Czech sound mixer scales one of the world's highest mountains – Gasherbrum II – on expedition with Sound Devices MixPre-6.
Czech Republic – From an early age, Ivo Repčík seemed destined for a career in sound. As a boy, he recalls recording audio from his favorite movies through his father’s hi-fi into a cassette to imagine each scene through his headphones. This curiosity in sound was nurtured in his formative years while attending the Elementary Art School in his hometown of Olomouc, Czech Republic, where he also managed to get his foot in the door working as a sound engineer for live concerts at a local jazz club.
During those years, he enjoyed the process of post-production and experimenting with music, though it was his studies years later at Tomas Bata University in the city of Zlín that lead to his pursuit in a career in sound recording for feature films and television.
“I experienced a substantial shift in my professional career during my university studies... I realized that I wanted to do movie sound professionally,” said Ivo. “I do not like to sit at a computer. I like to meet new people and explore new locations. My colleague, a great sound mixer Petr Forejt inspired me and later also supported me, not only on set of feature films, documentaries, reality shows and commercials, but also in extreme shooting. I can say that my work became my everyday job and also my hobby.”
After Ivo graduated, he landed jobs doing sound for major TV networks including the BBC and National Geographic. These projects required working in extreme locations, and he quickly realized that he enjoyed the challenges associated with shooting in non-traditional environments. One of his favorite jobs was shooting a Czech reality show that took him to the high mountains of the Philippines, which set the foundation for many more mountain adventures to come.
Most recently, Ivo scaled the top of Gasherbrum II in Pakistan, the thirteenth highest mountain in the world — an adventure that was a focal point for our Q&A.
Q: Let’s begin by asking you to share more about that experience and the challenges faced.
A: “The whole Czech expedition to Pakistan to the Gasherbrum peaks took 48 days – from June 20 to August 6. Our group consisted of three people – me and two excellent Czech climbers Marek Holeček and Zdeněk “Hook” Hák who were the first ones to climb the South-Western wall of Gasherbrum I. It takes almost a week just to get under the base of the mountain. It’s a long, tedious and very difficult trek that goes through the centre of the Karakoram. You can take comfort in the spectacular views and the panorama of the mountains.
“During the expedition I used Sound Devices MixPre-6 to record sounds for a radio play. I did interviews with my colleagues and talked to them about their feelings and opinions on a daily basis, and they were describing the whole expedition very well. My own records are a part of the daily recordings, and I also recorded the local folk music and songs in Balti. I recorded many sound atmospheres, original noises, and conversations with other people. This radio play that we created every day of our expedition is now in production for the radio.
“I borrowed Sound Devices MixPre-6 from the official distributor of this brand in the Czech Republic, Janz Audio of Mr Jan Zástěra. I am very grateful for his trust and kindness.
“During the whole expedition, I handled the increasing elevation quite well. I acclimatized during the whole trek at the camps of Gasherbrum I. After acclimatizing, my Italian partner Giampaolo “Giampi” Corona and I went up to the Gasherbrum II peak. The whole climb to the top felt endless to me but it was a beautiful experience. Each part of the mountain is magical in some way. One day you walk over a sizzling iceberg, the next day you need to climb through an icy terrain. You sleep in a camp and then you zigzag through seracs all day. Then you top it off with an exhausting and never-ending march in -25 degrees Celsius and altitude of 7000 meters.
“You take out tents and pack them up in the morning. Every activity becomes a routine. You record the conversations and feelings of your colleagues during the climb. You take turns with your colleague in making way through the terrain. At the altitude of 8000 meters (nearly 5 miles high) and at 35% of oxygen, you slow down, but the enthusiasm goes up. You reach the top and instead of taking out a camera you take out a microphone and a recorder. You connect them with a cable, put your headphones on, snap the battery grip in, and you are the first sound mixer in the world to make a separate sound recording at the altitude of 8000 meters. You sit in the snow, tell your feelings to the microphone, you breathe heavily, and you are happy. I did this all without the artificial oxygen, and I found out that such altitude does not cause me any trouble. The whole climb up and down took me 7 days. The weather was great that day; it was a perfect ‘summit day’.”
Q: What is the significance of this project in your mind for others in your line of work?
A: “I noticed that shooting in extreme altitudes is becoming more popular in the whole world. Documentary crews with sound mixers are going to such extreme locations more often now. Unfortunately, these projects usually fail because of the people, not the technology. I love the mountains, and I wanted to combine business with pleasure and show the world that it’s possible.
“I was the first sound mixer in the world to make a separate sound recording at the altitude of 8000 meters, and I showed the world that I can work in such great heights. I am glad that I managed to give primary sound recording this direction. I myself take it as an important step in terms of experience, a shift in my personal work, and mixing business with pleasure. As I like to say, it’s a very small step for mankind but it’s a huge one for primary sound recording.”
Q: You mentioned that you used a borrowed Sound Devices MixPre-6 to record audio in these conditions. How did it perform, and what are your overall thoughts on the product so far?
A:“I chose this device because of two things. The first one is its extraordinary ratio of weight and performance. The second one is the record button … (which) can be operated in the cold and you can even wear mittens. The tool was very reliable. The cold did not cause any trouble. I had the device under my anorak (jacket) on a special becket that I made for this expedition. I had several types of beckets, and I was switching them according to my needs. I had the batteries under my anorak as well so they were warm.
“(The) MixPre-6 fulfilled my expectations. It’s reliable, compact, and the operation is very user-friendly. In locations such as high mountains, the source of the sound signal is often very silent,so I appreciated the preamplifiers for recording silent sound atmospheres and dynamic ethnical music. However, I must say that the battery life is not very good, but in case of my expedition, this disadvantage is debatable because the batteries were under constant stress due to weather changes.
“I would also appreciate two record media. The machine lacks the possibility of a backup, which means that the recorded material is not completely safe. To make it really perfect, the operation of the gain of the individual tracks could be faster and more efficient. It could be any reachable controller of this function placed on the front panel of the machine.
“My favourite function in comparison with the previous devices is the built-in Bluetooth module. It’s nice to have the control of the tool zoomed in on a tablet or a smartphone. I also like the fact that the track list is more transparent in comparison with the built-in screen of the device.
“MixPre-6 saved my energy on the trek, which is a very important advantage with this work. You only take the most important things to the top, and you leave all the unnecessary stuff in the last camp. Thanks to the low weight of the recorder, I did not even know I was carrying it to the top.”
Q: In addition to the Sound Devices MixPre-6, what other gear did you use on this adventure?
A: “I used Sennheiser MKH 60 microphone because of its durability in extreme conditions. I like to use this microphone while recording feature production because it has a balanced sound colour. For wind protection I had a standard set from Rycote, which is wide and has a good shape. I had this set either on the side of my backpack or inside of it so that I could climb comfortably. Originally I wanted to bring an external power supply, but in the end I decided to use battery grips (sleds) MX-4AA and MX-8AA to decrease the weight of the whole set. You can put both these grips inside the pockets of your anorak so that the batteries are kept warm. I used alkaline and lithium batteries and accumulators, which of course impacted the endurance of the (MixPre-6) device.
“Clothes are always a problem in such locations and in high mountains. Sometimes it’s extremely hot, sometimes it’s extremely cold. The temperature can change very quickly by 70 degrees Celsius. Inside the tent during the day, the temperature can be up to 50 degrees and during the night it drops to -25 degrees. I prefer Czech products. Czech outdoor clothing brands are the leaders of world quality, so I used products from Sir Joseph, Tilak, High Point, or Direct Alpine.”
Q: When did you first hear about Sound Devices, and what attracted you to Sound Devices gear?
A: “I started to notice Sound Devices when I was studying. If you take interest in all the available audio devices, you get to know various brands and models and you start considering their advantages, disadvantages, the price, etc. You start looking for the most suitable thing for your work. I tried many devices, and I can say that for me Sound Devices tools are the best.
Q: You also own a 688, along with your 633, both part of Sound Devices 6-Series. Tell us more about them and how you use them.
A: “I would say that both these tools are perfect for shooting on set. It’s a great combination of mixing controller and recorder. They are user-friendly and resistant, and I really could not work without them. If you pair them with CL-12 or (in the case of the 688, pair it with the) SL-6, you have a very efficient and practical set. I like to combine these tools according to the types of sound tracks and according to the types of the recording I do. When I need a small and light compact set, I take my 633. When I can record with a heavier set and I have the sound engineer trolley to record more tracks, I take my 688, which is usually ideal for feature films. The only downside of these tools for me is the fact that the rotary gain controllers are too small, and I sometimes have trouble reaching them.
“I appreciate the overall transparency of the menus and fast, effective control over the tools. Recently I really liked the automix function. It’s a very efficient and practical thing for shooting documentaries and projects that limit the sound engineer in terms of control and mixing. I was surprised by this function’s speed.
“I also like the low weight of the device, which is very important for me. Sometimes I carry the tools all day long, so it’s nice to have light equipment and be mobile. For extreme shooting, the weight of the device is also very important, so I really appreciate this, and I like the fact that Sound Devices (designers) consider this issue.
“I use Wingman for 6-Series and also for the MixPre-6 device. I use iOS devices, and I have never experienced any trouble with communication between iOS devices and Sound Devices. I use the app a lot because as I already said, it allows me to operate the tools better and make my work a bit more transparent. It’s ideal for the transparency of level meters or the efficiency of text editing. With feature production, I use an iPad to operate 6-Series, but I sometimes use an iPhone while shooting documentaries or extreme locations.”
Q: What are some of your favorite projects you’ve worked on in your career?
A: “I enjoy non-traditional shooting the most. I am glad when something happens on the set. I would say that my most favourite jobs were doing sound mixing 2nd Unit for BBC for a historical TV show called The Musketeers, or doing sound mixing 2nd Unit for a National Geographic and Century Fox project called Genius (about Albert Einstein). I also enjoyed shooting the Czech reality show Robinson Island – Survivor as a main sound mixer in the extreme locations of Philippines. I shot in high mountains many times, and these locations are my most favourite ones. I like to go back to the mountains.”
Q: What advice would you give to young people looking to get into the production sound industry?
A: “The beginning is hard for everyone and for every profession. I have two sayings that I try to live by, and they’ve always helped me move forward. The first one is: you must know what you want to do in your life and choose the right sound profession. The second one is connected to the first one: you must always do your best.
“Keeping up with the work plans will never be enough. It’s important to take interest in your field and educate yourself. You need to devote all your time to your profession. It’s very important to have some professional goals that will bring you satisfaction and joy.”
Ivo is a member of Dark Hand, a group of artists who make various types of art from graffiti street art, oil paintings on canvas, photography, architecture, and audio. He and the other artists of Dark Hand meet on occasion to talk about art and production, before creating something together. Dark Hand is also the name of Ivo’s sound engineering company, which you can visit at www.darkhand.cz. Follow Ivo on Instagram and Facebook.