Monday, April 23rd, 2012
Blogs | Artistic Liberties
Shiva’s Muse ~ Miles Polaski
I met Miles a few years back when I worked full time as a freelance stage manager. He was the sound designer for “Sketchbook 8″ by Collaboraction¬† and I was the stage manager. That show was BANANAS. There were over 100 actors. 15+ sketches. Live musicians and DJ’s. The order of the sketches changed each night. There was sound, video projections and the set changed every few minutes too. There was an actor on silks, a smoke machine, fresh popcorn and one billion cues. Half of which were sound cues designed by Miles.
What I recall was his laid back personality, his openness & patience to answer ALL of my 100 billion questions and his undeniable cool factor.
Every meet Miles Polaski
SLY: What kind of artist are you?
MP: I am most easily identified as a theatrical sound designer, composer and DJ. ¬†However, what I really do is tell stories. I am a storyteller. ¬†I help tell stories using sound effects and music. ¬†In some cases, outside of theatre proper, I create atmospheres that assist what the people inside the environment should be feeling. Like what a really good DJ tries to do. ¬†I‚Äôm looking for a way to make the moment dramatic or trying to discover a conflict. ¬†It‚Äôs not always about booty bumping, except when it is.
SLY: How have you learned what you know?
MP: I have no formal training as a designer, composer or audio engineer. ¬†I have been involved in theatre since high school and after graduating college, with a BA in Theatre Arts and Communications in Broadcasting, I was a professional actor. ¬†My acting was mentored by a fantastic group of artists and they gave to me tools and a basic philosophy. ¬†When I decided to make a change from performing actor to sound designer (which is a whole other story) I found that the fundamentals of all arts are shared. At that point the only thing I was lacking was more technical know how and there are three ways I gained the experience and knowledge I have; I continue to use them. ¬†
I have learned by asking a lot of questions. ¬†Every time I work with someone new I would ask them about the software or hardware they are using. ¬†Why are they doing this or that? ¬†And how is it helpful? ¬†When not asking questions I did a lot of observation. ¬†I was very lucky to have worked with a group of amazing designers and engineers who, just by watching, had lessons to learn. ¬†There has also been plenty of trial and error. ¬†In fact, many discoveries came out goofing around with various tools. ¬†You have a sound in your head and, as you break it down into its various parts, you begin to dream up ways to produce each moment of the sound. ¬†Some of them work, some do not, and some take pleasantly unexpected turns.
SLY: Why do you think art is important?
MP: Two reasons: one is social and the other, for lack of a better word, is selfish. ¬†First, I think we have to experience stories with each other. ¬†All good art tells a story. ¬†We have to celebrate and examine dramatic conflicts in a social way. ¬†We see a play or read a book and talk to our friends and families about them. ¬†We debate over the truths that the novel unveils. ¬†We then share stories with each other that have a related experience. ¬†Art is the only vehicle for this. ¬†It seems we have a need to ask ‚ÄúWhat would happen if.‚ÄĚ ¬†What would happen if a dozen children found themselves alone on an island? ¬†People want to know! ¬†We explore many of these ideas and more at 2nd Story in Chicago.
MP: Second, a lot of the time we need to work through a problem ourselves for our own basic needs. ¬†An audience may look at a sculpture or painting, for example, and feel moved by the composition or color and textures. ¬†The artist who created it may have concentrating their attention about how does the clay move, how does the paint spread? ¬†The result of their experiment, thankfully, can be shared by its audience in an emotional way, but the germ of the piece was purely for the artists sake. ¬†Individuals use art to grow and feel enlightened.
SLY: What and Who inspires you?
MP: I tend to be most interested in either artists who are pushing the envelope of what is possible or expected or towards artists who are straight-up main stream. ¬†I suppose I am exploring where are we and where are we going? ¬†For example, Radiohead and Kesha. ¬†I know, right? ¬†Of course, Radiohead always playing with something new and I‚Äôm right there listening and trying to learn from their discoveries. ¬†How‚Äôd they make a guitar sound like a crying baby? ¬†Who‚Äôd think that rock n‚Äô roll could use an analog beat machine and that it would work so well along with acoustic drumming. ¬†Who uses a 7/5 time signature in their title track?
MP: And then there is ol‚Äô Kesha, who‚Äôs producers I admire more than the performing artist herself. ¬†Pop music and hip-hop producers are some of the best sound designers out there. ¬†It‚Äôs their job to make the most static of songwriting fresh and interesting and I love listening to their tactics unfold with every new hit released. ¬†Stutter vocals to make Britney‚Äôs thin voice into a new instrument, side-chaining compression for that breathing pulse effect like the climax of Guetta‚Äôs track Titanium, and all those subtle evolving synths that help the track build and break down.
