HyperDynamic Studio

Alex Olijnyk (left) and Hamish Keen (right)

By Stella Joseph-Jarecki (Enquiries: stellamusicwriter.wordpress.com)

I had the chance to speak to the co-directors of HyperDynamic studio, emerging composers Alex Olijnyk and Hamish Keen. Alex and Hamish describe HyperDynamic as a ‘collaborative audio creations agency’, which can produce all the sound-related work needed in audio-visual projects, not only the score or the sound effects. Alex is a classically-trained cellist and Hamish approaches composition from a sound design background. You can keep up with HyperDynamic’s work through their website, Facebook and Instagram.

How did you two meet?

HK: We met while we were studying interactive composition at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, although we didn’t start working together outside of uni until the beginning of second year. I had just been commissioned to write my first orchestral film score and I had always been interested in using improvisation as a form of composition. Cello fit the bill, so I dragged Alex into the studio with the director for five hours. While the director described scenes over the talkback, we wrote and recorded the score. I guess for me this was an introduction to both working with Alex and to a new style of writing.

AO: It was similar experience for me too. I had previously only worked on documentaries, and composed mostly through notation, so this was a huge new step, in collaborating, working in an improvisatory style and composing for narrative film. When Hamish invited me onto the project I was thrilled. In the end, we both found the project very rewarding and have continued to work together since.

For those who aren’t familiar, what distinguishes an interactive composition degree?

AO: Interactive Composition, as opposed to a traditional compositional degree, is more about collaboration than anything.

HK: Yeah, it’s a really personal answer, because everyone gets something quite different from it, but at its core, it’s a degree that teaches how to respond with music. When you make a film, a theatre work or even art more generally, you’re asking a question, providing a brief. When you write music for media, it’s about helping to answer that question…

AO: Interactive Composition really teaches you to respond to a brief, or maybe even just to think about the context in which your music sits. What is the role of your composition in a project, how is it being heard, when, where etc, how can you make a more holistic experience.

HK: Context and collaboration is the key.

What prompted you both to start HyperDynamic?

HK: I can’t really think of a moment when it was decided that we would start a company.

AO: It was an idea that evolved over time as Hamish and I worked together.

HK: But there was a point when we called it HyperDynamic. We saw gaps in the way that sound for media was being created around us. We would often get projects with a disconnect between sound and vision where foresight could have made a huge difference to the film.

AO: There is so much to sound within a film that a lot of people rarely think about. Most of it’s not taught and much of it is invisible. You often don’t know precisely what it is you don’t know. We believe we can bridge those gaps.

For those reading who don’t know- what services do you offer through the studio?

HK: HyperDynamic takes care of everything that you hear in the projects we work on. At the most basic level, films have three kinds of sound: what we hear from the characters, what we hear in the world, and music that accompanies the story. Between these is a complex system of fundamental links in the chain; location recording, dialogue editing, sound design, music direction and scoring. When these links fail or don’t exist, the magic of film can disappear. At HyperDynamic, it’s our job to plan, forge and maintain these links to build beautiful sound worlds that elevate every film.

AO: On a typical project this means we’re engaged from script to screen. We listen, advise and match the people to the project, from location recordist to sound designer, composer to re-recording mixer. During the process we work hard to make sure everyone is on the same page, working towards the same goal.

HK: We advise on location, script, budget and post-production workflows as they relate to sound. We want clients to be able to work freely and creatively, inspired by ideas and the film, knowing that everything else is taken care of.

AO: This collaboration is a big part of what we do; however, we are also working composers and sound designers and we love to create. We have been the primary composers and sound designers on many of our projects.

What excites you most about sound production/composition?

