Jammin’ with Vermaak and Merrill


Arnold Vermaak and Graham Merrill do indeed love to Jam. Vermaak is one half of the evocative electronica / jazzy music act, Prankster. Merrill is the bluesy voice and trombone slider for the bands Late Final and The Thunderbirds.

Vermaak and Merrill are wired differently; the organs on the side of their noggins are fine tuned instruments. When a dog whistle blows, these guys come running.

You’re more familiar with their work than you think. As the sound designers of We Love Jam, Cape Town, they are the audio behind such well known ads as Drive Dry Love to Meet You; Alexander Forbes’ Forgotten Dreams; Santam’s Ben Kingsley and many more. This year they were the sound designers for 15 Loerie winners.

It’s often in the realm of the imperceptible that they work and that can be said to be the key to successful sound design in film – a complement to visual storytelling that very few perceive or appreciate.

“It’s amazing how much work goes into the almost imperceptible,’ says Vermaak. He cites Santam’s Ben Kingsley as their most challenging project of late.

“We explored every route possible to sustain the illusion, using the noisy ocean saturated live sync; post syncing Sir Ben and different voice impersonations. After recording Sir Ben again in studio and syncing it perfectly, the agency (King James) felt it was too sterile and they didn’t want this to be just another “visual gag’.

“We tried loads of options to change Sir Ben’s voice when the shot changed to his look-a-like. So we cut between different mics from live sound as they each gave a different sonic character. We changed the pitch, the format and the age of his voice. It was tricky because every time you made a change in the voice, it also made a change in the background noise. In the end we had to lay bits of ocean noise to mask this. It was a real sound challenge that nobody will ever notice – but I guess that’s the point.’

And that’s just the half of it. When Vermaak waxes lyrical about a new French plug-in called IRCAM Tools T.R.A.X. and, “eq’ing out the extraneous frequencies,’ I realise I’m way out of my depth.

We Love Jam believes in partnerships with clients. They like to get involved early in production and are not shy on giving direction, helping to choose and coach voice artists and recording pure sound instead of trawling through pre-recorded effects.

On top of that, Merrill has an incredible amount of experience as a voice artist. “Being on the other side of the glass helps tremendously when coaching voices,’ he says. Experimentation and initiative is key and Merrill is often in the booth, adding those fine background touches.

It’s not hard to see why We Love Jam has won so many accolades. They don’t just sit back and take direction; they bring their passion and expertise to the fore, turning audio into art.

SCREENAFRICA Print Magazine – November 2011 (view here)
By Antone Crone


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