Konsonant music applies 'sonic activism' to five Tribeca films
Issue: May/June 2021

Konsonant music applies 'sonic activism' to five Tribeca films

Konsonant Music (www.konsonant.com), which makes a point of supporting projects that promote positivity, peace, equality and diversity through ‘sonic activism’, contributed to five films that screened at the recent Tribeca Film Festival.

“It’s cool to see that all the films we’re premiering at Tribeca this year are made by womxn or LGBTQ filmmakers,” says composer/supervising sound editor Gisela Fulla-Silvestre (pictured, right). “It feels like something is shifting in the industry as far as who is dictating the narratives, which feels refreshing.”

“I agree wholeheartedly,” adds composer/creative director Gil Talmi. “Working on socially-conscious projects is what gets me out of bed in the morning. I feel inspired by the strength and determination of these filmmakers and their unwavering commitment to tell the stories that help shift those narratives and bring about positive change. By bringing our unique creative perspectives to these projects, we are able to help ensure that they are released into the world with just the right music and sound.”


According to Fulla-Silvestre, Landfall is a beautiful film about the consequences of colonialism in Puerto Rico. 

“The film is about the power of community organization and about the idiosyncratic nature of the island. Cecilia Aldarondo, the film’s director, is a Boricua woman who has a way of being extremely poetic and critical at the same time. As a sound designer it was inspiring to work on a film that focused on the island as the main character, so every shot, every scene had to feel very alive, focusing on soundscape details that would come and go in the very same scene, the way it feels in real life.”

Fulla-Silvestre says it was important to not let the sound feel overly manipulative, since the director was not trying to lead the audience. Rather, the film’s intention is to let people understand through subtle sound elements what it’s like to live in the different parts of the island and also to show the palpable consequences of a post colonialist landscape.

“I hired Rosamalia Perez from Dungeon Jams, an amazing sound field engineer in Puerto Rico, to record specific sounds, like the urban beaches in San Juan, where party walla gets mixed with reggaeton and the sound of coquis and the caribbean breeze,” she explains. “I used a lot of these sounds as motifs throughout the film to tell the story. This is a very impressionistic film, so sometimes the details of the ambient sounds were the key to understanding what message Cecilia was trying to convey. Sound generators from Reaktor helped create some low-end ambiences to complement the natural sound experience.” 


North by Current is a personal and powerful portrayal of Madsen Minax’s family. The film is about family mourning, trans embodiment and generational addiction. Minax uses the arid landscapes of his rural Michigan hometown to portray the different themes of the film. The film’s free yet tangible and raw structure inspired the sound to have moments of dramatic distortion, which were created through sound generators and reverbs, along with moments of subtle, vérité style mixing. The sound mix had to help make room and connect the collage of themes and flashbacks.  

Fulla-Silvestre says the mix was designed to honor the intimacy of the visual rumination of the film and to enhance the visual collages that Minax had created. 

“Madsen had also already done an amazing job at establishing the sound world, so for the mix, we played a lot with mixing effects, such as Valhalla’s Vintage and Shimmer reverbs. We also used Reaktor’s Blocks to give depth to the sonic landscapes and to create contrasts between the creative montages of the film and the scenes that felt very true to the moment of action in rural Michigan.”


Ascension, by Jessica Kingdon, is another film that avoids manipulating the audience while showing varying forms of capitalism in China. 

“What drew me to this film was that it’s completely centered around sound,” says Fulla-Silvestre. “The sound design is what allows you to meditate about what you’re seeing on screen - to sit with it. It’s a very brave film that truly uses sound design as music and music as sound design, and that makes room for the audience to generate their own thoughts and ideas about what they’re watching. It’s a film almost made entirely of sonic postcards, with barely no dialogue at all, so it’s super inspiring to carry so much of the narrative of the film through the kaleidoscope of sound elements.” 

Fulla-Silvestre says the film is about factory sounds, which had to be connected to the musical score.

