Ramón Schoones
Photo: Yannick van Leeuwaarde

Behind the scenes: the sound engineer

4 July 2023

Text: Lune Visser

While productions often appear magical, they are not simply conjured out of thin air. Behind the scenes, every individual in each department plays a crucial role. But who does what and what does their creative process look like? We speak with Ramón Schoones, a sound engineer in the Audio, Video and Media (AVM) department.

Various elements come together within the theatre environment, including audio, video and media. These components play a crucial role both in the auditorium and during studio recordings on the first floor. While there are many different aspects, Ramón focuses specifically on audio: “That is my main discipline, especially recording technology. However, the different aspects within this field often intertwine. For example, video productions also require high-quality sound to complement the visual experience.”

Transmitting and recording

The work of the AVM staff consists of two parts: the department is responsible for the sound in the venue and also handles various recordings, such as registrations and livestreams of performances, as well as recordings of radio commercials. It is the task of the sound technicians to make everything sound as beautiful as possible, whether it’s the sound of an instrument, the noise of an imaginary helicopter flying over the venue, or the recording of a voice.

“I’d like to clarify though,” Ramón interjects, “that in classical operas, we generally refrain from amplifying the sound unless it’s necessary for a small chorus positioned off stage, for instance. If you happen to spot a microphone near the singers, it indicates that we are recording the performance. On the other hand, modern operas increasingly incorporate amplification techniques. In these cases, we encounter exciting challenges such as creating special effects, distorting voices, or positioning sounds from specific directions. It always presents a delightful challenge for us.”


Reinforcement on stage

But the responsibility of sound engineers extends beyond the audience’s experience to encompass the sound for the artists themselves. Ramón explains, “The stage is huge and performances take place in so many different places. When standing at the front, you can still hear the orchestra, but as you move a few metres back, the sound becomes less audible. To address this, we amplify the music toward the stage and place several screens around the stage so that the conductor can be seen from every angle.”

The technicians themselves must also remain vigilant and responsive: “Each cue must be initiated promptly, and this often depends on the tempo set by the orchestra. Therefore, we all read sheet music, adding our own notes, such as ‘Attention: increase microphone volume’ or ‘Attention: start cannon,’ and manually time these cues. In ballet performances, we may even have to trigger an entire music cue at the precise moment it’s required.”

“Each cue must be initiated promptly, and this often depends on the tempo set by the orchestra”

Technical music director

Musicality is therefore a requirement in this department: “We all have different backgrounds in the conservatory, and our technical skills serve as a means to achieve something musically. Even when we are mixing or post-processing recordings, we are essentially functioning as sound directors. That’s what makes this work so enjoyable: one day you might be deeply engrossed in an editing process in the studio, and the next day you’re running around the stage to ensure the best sound throughout the venue. What I find most special is the fact that we create everything in-house. This gives us the freedom to be creative and allows us to consistently present something original to our audience.”

“We all have different backgrounds in the conservatory, and our technical skills serve as a means to achieve something musically”