Photo by Caffrey Chen
Photo by Caffrey Chen

  Syllous Mai utters a polite laugh when it’s suggested that a film about her career so far might be appropriately titled “Adventures of a Sound Engineer.” She understands that most people have the image of someone in her profession sitting at a desk (the term those in her field use to refer to the massive mixing consoles they use) as a solitary and sedentary existence but that’s not her experience at all. Even at a young age, her work spans freezing temperatures for an outdoor concert-film during the pandemic to standing on the stage alongside legends of the music world like Grammy Award winner James Newton-Howard and others. From a tribute to pop music icon Taylor Swift with gifted young musicians to those who have been on thousands of recordings since the 1960s, the uncertainty of where her skills might take her is one of the most exciting aspects for Syllous. She asserts that the sonic universe is so vast that it feels limitless, making Syllous an explorer of this world which far too many of us truly understand. 

  Nearly all creative endeavors are the result of a network of artists and skilled professionals. Syllous is adamant that her creativity is stoked by aiding other artists manifest theirs. In cases like her work as track producer on the song “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” which was included in the “Berklee College of Music Great American Songbook: Fearless – The Music of Taylor Swift”, this entailed a great of sound design to create and shape the right sounds for each instrument. Noted for such famed alumni as Quincy Jones, John Mayer, Branford Marsalis, Steve Vai, and numerous others, Berklee possesses some of the finest musicians of each generation. The tracks created for this tribute to Taylor Swift almost certainly include the next wave of influential musicians and songwriters in the world of music. 

  For filmmaker Young Lee’s production Violin on the Roof, Syllous took a creativity-meets-scientific approach to solve various audio issues. Filmed during the Covid-19 lockdown, this film was one of the productions rethinking how filmmaking could still survive during such a historic time. In order to adhere to safety protocols, interaction among actors and musicians was kept to a stark minimum. This effected everything from camera angles to the ability to do reshoots and re-recordings. This situation demanded Syllous use her skill and imagination to unravel the puzzle of problem areas to maintain safety as well as enable the film to reach its final form. She describes, “One noteworthy challenge was when I attempted to synchronize the music with the final scene at the 6:23 mark. This difficulty arose due to directorial adjustments to the visuals, which led to a disparity in tempo between the violin performance in a scene and the accompanying soundtrack. To rectify this discrepancy, I undertook the intricate task of individually extending each note in the soundtrack to precisely align with the visual content. The endeavour was notably time-consuming, as it necessitated meticulous adjustments on a note-by-note basis, ensuring a seamless synchronization between the soundtrack and the altered visuals.” When a technological glitch introduced a two-second gap in the audio of another musical performance (at 4:51), this inconsistency nearly derailed the entire production. The sizable challenges in reassembling the musicians and crew during Covid would not allow this so, along with the film’s director, Syllous made the creative decision to simply insert city background noise into this moment. The result was concealment of the abrupt cessation of the music and preservation of the auditory continuity of the scene. Sometimes a simple yet unique solution is the best. 

  Syllous notes that some moments are especially meaningful for her, as when she took part in an event honouring one of her favorite composers, Emmy and Grammy Award winning composer & pianist James Newton-Howard. Mr. Howard has been nominated for nine Academy Awards in the span of his film score work and Syllous was delighted to work on film cues (which included the Sixth Sense and Signs) for this event in Boston. She remarks, “I am a huge movie soundtrack fan myself I was very excited to work on the these and have them performed for Mr. Howard in the concert. Standing next to him and (Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter and producer) Lalah Hathaway and Bass legend Chuck Rainey was a thrill I won’t soon forget.” The arts is a community which builds upon those who came before. Syllous Mai believes in this lineage and is adding to it with her own contributions. 

By Punit