Hold for Sound: Let’s Talk Audio Projects from 2023

March 14, 2024

How late into the year can you still wish someone Happy New Year? It may be March, but at Frostline, we’re still celebrating the new year – because we have a lot to celebrate! Partly because we had an exciting 2023 full of growth, but also because this year is the year we launch our brand new podcast: Hold for Sound: Let’s Talk Media Production! 

In our first ever episode, Derek Haukaas, our Senior Audio Engineer, and Mantha Pratt, our Studio Manager, sat down to reminisce on just a handful of the wonderful things that we got up to in 2023 on our audio production side of things.

Who is Derek?

Derek Haukaas is our wizard of all things audio. He’s a born and raised Alaskan, like many of us here at Frostline, and has been working with us for four years. If we could sum up Derek in three images, they would be these:

Quietly working music magic at his desk…

…enjoying the Alaskan outdoors…

…and in his happy place behind a drum kit.

Derek had a busy 2023, so it was hard to narrow it down to this handful of highlights. In the end, he chose a few projects to share with me that specifically challenged him to learn and grow professionally in the past year.

Working on the Soundtrack for Life Below Zero: First Alaskans Season 3 with Geneviève Gros-Louis

Geneviève Gros-Louis is a talented violinist, film composer, and producer from the Huron-Wendat Nation whose credits include playing at the Cannes Film Festival and Paris Fashion Week. Her most recent achievement is as the composer for the latest season of National Geographic’s Life Below Zero: First Alaskans. The soundtrack she composed is epic and energetic, and in it, she centers the talents of many other Indigenous artists – including our very own Derek Haukaas. 

Derek and Geneviève met in 2022 and connected over their shared experience of being Indigenous artists working in the music and film industries. When she began to build the First Alaskans soundtrack, she reached out to Derek to get some recordings of traditional Alaskan drums to use in constructing the compositions. Originally, she just wanted one-hit samples – various recordings of a single strike on the drum – but encouraged Derek to make some loops at different tempos if he wanted to. Derek recorded the drums, built some loops, then went one step further, layering and stacking the tracks to begin creating auditory landscapes.

Geneviève loved what he’d done. She started using his tracks while composing, and some of his layered pieces became driving parts in a number of songs used in the show. One of the main trailers for the season, which talks about the significance of the drum in Native Alaskan identity, uses Derek’s drums as its central element. “It was an important moment for me,” Derek said, “hearing my drums behind that.”

Where to watch?

Life Below Zero: First Alaskans is available on National Geographic, and wherever National Geographic is streamed, like Hulu and Disney +.

Alaska is the Center of the Universe with James Dommek Jr.

James Dommek Jr. is a multi-talented musician, storyteller and good friend of ours whose recent achievements include working on the soundtrack for season two of Netflix’s Sweet Tooth and creating one of the most bingeable and wildly captivating podcasts of 2023.

The Audible Original: Alaska is the Center of the Universe is an immersive mix of in-the-field recording, phenomenal sound-design, and in-studio narration and storytelling – which James recorded at Frostline Studios with Derek. 

It’s a MUST listen: “Alaska’s recent history is one of massive changes: Western contact, colonization, climate change. But some stories have survived—including stories of mysterious creatures that may still be out there. In this series, Iñupiaq storyteller James Dommek, Jr, goes on a journey across Alaska in search of stories of the unknown… to find out what they can tell us about how to live today.”

Where to listen?

Alaska is the Center of the Universe is available on Audible.

Location Sound for Sue Perkins: Lost in Alaska

Living here year round, you can sometimes forget that Alaska is a bucket-list destination for so many people. Sometimes it takes a celebrity, like British comedian and TV presenter Sue Perkins (best known on this side of the Atlantic for The Great British Baking Show), coming to film a travel series here and being blown away by the views and the culture here in Alaska.

