Carlos Cortés: the story behind the Tec graduate who won an Oscar

Carlos Cortes has been playing with sounds since his childhood. At home, he would take a cassette, put it in the tape recorder, and start experimenting, recording sounds over and over again.

“I still have my dad’s Pioneer tape recorder that I used to record on. He also had a Kenwood reverb system which I would play with, ”he says.

Now, he’s one of three Mexican winners of the 2021 Oscar for Best Sound, for the movie The Sound of Metal, which talks about how a metal musician has to deal with losing his hearing and can be seen on Amazon’s platform.

Carlos Cortés reconstructs his path through the world of sound. After spending his childhood with music-loving parents, he became a musician and recorded with his band. He then came to a crossroads when he had to decide what to study.

To rocker

At PrepaTec, which is where he graduated from, Carlos was already passionate about music and a guitarist in his own band. “I would borrow microphones, record, and play with the band. I was always the one connecting everything. “We called ourselves Slalom. We did fusion rock, a bit of jazz, and then, all of a sudden, I was starting to play with distortions, ”he says.

Now, the composition of the movie Sound of Metal has been described by The New York Times as having an “extraordinarily intricate soundtrack. “

“I couldn’t see myself developing phones.”

When Carlos graduated from PrepaTec in the State of Mexico, he faced a dilemma: there were no audio production degrees. So, I have started studying Electronics and Communications Engineering, but soon changed his mind.

“Yes, I liked it, but it was really difficult. “I honestly couldn’t see myself developing phones, so I told them it wasn’t working for me, ”He says.

He spoke to his parents and told them he wanted to go abroad to continue pursuing the passion he had always had. They understood.

He moved Ohio in the US, where he found a school that he could afford, and managed to graduate as a sound engineer.

Carlos thinks back and shares how it felt to get to the Oscars.

“I still can’t believe it. I’m really happy that the work and effort I put in every day is being recognized, ”he tells CONECTA.

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The Sound of Metal: a sensory soundtrack

“I was terrified the first time I saw it. There were days when the topic of conversation was: ‘Imagine if this happened to you’, ”Cortés confesses.

Therefore, the soundtrack tries to reflect the hearing loss with an interesting mix of silences and distortions. “The soundtrack to this movie is very sensory. We tried to have moments when it couldn’t be understood, ”he explains.

The sound team was led by Frenchman Nicolas Becker, and included Mexicans Jaime Baksht and Michelle Couttolenc, as well as the American Phillip bladh.

“We seek to convey the character’s desperation: he was able to hear, but he was losing that sense to the point of not understanding what people were saying to him. The movie is mixed in 5.1 channels and what we tried to do was to disorient the audience as much as possible: to make it distorted and annoying, ”he says.

The sound created in Tepoztlán

On The Sound of Metal, Carlos was one of those responsible for organizing and setting the correct timing and volume of the sounds, so they fit perfectly into each scene.

“We balanced levels so that the sound was coherent and had the impact required.”

Just like when he was a child who played with sounds, Carlos says that he had fun getting involved with each sound and remembers working on several scenes:

“There’s a wonderful concert at the beginning. There’s also a scene where he comes out playing the piano and the camera zooms in to show you how he perceives the sounds. “

He also remembers an emotional sequence in which the protagonist hits the base of a slide so that a child can perceive sound through the vibrations.

One of Carlos Cortés’s biggest influences is the prominent Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas, winner of best director at the Cannes Film Festival.

What’s more, the movie was edited in Mexico at Reygadas’ Splendor Omnia studios in the Tepoztlán forest.

“Working with Carlos (Reygadas) has allowed me to grow exponentially because of the level of precision he wants from each sound. For example, Carlos will ask you what a bull’s hoof on the grass would sound like. And then there are 16 bulls that you need to put into perspective, ”he explains.

In fact, he also met the other two Mexicans nominated through Reygadas.

“I had already collaborated with Jaime and Michelle on a Reygadas movie. We made a very good team, and it was suggested that the three of us work together as mixers. “

Proud to be a Tec graduate

Now, he is not only the winner of an Oscar but also a BAFTA from the British Academy, and he senses that talents in our country are beginning to get noticed.

“I’ve seen that the level in Mexico has risen quite a bit in the last few years. There are a lot of passionate people working in this area, ”he adds.

In fact, he believes that his time at PrepaTec and Tec de Monterrey helped him develop a sense of professional responsibility. “I like the rigorous approach that the Tec has. It helps you understand the importance of discipline, something you need all the time working in a studio. If you don’t know how to find what you need, you’re taking away valuable time from the production. “

He says that “working on sound means you’re faced with many challenges. There’s always a symphony out there. “

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