Sounds of Cherokee

Sound artist and composer Palmer Hefferan is the mastermind behind the breathtaking and provocative sound design in Woolly’s production of Cherokee. Based in New York City, she was recently selected by Live Design magazine as their “2014 Young Designer to Watch.” Her design for Cherokee incorporates a broad range of aural aesthetics, from subtle underscoring to high-decibel barrages of pop and electronic dance music. We asked Palmer a few questions about sound design, our production, and the mysteries of Cherokee

Tell us about your background in the wonderful world of sound!

My undergraduate degree is in sound design for film and television. Post-graduation, I decided to move to a smaller big city, Boston, and explore the opportunities in sound design there. I had never worked in theatre before, but I was hired as a sound board operator at Huntington Theatre in the fall of 2007.

There, I met Fitz Patton, who designed the first show of the season. He subsequently hired me as his assistant on several shows in New York. That theatre season (‘07–08) is when I dived into theatrical sound design and began discovering all of its intricacies and my passion for the art.

When you first encountered Cherokee, what jumped out at you in terms of potential sound design opportunities?

The first version of Cherokee I read was in November 2013 and it was quite different. It was still set in the woods of Cherokee, NC so I was very drawn to how I could evolve the naturalistic sonic landscape over the course of the play. I wanted to investigate how nature was a spectator to the events in the play and how it could respond.

Photo Credit: Kevin Faragher
“I wanted to investigate how nature was a spectator to the events in the play and how it could respond.”

To what extent is collaboration important in designing sound for theatre?

Collaboration between all design elements is always key. For Cherokee, we had to create a world in which all visual and aural elements were completely integrated so the actors could be enveloped by their surroundings, and release themselves into the wild.

What’s your favorite aspect of the design for Cherokee?

I love the height and depth that Dan created in the set design. The set feels infinite.

I love the texture and color (light designer) Colin has layered throughout the play. In certain moments, it completely transforms where the characters are.

Photo Credit: Stan Barouh

I love the evolution of the costumes as the characters make new discoveries about themselves, and surrender themselves to their journey.

I also don’t mind saying I’m keen on the sound design too. In particular, all the sampled layers of individual instruments and American Indian vocalizations that comprise the transition music. :-)

One of the many inspirations for the sound design of Cherokee: the music of A Tribe Called Red, a Canadian electronic group that blends instrumental hip hop, bass-heavy EDM and the music of the First Nations, particularly vocal chanting and drumming.

What about Cherokee inspires you? What questions does it raise for you?

Cherokee makes me wonder: how much of ourselves is nature versus nurture? What innate parts of myself do I have yet to discover and what will be my journey in making those discoveries? Maybe I need to return to my youth and plan a camping trip.

Sound Designer Palmer Hefferan

To learn more about Palmer and listen to samples of her work, visit her website here.

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