Sound designer Jeremy S. Bloom has worked steadily across a variety of genres, accumulating a resume of very exciting projects with extremely unique demands. His credits range from James Gray’s Armageddon Time, Neil Burger’s The Marsh King’s Daughter, and the Jennifer Lawrence comedy vehicle No Hard Feelings. Bloom has also edited sound for several high-profile documentaries, including Netflix’s FYRE and The Great Hack, as well as acclaimed works like Magnolia’s Hail Satan?

But for as much as Bloom’s innovative and immersive soundscapes enhanced those films, the Emmy-nominated sound designer is determined to push his skillset beyond traditional film and television. That drive has led Bloom to work on installations for The Statue of Liberty Museum, Manchester United, Audi, TBS, and the Tenement Museum. He is a staff sound designer for WNYC Studio’s critically acclaimed podcast, Radiolab, and most recently served as lead sound designer on the awe-inspiring IMAX film Deep Sky, depicting the silent void of outer space.

“I was so excited to think through this paradox,” says Bloom. “How to sonically depict an environment that’s devoid of sound.”

Bloom relied on a surprising and impressive array of source material in recording sounds for the film, including Pop Rocks, spinning tops, frame drums, and burning hair/wax.

“I knew recordings of familiar elements like snow, campfires, or fireworks would be too earthly and recognizable,” says Bloom. “So I sought recordings of exotic materials burning, substances freezing other than water, geothermal reactions and more. This way the audience can still subliminally relate to the core material makeup of what they’re seeing, but also never get the sense of extreme familiarity that comes from more everyday sounds on earth.”

That kind of ingenuity has trickled back into Bloom’s more traditional film projects, allowing him to overcome the unique obstacles each film presents. On the BAFTA-nominated and Oscar-shortlisted documentary Beyond Utopia, for example, Bloom was tasked with assembling a soundscape for a setting that is entirely shut off from the outside world.

“There are no commercially available field recordings of this place and obviously we couldn’t go there, so we turned to what chefs call ‘Mise En Place,’  or prepping ingredients before cooking a meal. We collected all the unused b-roll footage of the film from hours of clandestine cell phone videos and stripped isolated sounds from that footage.”

Awards Focus sat down with Bloom to delve deeper into his sound design on Deep Sky, Beyond Utopia, and the dilemma of the black holes.

Awards Focus: Can you share your creative process in developing the sound design for the IMAX film, Deep Sky, and how you approached depicting the soundless voids of space?

Jeremy S. Bloom: When Harbor’s Supervising Sound Editor Robert Hein approached me to collaborate on this film I was so excited to think through this paradox – How to sonically depict an environment that’s devoid of sound. 

It feels almost like a right of passage for a sound designer and there are so many brilliant ways it’s been tackled in the past from Ben Burtt’s high tech sounds in Star Wars to Glenn Freemantle, Niv Adiri, and Skip Levsay’s tactile approach in “Gravity.” I was inspired by an amazing lecture about the James Webb Space Telescope at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn where I was first introduced to the telescope’s beautiful imagery. 

I came to understand that ultimately these stunning images depict the elemental building blocks of the various celestial landscapes they picture. The vivid colors of NASA’s images show density, chemical elements, ice, gas, plasma, and more. I knew sound would have the power to reach out of the screen and touch the audience to create a familiar connection with these materials that are otherwise lightyears away. 

AF: How did you capture the essence of those elements, gasses or ice through sound in Deep Sky?

Bloom: It was a challenge… On the one hand, I knew the sounds had to be relatable and familiar on a subliminal level. Jupiter’s moon Europa had to feel icey and cold. The sun had to feel hot. Newborn stars feel explosive, and black holes dense.

At the same time, these soundscapes couldn’t sound pedestrian because the scale of their environments is so much greater than anything found on earth. I knew recordings of familiar elements like snow, campfires, or fireworks would be too earthly and recognizable, so I sought recordings of exotic materials burning, substances freezing other than water,  geothermal reactions and more.

This way the audience can still subliminally relate to the core material makeup of what they’re seeing, but also never get the sense of extreme familiarity that comes from more everyday sounds on earth. 

