“I’ve always been fascinated
by the sound in dreams,”
says Mark Ruff.
“It can change
from one to another,
and when you wake up,
it’s the sound in the room.
CRC’s Mark Ruff turned in the largest and arguably most intense sound design project of his career while completing the mix and creating the sound design for Vincent Gaffney’s Soul Sessions, a 2018 feature about love, reflection, and redemption.
Soul Sessions is the story of an investment banker who survives a brush with death, goes to therapy, explores the past, reevaluates his life, and, ultimately, becomes a better person.
Vincent Gaffney directed and co-wrote the film with Patrick Beharelle. For over two decades, he has been something of a partner-in-film with Ruff.
Besides hiring the sonic veteran on Soul Sessions, Gaffney tapped Ruff for the mix and sound design on his 2016 feature, Resurrecting McGinn(s), and has worked with him on hundreds of television commercials.
“Vince and I have the same work ethic,” says Ruff. “When we’re involved in a project, we’re all in.”
Ruff and his assistant Jason Hoban started work on Soul Sessions last summer. After putting roughly 400 hours into the job, he had finished what turned out to be a professional and personal best.
“They did not change one thing,” he says. “It’s exactly as I had envisioned it; probably the first time in my career that that’s happened.”
Ruff’s efforts were enhanced by the score of Carrin Tanaka, a composer who he describes as “amazing” and “incredible.”
“She has a talent for bringing emotion out of a scene,” he explains.
On that note, they were both put to the test. The film’s emotion ranges from tender and sentimental to violent and tumultuous.
“The sound design called for things that are tonal,” says Ruff. “I do it by ear. When you put a sound in that fights it, you know within three seconds to get rid of it.”
The techniques he used to create ambience included pitch shifting, pitch manipulating, and triple and quadruple delays. He utilized low-end sounds for scenes filled with tension, brighter ones for those with enlightenment, and lifted specific tracks from Tanaka’s score to create altogether new ambiences.
“If I saw a scene needing music, I would put splits from her score into it,” he recalls. “I’d play it to her for her approval and she would occasionally rework it.”
The film also features a handful of scenes that take the lead character through journeys into the subconscious. Ruff dug into his own personal experiences to give these an auditory finesse.
“I’ve always been fascinated with sounds In my dreams,” he says. “Wind can morph into a Siren, and as you wake it transitions into your baby crying in the next room. I Incorporated that phenomenon in the regression scenes. Tense pounding morphs into (the character) Nick hyperventilating on a therapist’s couch. Then, as his breathing relaxes, everything slows and the score morphs into a song playing in a bar.”