MediaSoundHamburg June 23rd – July 2nd 2017
A report by Stephan Eicke
It can’t be easy to be a star. It’s not that MediaSoundHamburg hadn’t offered stars before – but the appearance of Ben Burtt certainly created a momentum that surpassed everything that had been there before. Indeed, if Ben Burtt had done the sound design for Star Wars episodes four to six, only, there would have been just as many registration for his master class. But, as it happened, Burtt has done much more than Star Wars which gave not only him but the hosts of MediaSoundHamburg plenty to talk about. Indeed, so many people registered for this year’s MSH, and for Ben Burtt’s class, that the three-day-presentation of his life, career and approaches to sound design, took place not in the Elsa Brändström Haus where everything else took place, but in the HAW university. It turned out to be the smartest of choices since the university for design, media and information in Hamburg was well prepared for the many technical challenges that a three day master class in sound design actually presents. Not only did Burtt’s master class turn out to be a success for everyone involved – not least of all for the participants – but the man behind the light-saber sound was only too happy to mingle and provide information about his creative process to the students after the class; jet-lagged as he was. It can’t be easy to be a star.
It isn’t easy to be surrounded by stars, either. After all, this was my first year at the MSH as a lecturer which is exciting enough in itself. As it turned out, Ben Burtt’s class took place during the same time as my class which resulted in a rather small circle of ten people as attendees for my own class, Film Music: Conflicts and Frustrations. Maybe, and only maybe, the organizer Achim Esser-Mamat should have chosen a sound designer working on Philippino documentaries about people watching paint dry instead of the man behind the sounds of E.T., Wall-E and Indiana Jones. But that, of course, is a wish born out of self-interest and a fragile ego on my part. For the curious observer, rather than for me giving a lecture myself, this year’s MSH – the 7th, no less – was a success unsurpassed by any previous edition. This goes, of course, primarily for the sheer number of people who turned up; but it also goes for the creative result, since the classes turned out to be more colorful than ever before: Not only did Ben Burtt give his master class, but so did Joe Kraemer on film music, Youki Yamamoto on orchestration, Merlin Györy on game music, Elias Struck on ProTools, Than van Nispen and Adam Zolynski on writing and producing for string instruments, Martin Häne and Panos Kolias on library music and George Christopoulos on “How to become a working film composer” – among many others (mine humbly included).
Since there was something for every interest and taste, the people not enthusiastic about entering the movie business were at least enthusiastic about attending the games music class given by Merlin Györy in the course of three days. Since MediaSoundHamburg makes sure that each year’s program is as colorful as possible, the games music master class proved to be a rather different kettle of fish than Joe Kraemer’s. In a rather fascinating presentation, Györy highlighted the technical challenges that have to be overcome and various programs that are necessary to write games music and how to approach a new project best, while leaving each student his or her own musical voice which proved to be of great satisfaction to them.
After half a dozen editions, MSH keeps developing and extending its program for the attendees – which showed when looking at the countries the attendees came from: Ireland, USA, Nepal, Guatemala, England, Greece, Switzerland, Germany – and many more. MediaSoundHamburg contributes to that actively by granting scholarships to students in sound design and media music who were only too happy to follow the calling and learn about their craft from the masters themselves.
One of the masters was Joe Kraemer who, like Ben Burtt, took some time off to give a three day master class on film music. Kraemer had written the scores for The Way of the Gun, Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation, and Jack Reacher, and used his portfolio to grant the attendees insight in his own composition process from spotting the film in the first place, and developing an intellectual and musical concept that fits the film, to recording the score with all the intricacies that go with it. This concept resulted in an in-depth look at the work of the film composer, including an honest look at the battles the creative person behind the piano (or computer) has to fight – and the students in the room couldn’t have been more attentive, for not only were they warned of the traps they could fall into, but they were also actively encouraged to show some of their own works which were then discussed in the class for an on-hands, practical approach on the subject of film music.
As it has become tradition, MSH not only relies on its master classes, workshops and forums but also offers events in the evenings to keep the participants entertained and intellectually stimulated. Among these events was an evening with Ben Burtt, hosted by André Feldhaus, where the man behind the light-saber sound talked extensively about his work to the audience, showed clips and answered questions in an ultra-light version of his own master class. Furthermore, Esser-Mamat managed to get his hands on a German film-in-progress by director Kerstin Polte, the tragic comedy Monster, starring Corinna Harfouch. Since the film was still in post production, the director – along with the composer and the sound designer – was able to offer a valuable insight into the process of merging music and sound design. But since MSH has always given chances and support to aspiring composers, the highlight of the evenings festivities certainly was the one dedicated to the Young Talents Award, which went to French composer Maxime Hervé for his contribution. It resulted in a suite for string quartet which was performed live, understandably to the great pleasure of Hervé himself whose nervousness quickly vanished. Indeed, there was no reason for nervousness at this year’s MSH since it provided a safe heaven for all participants in Hamburg Blankese for ten days. No reason for nervousness – except for the fact that Ben Burtt was there. It can’t be easy to be star-struck.