Artist-in-residence creates a sound foundation for MPA students

In the visual-based field of filmmaking, where the “silent film” is often the first project, Kyle Tesalona emphasizes the importance of the audio aspects of film.

Tesalona is the second Filmmaker-in-Residence supported by the generosity of the DeRoy Testamentary Foundation during the 2016-17 school year. Under Tesalona’s tutelage, motion picture arts students are enjoying their first-ever, semester-length course dedicated to audio production. 

“I’ve always known the quality of Interlochen,” said Tesalona, who discovered Interlochen in high school as a prospective violin student. “It’s always been in the back of my mind as something that I was interested in.”

Tesalona became interested in the technical aspects of music while he was in high school. “I started learning about audio as a means to figure out how music got onto a CD,” he said. Tesalona spent the next several years teaching himself as much as he could about recording and audio production. By the time he graduated from high school, he was helping his musical colleagues record their college and Interlochen auditions.

“That put my foot in the door in the audio world,” he said. “In high school, I wanted perform, but I saw the demand for recording, and I saw that it was good business.”

While studying music at Florida State University, Tesalona got his first taste of the film world. He began by collaborating with classmates on music videos, then assisted the FSU film department with several thesis films. He began noticing a trend.

“Music is usually the last thing in the recipe for a film,” he said. “You’ll have these films with beautiful visuals, but subpar sound. I try to make sure that whoever I’m working with knows that it’s detrimental to have a professional understanding of audio regardless of your specialty in the film world.”

Tesalona’s observation is precisely why Director of Motion Picture Arts Michael Mittelstaedt selected him as the second DeRoy Testamentary Foundation Filmmaker-in-Residence. “Sound, so often in early filmmaking, becomes an afterthought to picture,” said Mittelstaedt. “Kyle is ensuring clarity in our mixes this season. He represents a side of independent filmmaking that was key when selecting a filmmaker-in-residence for this semester. He is a sound designer, a musician, a composer, and a performer. He has both an artist's understanding of the craft and he thoroughly geeks out on the technology, getting into the weeds of it, devising brilliant soundscapes.”

After finishing his undergraduate degree at FSU, Tesalona enrolled in a master’s program at Berklee College of Music, working professionally all the while. His recent projects include writing the theme song “Connecting the Dots” with Tedx Berklee Valencia in 2016, Project W/A\V a conceptual, electro-acoustic performance system using Ableton Live 9, collaborating with the multi-genre music production group Ethnikids, all the while pursuing his own music under the artist moniker “Kaiolyn”.

Tesalona graduated in 2016, and decided to take a short break from freelance work. “I wanted to find a way to give back to the future filmmakers and audio producers—the geeks like me,” he said.

It was with these two goals in mind that Tesalona found his way back to Interlochen as the DeRoy Testamentary Foundation Filmmaker-in-Residence for the spring 2017 semester. Only a month into his residency, Tesalona is already impressed.

“I’ve never worked in a place as unique as this, with such a collaborative environment,” he said. “The students here have the opportunity to collaborate on both school and fun projects, and everything is here for them. They have actors, set designers, costumers and world-class musicians, all in one place. It’s what I was hoping to see, and I was not disappointed.”

Collaboration is something that Tesalona relies upon in teaching his classes. During his Inter*mester course on sound design using synthesizers, singer-songwriter student Tess Considine asked for his help adding the correct amount of reverberation to the audio track for her music video. Tesalona recognized a teachable moment and seized the opportunity.

“We mastered the audio in class, which was not only a good opportunity to learn technical skills, but also an opportunity to see a real-world working relationship between a client and an audio engineer,” he said.

Tesalona is also applying a hands-on approach in his semester-long class. “If someone had taught me, that’s how I would want to be taught,” he said.

The class’s final project is a 10-minute soundscape. Each of Tesalona’s 14 students will create a 5-minute short that can use any type of aural source, including Foley techniques, music and electronics, but no video. The project also takes advantage of DeRoy’s state-of-the-art classrooms, all of which are equipped with surround sound. “It’s a unique chance for them to think outside of the box,” he said. “I wish I had had a project like this in high school.”

“It will be something in their reel that’s different, something that will help them stand out,” he added. “It can be a tough field to get into, because everyone has the same skills.”

Tesalona, too, hopes that he’ll have a few more things to add to his reel when the semester is over. “By May, my goal is to have a range of projects that I’ve been able to help out on,” he said.

“Collaboration is really my biggest word for this semester.”