AF: The range of original source materials you used for Deep Sky is fascinating. Can you walk us through the challenges and innovations involved in recording items to build these material sounds?

Bloom: I used a combination of originally recorded sounds alongside some amazing exotic sources from brilliant field recordists like Tim Prebble and Thomas Rex Beverly. Finding great sound design solutions is an act of free association, so I tried to apply what composers call “extended techniques,”  unconventional performances of conventional instruments, to non-musical sources.

For instance, I experimented with dripping water, cooking oil, and hair into the melted wax around a burning candle wick to create novel crackling sounds. I played with pop-rocks bursting in viscous liquids for distant stars exploding. For the heavy rotating mass of a black hole, I bought every kind of spinning top I could find and spun them on the heads of large drums. I recorded these sounds with non-conventional microphones like the

AF: Deepsky was created specifically for IMAX. How is sound designing and mixing for IMAX different than a conventional film? 

Bloom: This is one reason I was so excited for this project. IMAX sets a completely immersive canvas on which sounds can be placed anywhere around or above the audience, a perfect fit for a film depicting the vastness of outer space. 

I think coming out of the pandemic, audiences are particularly excited by a sense of full immersion that was previously hard to achieve from a flat screen at home. We’re seeing it with the MSG Sphere in Vegas, music and film industry investment in Dolby Atmos, and the buzz specifically around Oppenheimer’s 70mm IMAX presentation. 

Because we had the luxury of mixing at the IMAX-equipped Harbor Grand mix stage, working on Deep Sky felt a lot like the site-specific museum exhibits I’ve contributed to at places like The Statue of Liberty. The film was made first and foremost for IMAX, so mixer Roberto Fernandez, Robert Hein, and I could fully embrace the format without compromise. 

Sounds are able to spin around and above the audience to match the vastness of space where there is no difference between up and down. 

AF: Are there specific projects that you’ve worked on where the location or environment presented unique challenges in terms of sound design, and how did you address them?

Bloom: Yes! I think especially about documentaries I’ve worked on where in order to immerse an audience, sound design needs to depict inaccessible or sensitive environments in a very accurate fashion. It’s something I talk about a ton with our Director of Sound Design Dylan Keefe at WNYC’s Radiolab. Most recently in Simon Adler’s story “Toy Soldiers,” about drones in the Ukraine war, my sound design contributions were all about spatializing real recordings captured by Youtubers on the battlefield. Instead of focusing on adding new sounds, I spent my time polishing the recordings Simon curated and using subtle psychoacoustic techniques to place the audience within these very raw recordings three dimensionally. 

On the Oscar shortlisted documentary “Beyond Utopia,” I faced an extreme version of this challenge with co-supervising sound editors Daniel Timmons and Tony Volante (who also mixed the film) at Harbor. How could we sonically depict North Korea in a completely non-fictionalized way?

 There are no commercially available field recordings of this place and obviously we couldn’t go there, so we turned to what chefs call “Mise En Place,”  or prepping ingredients before cooking a meal. We collected all the unused b-roll footage of the film from hours of clandestine cell phone videos and stripped isolated sounds from that footage. 

Using the program Soundminer, we created a searchable database of these sounds, complete with metadata tagging the location and even screen-grabbed reference images to create our own library of fully authentic North Korean field recordings. These could be used to bring life otherwise silent footage throughout the film.

 It became a well-organized pantry of ingredients that sound effects editor Robert Hein and I could draw from and trust to be authentic. Elements like crowds speaking the correct dialects of Korean, very distinctive sounding soviet-era trains, local nature, and more. In other sections of the film, when the Roh family is escaping through the jungles of Laos and Thailand, we blurred the lines between abstract score and location-specific sound design. 

By total chance, I had been to the Lao border of Thailand several years earlier and took some recordings there while hiking in very similar forests to those the Roh family found itself in. We drew from these recordings and used spectral processing tools from INA GRM to create tense swells of chirping jungle insects and frogs that work to musically reinforce the danger the family feels as they risk capture, while remaining perfectly accurate to the local ecology.

AF: How do you strike a balance between creating a unique sonic identity for each project and keeping your personal style?