“Jessica wanted to stay very true to the sounds that she recorded while shooting, so on my end, there was a lot of sweetening of some of these sounds so that they would become a bit brighter or more powerful. I used library sound effects to enhance some of the actions, which in a documentary like this, has to be done with a lot of care so that nothing stands out too much. We needed to stay very sober and realistic so that nothing felt fake but at the same time we wanted to hear all the sensorial details that could be seen on screen.”


Shadows, by Ria Tobaccowala, is a coming-of-age story set in the middle of a Catholic Latinx family in Brooklyn. 

“I was inspired by the humanity of the film,” says Fulla-Silvestre. “It’s a powerful story of sibling love and the different ways in which spiritual faith evolves for the members of the family. It was inspiring to work on such a music-driven project, where music connects the different vital moments of the family so it was very fun to play with different approaches in mixing the music, whether it was at a party or in the living room of the household.”


Filmmaker Jessica Earnshaw’s Jacinta follows the lives of three generations of women struggling to find stability amid years of dependency. As Jacinta leaves jail, her mother remains behind to complete her own sentence. She then attempts to rebuild her relationship with her teen daughter Caylynn.

“When I watched the rough cut of Jacinta, I was immediately struck by the film’s non-negotiable courage, intimacy and commitment to fierce honesty,” recalls Talmi (pictured). “The amazing filmmaking team of director Jessica Earnshaw, producer Holly Meehl and editor George O’Donnell were able to tell Jacinta's powerful story of generational trauma and addiction without falling into a common trap of exploiting the main characters and subject matter.

“As a film composer, I am drawn to this type of storytelling,” Talmi explains. “It allows for nuance in the music itself, which I welcome as a challenge and methodology. Oftentimes, composers are asked to manipulate too much in a film. The music then becomes quite binary: good vs. bad, happy vs. sad, peaceful vs. angry, etc. But in life, emotions tend to be much more layered and complex. We can oftentimes feel sad, angry, exhausted and slightly hopeful all at the same time. This is what this film was asking of the score: to be authentic, layered, nuanced and respectful of the film’s characters and the audience’s ability to have their own feelings and opinions.

“For Jacinta, Jessica was very adamant from the get go about not wanting the score to become another cliché, guitar-driven addiction score,” he continues. “We got that out of the way early on in the process. We also didn’t want things to sound too synthy/spacey, and an orchestral approach was going to be too big and potentially patronizing for an intimate, understated project such as this. I love working on projects with creative boundaries and directors who clearly know what they want, and, equally so, don't want. I don’t see these as limitations but rather as an invitation to go deeper within a clearly defined set of tools. I feel that oftentimes having no defined context can actually hinder creativity: the freedom to do absolutely anything and everything can sometimes become a trap for ending up doing nothing or little at all. It’s all about commitment.”

With these parameters in mind, Talmi (pictured, below) set out to create an intimate score that would be unique, authentic, understated and as organic sounding as possible. 

“I took my beautiful vintage Rhodes MKII and ran it through my modular system using such modules as Strymon Magneto, Mutable Instruments Clouds, Make Noise Morphagene and TipTop Audio Z-DSP with the Valhalla card. I also snuck in some electric guitars - don’t tell Jessica - but by the time I was done processing them, they were no longer recognizable. And for added morphed textures, I used my beloved Roland Juno 6 and MFB Dominion 1 synths.”

When it comes to sound design and mixing, Fulla-Silvestre says there are a few aspects she likes to focus on. 

“Finding natural sound motifs to enhance the emotional arc of the stories and finding subtle ways to use ambiences and sound effects to sweeten not only the sensorial experience of a film, but the inner architecture of the characters so that the sound can complement the music in carrying the emotional weight of a film.”

One of her most used tools is the Izotope Post Production Suite. 

“There is a common denominator between Landfall, Ascension and North By Current,” she explains. “They’re all documentaries. This might be a very obvious thing to mention, but the Izotope Advanced Repair set of tools truly becomes your best friend when it comes to saving damaged or challenging audio clips. I would say that finding a healthy balance in the use of these tools while keeping the humanity of the sound is something to always keep in mind when sound editing for documentaries.”