Ethan in his role as Re-recording Mixer for Shaolin Temple in My heart.
Ethan in his role as Re-recording Mixer for Shaolin Temple in My heart.

The soon to be released documentary Shaolin Temple in My Heart is unlike any other depiction of the people at the heart of the philosophy and martial arts. That’s because the Shaolin monks felt a deep bond of trust with director Fang Xiang. A professional photographer of four decades, Spokesman of Fujifilm and Nikon, vice president of the China Portrait Photography Society, and fourteen-time Trierenberg Super Circuit winner, Fang Xiang’s “ink-wash Shaolin”, a set of photographs, was recognized by the Shaolin abbot and entrusted with the important task of recording and presenting the practice deeds of Shaolin disciples.

Adamant that only the most authentic and respectful film be manifested, Fang enlisted re-recording mixer “Ethan” Yuheng Xie to present the sonic personality and environment of this holy setting. Early access to this film confirms the visual and auditory majesty of the Shaolin temple and those who dwell within. Shaolin Temple in My Heart allows never before seen access to a fascinating place and mindset. 

The process of creating this film took more than half a decade. More than a dozen trips to the Shaolin Temple in Songshan (Henan) as well as visits to the American and Austrian Shaolin Cultural Centers informed the crew and cemented the connection between filmmaker and subject. Shaolin is not only a holy place for martial arts but also the ancestral home of Zen Buddhism of Bodhidharma. To capture the footage respectfully and with authenticity, the crew size was kept quite small. Ethan took on multiple roles including production sound mixer, re-recording mixer, data management (of the 72 TB of footage), editing, and mixing the soundtrack.

The five-year-span of filming and the varied locations presented an array of changing sonic elements for Ethan to contend with. From the sparse sonic environment of the meditation retreats to the crowds to Buddhist ritual instruments such as Gongs and Bells, the auditory complexity of this film is substantial. Mr. Xie’s determination as an artist compelled him to pursue a path more cumbersome than most to attain the true feeling of being in these holy spaces.

He describes, “I decided to mix the film in surround format. This required some of the sound elements to be ready for surround format, especially ambient sounds. Presenting these sound elements in surround instead of mono (the manner in which most movie dialogue is recorded) could drastically improve the immersive experience for the audience.”

“In order to achieve surround format recording by myself, I decided to go with a 360-degree format called Ambisonics. This is a kind of full sphere surround sound format. I could capture sound with a special microphone with 4 mic capsules on it, and later in post-production, these sound could be easily converted into whatever surround format was needed, such as 5.1, 7.1 or even Dolby Atmos.”

Through his commitment to such a high standard, Ethan has manifested the actual sense of being in these revered spaces with extraordinary accuracy. The auditory fingerprint of Shaolin Temple in My Heart is one of the most remarkable aspects of this documentary film. 

Ethan Xie is convicted to the concept that sound is a means of painting without visuals. It is his deeply held contention that his work should tell a story that is not reliant upon seeing with one’s eyes to perceive the story.

He remarks, “Working on this project, I would export a mix every night before I would go to sleep and play it on a Walkman as I listened with closed eyes in my quiet bedroom. Without any visual interference, I could focus solely on the sounds that I was hearing. No more software interfaces, no more jumping timecodes, and no more bouncing meters. I would look for anything that might be an issue or could be improved upon. If you think of it in a visual sense, the space between two shapes is also a space; this concept applies to sound as well.”

“As a sound mixer, I want to keep pushing myself to exceed my standards. By pushing myself out of the comfort zone a little on every project, or even every day during a project like this documentary, or in another word, seeing myself making small progress every day when I am working as a sound mixer is truly rewarding for me. I believe this process of rewards not only benefits myself, but also benefits the projects that I love and work on.”

You can hear more of Ethan Xie’s work on the Rome Prisma Independent Film Awards Nominated Pay It, New York International Film Awards Winner Drifting Boat, and Los Angeles Film Award Winner Falling Up (for which Ethan personally won the Best Sound Design Award).

Yuheng Ethan Xie
Yuheng Ethan Xie

Writer: Mike Winston

By Punit