HK: I’ll take sound production, though I do love to compose. For me, it’s about world building. Sound is our first and most primary sense, it can move us beyond words and it can disturb us beyond image. This primacy is so important to film. The sounds we create around an image can change everything; a bright field with terrifying music can be just as unsettling as a murder set to a nursery rhyme. This malleability, sound’s ability to play with subtext, can create truly incredible cinematic experiences. Music and sound elevate film, sure, but film also elevates music, and that’s what excites me most about producing sound and music for film. It’s amazing to be able to play a role in bringing affecting stories to life.

AO: My answer is actually be very similar to Hamish’s. Musical scores take us into the hearts and minds of the characters. They tell us about the world – when or where we are. They can reveal secrets and unveil themes. They can reinforce an emotional moment, or change it completely, or maybe even lead the entire film in a slightly different direction.

An interesting part of composing for film, is watching films without any music at all, before anything has been written. I don’t think many people would realise how strange it is, how much we rely on the music to tell us what is going on, to understand the implication of certain moments, to fill out the world itself. What I love about composing for film is being able use all these musical possibilities to tell a story and bring every moment to its full potential. I love being able to work on a narrative bigger than any one person could have created alone – a culmination of the quirks and inclinations of all the people who have worked on it. 

How do you determine the division of labour/creative direction of commissions?

AO: It differs from project to project. Sometimes I’ll take on the role of composer and Hamish will be the sound designer. Sometimes I will be the music director, and Hamish will compose. Sometimes our roles are simply to find people that fit the brief for these roles and simply make sure everyone is on task. Creatively, we often work together quite closely.

HK: It must be funny for directors to sit in the room with us when we’re composing together because we’re very open and honest – lots of agreeing, but also lots of challenging each other. The good thing is that we have very similar sensibilities when it comes to sound, music and what the project needs.

AO: When it comes to running a project from a technical standpoint, we have different roles. I’m in charge of finding, hiring and organising session musicians, while Hamish takes on the role of recording engineer and mixer etc. Musically, I will often work with theme and harmony, while Hamish works on timbre and design.

HK: Exactly! I guess I generally I take care of nitty-gritty technical work whilst Alex works more with score/notation. Where Alex grew up in orchestras, I learnt my trade staring at computer screens. We balance each other out.

For someone wanting to begin experimenting with sound mixing/ sound production, are there any beginner online courses/ particular software programs that you would recommend to start with?

HK: Sound is a very practical discipline. Often the best way to start is by choosing whatever program you can afford and just spend the time to get to know it. When I was thirteen, I downloaded Ableton LIVE and pressed all the buttons until sounds I liked came out! There are however many structured courses around to help give you a head start. If you can access a face to face class, that can be a very good way of staying motivated (structure always helps).

How do you tackle time management, with both of you having other jobs, and perhaps not always being able to predict how many hours of work a new commission will involve?

AO: At the beginning, there were a lot of late nights! We both worked during the day, and often went straight from work to the studio. The nature of working in film, is that thing itself is always changing, which means that something always has to be done. The trick is being there from the start of the project. If you are on the same page as the director, and are in constant contact, you can respond to complications much more easily that if you just come onto the project once the final cut is finished.

HK: Learning to anticipate the workload is something we have become a lot better at, but that comes with time and practice. New jobs present their own unique issues. Becoming more adaptable is a big part of meeting these demands. As we’ve grown, we’ve put systems and processes in place to help streamline the process.

Have you got any projects coming up?

HK: There are always a few things coming up and we’d love to keep it that way! We have a South Australian short film currently in pre-production and a variety of corporate and advertising work to keep us busy.

AO: We’re also in the process of mixing and mastering scores from previous projects that we will be releasing as original sound tracks, which is exciting! We also have some personal work in the pipeline.

HK: Obviously, recent developments around COVID-19 have had significant impacts across the arts sector which will delay film productions for a number of months. Once this all clears up, we look forward to things returning to normal.

AO: I think this crisis has made a lot of people realise how important film and television is to their lives. I know so many people self-isolating who rely on movies to keep them entertained throughout the day or take their minds off the news. It’s a good reminder that when this is all over, we should all to go to the cinema and support an Australian film.

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