A self proclaimed desert rat from New Mexico, Chet Miller came to New York after graduating with an MFA from Ohio University in 2013. His repertoire includes Baritone, French Horn, Tuba, Timpani, random noise, “dicing up tiger cues and recording passersby being eaten” and some excellent cymbal work. He is currently serving as the Early Career Representative on the 2017-2018 TSDCA Executive Board. Read on to discover where he finds inspiration and his thoughts on how Professional Members can provide meaningful mentorship.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am prepping for a high evening of art. Drinking and Dragons is a fundraiser for Team Awesome Robots which should be a brilliant night at the theatre.
What is the most exciting thing happening this season that you are not working on?
Does the hopefully triumphant return of the sound Tony Award count? Other than that, I really want to see The Hangman.
Where were you born? Where do you live now?
I am a native New Mexican (Farmington, part of the Four Corners Region) which has forever colored my view of life. I am a desert rat through and through. Now I am based in New York City, which is dreadfully wet and crowded.
Describe one of your most successful collaborations in the theater. How or why was it successful?
In our final year of Graduate School, one of the third year MFA playwrights (a fringe absurdist from Chicago) was challenged to write a box set play. Needing to justify actors not leaving the stage, he placed a man eating tiger outside the door. I spent the next three weeks in rehearsal dicing up tiger cues and recording passersby being eaten.
What really stuck with me was the teamwork needed between myself, stage management and the scenic shop; this included me convincing someone to reinforce the back of a wall so the ASM could slam a board with screws driven through it safely against the set.
Why this show succeeded: First, it’s damn good. But just as important, we all believed in it. That passion puts the proper spice into every moment of production.
You are the current Early Career Representative on the TSDCA Board. What unique challenges do you think Early Career members face? What are concrete steps that Professional members can take to help them?
I am very excited for the upcoming June mentor meet-up. I was super lucky. Moving here I had some pretty great designers as a support structure, and I have tried to pass that on. Hopefully this event will allow connections for people who may not normally meet as we are all sometimes locked into our circles.
Concrete things Professional members can do:
The half hour cup of coffee and talk about your process meet-ups
The half day sure come swing by my tech and see me work meeting
The few hour yeah listen to me tune a room to see what I look for meeting.
If you can’t tell, the takeaway is a bit of a time investment. Talk with us, and just as important, listen to us. I have said some very, very dumb things to people I consider mentors and their assistance in showing me a different way of thinking led to who I am today.
There’s still a lot of that ‘right place right time’ bit in our neck of the woods, and I’m not sure that will change. I struggle with this as I look at how to bridge that gap from padawan to educator.
What do you wish someone had told you before you entered the field of sound design for theater?
“You can’t look dignified while having fun.” Early in my artistic career, I was convinced all my best work came out when I was in a darker place. I took my pieces way too seriously. It was way too much capital A “Art” and not enough love. I like to think I’m getting to a better balance and remembering to smile at the tech table.
What is your favorite piece of music at the moment?
The new Dessa album is my goto right now. Other than that, the Fortress of Solitude cast album.
Name a pet production peeve.
Trying to combine dark time for video with quiet time for sound.
What is your favorite meal during or before tech?
I’m a huge sushi fan, or a fast dim sum.
Do you play an instrument?
I learn instruments very fast, so Baritone, French Horn, Tuba, Timpani, and random noise are all within my repertoire. I am actually a very good cymbal player, which says a lot about me as a person.
Does your family understand what you do?
Surprisingly well, partially because I happen to talk a lot.
Did you have a sound design or composition mentor? If so, how did they help or guide you?
My mentor in graduate school, Lowell, once performed a live production by putting lightbulbs in a microwave and playing the microwave with a grinder. I like to think of my work as a slightly more melodic exploration.
Where do you find inspiration?
My inspiration is from two different energies. One is a very very quiet one, withdrawn into myself. It’s very introspective, soft and flowing. Much of my electronic underscores come from that place. The other is louder. It’s the part where I’m pacing while teaching. I’m pulling ideas and thoughts from a myriad of places and piecing them together. It’s the pacing version of my work, and this is what comes out when I teach. By day, I do training and support for disguise (formerly d3 technologies.) which has been an interesting change of pace. I always wanted to go into teaching, though I figured university academia would be the landing point. I am in the process of developing a disguise based curriculum for university, which checks all the boxes except for the day-to-day on campus slightly eccentric professor wearing a blazer with elbow pad lifestyle.
Was there a show or experience that drew you to sound design or composition?
My first semester of school I assisted on Woyzeck. The show required two computers (because we were using itunes for playback and needed to crossfade) It was all downhill from there. Watching how sound colored the mood of a scene and completed it drew me in, and the technical part of my brain loved the challenge of how to lay out everything properly.
What programs are we likely to find open on your computer?
The built in windows whiteboard. Being able to draw on my screen is game changing.
Sublime text is my text editor of choice. I like the bare aesthetics of it.
I’ve been in a major show control kick (lots of OSC and MSC work) so Qlab if I am at my mac. Though since I am mostly windows I’ve been on a quest for my perfect show control software for pc. It isn’t going to be Max/MSP. But it might be.
Was there a piece or type of gear or program that revolutionized how you work?
Paul’s Extreme Time Stretch.
If you couldn’t have a career in a field related to this one, what would you want to do?
My last real job before I dove into theatre full-time was cancer research, so I could find myself back in a lab.
What do you hope TSDCA can accomplish?
My goal for TSDCA is that we become a chorus rather than a sea of voices. Even though each of us is different, together we can be heard clearly.