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Photo by Matt D’Annunzio

Alexander Swann ’16


Hometown: McLean, Virginia

Who I was when I got to Reed: Everything in McLean, Virginia, seems carefully arranged to present an image of wealth and power. I hated it. My freshman year in high school, I mixed sound for my first show, a terrible slapstick melodrama called Deadwood Dick. It was so much fun; I had to do this. I began taking things apart and rebuilding them to see if I could make it better, and then do it again.

Favorite class: Theatre 223, Visual Performance Narratives,  was like a fusion of an art history course and a design course that taught me how to look at objects and spaces in the same way that Hum 110 taught me how to look at texts—inquisitively and critically. It has been the most useful thing I ever did in terms of talking about the ideas behind my work, as well as that of others.

Influential book: The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman. I read it at least once a year.

A concept that blew my mind: Everything has a resonant frequency; sound is a wave. When you play something’s resonant frequency, it vibrates. The human eye vibrates at 18 Hz, which is totally inaudible to humans. Human hearing drops off around 80 Hz; you feel everything below that, like feeling the bass in your chest at a concert. Sound has a physical effect on the human body. It touches you. It’s the air hitting you. So, in performance, the sound literally touches people.

Outside the classroom: I’ve worked on the sound, video, lights, and sets for almost every theatre show in my time at Reed. The Performing Arts Building was my second home. I helped to create such worlds as a 1950s French parlor, the human mind, and the apocalypse. I also enjoyed Beer Nation, which is just about drinking beer.

How Reed changed me: I’ve known what I want to do for a long time now, but before coming here the kind of person I wanted to be was a total mystery. Apart from satiating my need for reading, writing, and thinking, Reed helped shape me into a person comfortable in his own skin.

Thesis: Sound Design: A Systems Approach

What it’s about: Historically there’s been a divide between the technical and the artistic in theatre. I argue that because sound is one of the few media that can touch its audience, the system that creates it needs to perform like another actor, interacting with the audience and other performers.

What it’s really about: Misusing technology to approximate artificial intelligence in theatre sound design.

What’s next: I’ll be working as the production sound engineer at the Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park in New York.

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