think people are aware of this, but the show will not be perceived in the same way.
Jerry Zaks once told me that in his opinion the show that I mixed was a little loud. They were 2 or 3 dB stronger than what he conceived. He told me what I was doing wasn’t bad but that we had to get the audience to lean forward from the armchair, like “looking” for the show; instead of having them fall back because the sound level drove them away.
Obviously this reflection depends on the type of show, the size of the room, the projection of the actors, the musical arrangements and the criteria of the Director, Music Supervisor and Sound Designer. There are some shows that need more presence in songs and dialogues, and others that benefit from intimacy and subtlety. The same happens with the location or acoustic image (or panning) of the actors on stage. It’s all about when and where to apply the criteria to make the big difference.
In a production of musical theaters what is the key differentiating element of the sound with respect to other live shows?
At the artistic level, I would say that the possibility of reaching a high level in the numerous details that there is in a show of this type. For example, the level of detail in the mix, the known and controlled space, system set-up time, number of previous trials, having the same musical program every day, repetition and the possibility of anticipation.
At a technical level, the musical is plagued with materials alien to the rock and roll world, toys and accessories that slow down pre-production and assembly considerably.
Bearing in mind that you have performed some of the most acclaimed musicals in the industry, surely many, but what has been the biggest technical challenge you have faced?
I would say all!
In every new production it’s a huge effort to get the situation under control. Factors such as dealing with the criteria or logic of each designer or music supervisor and then try to reproduce them once they leave you in charge. Also to learn the operation of new or unknown devices for me, and above all to be able to listen to the show as the public listens to it and at the same time carry out the mixing.
But if you want to know the names … Beauty and the Beast in 2008, Saturday Night Fever and The Lion King in 2011. They all had new mixers for me (D5-T, PM1D and SD7-T), Complex systems to trigger sound effects, different speaker systems, new mixing criteria and of course the challenge of blending them worthily.
And from the patio of armchairs what has been the musical that impressed you the most?
The Beauty and the Beast (1999), The Miserables (Argentina-1999) and The Lion King (Madrid-2011). Everyone has their special moments and I could not have just one.
Now an exercise; can you imagine what the next big break in the sound industry will be? Or what would you ask for to make your job easier?
For technical pre-production, documentation, organization of material and work I would like to have software solutions designed for this topic, specifically with the peculiarities of musical theater.
There are some like Stardraw (Windows only) or other solutions made by people like me (but much more intelligent), who have designed their own databases and then apply them with rental companies. These solutions minimize pre-production costs and facilitate the logistics of the material.
Recently a colleague of lights showed me the “lightwright” that integrates lists of material, equipment settings, work lists, reports, etc. with Vectorworks. For audio there is still something nothing versatile.
For the sound design phase, it would be interesting to integrate wireless microphone systems with stage positioning systems (eg Track the Actors, Stage tracker …) and thus not have to carry two or three cases per actor.
A system for checking wireless and portable wireless microphones, with the possibility of repacking a wireless system without the need of setting a bantam patch or anything similar.
This way the microphone specialists can walk the stage and do their homework as they are checking the actors would be very necessary. This optimizes the work of the microphone and it greatly minimizes it.
Since we are talking about the future, what projects do you have ahead of you?
Continue studying and learning from those who know more than I do.
As far as I can, venture into the sound design in a more personal way. I have been fortunate to work with several top international designers and know their criteria first hand. I have been forming a personal criteria step by step and I would like to be able to expose it someday.
I would also like to share experiences with other students and professionals in speach or course format. There is a lot of human potential here and we have to do everything we can to raise our level.
In the long term I always think of starting up a task system to develop the national industry that includes material logistics, work optimization and minimizing pre-production costs for producers.
To finish, and since you have worked in different countries like Italy or Russia and along with some of the most recognized professionals in the world, I would like to know your opinion about the technical level that exists in Spain with respect to the foreigners; both in terms of equipment and staff training.
At the equipment level if we compare it with Latin America for example, I think we are at the top except for rare exceptions. If we compare ourselves with the United States or the United Kingdom, we have years of community effort to continue climbing, especially in R & D for musical theater.
And in terms of staff training, it responds to the needs of the local market, which are able to do everything (Rigging, RF, FOH, IT, etc …) We are like ducks, that neither fly well nor walk well , nor swim well … but we do everything and we survive!!!! Something that is not bad for the times we are in !!
The freelance technicians, mainly American and English with whom I worked, did not have much generic training but they were more specialized in what they did. Maybe the team leader did not know how to program the mixer or make all the computers work in a network, but his job was to plan and direct the assembly, manage the staff, the times, the material, etc … and in that he was incredible. To program the table there is already a Designer / Associate who will deal efficiently with that (and who is probably unable to PSE) and for the networks and computers, there was a computer engineer who left it working before leaving the venue. The same happens with the digital world, rigging, RF and wiring equipment …
Anyways, to be able to specialize in the different areas that a musical encompasses, it would require a greater volume of work. Unfortunately we are going through a difficult time at work and perhaps in this situation individually, being a “duck” is more profitable than being an Imperial Eagle …
Thank you very much for your time German.