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Ripley: The Sounds of Silence


Theres a lot going on in the darkness. Kevin Emmott meets sound mixer Maurizio Argentieri to find out why it was so important to amplify the silence in the Netflix adaptation of The Talented Mr Ripley.

By Kevin Emmott

Published: April 4, 2024 Updated: April 5, 2024

There's a lot going on in the darkness. Kevin Emmott meets sound mixer Maurizio Argentieri to find out why it was so important to amplify the silence in the Netflix adaptation of The Talented Mr Ripley.

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The problem with silence is that it is so terribly noisy.

We've all been sold a lie. In reality, nothing in nature is truly silent and there's a lot going on in the darkness; the sound of your own breath, the wind in the trees, the distant hum of an engine.

The new Netflix adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's classic book The Talented Mr. Ripley is all about embracing those moments. And while Ripley is darkly quiet, it is far from silent. Just how sound mixer Maurizio Argentieri likes it.

Sound mixer Maurizio Argentieri on the set of Ripley during the Covid pandemic Filmed on location in Italy over 10 months during the Covid pandemic, Argentieri set out to capture the silence as loudly as possible. Carefully choosing equipment from both ends of the digital and analogue spectrum, his diligence meant it was also a quiet day for the Foley artists, with 90% of the sounds he recorded on set making it into the final mix.

Even when there was almost no sound at all.

When I talk about an atmosphere of silence, it means footsteps, the rustle of fabric, all the tiny details, says Argentieri. There are many scenes in Ripley where the silence drives the story like another character. It is so important to the plot that as a sound designer I wanted to create the sound live on set to give the audio team as much information as possible when they came to mix the show in post-production.

Shifting the vision

Argentieri has always been fascinated by the effect of audio on an image. Starting his career as a musician and recording engineer, he got his break in cinema working under the Italian director Mario Monicelli.

When I was 22 years old, I discovered how audio can change the meaning and emotion of images, he says. It seemed like a kind of magic, and I was fascinated about this as a creative process, so I tried to bring that same elegance I learned in the studio to working in the field.

Elegant is a good way to describe Argentieri's approach. For Ripley, Argentieri's aim was to not only recreate a soundscape that was sympathetic to the 1960s setting, but to also complement the artistic direction of the material. Like many Patricia Highsmith adaptations, Ripley is deeply noir, and with every aspect of the production reflecting that, Argentieri went big on authenticity. As did Oscar-winning writer and director Steve Zaillian.

The audio cart for Ripley with classic analogue tubes on the top Bringing the authenticity

The show is in black and white which drives the emotion in a very specific direction, says Argentieri. Steve shot it like a noir, and I knew I needed to find something special to contribute to that atmosphere. Steve's approach was all about authenticity, so I knew I needed to design a very specific workflow to match his vision.

I used a tube pre-amplifier to record all the dialogue on set, along with large diaphragm microphones to capture the richness of the voices where I could. I designed an elastic suspension to hold these heavy microphones properly, and on the input I applied some light compression using a tube compressor from the 1960s. I wanted to have my signature on all the recordings. Creating the right atmosphere was so important I wanted to get it right at the beginning of the process.

Making friends with the enemy

Ripley's focus on the finer things and its enthusiasm for authenticity meant that Argentieri found himself working in some very difficult environments, like large and expansive buildings filled with stone and marble. These are always a challenge for sound designers as they fight to control the reflections from such reverberant surfaces.

Tube compression was added to all the dialogue mics But not for Argentieri, who took what he had learned in the studio and applied it all on location.

I completely changed my approach, he smiles. I became friends with the reflections and all the ambience was completely authentic!

I understood very early that we needed to invest a lot of effort into capturing the unique sounds of these locations. I designed a specific immersive rig with a double MS configuration to capture the ambience of those locations and applied the same technique that one uses to record a drumkit. When recording drums, you close-mic the kit and place more microphones some distance away to capture the room ambience in order to enlarge the sound. I used the same technique with the immersive rig, placing it away from the set to capture its beautiful reverberations in an immersive format while using close mics to record the dialogue.

Argentieri also treated the recording of vehicles in Ripley like a drum kit, dividing the car into 12 sections and using 12 microphones to record different elements as isolated outputs (ISOs), including mics inside both the engine compartment and the car. This allowed the post-production team to change the sound of the car however they liked.

Maurizio Argentieri's immersive rig with a double MS configuration Mixing digital with analogue

Combining digital and analogue technology at either end of the process, Argentieri designed a workflow which was capable of capturing all the nuances of the stillness. At the microphone end he paired Shure Axient Digital Wireless System's ADX1M Micro Bodypack transmitters and ADX5D Dual-Channel Portable
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