Were you a good listener when you were young?
I’ve always had very good hearing and been able to pick out small details. Growing up, I was also affected a lot by the emotion of music and the emotional power of sound. Part of the training process that I went through was to teach myself how to observe the natural world—the way something sounds. Right now I’m hearing the swings in the background [at the nearby Thornhill Elementary School] and the high-frequency harmonics of the swing hitting the pole.
Obviously, your ears are your biggest asset. What do you do to ward off hearing loss?

Nelson Stroll

Nelson Stoll

I get subjected to using headphones all the time and being in noisy environments. I’m constantly pummeling my ears, and I know that’s had an effect. I try to look at different cultures to see what they have done to maintain hearing and generally just take care of my overall health. There are a lot of things [you can do] with nutrition and herbs and ear candles—and keeping your ears clean.
Two of your movies were up for Oscars: Total Recall and Dune. Looking back, why didn’t you win?
A lot of it is political. Dune had the most interesting and complex soundtrack, but Amadeus won that year. It’s very hard to compete against someone like Mozart. Total Recall was up against Dances With Wolves, which didn’t have a very good soundtrack but was an immensely popular film. It caught the people’s imagination.
How important is the soundtrack to a film?
The beauty of sound is we’re not really aware most of the time that it’s affecting us, and that’s why it’s a powerful thing. If you watch a movie without the sound, you’ll see it’s very hard to make any emotional sense, because it’s really the sound that glues it all together and provides a continuum—a heartbeat.
So much is riding on your job. Do you ever have nightmares?
I sometimes have nightmares about my equipment. It’s very complex and changes all the time. It takes a huge amount of energy to develop and maintain, which is more suited toward a younger person. So I have some bad dreams, but they always disappear once the film starts.
Aren’t you missing a lot of wild parties by not living in L.A.?
One thing I like about Montclair is, it’s quiet. The house I have has about a dozen trees, and there’s a small creek running through the yard. That’s pretty special.


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