The Tenet of Serious Sound – Q&A with Joseph Fraioli

Joseph Fraioli is a multi award-winning Sound Designer, Supervisor and Editor as well as having expertise in field recording and Foley.

Having worked for directors such as Christopher Nolan (TENET) and Mark Romanek (Tales From The Loop), Joseph’s sound design work within feature film, advertising and television strives to create a unique and immersive world which pushes boundaries and surprises listeners through the use of custom innovative sound design focusing on the enrichment of storytelling.

Entrusted by many high-profile brands, artists and institutions, Joseph’s work has been featured in commercials for clients such as Google, Nike, IBM and Sony.

He has also created sonic installations for Kanye West’s Cruel Summer, Lady Gaga for Polaroid, Chanel’s No.5 In A New Light, Sonos’ Sounds of NYC and world-renowned institutions such as The Museum of Modern Art.

How did you get into Sound Design?

I got into sound design at a young age though making experimental electronic music as Datach’i. My first opportunity to work to picture was for an art installation at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), in NYC back in 2000. It was during the process creating sound for this project that I realized how satisfying it was making sound for pictures on screen, as opposed to creating sound for imaginary scenes in my head which would wind up being my music. Both are great and I kept up both endeavours from that point. A light bulb did go off though, especially since film and film sound has always been a big inspiration to me. I remember when I saw Jurassic Park in the theatre when it first came out. The sound of the T-Rex was so unexpected yet fitting at the same time. It was perfect and exciting. Weeks later, there was a news bit about how the sound designer, Gary Rydstrom, made some of the dinosaur sounds for that movie and I was blown away that it was someone’s job to do this. It really stuck with me.

Tell us about your career journey which recently led to your work in Hollywood.

After doing the project for the MoMA, I had kept my ear to the ground for more opportunities working in sound design for picture. Luckily, a few came up which were actually from clients who were fans of my music. Lots of small stuff at first. Websites, then some small commercial jobs through music houses until eventually it organically progressed to me starting my own company Jafbox Sound, where over the past 10 years or so I’ve done the majority of my work including ads, large scale installations as well as features.

It was in 2016 or so when I was working as the sound designer/supervisor of the feature film KIN, when I realized that I really wanted to diversify and do more feature work. I’ve always loved it and its always been such an inspiration to me that I wanted to go deeper. 

In 2018 I moved to LA and have meet so many great people here. It’s an incredible sound community here that I feel lucky to be a part of. 

How did you get to work on Christopher Nolan’s, Tenet?

The supervisor of Tenet, Richard King, has always been a sound hero of mine. When I first moved here one of the first things I did was message him to see if he would want to meet up for lunch. I was surprised that he got back to me! During that lunch we had hit it off – connecting on sound philosophies as well as personal interests such as theoretical physics. It was about a month later he emailed me to see if I were available for “a project” that turned out to be Tenet.

Tenet received a lot of media coverage with mixed reviews on the dialogue vs sound effects – what’s your take on this? Would you have mixed things differently?

We had the opportunity to screen the final mix in a theatre and I was completely blown away by the mix. It’s intense in the best way. I’m really proud to be a part of this project and what went into the sound editorial / design.

Are you familiar with Miller & Kreisel (MKSound) speakers and have you mixed with them?

Absolutely. I’ve been using M&K speakers since about 2010. I had saw that Ben Burtt used them for some of the Star Wars films which is what drew me to testing them out as I’m a big fan of his work and figured, if they are good enough for Ben then I can pretty much buy them without listening but auditioned them anyway. I realized pretty quickly that sound stage and depth perception on these speakers really works perfectly for bringing picture to life with sound. They are very nuanced, detailed and non-fatiguing. I also like how they are flat and I can trust that my work will translate to any mix stage.

How do the current immersive formats for home audio influence your work?

They haven’t affected me. Yet anyways, I always prefer to work in 5.1 and let the mixers spread things out on the stage. There was something my uncle, who’s a jazz musician, taught me at a young age which was that all the production bells and whistles of music don’t matter if your song isn’t any good. So, with that in mind I like to make sure that the emotion of the sound design that I’m trying to convey isn’t reliant on any kind of format. Instead, that emotion gets amplified by it after the fact. 

What’s your favourite music track, best TV Boxset and top movie ever?

Hard question! Here you go…

Favourite music track: Boards of Canada – In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country

Favourite TV boxset: Curb Your Enthusiasm 

Favourite Movie: 2001: A Space Odyssey 

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Check out Tenet on 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray