SOUND AS CINEMA FOR THE BLIND

Sound Designer extraordinaire Mr. Tinus Smit speaks to RapidLion.

When I walked into Tinus Smit’s sound studio, he greeted me with a huge smile. He is a burly man, warm, who speaks English with a subtle Afrikaans accent. His greying but well kept beard harks back to the time of the voortrekkers. But the black t-shirt that he wore, with what looks like a pit bull terrier in the chest and stomach area, made me think of him more as a friendly Harley Davidson owning biker than a conservative Afrikaner. But let us be clear, in the area of sound design, he is a Voortrekker, a true trailblazer.

Mr. Smit just teems with infectious joy. I feel like I have known him all my life. His embrace is honest and welcoming. Before I could even take a seat he had already offered me something to drink and introduced me to his intern, Ayanda. His generous nature makes me think of a person raised in a small town. His studio manages to somehow be full of state of the art equipment and yet be very homely at the same time. In the far end are all his sound editing equipment. On the opposite side are a couch, chairs and a coffee table. I have come to understand that anyone who takes that much care to create a comfortable working space must be a workaholic. I soon realise that, for Tinus Smit, sound design really isn’t work, it’s his life.

Mr. Smit’s fascination with sound started at a very early age. He describes, animated, how, at three years old, he tore his parent’s radio apart “to see the men inside”. He giggles wholeheartedly as he describes his disappointment at discovering that, in fact, no men lived inside the radio. Mr. Smit laughs a lot and it is contagious. I struggle to keep the journalistic straight face in his company.

“I loved sound for its power of suggestion. It is a theatre of the mind. What I do creates richness, colour and grandeur to film. A person must be able to shut their eyes and follow the entire film with only their ears. We cannot get mediocre about it”, says Mr. Smit with an honest childlike glimmer in his eye. It would appear that his career path chose him.

That career in sound began in the most unlikely place; the South African Defense Force, where he became a sergeant after five years of service. He had completed his mandatory national service and opted to continue working for the Air Force doing sound for television and radio dramas. He originally enrolled for a civil engineering degree. Soon thereafter though, realising what his true calling was, he changed that to sound engineering.

“What I really took out of my Air Force experience was training people and teaching. I grew a passion for it then and still do it today whenever I find a space and a place that allows for it to thrive. The Air Force also helped me grow. Once I got really good at my craft, I started doing freelance work”.

In 1999 Mr. Smit started his own company SFX Consulting, where he does sound design for film and television. “Since I started this company, I have trained more than 20 people who are all working in the industry today. I try to take a new intern every year or two”, says Mr. Smit.

“What we do as SFX is make sound come alive. We heighten and enhance your listening experience in a film or television programme, provided that there is a good story. I can give you all the sound in the world, but without a strong, convincing story, I can only do so much”, he chuckles warmly and shrugs his broad shoulders.

Mr. Smit does not have a website for his company. He does not advertise either, “People come to me through referrals. They come because they have either seen my work, or heard of it. I have never been short of work either”, he says, adding that the only time he is adamant about refusing work is when clients want the work done too fast.

When asked about his favourite work, Mr. Smit gleams and says “I rarely single anything out, or have absolute favourites, but if I have to, it will be ‘Wolwedans in die Skemer’, and ‘Frozen Time’, for different reasons. Wolwedans in die Skemer is an Afrikaans film based on a radio drama I used to listen to as a child, and that made me feel I have somehow completed a full circle. I always get excited when I get to work on something that speaks so powerfully to my own identity. Then there was Frozen Time, a film that challenged me in terms of sound design, as the action plays out in a singe day, in one location. The story, captures the drama, it was a delightful challenge!”

His proudest and most extensive work has been on the television series Idols SA, which has seen him involved from inception to date, 11 seasons on and counting.

Mr. Smit feels like home. Within minutes, you begin to feel like you have known him forever. His laugh is as good as his warm embrace. What is most striking however, is the attention he pays to his work. To him, sound is an art and a craft. He prides himself in it. He lives and breathes it. He loves it. And he does it brilliantly. It is difficult to walk away from a man who does what he does with so much passion and care. Maybe it is tough for him to let me walk away too because here he is, walking me out all the way to the car park where the topic now turns to his love of smoking a pipe.

Then I remember. This is Mr. Tinus Smit. He probably walks everybody who cares to visit him all the way to the parking lot, making them feel like the visit was too short. It does not matter though, in less than two hours, I have gained a friend.