A peek behind the scenes

Menna Taher, Tuesday 15 Mar 2011

Ahram Online spoke with sound engineer Alaa El Kashef about his job and upcoming projects in the music and film industry

Alaa El Kashef
Photo by Sherif Sonbol

Songs inspired by the Egyptian revolution have taken over Youtube and are played repeatedly on television. Sound engineer Alaa El Kashef, who won a Grammy award along with Fathy Salama in 2004, said that it is a good start towards a greater artistic scene.

El Kashef is one of Egypt's top sound engineers and has worked in a large number of film productions. Songs and music videos are among the many works which he has on his desk.

The 25 January Revolution has inspired many artists to write about the events but “Not all the songs are good,” he says, “but people have serious concerns now which will consequently be reflected in their work.”

A huge shift in people’s minds

El Kashef is very positive about the future of the art scene. He sees that the revolution has created a huge shift in people’s minds. "There is no more space for cheap commercialism. People are searching for serious topics and accordingly, film as well as music productions will have to reflect that."  

He believes that the art scene will therefore be elevated with more valuable productions. "Likewise, Egyptians tastes will improve, as artists set benchmarks for their works," he maintains.

As such, El Kashef said the song, Soot El Horreya by Hany Adel from West El Balad and Amir Eid from Cairokee, is one of the best songs to have come out during the revolution.

He told Ahram Online about other projects that are underway. Bushra is re-making a song that she sang in the musical Praxa,  Anoshka is recording two songs and he is working on an album by Fathy Salama and Karima Nayt.

In the film world, a documentary is being made about the relation between media and the Egyptian revolution, by the production company, Initiative.  El Kashef  has also composed a song during the revolution but still doesn’t know who will sing it.

Highs and lows

While composing the song, the words took many different turns, highs and lows, depending on the events that ranged from hope, despair, rage, tension and then calm.

El  Kashef started his career in sound engineering and mixing in 1981 in the music industry and turned to film in 1991. He has studied construction engineering, which he says has been helpful in influencing his mode of thinking.

He has an oeuvre of around 50 films since he started, including Edhak El Soora Tetlae Helwa (Smile so the picture looks beautiful), Aboud Al Hodood (Aboud on the Border), El Nazer (The Principle), which is the first Egyptian film to be made in surround sound, and Wahed Men Al Nas (One of the People).

El Kashef explained to Ahram Online the nature of his job. “We usually work on four different aspects in sound,” said El Kashef “Dialogue, effects, music and foley. In dialogue we fix technical problems and sometimes even re-record dialogues,” El Kashef said.

Foley, he explained, is an art in itself. “We don’t have professional foley artists in Egypt. The job description for foley artists is that they basically re-create different sounds with props, like the tapping of shoes, the creaking of a door or the turning of a key,” he clarified.

A relationship with music

One of the films that enabled El Kashef to be creative was Ibrahim El Batout’s independent film, Hawy (Magician). “The minimal dialogue gave us space to tell the story through music,” he said. In the film, each character has a relationship with music. The film itself revolves around a song by the underground band, Massar Egbary titled Hawi.

He described how they toy around with sound. During one scene when a man finds out his horse is sick and walks aimlessly around Alexandria’s streets alongside the horse, El Kashef faded out all noise from the street, to make the only sounds audible those of the intermingling of the horse’s steps with the background music.

Changes such as that may go unnoticed with the audience, but they alter the mood of the scene.

Strange sounds

“Some directors also request strange sounds,” said El Kashef . “I remember when Magdy Ahmed Aly asked for the sound of a child popping out of his mother’s womb for Asrar El Banat (Girl’s Secrets). It took me a while to get that sound. While eating potatoes with mayonnaise and squashing them with the fork, I realised that this sound could fit.”

“There are also elements in sound design that we add for subconscious effect, like if we add the effect of chirping birds, it will give the feeling that it is morning,” he explains. “This however, is not taken into consideration by most Egyptian directors.”

El Kashef, who says that his job takes from 6-8 weeks and requires around 16 sound engineers, often does it in one or two weeks. “Directors do not give us enough time. The minute they finalise the editing, they contact the distributors and pressure us to get it done fast.”

US most advanced in field

He believes that Americans are the most advanced in this field, citing some classics as excellent examples of sound editing and engineering such as Apocalypse Now, The Godfather 2, Titanic and Avatar.

“The quality of sound in films depends on the financial resources,” he said, “Germany, France and England come just after the US.”

El Kashef also revealed to Ahram Online that almost all singers now rely heavily on sound editing. “I always have to re-work the tempo and the pitch,” he said, “and it is a challenge polishing up their voice, without making them sound computerised.”

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