Continuing our discussions with "the voices" of the audiovisual industry, particularly in the field of sound design and engineering, we are interviewing Poti Martin this time. Poti Martin, a sound designer and engineer with over 30 years of experience, specializes in theatrical production and has extensive international experience as well.
With over 30 years of experience in musical theaters, what is essential for a show to dazzle?
Everything is essential for a show to truly dazzle. It all needs to be in top shape: the story, direction, choreography, set design, costumes, lighting, and, of course, sound. It's crucial that there are no weak links. Whenever I work on a show, I like to have all other disciplines perfectly covered. It's always great to work with talented people.
In your role as a designer, you've worked in many theaters and clubs. What are the differences between working in these different environments? Where do you feel most comfortable?
These are entirely different disciplines, you could say they are different worlds that coexist on this planet, and they have nothing in common. Both are very interesting and come with their technical and artistic complexities. Although my natural habitat is musical theater, which I've specialized in for over thirty years, it's definitely where I feel most comfortable.
You were involved in the sound system renovation of the Maria Guerrero Theater, part of the National Drama Center. How did you approach this project, and what challenges did you face?
This was a very interesting project because it was a comprehensive renovation. We updated everything: the sound system, mixing console, microphones, computers, etc. The system used was MeyerSound. In addition to upgrading all the equipment, I introduced a 360-degree immersive sound system with SpaceMap Go, which has become quite common in many shows these days and works very well. The theater is a wonderful space; it's not very large and has excellent natural acoustics. It was a fantastic experience, and the results were outstanding.
Sound is crucial in musical theater to convey emotions and tell stories. You have extensive experience in musicals like 9 to 5, Kinky Boots, Evita, etc. How do you approach creating a sound design that complements the narrative and music?
In musical theater, the narrative takes precedence, and you must strive to make the on-stage action believable. This is always a challenge, and it varies depending on the type of show. Some shows require more natural sound, while others need more amplification and a more produced sound. What's common to all shows is dynamic range. Maintaining narrative tension with sound is vital. These shows have a lot of dynamic range in the music, and I'd say that ensuring the mix is musical is the most important factor.
Focusing on 9 to 5: The Musical, it was performed at the Savoy Theatre, a space where acoustics weren't a primary consideration during its initial design. In an interview, you mentioned that dealing with the acoustics of the place was a real challenge. How did you manage this issue?
The theater, though beautifully designed, is quite old. It was built in 1889 and underwent a renovation in the late 1920s. Aesthetically, it's marvelous, but it's not ideal for amplified sound; it has large rigid surfaces surrounding the proscenium, which act as a significant resonance chamber. Proper speaker placement becomes critical, and often, it conflicts with stage design. In the case of 9 to 5, I had to negotiate with the set designer to remove some of their elements to make room for my speakers. Choosing the right speakers is also crucial. In the end, it worked out quite well.
In another interview, you mentioned that KV2 Audio speakers are the best point source sound devices in the market, and you use them whenever you can. What sets them apart from other available products?
I believe what sets KV2 apart from its competitors is its incredibly low distortion level. This gives them an incredible dynamic range without losing clarity. The sound quality of these speakers and their performance at considerable distances, especially in high frequencies, are truly remarkable. I'm still impressed every time I hear them.
Do you continue to use them whenever possible?
Yes, I do. They are an excellent choice for theater, with a vast range of products that suit different spaces and needs. I've just finished two shows, both with KV2, and I'm very pleased with them.
Balancing quality audio for the audience while ensuring that actors and musicians can hear clearly is quite challenging. Today, there are great tools that allow this to be done effectively. Which tools would you highlight?
Fortunately, we now have incredible technology that enables us to do things that were previously impossible. This is especially important given the shorter production schedules we have nowadays compared to the past. I would highlight the ability to record and play back in multitrack, the ability to control everything (console, processors, effects computer, etc.) from a single wireless device, and the programming capabilities of theater versions of Digico consoles.
The technical and creative team is crucial in any theatrical production. How do you collaborate with other professionals, such as directors, lighting designers, and actors, to achieve a cohesive theatrical experience?
The way I work is very collaborative. I believe that in theater, this is the most fruitful way to operate. You need to have many conversations with directors about how sound is treated in each show and the soundscapes of effects. You must maintain a smooth working relationship with the musical supervisor, as the sound designer interacts with them the most and be open to their opinions. This should be mutual. However, there are points of convergence with other departments, such as set design, lighting, costumes, etc. Issues are typically resolved in a civilized manner whenever potential conflicts arise, and common sense should always prevail, adopting solutions that benefit the show the most. The work atmosphere is usually excellent, with a willingness to collaborate. It can't be any other way.
You are known for your innovative capacity. How do you stay updated and open to new ideas and approaches in your work?
I try to keep up with new technologies. Even though I'm of a certain age, I try not to let the digital wave pass me by. You must always stay attentive to everything that's emerging. If you become complacent, you risk becoming obsolete. Every technological advancement is a means to further optimize workflows. You must stay on top of it.
Sound technology has advanced significantly in recent decades. How have you seen your field evolve, and how has it affected your work?
Keep in mind that when I started working in this field, it was before the era of computers, mobile phones, and Windows 95. Everything was analog. You'll understand that the evolution to this day has been dramatic, and the change in work methods has been absolutely radical. I've seen colleagues fall by the wayside for not adapting to these changes.
Currently, you have extensive experience as a speaker and educator. What advice do you typically offer to those starting in this field and to those with a long-standing career?
The advice I always give to students, which also applies perfectly to seasoned professionals, is never to lose their enthusiasm and the desire to do the best possible job in every moment, regardless of the scale of each project. There's no such thing as a small gig, I always say. The day I catch myself going on autopilot and not putting my heart into what I do will be the day to consider retiring.