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A Sound career

Thursday, 23 November 2017

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In May, more than twenty years after he graduated from WAAPA, sound engineer Gavin Tempany was back in Perth as part of the 2017 Hans Zimmer Live On Tour production crew.

The 1995 graduate has been touring the world as a sound designer and monitor engineer with the multi-award winning film composer. Zimmer is famous for composing music for over 150 films including the Academy Award winning score for The Lion King, the Pirates of the Caribbean series, Gladiator, The Last Samurai, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception,Interstellar and Dunkirk.

Since moving to England a decade ago, the now Oxford-based Tempany has worked with an impressive line-up of musical acts, including Powderfinger, Tame Impala, Ed Sheeran, Mike and the Mechanics and David Gilmour of Pink Floyd fame.

Gavin talks to Inside WAAPA about his amazing international career

Why did you want to be a sound engineer?

Well I played guitar in a band in my final year of school and wanted a four-track cassette based recorder to be able to record some song ideas. So I saved up for that and through part time jobs and a top-up of Christmas money, managed to get enough to buy one. After school I went to university and initially studied science, but found music a bit more interesting, playing with university friends and old school mates. I took a year off and applied for WAAPA and managed to get accepted into the Production (Sound) course. I was mainly interested in it so I had access to better recording equipment, with no intention of doing live sound at all! In the course we were exposed to all forms of sound, and my eyes (and ears) were opened to a whole new world of fields: television sound, radio, theatre sound design, live concert sound and of course music recording.

What did you enjoy most about being at WAAPA and what did it give you in terms of getting you ready for a career?

I have to say that I wouldn’t be where I am now without it. I really enjoyed that there was only a small group of us doing the course and that we had access to the tutors and equipment 24 hours a day. On top of that, the facility at WAAPA is a very rare thing – a music conservatorium (with great classical, jazz and contemporary musicians needing recordings), a working theatre and musical theatre courses that put on shows every six weeks. We crewed those shows. There’s also a dance course, fine arts and arts management all on one campus. Really it’s a very rare thing. What a degree like this lets you do is have a sheltered environment of older students designing the productions and the younger students operating it. In a way this provides you with two things: great technical support and a chance to make mistakes and learn before being employed. This worked doubly well for me as I moved to Sydney after I graduated and suddenly I was this young guy who no-one knew, who seemed to know what he was doing, and hadn’t made a monumental mistake that everyone knew me by! Contrast that to starting work at a sound company, I wouldn’t have had the basic technical grounding and I certainly wouldn’t have been as hands-on driving equipment as much as I did.

You’ve worked with some incredible musicians and bands. What have been the highlights?

Yeah I guess it has been pretty good eh? I had a pretty good career on the way in Australia and not long after I moved to London I was very lucky that another ex-graduate and friend Andrew Burch called me up one day. He was working for a sound company called Britannia Row Productions and they needed someone at short notice to tech some stuff just down the road for a little Australian band called Powderfinger. So down I went and it all seemed to go OK, and I’ve been getting calls from Britannia Row ever since! In between working for the Australian bands that I was doing when I left for London, I’ve done some pretty crazy things in the last 10 years or so. I did a month in the desert in Israel working on Aida, I mixed the 40th anniversary concert of the United Arab Emirates National Day, have done the Brit Awards, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, mixed a concert where Bon Jovi, Taylor Swift and Prince William sang Living on a Prayer together. I mixed Tim Minchin and the orchestra on two tours of Australia, Missy Higgins, Eskimo Joe, Mike and the Mechanics and in the last few years I’ve been very privileged to be doing monitors for David Gilmour (Pink Floyd) and Hans Zimmer. Having played guitar from a young age, the David Gilmour tour was simply amazing. Incredible band, crew and amazing songs. Not going to say it was an easy day at the office, we were busy, but the result each night was definitely worth the hard work. Hopefully he doesn’t leave it another 10 years before he tours again!

What is it like touring with Hans Zimmer, a man described as one of the Top 100 Living Geniuses?

It’s been good fun, he is certainly a great man. I think one of Han’s great strengths is that he is so grounded and has a fantastic personality. He has a way of gelling people together, a greater sense of project and communication that must be, apart from the obvious creative skills, amazing for directors to work with. During our rehearsals for the tour, he was finishing off the film Dunkirk, which is a major musical/sound design piece, yet he kept it together to pop into rehearsals and just fit in playing with a 20-piece band.

Sound engineering for Hans’ shows must be especially challenging because of the complexity of mixing live orchestra, choir and electronic elements. How long have you been working with Hans and what has this experience been like for you?

I’ve been with Hans about six months and yes, it’s one of those interesting things, combining an orchestra and a band... It was extremely technically challenging. Each day we had a new orchestra and choir, different rooms, and the fact that my job was to do the sound on stage for 23 band members makes it exponentially more complicated than a 4 or 5 piece rock band. We dropped the sample rate back to 48kHz and still ran out of DSP on all the consoles. Bearing in mind that these are the highest channel count consoles currently available, this gives you an insight into how complicated it is. And it’s not just the audio that is complicated, other departments (lighting, rigging, set and backline) also had long and complicated days. As a result, we often got access to the stage at 2pm for a 4pm sound-check. That’s 150 odd inputs mic-ed up and 20 players’ mixes line-checked in about two hours. Let’s just say that we had to be quite organised.

What is the best part about your job?

I love it all. Honestly I’m very excitable in the morning with the challenge of two semi-trailers of sound equipment and knowing that at some point that night it’s all going to be back in the trucks after having hopefully listened to some good music and been hanging around a great team of people. Most likely it’s the variety and complexity of the projects that I work on that keeps me interested. It keeps me thinking and trying new techniques and methods to solve complex audio related problems.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to be a sound engineer?

There is so much to learn and see that you can never expect to know everything.

You are always as good as the person you can call...

A level-headed personality and being able to get along with others is sometimes more important than skill. This doesn’t mean that you can’t be good at your job, but it certainly helps in this service-based industry to get along with others.

Watch, listen and take mental notes when given the opportunity.

Never say no to anything, but be honest if you don’t know how to do something. A three-minute explanation by someone else and doing it right is far better than barging in and having to undo an hour or two’s work.


If you’re interested in studying Sound at WAAPA, visit our Production and Design - Sound course web page.

Here you’ll find information about this and related courses, including videos and galleries about our facilities, our students and our lecturers.

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