The Sound Architect catches up with Larry Sider, Director at The School of Sound CIC.


The School of Sound teaches the creative use of sound in the arts and media. Through workshops, seminars, articles and, most importantly, our biennial International Symposium in London, we promote an awareness of how artists and professional practitioners communicate through sound. Their next event is at the Southbank Centre, London, 8-11 April 2015.

Walter Murch has also been announced as attending as part of the programme! Walter Murch is a film editor, sound designer, director, translator and amateur astronomer. His forty-five years of pioneering sound design and picture editing work on films include THX-1138, The Conversation, The Godfather (I, II, III), Julia, Apocalypse Now, The English Patient, Talented Mr. Ripley, Cold Mountain, and Jarhead, as well as writing and directing Return to Oz. His latest film work (2014) is Particle Fever, a feature documentary on the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson, directed by Mark Levinson. Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland, which Murch edited, will be released in May of 2015.

Hi Larry thanks for speaking to us about The School of Sound, it’s good to have you on The Sound Architect!


So tell us more about yourself before we go into The School of Sound, how and why did you get involved?


Hi Sam. Thanks for inviting me.
It’s kind of a ‘once upon a time story’. In the early 70s I studied filmmaking at a university in Chicago. Like all US universities you study a wide range of courses and only specialise in your last two years. So, in addition to sound I was studying art, history, religion, theatre, literature, etc. And the film course was equally varied taking in practice, history and theory across experimental film, narrative, animation and documentary, and all that from various cultural and national perspectives. So, studying film was in a very broad context and, unlike now, Hollywood and commercial feature filmmaking was not the be all and end all.
And somewhere in all that, I always had this interest in the relation between sound and image. I learned how to use the Nagra reel-to-reel tape recorder – a very beautiful piece of equipment – and specialised in editing. This was, of course, all on film and even the way in which sound and image were put together on the final print of a film was an amazing photo-chemical process. The technology could be maddening but it was also fun, like art class was in school when I was 10.

I came to London in the late 70s and worked extensively in animation, documentary and experimental filmmaking, much of it with the Quay Brothers, Patrick Keiller and directors Peter Wollen and Laura Mulvey. The films I worked on as an editor and sound editor were being produced by the British Film Institute and Channel 4, which had started in 1983. It was a stimulating period with a lot of experimentation, especially in post-production, working with editing, sound and music.


How did The School of Sound come into fruition?


In the mid-90s I began to teach sound at film schools, this was still working with 16mm film. Film schools realised that their students’ films were being let down by technically bad soundtracks. So I was asked to teach how to get clean dialogue and how to add music. To me, this seemed to be very restrictive and a waste of time. There were so many more things that could be done with a soundtrack. Why limit the students by considering sound in such a narrow way? And this was happening at so-called ‘art’ schools.

One night I was discussing this with my wife, Diane, who was a television producer and had been involved in media training. We decided to start a new school for sound. A bricks and mortar school was beyond our means but a ‘conceptual’ school was possible, an event for a week or so that would focus on sound the way art schools studied the image. And you have to realise this was before email, the web, before TED, before blogs, before universities and cultural centres like the Southbank had whole seasons of masterclasses.

The first SOS was held in April 1998 at the French Institute in London. We put together a mailing list, posted announcements far and wide and over 200 people turned up from 25 countries. We were amazed. The first programme included Walter Murch, Michel Chion, an interview I did with David Lynch, Manfred Eicher of ECM records, the Quays and experimental filmmaker Peter Kubelka.


Tell us more about The School of Sound event itself?


The format has changed very little since the first one. It is four days of presentations and talks. It is not like an academic conference in that speakers rarely read prepared papers, and there is no theme. The speakers – professional practitioners, artists, and academics from all areas of the arts and media – speak about what they do, how they think, why they use sound the way they do. It gets to the heart of the role of sound in audio-visual work, be it commercial or experimental.

