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Patrick Shen Captures the Impact of Noise in New Documentary

Patrick Shen recording in Nunhead Cemetery in London.

Patrick Shen recording in Nunhead Cemetery in London.

When Director/Producer Patrick Shen sought to give his audience a highly authentic listening experience for his new documentary feature film, In Pursuit of Silence, he turned to Sound Devices’ 633 Digital Recorder and 6-Input Field Production Mixer. The Sound Devices solutions were just what he needed to convey his vision for the meditative film, which explores the value of silence and the implications of living in a noisy world.

In trying to capture the essence of truly silent environments, Shen and his crew quickly realized that his current recorder wouldn’t work for this film. “We found ourselves in especially quiet environments that call for equipment that produces as little self-noise as possible, but the noise from the unit itself was sometimes louder than the environment we were recording,” he says. “We asked our friends at Designing Sound and other film advisors which recorder would be best suited for this project, and everyone agreed that the Sound Devices 633 was the only option.”

Given the experimental quality of In Pursuit of Silence, it was important to Shen that the film was of silence and not just about silence. To create such an immersive aesthetic, he sometimes employed longer shots to draw people in and enable them to interact with the film. This required capturing the ambience of some of these environments, especially those places with a unique aural quality, in the cleanest and most authentic way.

“What one quickly realizes when pursuing silence is that ‘silence’ is much more than the absence of sound and that it can change from one person to the next,” said Shen. “Silence, as we experience it, can have many textures and qualities, which all combine to form a sonic environment that is pleasing to both the ear and the mind. We like to say that silence is a sound. Having a piece of gear that can capture the sounds of an environment in all its frequencies and idiosyncrasies is paramount to this film. The 633 worked incredibly well for this.”

In addition to the 633, Shen’s rig also included a RØDE NT4 cardioid studio condenser X/Y stereo microphone in a Think Tank shoulder bag, which he kept slung around his shoulder when he was shooting to keep it close at hand.

“I really appreciate the aesthetics of a product,” says Shen. “When I turned the 633 on, I found the display to be fantastic. The colors on the display were vibrant and easy to read, and everything was laid out very well. Operating the unit is very intuitive; I felt like all the controls were exactly where they were supposed to be. I also love how quickly it powers up. We’re a small crew and have to work very fast sometimes. The fact that I can flip the power switch on and start recording within seconds is pretty incredible.”

The 633 recording in Picadilly Circus in London for the documentary "In Pursuit of Silence."

The 633 recording in Picadilly Circus in London for the documentary “In Pursuit of Silence.”

The 633 is a six-input mixer with an integrated 10-track recorder that includes Sound Devices’ proprietary PowerSafe™ technology and a unique four-way power supply for maximum operational runtime. The 633 features three high-bandwidth mic/line XLR inputs complete with phantom power, high-pass filter, input limiter and variable pan. Three additional line-level inputs appear on TA3 (mini-XLR) connectors. All inputs are assignable to any output bus. AES digital I/O, including support for AES42 digital microphones, is available. The 633 offers 10-track, 24-bit, 48-kHz uncompressed polyphonic or monophonic broadcast WAV file recording (96 kHz for eight tracks, 192 kHz for six tracks) or timecode-stamped MP3 recording to CompactFlash and/or SD cards. All six inputs plus left/right and aux 1/2, can be recorded to individual tracks. Similar to Sound Devices’ 12-input 664 Production Mixer, the 633 offers dual card slots that record to either one or both cards simultaneously, with the added ability to assign different tracks to each memory card.

Shen made his feature directorial debut in 2005 with the critically acclaimed Flight from Death: The Quest for Immortality. Photographed in eight different countries and three years in the making, Flight from Death won seven “Best Documentary” awards at film festivals all over the United States. Since then, Shen has released additional documentaries, including The Philosopher Kings and his most recent release, La Source. Narrated by Oscar-nominated actor Don Cheadle, La Source tells the story of Josue Lajuenesse, a Haitian janitor from Princeton University who returns to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake to bring clean water to the small, rural village from where he came.


February 3, 2015