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From Stage to Screen: A Journey in Sound Design and Music Composition with NIDA Alumnus Jed Silver

NIDA Alumnus Jed Silver (2001 Technical Production) has worked as a Sound Designer in Theatre, Film and Television for over 20 years and on hundreds of productions. He has also taught and guest lectured at education institutes including NIDA, Notre Dame University Sydney, Wollongong University, the Australian Institute of Sport and various Primary and High Schools across the country.

In theatre he has worked on over 60 productions at Belvoir St, and has been engaged as Sound Designer for productions with almost every major theatre company in Australia including, Sydney Theatre Company, Griffin Theatre Company, Darlinghurst Theatre Company, Riverside Theatre Company and Monkey Baa Theatre for Young People.

Skilled in both Sound Design and Music Composition, Jed has been involved with many site specific works such as Big hArt's Hipbone Sticking Out in Roebourne WA as well as an immersive theatre installation at Sydney Quarantine Station.  He has also been nominated for awards in Sound Design at the Helpmann Awards, Sydney Theatre Awards, Green Room Awards and Broadway World Australia abd was Sound Designer for multiple Helpmann Award winning productions.

Since focusing more on Sound Design and Music Composition for Film, Jed has recently written the music score for the multi-award winning short film, Marungka Tjalatjunu (Dipped in Black) and he spoke to NIDA about this important short film’s incredible journey and his career since graduating.

Derik Lynch and Jed Silver

From left to right:  Derik Lynch, Co-Director of Marungka Tjalatjunu (Dipped in Black), Silver Bear at 2023 Berlinale and NIDA alumnus Jed Silver (2001 Technical Production)

The short film Marungka Tjalatjunu (Dipped in Black) has already won several prestigious awards including the first Australian film ever to win the Silver Bear at Berlinale. It is also the first short film to win the Documentary Australia Award the Sydney Film Festival and has been accepted for Academy Award nomination consideration, tell us about the film and how did you come to be involved?

Dipped in Black (Marungka Tjalatjunu) is an Australian docu-fiction film, directed by Matthew Thorn and Derik Lynch. The film centres on Lynch, a queer Yankunytjatjara theatre artist, as he returns to his hometown of Apultula to perform Inma. My involvement with Dipped in Black began almost 15 years ago when Derik and I were on a National tour with a live theatre production. This was Derik and I first discussing ways that we could tell his story. Derik and I are still very close friends and professional colleagues. It was Derik's insistence that I compose music for the film.

If Marungka Tjalatjunu (Dipped in Black) does receive an Academy Award nomination (to be announced  in December 2023) what will it mean for the production?  

If Dipped in Black receives an Oscar Nomination would be transformative for the film and all involved. It would be especially important for Derik who would become the first Indigenous Australian to receive and Oscar nomination.

Marungka Tjalatjunu (Dipped in Black)

Marungka Tjalatjunu (Dipped in Black) directed by Matthew Thorne and Derik Lynch - Production pictures

You have worked in the industry on hundreds of productions and have also tutored and lectured at several education institutes including NIDA.  What are some of your production career highlights? What aspects of teaching do you enjoy?

It is only after the pandemic that I realised the non-stop working and creating was one long highlight of my life. Probably the biggest highlight within that is the realisation that I always managed to maintain the majority of my focus on new Australian work. It is always fun to do another radical reinterpretation of a Classic, but it's new work that excites me. Some projects succeed, others don't. It is the risk and the challenge that draws me in. Education has always thrilled me and I love working with students of all ages and finding opportunities for growth and development.

You've shifted your focus to Sound Design and Music Composition for Film, how did this career transition come about? What was your first composing project and how did you land that role?

My first professional Theatre Production required an amount of music to be included in the Sound Design. When my mentor attended a performance with me he asked, “where did you get this music?” I answered that I had written it and he responded “then why aren’t you credited as composer”. At that time I didn’t realise that Sound Design and Composition were mutually exclusive. This was a big lesson for me, so my first composition job I did not realise at the time.

Marungka Tjalatjunu (Dipped in Black)

Marungka Tjalatjunu (Dipped in Black) directed by Matthew Thorne and Derik Lynch - Production pictures

What are some of the challenges and rewards working as a Screen composer?

The rewards come in the form of detail. There is infinite possibility to conceive, develop and refine when scoring for film.

What are some of the challenges and rewards of working in Technical Production?

There's an old saying, make your hobby your source of income and there is no such thing as work. The Technical Production field has always attracted passionate types. Those who are determined to create, solve and perfect. Technical Production as an industry is as complex as a fractal diagram with limitless sub-branches of interest, skills and method. The challenges are relentless but the rewards out weigh every minute of lost sleep, sweat and tears.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to apply to study Technical Production (now named Bachelor of Fine Arts in Technical Theatre and Stage Management) at NIDA?

Apply! If you have a passion for the Arts, creating entertainment is the most exciting life.

Finally, any words of wisdom for NIDA graduates just starting out in their careers?

This is not a free ride. Be prepared to be challenged and accept that there is an incredible amount of hard work required. Be strong in your convictions and the rewards pay off in the most stunning array of opportunities and potential.

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