Both Courtney Dean (one of our cinematographers / editors / colorists) and Derek joined Sue Perkins last summer as she experienced the wonders of Alaska. Courtney joined the shoot as the DIT when Sue and crew were headed up north to Fairbanks, and Derek flew up to join them shortly thereafter when their location audio tech, our good friend Paul Lawrence of Glacier Films, had to step out for personal reasons.

It was a major “level-up” for Derek, as he had to join a shoot part way through and use someone else’s rig to capture sound. But Sue and her crew were a blast to work with, and Derek even got to show them around his old stomping grounds where he grew up when they explored the McCarthy area.

The three part travel series aired on BBC’s Channel 5 in February. We’ve yet to learn when and where it’ll be released for those of us across the pond, but we’ll update you as soon as we know!

That’s a wrap! Celebrating a successful shoot at the Tok Thai food truck in Glennallen.

Clockwise from top left: Sue Perkins, Courtney Dean, Dave Selle (DP/First Cam, AK crew), Derek Haukaas, Ronan Nagle (Fixer, AK crew), Rebecca Murden (2nd Cam/Producer, UK crew), Amber Howorth (Producer, UK crew).

Did you know? Sue is terrified of flying. As the crew grabs footage of her mentally prepping herself to fly in this quintessentially Alaskan bush plane, Derek loads the sound gear in the back.

Left to right: Derek (in the plane), Sue Perkins, Amber Howorth (Producer, UK Crew), Rebecca Murden (2nd cam/Producer, UK Crew), Dave Selle (DP/First Cam, AK Crew)

Feels good to be out of the car after 9 hours, driving back to Anchorage from McCarthy!

Clockwise from top left: Amber Howorth (Producer, UK Crew), Derek Haukaas, Sue Perkins, Rebecca Murden (2nd Cam/Producer, UK Crew), Courtney Dean

Documenting (and taking part in) the Herring Egg Harvest in Sitka

Another assignment that brought Derek out of the studio as a location sound tech was part of an ongoing project we have documenting cultural practices in southeast Alaska. Derek and Hannah Pratt (our other cinematographer / editor /colorist) flew down to Sitka to record the herring egg harvest in April of last year. 

If you’ve never seen how herring eggs are harvested, it’s wild. The herring come en masse to spawn in the bay, and you can spot them easily by the clouds of milky white water. The herring eggs are sticky and naturally adhere to seaweed, rocks, and anything within range in the water, so the Indigenous Tlingit and Haida people harvest them by downing and dropping entire hemlock trees into the bay. A day or two later, they return and haul up the trees, which are now completely bedazzled with herring eggs. The tree is cut up, and the branches, still studded with herring eggs, are distributed to the community.

Pulling the trees from the water.

What’s a sound guy for anyway?

Hannah and Derek, along with our friend Dan Redfield* who joined the shoot as a drone pilot and the scuba certified underwater cinematographer, not only filmed the harvest, but also participated, hauling hemlocks through the forest and onto the boat. They were compensated for their hard work in – you guessed it – herring eggs. “That was incredibly delicious. They’re like savory pop rocks!” Derek recollects.

Derek in orange… so much orange… and Dan in black.

Hannah samples herring eggs while rigged up in the gimbal.

Clockwise from front: Hannah, Derek, Dan, and… introducing Audra Henderson!

As fun as that shoot was, the absolute best thing to come out of it was our producer, Audra Henderson. She came on to our team originally just for that specific shoot, but having someone there who could take care of all the little details proved to be so invaluable, that we’ve since hired her as our in house producer. So everyone say, “Welcome, Audra!” 👋🥰 We are beyond thrilled to have her as part of our team.

*Dan Redfield is a multi-talented filmmaker and animation / motion graphics artist based out of Anchorage, Alaska. He’s the director of Adventures for Ava, a nonprofit program that provides and documents outdoor adventures for Alaskan children with special needs. Check out his website at danredfield.com.