SLY: What is your favorite medium to use in creating art?
MP: Computers. ¬†Even when playing with organic sounds, like cymbals or acoustic guitars, the processing power of computers and their software allow me to really explore sounds. ¬†For years, audio was like a piece of wood; you could take an ax to it, chop it up and rearrange it but it was a lot of work and exhausting. ¬†Now we can mold audio like its liquid; it will take the shape of any container we put it in. ¬†And its building and playing with those containers that I enjoy.
SLY: What has been the highlight of your artistic career?
MP: I suppose the highlight of my career shows itself a little everyday when I realize that I have, through the guise of Theater, met and am working with the most amazing people I could ever hope to. ¬†They provide me with a safe place to experiment (where failure can not exist), they support me emotionally when I need it, and they offer challenges as well as solutions to great problems. ¬†The highlight of my artistic career has been discovering my family. ¬†And it‚Äôs how I met my rad wife, Chelsea.
SLY: What, if any, artistic mistakes have you made?
MP: I don‚Äôt know if it‚Äôs fair to use the word ‚Äėmistake‚Äô when referring to art. ¬†It generally has a negative connotation and I think of a mistake as being helpful. ¬†When a ‚Äėmistake‚Äô is made it usually means A) I‚Äôve discovered something new I didn‚Äôt know about before or B) I‚Äôve exhausted another choice which then reveals a more appropriate and stronger choice or path to follow. ¬†I think the only real mistake I could make would be to not try. ¬†I suppose I‚Äôve been guilty of that!
SLY: What sort of artistic liberties do you find yourself making? (The liberty taken by an artist in deviating from conventional form or fact to achieve a desired effect)
MP: A lot of the time I feel like I‚Äôm making up the rules as I go a long. ¬†As far as I can tell, sound design for theatre does not have very deep roots. ¬†Sure we‚Äôve been using music and sound effects for years in plays but technology has gotten to the point where we are now able to do so much more, quickly, and for a fraction of the cost it would have been just a decade ago. ¬†An American audience‚Äôs ears are trained to listen to movies and movies are where most sound design conventions we are familiar with were born. ¬†But theatre is different; the dynamics of volume are different. ¬†Underscoring, for example, doesn‚Äôt work in quite the same way as it does in a film. ¬†First, you can not get loud like a movie or the actor‚Äôs voices become overwhelmed. ¬†Also, theatre is LIVE. ¬†There is something strange about a pre-recorded track playing over live actors. ¬†You have to choose your moments carefully or else your audience won‚Äôt let you get away with it. ¬†¬†So, I suppose I try to look at how conventions can be adapted or bent so they work in live theatre moments.
SLY: What do you do when you have ‚Äúartist‚ÄĚ block? (similar to writer‚Äôs block)
MP: I take a power nap. ¬†20 minutes of shut-eye is enough to re-inspire this tired mind of mine.
SLY: What has been your biggest epiphany as it relates to art?
MP: There is always something else to figure out.
SLY: What are you currently working on?
MP: I am the new resident sound designer at the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, VA. ¬†Of our 20 plus shows this season, I am most excited about working on Over the Presidents Shoulder by James Still. ¬†I‚Äôm looking forward to figuring out how sound can help this man relive his stories. ¬†I have 2nd Story running through my blood and this form of theatre/storytelling is right down that alley. ¬†I‚Äôm also looking forward to a new play, by resident playwright Cathy Bush, The Wind Farmer. ¬†The world she has created breaks into the surreal using very organic (wind, dirt, sky) imagery allowing the sonic world to get just as weird. ¬†Finally, the stage adaptation of A Christmas Story. ¬†The sound design for this play can be very playful and fun – almost in a cartoon sort of way at times. ¬†It‚Äôs not too often you get a good blend of straight play meets the zany imagination of a young boy.
SLY: Of what, are you sure?
MP: Great theatre or great art can exist in any place at any time. ¬†It is not bound by budget, time, materials or any resources.
SLY: Where can we find you?
¬†Miles, thank you so much for participating in this interview. You are a prime example of why I do these. I worked with you on Sketchbook but between tech rehearsals and programming cues I would have never learned these wonderful things about you. Thank you for sharing!
Are you Shiva‚Äôs Muse? Interested in being featured on Artistic Liberties? Check out the link and see if its something that interest you. Or check out some of the other artists who have been featured.
Wondering what other creative artists I like? Check out some of my resources. Artistic Resources and Intriguing Resources. Please note these pages are constantly being updated with all the fabulous things I discover and happen upon.