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Behind the Work: Juan Cabral on the making of Sony's "Soundville"

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The tower of Soundville
The tower of Soundville

Sound serves as the centerpiece of the latest release from the Sony and Fallon/London partnership, Soundville, a short film that documents three days in the life of the Icelandic town of Seydisfjordur, after it's been transformed into a giant soundspeaker system. Fallon's Juan Cabral, who has masterminded Sony's ambitious creative endeavors since Bravia's color-filled Balls, talks about his latest feat, which brought in a surprising range of collaborators—from Seydisfjordur's townspeople themselves, to Sigur Ros' concert team and even his own brother, musician Fede Cabral.

So what was the assignment from Sony for this particular job?
The starting point was to show passion for sound above all—to create a pure sound experience. We also shot five product films to back that up, but it was mainly about Sony's love for sound.

How did you come up with this particular idea? What inspired it?
I was buying milk while listening to Stockhausen on my headphones. I felt everyone should be listening too.

How is this film being shown? Are there any special media strategies, as with "Balls"?
This was made for cinema and internet mainly. There are some television cut-downs and teasers too but the longer piece is the one that allows people to let themselves inside the journey and experience all the textures.

Obviously, turning a whole town into a sound system posed some huge production hurdles. Can you tell us about the process? How did you get permits to use a whole town?
The local production company in Iceland promised they could get a permit. And they did. They spoke with the mayor of Seydisfjordur and everyone in the village accepted. It's an 800-person town, but in the winter there's only around 400. We shot in the winter.

Were all the townspeople made aware of what was happening?
From the moment you place a camera people are aware. But I have to say, people got used to us very quickly, which was good because then it was about the sound. Also, because there were no actors we ended up with normal people being themselves when exposed to sounds. That's why most reactions are subtle and I think that's the most interesting part of the project, the little nuances, the melancholy, etc.

How did you set up and find the speaker systems? Did you recruit any special technicians to help you out? Was the town equipped to actually power everything?
The guys that make the Sigur Ros concerts in Iceland powered everything. We could play the music remotely and wirelessly. We built this 20 foott tower full of speakers and placed it in the middle of the town. Because it's a very quiet place—there's almost no traffic—you don't need a lot to make it sound good actually. And we certainly didn't want the sound to be bouncing everywhere.

How did you go about shooting? Can you tell us about your camera setups?
We only had two cameras actually. We didn't want a lot of crew running around or big cranes and all that. It was a gentle and quiet shoot. The idea was not to interfere with the daily routine. We were just observing in a way.

Seydisfjordur twins
Seydisfjordur twins

The sound is obviously a driving component of this piece. How did you go about selecting the music?
A lot of music was composed specifically for the project. Richard Fearless from Death in Vegas collaborated a lot. He recorded more than half an hour of original material: sounds, beats, atmospheric sequences, etc. Mum composed some beautiful tracks as well. I also asked my brother to record something and three days before the shoot he sent this wonderful little song, which we played to the sheep.

A company called A-bomb helped curate many hours of music too, so we had different playlists set to go from one mood to another.

For you, as a director what were you hoping to achieve with this spot?
Personally, I wanted to make something that I can be proud to show my little girl in ten years time. So I have to wait ten years to see what she makes of it.

What was the best part of this experience?
Every morning I had to choose a track to wake people up. . .not just people but a whole village.


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