Bloom: When I was in college I took a class in theatrical set design where we were told that design is all about “asking questions of the story.” For a long time I didn’t understand what that meant, but now I realize that it’s the core of what I do. The sonic world of a story already exists within it, but as a designer it’s my job to discover and illuminate it. Every project I do may sound distinctly different based on what’s true to the story and its characters. I think my personal style is defined not so much by a sonic signature, but more by the spirit with which I go about finding a story’s sound, the curiosity that guides me, and the fun I hope to have with my collaborators along the way. 

AF: What role do you believe sound design plays in shaping the emotional impact of a story, whether it be in film, documentaries, or podcasts?

Bloom: I teach my students at NYU that sound is their secret weapon, and I really believe it. The father of modern sound design Walter Murch points out that in the womb, most of us have access to the world of sound long before the other senses.

Perhaps that’s why sound can be such a potent and powerful tool in storytelling. When we watch a film, the images on screen paint a definitive world before our eyes. Sound however, does something more nuanced. When we hear sounds, especially sounds that aren’t paired closely with images, our imagination does the work to paint that world. That means as a sound designer I’m constructing a scaffolding, but the audience does the real work to build a world upon that scaffolding using their imagination.

Because it’s constructed in the mind of the audience, that world is different for every single person, deeply customized to their own experiences, emotional projections, and imagined realities. That’s the real power sound has. It happens in film sound design when we use sound to depict the world beyond the frame of the image, but especially in audio-only work like audio dramas where the visual aspects of the story take place entirely within the audience’s imagination. 

AF: Looking ahead, are there any upcoming projects or areas of interest in sound design that you are excited about exploring? 

Bloom: I’m excited by what the year will bring, it’s already proving to be a fun one. Radiolab has some great stories in development and I also have a chance to work on a documentary about one of my personal creative heroes! Some installation projects are finally launching this year including an immersive themed attraction on Carnival’s latest cruise ship, an installation at the Library of Congress, and an iconic new museum being built from the ground up! Now that I have an IMAX movie under my belt, my dream is to take my work to the next level and design for the new Madison Square Garden Sphere in Las Vegas with its innovative Holoplot sound system. 

About The Author

Founder, Awards Editor

Byron Burton is the Awards Editor and Chief Critic at Awards Focus and a National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Award winning journalist for his work at The Hollywood Reporter.

Byron is a voting member of the Television Academy, Critics Choice Association, and the Society of Composers & Lyricists (the SCL) for his work on Marvel's X-Men Apocalypse (2016). Working as a journalist and moderator, Byron hosts Emmy and Oscar panels for the major studios, featuring their Below The Line and Above The Line nominees (in partnership with their respective guilds).

Moderating highlights include Ingle Dodd's "Behind the Slate" Screening Series and their "Spotlight Live" event at the American Legion in Hollywood. Byron covered the six person panel for Universal's "NOPE" as well as panels for Hulu's "Pam & Tommy Lee" and "Welcome to Chippendales" and HBO Max's "Barry" and "Euphoria."

For songwriters and composers, Byron is a frequent moderator for panels with the Society of Composers and Lyricists (SCL) as well as The ArcLight's Hitting the High Note Oscar series.

Byron's panels range from FX's Fargo to Netflix's The Crown, The Queen's Gambit, The Witcher & Bridgerton; HBO Max's The Flight Attendant, Hacks, Succession, Insecure, & Lovecraft Country; Amazon Studios' The Legend of Vox Machina, Wild Cat, & Annette; and Apple TV+s Ted Lasso, Bad Sisters, and 5 Days at Memorial.

In February of 2020, Byron organized and hosted the Aiding Australia Initiative; launched to assist in the restoration and rehabilitation of Australia's wildlife (an estimated 3 billion animals killed or maimed and a landmass the size of Syria decimated).

Participating talent for Aiding Australia includes Robert Downey Jr., Michael Keaton, Jeremy Renner, Harrison Ford, Jim Carrey, Josh Brolin, Bryan Cranston, Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, JK Simmons, Tobey Maguire, Alfred Molina, James Franco, Danny Elfman, Tim Burton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Tim Allen, Colin Hay, Drew Struzan, and Michael Rosenbaum.

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