Name: Kari Rae Seekins
Title: Area Technical Director
Current Company: RIVA Creative U.S.A.
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Degrees: MFA in Sound Design and Integrated Media from CalArts; BFA in Design for the Theatre and Electroacoustic Composition from Concordia University
Why You Need to Know Her: A true artist and composer with an approachable demeanor and insatiable curiosity, Seekins translates visual metaphors into sonic cues in film, theater, installations, exhibits, and theme parks. She started on the art and theater composition side and is now gaining an understanding of the AV systems side in her role as technical director for a themed entertainment company. She is continuing to work across this spectrum, investigating the ways in which atmosphere and environments—and even human emotion and wellbeing—can be enhanced by carefully deigned audio content.
Why You Might Already Know Her: Just a few of the places where her sound design and compositions have appeared include The Sundance Film Festival, Comic Con San Diego, Jeu De Paume, REDCAT, and ZKM Museum of Contemporary Art. Her work for the Thinkwell Group in Burbank, CA was wide ranging, and connected with the AV world via projects such as Warner Bros. Studio Tour London - The Making of Harry Potter, where she was the primary onsite audio mixer.
How She Started: Her strong interest in music led her to Concordia University in Montreal, where she discovered a new application in electroacoustics. “When I learned about that world—the study of textures, layers, and timbres of sound—it completely changed my perspective on everything. Even on the bus ride home that night, I heard everything differently.”
She combined a theater degree program with electroacoustics and emerged a sound designer specializing in experimental theater. But she sought to expand her horizons beyond theater, and thus pursued a Masters Degree at CalArts, where she began to work with filmmakers and experimental animators.
What She Does Now: Seekins is a technical director for a themed entrainment development company in the Los Angeles area, where she is learning more about the technology that translates sound design into reality. She continues to perform music and create sound design and compositions for filmmakers, artists, and animators.
How George Lucas Was Right: He is often quoted as saying that sound is 50 percent of the film, and “it really is true,” Seekins said. “It’s the element that makes the story real. Animation becomes real once you put footsteps on a character… When I’m working with film it’s great because all the images are right there in front of me, and it’s easy to slap a sound on and quickly see if it works with the image.”
The effect is similar on a theater stage, where “as long as the sound design is brought in during the rehearsal process, actors are really responsive. The soundscape really helps them to get in the zone.” In Montreal, her first professional job was a production of Robinson Crusoe for a children’s theater company, Geordie Productions, and she found that “the actors were so happy to have thick, weighted soundscapes as a foundation.”
How Exhibits Are Different: The Naturequest exhibit for the Fernbank Natural History Museum presented the challenge of creating 10 scientifically accurate environments from around and across the state of Georgia that all existed in one room. “It was one of my favorite projects to work on because I had to contact places such as the Cornell lab of Ornithology to get bird sounds and the Grand Manan Whale Research institute to track down whale sounds. I couldn’t just turn to traditional sound effects libraries. I then used those as the foundation materials to create soundscapes for each of these environments. Because the listener is in a three-dimensional environment moving at their own pace, I had to consider what their experience was if they were standing at the border to two or three adjacent soundscapes. I had to find the right balance of creating a rich and realistic environment for each area, while at the same time taking into account not to bombard them with too much information and too many sounds happening at the same time. You want the listener to constantly be engaged and learning, so with sound effects, you have to create an illusion without creating overly repetitious soundscapes.”
How She Demonstrates Her Dedication: After a year spent in the studio editing background music loops, sound effects, and dialogue for Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter, Seekins then spent two months practically living in the space, mixing the sounds for the permanent installation. She was able to “really consider how to mix the music appropriately so listeners wouldn't get fatigued, particularly in the really reverberant rooms. I also carefully timed the background music loops to ensure that the music was always appropriately supporting the moment."
Why Better Sound is Worth the Investment: Thinkwell employees Colbert Davis and Vikram Kirby, Seekins’ former classmates at CalArts and co-workers, “have been hugely influential to me in terms of the importance of great systems,” she said. “In the past several years, people have really started to notice that sound is a really, really important thing. Thinkwell always put a lot of time into making sure the audio systems that they designed were of good quality and fully supported the creative intent of each project. Spending a little more to design and install a high quality system improves the experience ten-fold. So, don’t skimp! On every project I’ve worked on, the audio has made such a major, major difference.”
How to Keep a Talent Like Hers Engaged: When the steady paycheck comes from more technical work, creative projects become more precious and fulfilling. But that balance shifts when she’s editing all day at work. Fortunately, she’s had the luxury of switching things up to continue the momentum. “My whole career, I haven’t had to compromise. I’ve just been really fortunate to work with amazing people, and when my day job has been a little less creative, I find a lot of outside projects to maintain that creative component.”
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