Sound studio

How Sound Crew Spent 18 Months Turning Bowie’s ‘Moonage Daydream’ Into an Immersive ‘Fever Dream of Sound and Vision’

Brett Morgan‘s”Lunar Reverie», a free-wheeling documentary about david bowie, does not offer a timeline of the late pop icon’s life. Rather, it offers a fever dream of sound and vision, with songs ripped apart, reinvented and reassembled to reflect the chameleon music and artistry of its subject matter.

The doc, out now in IMAX theaters, was a labor of love for Morgen that took four years to put together and edit. It took another 18 months to build the ambitious soundtrack, which required the talents of the Oscar-winning “Bohemian Rhapsody” team from Ventura, Calif., re-recording mixer Paul Massey (with David Giammarco); London-based supervising sound and music editor John Warhurst and supervising sound editor Nina Hartstone; and Dolby Atmos Music Studios.

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Veteran mixer Massey recommended Warhurst and Hartstone to Morgen. “We instinctively know what the other is about to do,” says Massey.

One of the challenges for Massey was mixing for a variety of formats – including IMAX 12.0 and 5.0, Dolby Atmos, 7.1 and 5.1 theatrical as well as Home Atmos 5.1 and stereo. Seeing him in a screening room on Fox’s Lot One is eye-opening and ear-opening. It feels like you’ve been thrust into the middle of an immersive 360-degree maelstrom of music and voice-over narrated by Bowie, his sound design taking off on flights that tell the story emotionally rather than through narratives. or even pictures.

“In the process, we mixed together a lot of music that wasn’t designed to go together into amazing tracks,” Massey explains. “And the sound design is fully integrated into that. The soundtrack is like a huge crossfade, from the very beginning of the film to the end.

“One of the things that became clear was that the sound wasn’t necessarily tied to the picture,” says Warhurst. “The sound often led the way, and the image followed, reflecting what was going through Bowie’s head.”

It was up to Hartstone, one of the few women in a prominent position in the motion picture sound industry, to weave Bowie’s sound clips into a cohesive narrative.

“We wanted to be very true to Bowie and the relationship he had with his fans,” she says. “And how that developed through the different periods of his life, from his first outburst on the stage, the girls screaming – all the way through his career. We listened a lot to the tapes that [music producer] Tony Visconti provided, and that Brett had collected, the live shows and interstitials where he addressed the crowd, and how they reacted to his music.

There are many fascinating sonic juxtapositions in the final film – Bowie crooning “Move On” from 1979’s “The Lodger” album over a stage from Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis,” or lying on a bed to the sound of a creaking ship on an ocean wave. After receiving Morgen’s gargantuan list of notes in a day-long first session, Massey got to work. “Brett wanted it to be almost like a ride in a theme park: an art installation told from Bowie’s point of view – a whole new experience of his music and his life.” Getting the stems – the individual parts recorded – gave Massey a unique look at Bowie’s creative process, the one he emulates on the “Moonage Daydream” soundtrack: “I could see how he incorporated instruments that didn’t usually didn’t go together to create slightly different harmonic structures, sounds we’ve never heard before.

Added Warhurst: “As you peel back the layers, there are things you’ve never heard before, like the background conversation of ‘Ashes to Ashes’. You didn’t know everything that was there. We wanted the sound to be a dense tapestry, something you could watch and listen to over and over again and keep finding new things. Bowie’s music sounded a lot like that. It was fascinating to look under the hood of his designs.

Hartstone considers his collaboration on the film a career and a personal milestone. “Brett really sparked our imaginations,” she says of the director. “We weren’t just putting sound on images. We were free to take it into all sorts of areas that you wouldn’t normally do in a soundscape. We felt very lucky to be part of such a creative enterprise. This is one of the most ambitious business projects I have ever been involved in.

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