Sound Design You Were Never Really Here

While [Lynne] was shooting, I saw an exhibition at the Tate Modern in the new wing. It was by American artist Charles Atlas: an installation of several video screens, placed not all in a line, but in layers. In front of them were four speakers. Out of each of the four speakers was a different sound of New York City. I thought that was an interesting effect — a basis of an idea, about having different sounds coming out of different speakers. Not completely different sounds, but of the same family. What effect would that have?

I experimented with that, and it seemed to create a feeling of dislocation — a rupture — which, for me, is the theme of the film: someone who’s dislocated, who feels separated from the rest of the world because of trauma. 25

There aren’t different sounds coming out of each speaker. To combine them seemed to produce a strange effect. A sort of unease. You didn’t quite know why. You didn’t quite know how it was done. Or what had been done.

The atmosphere is very heightened in the film. The sound cuts are abrupt. There’s a dislocation of sound just after that hotel scene where [Joe] kills a cop, runs out, and goes down the metal fire escape. There’s a sort of glitching sound. That’s actually a piece of Jonny Greenwood’s music. I think Lynne described it as the film breaking down. That’s a transition point. [Joe’s] plan has suddenly gone wrong. What had seemed like a relatively simple mission suddenly all breaks down.

I worked alongside the picture edit. And that was quite some time. I was working with them on and off.

There is a scene on a train, [towards the end of the film], with all the flashbacks. The production location’s sound — the real sound of the train — was very, very good and a very good basis to work with. Within that, there was a strange harmonic sound, which was quite eerie. Lynne really liked that, so I isolated that sound and used it as a basis elsewhere, to create unease: it features in the [soundscape] right at the beginning, over the logos. That introduces the idea of the train: we see several shots with trains [throughout the film], and then we see the train journey itself, which is a turning point.

It was the train harmonic sounds. That’s what she wanted to use as a theme. That does appear elsewhere, even where there are no trains. You’ll just hear it as an eerie tone. After the rescue, there’s a shot of [Nina] against a blank green wall [in the hotel bathroom]. 26

And I play the sound over that because it seemed to go inside her head.

One thing people commented on is how abrupt the changes and the cuts are. The mood switches from one thing to another. We wanted to make the city very harsh. When [Joe] first comes out of his mother’s house and starts walking under the elevator train bridge, the city sounds extremely loud. We had a variation of that idea, where you’re approaching the lake [towards the end of the film]: the birds are very loud because it’s his point of view. Lynne had described it as like a virtual reality experience.\

PD: I know there’s trauma in the other three films, but this character is far more damaged. Lynne said, “He’s got a head full of broken glass.” So I thought, “This is going to be much stronger, much more subjective.”

We Need to Talk About Kevin’s soundtrack is quite stylised and experimental, but it’s sort of different. I think this one is far more aggressive. The whole approach is more radical. In We Need to Talk About Kevin, there are quite a lot of scenes and moments where the sound is quite regular. I tried to give it a more antiseptic quality. You didn’t hear many birds outside. You just hear this sort of air conditioning, which gives this alienating feeling, but subtly. It’s quite quiet. And then we get to the montage sequences, cutting 30

backwards and forwards through time, which is where the experimentation happens.

[You Were Never Really Here] is different to that. Sound is more foregrounded, which I think is why everyone’s commenting on it: you can’t miss it. It’s right from the beginning with the train sound montage.



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