The talks focus on the conceptual side of working with sound, what is often called the ‘creative’ side, as opposed to the technical aspects. So, for example, at the last SOS in 2013 (we hold it every 2 years), film sound designer Pat Jackson, described how she works with atmospheres – how they supply almost sub-conscious information to the audience while providing precise information about character and place in a narrative film. Sound recordist, Chris Watson, took us on a sound tour from the Caribbean to the Antarctic, above and below the surface of the water, immersing us in the subtle changes of acoustics as he travelled. The legendary Czech sound designer, Ivo Spalj, explained the methods he devised in working with the animator Jan Svankmajer. And Andrew Kötting did a performance piece, using a monologue with music (from a Dansette record player), sound effects and audio-visual aides, taking us through his work and called it ‘How Sound Has Always been the Motor for My Picture’. And another speaker, Mark Milton, who has worked for many years with the Samaritans, spoke about empathy and ways of listening.

On the Saturday of each SOS we have a ‘meet the speakers’ session when members of the audience can sit with the speakers in informal groups, asking them specific questions about their work, their careers and more specific questions about their techniques and ways of working. So, here is a chance to get more detailed information relating to your particular area. You then begin to see how conceptual ideas and everyday practice come together.

It is very eclectic. And very intensive.


How does it cover sound across all arts and media?


Most courses and certainly the professional industry and the arts world tend to separate sound according to how it’s used. So film sound is separate from theatre sound, and sound for animation is considered different than sound for games, etc., etc. The way music and sound are used in narrative film is different than in artists’ films (though getting closer). Budgets in television mean that TV sound is different than film sound. In practice this means that many people learning about and working with sound have a restricted view of what they do – and what they are capable of doing. But we believe that if you are interested in sound then you should be able to cross all these boundaries. The SOS is about creating that awareness.

What I think is most striking about the SOS is how the diversity of subjects and speakers – from all areas of the arts, media and academia – manages to fuse into coherent whole.


What advice would you give to first-time attendees of the event?


Ren Klyce, the Californian sound designer known for his work in films and games, has spoken at the SOS twice. And he told the audience to approach the four days with a ‘beginner’s mind’. In other words, have no expectations, no preconceived ideas of what you will learn. Just be open and curious, as if you were learning about sound for the first time.


OK, say I’m a potential attendee but I can’t decide whether to go ar not. What would you say should sway my decision into going?


That’s tricky. It’s a definite commitment in terms of time and money. And everyone comes away with something different. Some people can take ideas and immediately apply them to their current project. Others leave saying, “I never thought of working that way.” You’ll realise you are hearing some very high-level thinking that can help you work at a higher level and can expand your career into new areas.

It takes your head away from the computer and the timeline and opens up a new awareness of just exactly what you’re doing. It allows you to reflect on what you’ve chosen as a career or craft.

And it shows the audience how sound operates in many different areas, so inevitably having a greater understanding of sound across the board makes someone more useful on a wider range of projects, rather than being limited to one job. Some people have said that they’ve learned more in four days than in their entire BA or MA.


Are there any specific benefits for particular areas of audio, such as composers, sound designers etc.?


Again, I’d say it expands your thinking. It makes you appreciate – to a much deeper level – the potential for sound and music. It changes your perspective.

Rather than continuing to think “how do I apply my sound or music to this project” you begin thinking from the inside and begin to see the question more as “what does this project need from my sound or my music”. What does a narrative film require? How does a filmmaker think? How does a choreographer use music or sound or both? How are games evolving and how does that affect their soundtracks? So you see the combination of sound/music with images, performance or space as a much more integrated process.

Thinking and reflecting are not things we are given much time for. And they are becoming less and less valued in what are now called the ‘creative industries’. But if you value what you do, and want to develop your creative skills, you need to take a little time now and then to stop, listen to some new voices and reflect on what you do. That’s what the School of Sound is about.


Thanks again Larry we’ll catch you there!


Hope you enjoyed the interview! The School of Sound is running 8-11th April 2015 and you can purchase tickets right here:



website –

programme –

registration –


If you go there say hi to Sam!


Interview by Sam Hughes


Uploaded 04/02/15


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