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People profile: Dan Savage, sound designer

Sound designer

Published in Sports Management Mar Apr 2017 issue 130
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Dan Savage designed the sound for the DOW Olympic Experience, which was developed over six months
Dan Savage designed the sound for the DOW Olympic Experience, which was developed over six months

Sound is inextricably linked with sport. The roar of the crowd when a goal is scored, the grunt of a tennis player as they serve or the crack of a cricket bat as it connects with the ball – these sounds contribute to eliciting an emotional response when we watch sport.

Someone who understands this better than most is Dan Savage, a sound designer who worked on the DOW Olympic Experience at the Rio Games. This immersive visual and aural experience took visitors on a journey with Thomas, a young athlete dreaming of competing in the 2024 Olympics.

“The client was DOW, the chemical company, which is a top-tier sponsor of the Olympic Games. Guests were expecting to attend a corporate presentation, but what they got was a surprisingly immersive and human-focused experience,” says Savage.

“It put a face to the real people who work for the company, creating and inventing the things that were helping Thomas train, from his shoes and clothes to his vitamins and sunscreen. They appear throughout the journey to show and talk about their ideas and products.

“The emotional intensity builds as the visitor goes through, until we see young Thomas morph into older Thomas and eventually arrive at the future Olympics, stepping out into the stadium to compete, in a moment of triumph.”

Scripting emotion
The piece was designed as a 30-minute “pulsed” experience, with guests being taken through six different ‘scenes’ in groups.

“At some points, the narrator is talking to you and at others you’re visually and aurally submerged in water, standing in a field of corn or experiencing the rush of entering the Olympic stadium,” explains Savage.

“A game of sport has unexpected highs and lows, but in this type of experience it’s possible to script and engineer these moments, and because the guests never knew what was coming, we could always surprise them. By placing them into the mind and lives of the athlete and scientists, we created a much more personal type of theatre – it was like walking through a film.”

Added revenue
The benefit of pieces like this, according to Savage, is that they can generate additional revenue for the club or facility and connect them more directly with the community. Many clubs have a museum attached, with sound playing a role in immersive experiences that can, for instance, bring a legendary match to life.

Subconscious sounds
Another use of sound, says Savage, is ‘sonic-branding’, a technique that was used very effectively at the London 2012 Olympics.

“The music producer Stuart Price crafted a modular piece of music that could be layered in a multitude of ways for different moods and settings. If you attended any of the events at London 2012, you will have heard a version of this piece of music”, says Savage, “When I hear it now, I’m instantly transported back to the Olympic stadium.”

This concept of ‘sound memory’ is what Savage aims to create in all his work. “Hearing something that taps into your long-term memory and takes you somewhere else – it’s subconsciously powerful. My aim is always to create something people will remember after the event,” he says.

“By communicating in sound and not words, you can reach people on a deeper level – it doesn’t work like an advert – you’re not telling them what to think or feel – but you’re giving them a platform on which to create their own experience and everyone’s will be unique.”

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