ADR for HBO’s True Detectives: Night Country

The latest season of HBO’s True Detectives: Night Country, was a 2023 highlight not just for Frostline, but also for many people involved in the film industry up here in Alaska. Frostline Studios was involved in the shoot in multiple ways (more on that to come in future episodes of Hold For Sound, stay tuned!), but Derek’s involvement centered around ADR sessions with the Alaskan actors involved in the series. 

For those of you who are unfamiliar, ADR stands for Automated Dialogue Replacement. It’s an essential, but little known, part of the production process. “It’s so much more prevalent than people realize,” Derek tells Mantha. “In any of your favorite films, there’s a large percentage of the dialogue in there that is ADR.” ADR is used when the sound recorded on location isn’t as clean as it needs to be, a different delivery on a line is needed, or even because a line was changed and refilming the scene (AKA, doing pickups) is out of the question. The actor is then brought into the studio to record their own voice, synced to their own lips.

Not only is ADR an extremely complicated process involving various video and audio channels, but Night Country was a huge production, and a production of this scale has a whole other set of requirements and specifications. “You just have to be on your A-game,” Derek says. “A big production like that, there’s a lot of investment on the line. It’s serious business!” He laughs. “It can feel like, ‘Why are we so stressed out about this line?’ But – big picture – this whole project is made up of all these little pieces. And the more intention that you have with each of those little pieces, the greater the outcome of the whole thing.”

Derek ran the ADR sessions for the Alaskan actors involved in the show, like Phillip Blanchett (well known for his work as the vocalist for the Inuit-soul group, Pamyua) and Mary Lou Asicksik (who also starred in ABC’s Alaska Daily), and did the ADR for some of the pivotal, climactic scenes of the show (No spoilers: If you know, you know 😉).

Where to watch?

True Detectives: Night Country is available to stream on Max.

Local Music Highlights of 2023

One of the best parts of getting to work with Derek is having a great rotation of incredibly talented Alaskan musicians come through the studio. Our walls are constantly reverberating with the sound of Derek’s drums, guitar amps blasting into the stairwell, and the laughter of the bands tracking new music down in Studio A. Some of the amazing talent that came through the studio last year include Jacques Annandale’s Jacqtet (below, left), Two Rivers, Travis Watson (below, middle), Ya Tseen, and The Jangle Bees (below, right). Stay tuned for some awesome music coming from these artists in the coming year.

Honorable Mentions

Fundraising for Áak’w Rock with Amplify Alaska

Season Three of our podcast with Northern Culture Exchange, Amplify Alaska, brought us down to the Crystal Saloon in Juneau where we ran a livestreamed fundraiser for Áak’w Rock fest with the help of some incredibly talented artists and music advocates like Taylor Vidic, Annie Bartholomew, Qacung Blanchett, Witty Youngman, Finesstor, Yngvil Vatn Guttu, and Andrea Antoine of BBAAD Productions.

Sound Design for Atman Mehta’s A Beautiful Place

Atman Mehta’s short film, A Beautiful Place, documents how the community of Golovin, Alaska, is impacted by and is dealing with the effects of climate change. We handled the color and sound for this project. While the film isn’t out yet, you can learn a little more about the project via its official webpage here, and through this article Atman wrote for Artchange, Inc.

Recording with James Dommek Jr. for the Soundtrack of Sweet Tooth Season 2

Remember how we said James Dommek Jr. worked on the soundtrack for Netflix’s TV adaptation of DC comics heartwarming adventure series, Sweet Tooth? Derek was part of that, too, as the audio engineer running James’ recording sessions for that project.

Stay tuned for upcoming episodes of Hold For Sound: Let’s Talk Media Production! We’ll cover more than just audio; whether you’re an industry professional, an aficionado, or just want to learn more, we hope you join us to sit down with the other folks who work here at Frostline as well as our colleagues throughout the media production industry and learn more about what it really takes to bring music to your ears, movies to your screen, and more.

The intro and outro song for this episode of Hold For Sound is the track “Hold On” by the Casey Smith Project. Recorded, mixed, and mastered here at Frostline Studios. It’s not out yet, but you can get notified when it is by following them on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube or Spotify

 

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