When Director/Producer Patrick Shen sought to give his audience a highly authentic listening experience for his new documentary feature film, In Pursuit of Silence, he turned to Sound Devices' 633 Digital Recorder and 6-Input Field Production Mixer. The Sound Devices solutions were just what he needed to convey his vision for the meditative film, which explores the value of silence and the implications of living in a noisy world.
In trying to capture the essence of truly silent environments, Shen and his crew quickly realized that his current recorder wouldn't work for this film. "We found ourselves in especially quiet environments that call for equipment that produces as little self-noise as possible, but the noise from the unit itself was sometimes louder than the environment we were recording," he says. "We asked our friends at Designing Sound and other film advisors which recorder would be best suited for this project, and everyone agreed that the Sound Devices 633 was the only option."
This film marks the first time Shen has used Sound Devices equipment. "I found the 633 to be a well-designed and manufactured piece of equipment," he adds. "During production, we're constantly on the go, and it can often be very frantic. We're always careful with our gear, but we don't have time to babysit it, either. Sometimes things don't get packed up the way we'd prefer when we're off to the next shot. Poorly constructed equipment just doesn't last long under those conditions. I learned that the 633 was built to withstand this sort of production."
Given the experimental quality of In Pursuit of Silence, it was very important to Shen that the film was of silence and not just about silence. To create such an immersive aesthetic, he sometimes employed longer shots to draw people in and enable them to interact with the film. This required capturing the ambience of some of these environments, especially those places with a unique aural quality, in the cleanest and most authentic way.
"What one quickly realizes when pursuing silence is that 'silence' is much more than the absence of sound and that it can change from one person to the next," adds Shen. "Silence, as we experience it, can have many textures and qualities, which all combine to form a sonic environment that is pleasing to both the ear and the mind. We like to say that silence is a sound. Having a piece of gear that can capture the sounds of an environment in all its frequencies and idiosyncrasies is paramount to this film. The 633 worked incredibly well for this."
In addition to the 633, Shen's rig also included a RDE NT4 cardioid studio condenser X/Y stereo microphone in a Think Tank shoulder bag, which he kept slung around his shoulder when he was shooting to keep it close at hand.
"I really appreciate the aesthetics of a product," says Shen. "When I turned the 633 on, I found the display to be fantastic. The colors on the display were vibrant and easy to read, and everything was laid out very well. Operating the unit is very intuitive; I felt like all the controls were exactly where they were supposed to be. I also love how quickly it powers up. We're a small crew and have to work very fast sometimes. The fact that I can flip the power switch on and start recording within seconds is pretty incredible."
The 633 is a six-input mixer with an integrated 10-track recorder that includes Sound Devices' proprietary PowerSafe(tm) technology and a unique four-way power supply for maximum operational runtime. The powerful 633 features three high-bandwidth mic/line XLR inputs complete with phantom power, high-pass filter, input limiter and variable pan. Three additional line-level inputs appear on TA3 (mini-XLR) connectors. All inputs are assignable to any output bus. AES digital I/O, including support for AES42 digital microphones, is available. The 633 offers 10-track, 24-bit, 48-kHz uncompressed polyphonic or monophonic broadcast WAV file recording (96 kHz for eight tracks, 192 kHz for six tracks) or timecode-stamped MP3 recording to CompactFlash and/or SD cards. All six inputs plus left/right and aux 1/2, can be recorded to individual tracks. Similar to Sound Devices' 12-input 664 Production Mixer, the 633 offers dual card slots that record to either one or both cards simultaneously, with the added ability to assign different tracks to each memory card.
"From live television to music production, I've spent a good deal of time working with sound in a number of different settings," concludes Shen. "At the same time, I don't know sound like professional sound recordists and sound engineers do. What's important for me as a director is that the sound is not only clean but authentic. I love that when I listen to the recordings we've captured with the 633 that it is totally indistinguishable from having actually been where the sound was recorded. If I can help it, I will not use anything but Sound Devices for my sound needs going forward."
Patrick Shen made his feature directorial debut in 2005 with the critically acclaimed Flight from Death: The Quest for Immortality. Beautifully photographed in eight different countries and three years in the making, Flight from Death won seven "Best Documentary" awards at film festivals all over the United States. Since then, Shen has released additional documentaries, including The Philosopher Kings and his most recent release, La Source. Narrated by Oscar-nominated actor Don Cheadle, La Source tells the story of Josue Lajuenesse, a Haitian janitor from Princeton University who returns to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake to bring clean water to the small, rural village from where he came.
Sound Devices, LLC designs and manufactures portable audio mixers, digital audio recorders and related equipment for feature film, episodic television, documentary, news-gathering, live event and acoustical test and measurement applications. Video Devices is a brand of Sound Devices for their digital video recorders and related products that address a range of multiple-source video productions, including fast-paced, mission-critical studio applications, live sports, live events, and mobile production.
Founded in 1998, the company designs and manufactures both brands from their Reedsburg, Wisconsin headquarters with additional offices in Madison, Wisconsin and Berlin, Germany. For more information, visit the Sound Devices and Video Devices websites: www.sounddevices.com and www.videodevices.com.