Monkeys Fighting Robots

As a musician dealing in electronic sounds, Joseph Fraioli is no stranger to science fiction-like soundscapes which made him a perfect fit as sound designer for the upcoming sci-fi film Kin about a boy and his awesome, artificially intelligent alien super-gun.

Monkeys Fighting Robots spoke with Joseph Fraioli about his life in making sounds, Kin, and the awesome power of Jurassic Park.

The Road to Sound Design

“I got into sound design through releasing electronic music. Back through my teens and early 20s, I released experimental electronic music under the name Datach’i. I still release the same sort of experimental stuff. I was contacted by the Museum of Modern Art in New York to work on an installation. It became an ‘ah-ha’ moment that started me on this path of sound design.”

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All About Kin

“My relationship with the Bakers, [Jonathan Baker & Josh Baker] the directors goes back a long way. We have a really great working relationship. We’ve done a lot of commercials and short films together. We have a great open dialogue for discussing ideas and coming up with concepts. We had done the short film the Bag Man which was picked up and developed into the feature Kin.”

From Bag Man to Kin “We had the wheels turning on what to do with the story well before the feature film was happening. One of the ideas the Bakers had was that all the technology would be based on magnetism. So very early on I collected different types of sounds that represented magnetism. There’s a different type of energy that’s controlling the systems within this sci-fi world.”

How do you go about making these kinds of sounds? “To do that I used a variety of different methods; from processing organic sounds through digital systems like the Symbolic Sound Kyma or generating electronic sounds on a synthesizer and using an electromagnetic field recorder to capture sounds from different things. I started off with a really cool palette and was able to develop that conceptually into different ideas to help tell the story.”

Working with Mogwai

“In this project, there were a couple of instances that I got really excited about. The composers of the film were the band Mogwai. So we had a couple situations where the sound and music work together almost like one thing. It’s hard to tell where one starts and the other ends.”

How did the music and sound come together? “I made a sound for this one particular scene where I made this sort of electronic sound that would ‘pair’ Eli with the weapon, almost like Bluetooth technology. The gun calls him from a distant place, and he could follow it. Mogwai had taken those beats and used it as a time signature and cue for the what they scored for that moment. It came together beautifully. That was one moment that I was really proud of.”

Joseph spreads the love around “Also, a lot of this stuff comes together … because of the work from everyone from Frank Marrone and Brad Zoern our amazing mixers, and Jonathon and Josh Baker and myself being there and going through in fine detail to make it a cohesive soundtrack.”

It’s All in the Details

“A big part of how I like to work … I feel that the more detail you can add the more you can bring someone into the experience, the more you immerse them. Also, it helps for practical reasons, you can bring someone in with a small sound and then hit them with something really hard and even that much more impactful because your ear is focusing, almost like a lens, on the small sound.

The process for Kin had an essential component for Joseph “A huge part of the design process for me was working with the sound design of the weapon, the ‘block nose rifle.’ It had to, in a lot of ways, contrast Eli our main character and feel very dangerous and otherworldly. But at the same time, it needed to connect to him because there is this artificial intelligence that when it pairs with certain people, it behaves differently. So the technology behaves differently. And I use strange, electronic sounds as cues to the connection between the sci-fi and story elements.”

What Makes Sci-Fi Sounds?

“I used something called an Om Wand, it looks like a sword made of plastic, and it made these low vibration sounds as you swung it around. Hematite Magnets, you can throw them in the air, and they spin around each other and make these interesting sounds that I pitched way down.”

But it’s not all fancy materials or tech but both things “There’s a lot of high-end stuff, but there’s a lot of cheap stuff too. I went to the dollar store and got this breathing tube, it’s actually a children’s toy that makes these ratcheting and whistling kind of sounds. I used that as part of the sound effect for the alien breathers.”

Spread the Love

“There’s a lot of people out there doing great work. I always go back to what first inspired me to make sounds, and that’s the movie Jurassic Park and the roar of the T-Rex. I wasn’t expecting it, and it was so unsettling, but it was so perfect. I saw an interview with the sound designer, Gary Rydstrom and he was talking about how they mixed all these different animal sounds together. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe someone had that job. Gary Rydstrom is phenomenal. Ben Burtt, the way that he takes electronic sounds, especially in Wall-E, there’s so much emotion and character in each sound. That’s what I aspire to do.”

Thanks to Joseph Fraioli and Impact24 PR for making this interview possible. 

Ruben Diaz
Writer, film-fanatic, geek, gamer, info junkie & consummate Devil's advocate who has been fascinated by Earth since 1976. Classically trained in the ways of the future.