Creating soundscapes that evoke emotions

Sound designer Lim Ting Li says the soundscape in a film is pivotal to the storytelling.
Sound designer Lim Ting Li says the soundscape in a film is pivotal to the storytelling.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

LIM TING LI, 33, sound designer

Although audiences may not pay as much attention to the sounds in a film, sound designer Lim Ting Li believes it is a pivotal dimension to filmic storytelling.

“Just through the soundscape and the music, you can experience the film in a new light.”

The daughter of a housewife and a retired businessman, Lim says she took the Film, Sound and Video diploma at Ngee Ann Polytechnic only because her father did not approve of a theatre course at Lasalle College of the Arts.

“It was partly due to cost and partly reputation. I think the mindset was, you go to a private school only if you can’t get into a public institution,” says the married mother of one.

She has a master’s degree in sound design from the National Film & Television School in the United Kingdom.

Lim has worked on films by Singaporean directors such as Boo Junfeng’s Sandcastle (2010) and Kirsten Tan’s Pop Aye (2016) and won awards such as Best Soundtrack for Newton (2009), directed by Ho Tzu Nyen, and the Verna Fields Award in Sound Editing for Robomax (2013), directed by Moayad Fahmi, at the Motion Pictures Sound Editors’ Golden Reel Awards in Los Angeles, dubbed the Oscars of Sound.

When did you realise that you wanted to do art?

I think I was about 10 or 11 years old when I watched Oliver because my parents got free tickets. There were these kids on stage who were the same age as me and I thought I really wanted to be part of that process, even though I didn’t end up in theatre.

Who has the biggest influence on your art?

It’s more like what I receive influences me. I work on films that have already gone through an editing process, so I react a lot to the material I receive.

Also, authenticity in everyday life influences me. I have a portable recorder, which I try to carry all the time, and I use it to capture sound such as a faulty escalator or when I had my first child, I recorded his crying.

What is the most difficult challenge in your artistic career?

As sound designers, we face budgeting and time constraints. We are almost the last people in the filmmaking process and often treated as an afterthought instead of being included right at the beginning of the process.

Sometimes, the dialogue is not clear and we need to salvage the audio so it becomes more of a technical process rather than a creative process.

I try to get film-makers to get me involved earlier, but most of the time budget and time do not permit, so I have to rely on my personal determination to wrestle myself into the creative process.

But there have been converts over time, when they witness the process and the outcome – how much emotions can be evoked just through the soundscape.

Who is your favourite artist and why?

I love the work of Mel Wesson, who coins himself an ambient sound designer and music designer.

He has worked on films such as The Dark Knight (2008) and The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty (2013). He creates these dense atmospheres and blurs the line between music and sound design.

If you were not an artist, what would you have become?

I would be quite useless. I guess the other dream was to become a marine biologist, after I saw a news report on TV about marine animal conservation, but I didn’t study biology in school, so that didn’t happen.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2018, with the headline 'Creating soundscapes that evoke emotions'. Subscribe