One of the highlights of this year's Sundance Film Festival was The Girl from Nagasaki, a feature-length directorial debut by celebrated photographer Michel Comte. This dazzling retelling of Madame Butterfly reframes the familiar haunting story of romance and loss through the lens of a Nagasaki survivor married to an American astronaut.
It's a bravura debut which, as you would expect from Comte, has won plaudits for its visually sumptuous style and structure. But equally impressive is the superb audio work throughout the title from sound designer Maurizio Argentieri and a battalion of DPA microphones.
DPA's d:dicate™ 4041-SP Large Diaphragm, 4011 Cardiod and 4006 Omnidirectional Recording Microphones were all used in the sound production of the film. Argentieri also used a DPA d:screet™ 4091 Omnidirectional Microphone and a d:dicate™ 5006-11 Matched Microphone Kit with an S5 surround mount. He was so impressed by the performance of the latter that he decided to invest in one for his own microphone collection.
"All of the DPA microphones I used sounded amazingly good," he says with disarming simplicity. "I need a microphone capable of handling high SPL but one that still delivers a fantastic sound: this is why I chose DPA."
The project itself, however, was anything but simple and pushed both his skills and the capabilities of the DPA microphones to the limit. Maurizio was first briefed by Michel at his home in Los Angeles where it was decided that there would be no ADR.
"There was not a word in the movie that was to be replaced, so all the actors' performances in the movie are real and original," says Argentieri. "There were a lot of challenging situations. We had a band with a singer performing a couple of songs live while the actors were speaking; a long dialogue scene filmed on the top of Stromboli, an active volcano in Sicily with a very strong wind and real eruptions going off in the background; dialogue under real rain and the sound of the cockpit of a jet fighter while it was flying. This last scene we filmed for real: I put a couple of d:dicate 4006 Omnidirectional Recording Microphones in the jet and hit the record button. The rest is in the movie."
After initially training in classical guitar, Argentieri started his career as a sound engineer in the music industry. After a couple of years though he realised that being shut away in a studio was no longer for him and, with the aid of a friend who was working as an assistant film editor at the time, they began to pull images out of the trash can and put them together on a Moviola with the music they loved.
"Sometimes we would stay long into the night at the studio, just him and me; we were like kids at home without parents. He was mostly working on documentaries at that time and we had plenty of huge nature shots and beautiful images. For me it was like an illumination: I realised the power and the magic of sound to change the meaning of an image simply by changing the music."
Argentieri quit his job in the recording studio and became a sound mixer for documentaries. Several years of projects followed, including work for Greenpeace, before he got his break on movies. And he’s certainly made the most of it since, working with the likes of Mario Monicelli, Marco Bellocchio, Bernardo Bertolucci, Giuseppe Bertolucci, Woody Allen, Mel Gibson, Spike Lee, Ridley Scott, and now Michel Comte.
The Girl From Nagasaki was shot in Los Angeles, Berlin, Rome, Stromboli, and Japan.
"As sound designer I've had different roles: production sound mixer, sound editor, and re-recording mixer," he explains. "I recorded the production sound always using a stereo couple or a surround rig to bring home the ambience, then I had a second moment all by myself going around just with the surround kit recording all the necessary ambient sound to put in the movie. And then we had all the recording of the music to do."
Argentieri adds that the DPA surround kit was really useful when he and the film crew were tackling a scene in Sofia that involved recording an orchestra.
"We placed the kit right in the middle of the orchestra to have a different point of view," he explains. "From the very beginning Michel wanted to give the audience an extraordinary aural experience, so everything was recorded in a way that allowed the microphones to be surrounded by music and sound. Of course we had to do a lot of sound editing and mixing to achieve that."
The DPA microphones were also used extensively in recording the dialogue of the film. Argentieri used two boom operators mounting DPA d:dicate 4017 Shotgun Microphones that fed into a Manley dual microphone Tube preamplifier.
"If you want to get an idea of the quality of these microphones you only have to listen to the long dialogue scene at the beginning of the movie between Sir Christopher Lee and the older Gheisha,” he says. "Hearing that, you will be absolutely astonished."
The DPA microphones even have a starring role in one of the key opening scenes, where Burhan Öcal is playing Japanese percussion.
"This scene is visually like a beautiful art installation and again Michel wanted to give the audience the sensation of being seated close to the percussionist himself, so I had to record his performance live while we were filming," Argentieri says. "That meant the microphones needed to be part of the installation and the elegance and sobriety of the DPA microphones allowed them to be completely integral to the scene."
Commenting on his decision to invest in his own DPA d:dicate™ 5006-11 Matched Microphone Kit with S5 surround mount, Argentieri says: "DPA's surround kit is perfect for modern sound design. In this kit you have three beautiful omnis and two beautiful pure cardioids that you can use together or as singles in other situations. Given the quality of these microphones, why would you want to send them back?"
DPA Microphones is the leading Danish Professional Audio manufacturer of high quality condenser microphone solutions for professional applications. DPA’s ultimate goal is to provide you – whether you’re in live sound, recording, theater or broadcast – with the absolute finest possible microphone solutions for your tasks. DPA takes no shortcuts in the design processes nor makes any compromises in manufacturing, which is all done at the DPA factory in Denmark. As a result, DPA’s products are globally praised for their exceptional clarity and transparency, unparalleled specifications, supreme reliability, and above all, pure, uncolored and undistorted sound.
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